Taken by desire

Taken By Desire: Tales Of The Demon Kin Book 7

Taken By Desire, the newest novel in my Tales Of The Demon Kin series, is now available for $4.99.

Impossible Love

Angel Promise, one of Novus Vita’s religious elite, thinks she knows the difference between right and wrong, especially where the Demon Kin are concerned. Until she meets Cain Desire, a test subject in the experimental facility she oversees. But can soul-shaking passion overcome Promise’s lifetime of training and unite them against those who wish to tear them apart? 91,000 words.

Chapter 1

Beautiful Demon

His name was Cain and he was the most beautiful man Promise had ever seen. Angular cheekbones, large and expressive eyes in a startling pale color she couldn’t quite determine, perfectly shaped lips, and long curly hair of the most extraordinary deep red. Normally, she disliked redheaded men, but this one was different.

Pale golden skin covered his lean and muscular naked frame. The hair on his chest…and…elsewhere…was darker than that on his head, more brown than red. Her roving gaze settled briefly on his sex – his engorged, enormous sex, contained in the wire cage meant to keep him from touching himself – before she realized what she was doing.

The purpose of the cage was not to prevent erections, but only to keep him from pleasuring himself and thus achieving sexual release. The experiments required the male subjects to be continually frustrated until they were exposed to a female especially chosen for that encounter. Obviously, Cain was capable of enormous erections despite the cage.

She swallowed painfully and tore her gaze away from that disturbing sight, her cheeks burning. His face and upper chest bore a barely detectable dusting of slightly darker freckles that she found strangely endearing, although how any detail of this obscene animal could endear him to her she had no idea.

Cain had the distinction of being the first and only man who had ever stirred her. Except he wasn’t a man at all. He was a demon.

Demon Kin, to be exact. Glossy black horns curved away from his skull. She couldn’t decide if they looked more like bull or goat horns, but either way they were demonic and hateful. A leonine tail the same auburn as the hair on his head flicked restlessly behind him, moving back and forth, back and forth, the dark and puffy tip giving an extra snap on every pass. That flicking tail, she’d come to learn, indicated deep agitation.

The horns and tail gave her the shivers. She wondered what they felt like to touch. Probably ice cold, or slimy. It would have to be something disgusting. Just like the rest of him. Except for those freckles…

“You must release me,” Cain said, his voice deep and rough and warped with a faint Demon Kin accent that offended her.

The arrogance of that remark both amazed and annoyed her. Did he not understand he was helpless, nothing more than a prisoner? He showed no sign of humiliation at his naked state or the contraption strapped over his rampant sex. He kept his head high and glowered at her as if she were the wrong-doer.

She lifted her chin, frowning at him down the length of her nose. “I must do no such thing. You’re here now and you belong to me.”

He curled his lip. “I do not belong to you.”

“Indeed, you do. Possession, after all, is nine tenths of the law, or hadn’t you heard?”

His gaze traveled contemptuously along her narrow, gray-clad form, lingering on the compressed and – she hoped – barely noticeable curves of her breasts. Promise stiffened, trying not to clench her hands in a show of defensiveness. He must not know how he affected her. He must never know.

He looked directly into her eyes. “You will never possess me. But someday, I may possess you. I look forward to it.”

She gave a short bark of laughter. “Never, Demon Kin. Prisoners don’t leave this facility alive.”

His nostrils flared. “Don’t they?”

“No. Never. I assure you that you will not be an exception.” She put all the iciness she could muster into the look she directed at him. “You were doomed the moment my agents got hold of you. I advise you to accept this fact. It will be easier for you.”

“You’re making a mistake. You don’t want me as a prisoner.”

“Oh, but I do.” He was a fine specimen, perfect for the series of experiments she supervised.

“My people will bring unimaginable retribution down on your head for this,” he said, his gorgeous eyes narrowing as he thrust his head forward. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Promise laughed. “Of course I do. This is vital work we do here at the Life Studies Research Center, and we’re not giving it up because of the meaningless threats of some monstrous criminal.”

He growled, the sound deep and furious as it erupted from his throat. It sounded like it came from one of the great cats of Ancient Earth and Promise stopped herself from grabbing the edge of her desk only by a hair. Rage rolled off him in a palpable wave, along with something else she couldn’t identify. Whatever it was, it made her flush all over, made her ache and tingle inside, the sensations alien and disturbing.

The only analogy she could think of was magnetism. He was a huge, evil magnet and she was a helpless iron filing, skittering toward him with no will of her own. Only she wasn’t iron, she was a woman and an Angel, and her will was legendary. She would not succumb to this unholy attraction.

Don’t look at his – his – thing. Don’t look at it. Why was he so erect? Was he – could he be – good heavens, could he be attracted to her? Was he sexually excited because of her? The idea caused more alien sensations to take up fluttering residence in the deepest part of her belly.

Cain growled again. “I am not a criminal,” he said. “I’m a prisoner of war.”

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s the same thing.” She glared at the attending guards. “Why are you wasting my time with this creature?”

They were probably once again testing her authority. They were never happier than when rattling her – or trying to, at any rate – because they simply couldn’t accept the fact that a woman ran this facility. Even her elevated status as an Angel couldn’t make up, in their minds, for her gender.

She sharpened her glare when they failed to show the proper respect. She’d done so much glaring lately that she was developing permanent frown lines between her brows.

Of course, Promise cared nothing for her looks. As an Angel, such vanity meant little to her. The frown lines, however, spoke loudly of a disturbing change in her personality.

She feared she was rapidly transforming into a shrew.

One of the guards, a man named Chisholm, shrugged lazily. “He was carrying on, hollering that he wanted to see the administrator. We thought he was going to hurt himself.”

Promise turned her glare on the guard. “And the first thing you thought to do was to indulge him? You didn’t think to restrain him? Tranq him?”

“No, Angel Promise. We didn’t.”

Either she was hallucinating, or Chisholm had smirked at the end of that sentence.

“You have poor control over your men,” Cain observed with a smirk of his own.

“Shut up, prisoner,” Promise snapped.

He grinned at her. It was the most unpleasant smile she’d ever seen, hard and malicious and mocking. Yet that tingling ache inside her only intensified in response. What in the Maker’s name was wrong with her? Perhaps life on a moon station was interfering with her brain chemistry. The lack of natural light, the slightly lower gravity, the impoverished diet——any number of factors might have compromised her health. She’d have to look into it.

“It surprised me to find a woman in charge of the facility,” Cain continued, as if she hadn’t reprimanded him. “You Novus Vitans usually confine women to the home, do you not?”

“Angel Promise here is what we call an exception,” Chisholm said with a mocking grin. “She’s special, see, ’cause she’s an Angel.”

“Chisholm, you overstep yourself,” Promise said severely. “Another remark of that sort and I’ll dock your pay.”

Chisholm’s jaw worked, his lips tightening, his nostrils flaring. Narrow eyes the color of black coffee glowered at her out of a hard face. “Yes, Angel Promise,” he bit out.

“Take the prisoner to his cell immediately. If he continues to protest, tranq him. If that fails to do the trick, you may restrain him as long as necessary. Do not bring him or any other prisoner to me again or there will be consequences much more severe than lower pay. Do I make myself clear?”

The guard hung his head. “Yes, ma’am.”

His companion nodded, wisely keeping his mouth shut.

“Very well. Now get him out of here.”

She turned on her heel and marched around to the other side of her desk, sat down, bent her head as she clicked through a couple of screens on her vid link. She hardly saw the words on the screen. Heavy footfalls let her know they were following her orders, although she continued to keep her head down, her eyes trained on her work. They wouldn’t have the satisfaction of her watching them go.

Yet she imagined she could still feel Cain’s gaze upon her, those inhumanly beautiful eyes staring at her as they dragged him from her cramped office. His gaze made her tremble inside, made her skin itch to touch him, and she hated him for it.

Men. They truly believed they controlled everything, ruled the galaxy and everything in it.

She bit her lip, using the pain to fight off the unholy thoughts. Men were, according to the sacred Teachings, inherently holier than women. They were wiser, more intelligent, spiritually stronger, closer to the Maker in every way. They were destined to rule, and it was every woman’s duty to accept that fact and submit.

Yet Promise’s unusually high intelligence, her childhood acceptance into the greatest Teaching order on Novus Vita, and her subsequent rigorous education had served to set her far apart from other women on her world. She would never be a normal woman. She was an Angel, and the High Council of Angels had placed her here as the Head Administrator of the Novus Vitan Life Studies Research Center. Running the facility was both her duty and a great honor, and she could no more refuse it than she could have refused an order from the Maker Himself.

Didn’t the guards here understand that? They’d been chosen for their special devotion to the Teachings and to the Council, and yet most of them undermined her at every turn. They were rude, disrespectful, and occasionally even bordered on outright insubordination. She ought to fire the lot of them and hire an entirely new staff, one she hadn’t inherited from the previous administrator. One loyal to herself.

She leaned back in her chair and blew an escaped strand of golden hair from her eyes. The Council would almost certainly not approve such an action, but if she planned it carefully she might be able to bring it off without consulting them.

***

“She likes you,” Chisholm crooned as he and his crony hauled Cain down a narrow gray corridor with the same weirdly padded walls and floor as most of the other corridors in this bizarre place.

Cain made no response. The accursed guard had lived to torment him ever since Cain had arrived at the facility and everything he said was suspect. He was only trying to get a rise out of Cain so he’d have an excuse to beat him. Again.

He’d never met a more inappropriately named woman than that administrator, Angel Promise. There was nothing angelic or promising about her. Granted, she had a beautiful facial structure, with high cheekbones, lush lips, and astonishing eyes of a glorious aqua. But she wore her thick blond hair in a severe central part and scraped back so tightly it looked painful, the length twined into an equally tight knot at the back of her head, as if the beauty of it offended her. And her lips, as soft and kissable as they looked, were held in a tight, hard line to match the hard glint in her eyes. She almost radiated disgust and contempt, most of it directed at him.

Which begged the question why he’d ached with lust every time he’d looked at her, smelled her skin, heard her voice. He’d never been attracted to judgmental bitches before. The level of his arousal in her presence was unusual even for him.

Like all Demon Kin, Cain possessed a powerful sexual drive. He found many women sexually desirable. But Promise was different somehow. He hadn’t even touched her; he disliked her intensely; yet for some reason he couldn’t fathom, he wanted her more than he’d ever wanted any woman, with the possible exception of Lili.

Promise was not Lili. She could never be anything like Lili. He’d loved Lili, loved her with the combined intensity of youth and enchainment, and he would never forget her or love anyone else in the same way. It would be impossible.

“Yeah, did you see the way she looked at you?” The other guard chuckled. “She really has the hots for you. Who’d have thought Angel Promise would want to give it up for a Demon Kin?”

“Maybe Council should hear about this,” Chisholm added.

Cain fought back a powerful urge to tell them to cram it up their asses. They’d only use it as an excuse to get out their shock sticks for a game of torture the Demon Kin. He’d already been the object of that game and he didn’t care to repeat it.

“I think you’re right. The Council should definitely hear of her unholy attraction to one of our enemies,” the other guard said smugly. “They would want to know.”

“They’ll probably want information on how much he encouraged her,” said Chisholm.

“Yes, I agree. We should keep records.”

Cain continued to ignore them. Nothing he said really mattered anyway. These people were determined to use him however they wanted, although he’d yet to figure out what exactly it was they did here at the Novus Vitan Life Studies Research Center. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he – and probably many others of his kind – was a research subject. What had they called it on Old Earth? A guinea pig.

Chapter 2

Monitor

Once again, Promise lay awake in the middle of the night cycle. The life here on the station was definitely interfering with her brain chemistry. She hadn’t been able to sleep properly since arriving a few months prior. And now she was having dreams, frightening ones full of physical aches and a yearning she couldn’t explain or identify. Cain was in some of those dreams.

Across the room, her pet mice, Milli and Micro, scratched in their litter, then raced through the makeshift play tube Promise had put in their cage. If anyone discovered the mice, they’d be taken away from Promise and promptly killed because pets were forbidden on the station. Keeping mice was the only rebellious thing she could ever remember doing, at least since she’d gone to live at the Teacher Training School.

She thought of her friend Catherine, two years younger than herself and even more devoted to the Angelic Way. Catherine would never keep a pet, and she wouldn’t be tempted by a man either. She wouldn’t even notice Cain except as a difficult prisoner. She certainly wouldn’t dream of him or ache for him, or…

She climbed out of bed and slipped a wrap over her thin nightgown. Prayers recited, sacred texts read and re-read; nothing seemed to work to put her back to sleep except getting up and moving around. So she left her private quarters and headed into the office.

The main office contained rows of desks, each of which bore a separate monitor bank attached to a different array of cameras. They were used to track the behavior of the test subjects, both within their cells and when they were released into the corridors. At this time of the night, all the monitors were dark except one group. The person responsible for watching the display was gone, but the evidence of his occupancy lay next to the monitor in the form of an empty snack wrapper.

Idle curiosity made her bend down to check the name of the test subject. Cain. She blinked, scanning the monitors for a glimpse of him. She hadn’t seen him since that day the guards had brought him to her, weeks ago.

His image jumped out at her from the screen. Wild-haired, bearded, the beautifully developed muscles stringy and wasted; he now looked like most of their other subjects. The sexual deprivation the Center had forced on him was taking a huge toll on his health and probably his sanity as well.

I did that to him.

All the Demon Kin responded this way to sexual deprivation; at least, that was what the preliminary results of their research showed. The High Council wanted more series run, however, to be sure the experiments could be easily replicated. Since outside assistance was unlikely – for some reason, most of the other galactic societies frowned on using sentient beings in this kind of research, even if the beings in question were Demon Kin – her group needed to run as many experiments using the largest pool of subjects possible. These experiments were going to help restore Novus Vita to full autonomy. They were vital to the restoration effort.

The Demon Kin conquerors must be overthrown by any means necessary, even if some human lives were ruined in the process. Besides, the women subjects were all whores and other criminals. No decent women found their way into the program, so no-one who really mattered was being harmed.

Yet as she stared at the wild man – er, demon – on the screen, she felt unaccountably uneasy. He clearly stalked someone, and that someone could only be a female test subject. A woman chosen to satisfy the Demon Kin’s thwarted sexual needs, whether she wanted to or not.

She caught a glimpse of a smaller body at the right edge of the monitor screen. That must be the woman.

Promise watched him with a mix of dread and anticipation as he prowled toward the naked female, whom she could just make out in the corner of the screen. The woman had pressed herself into a corner of the corridor, as if she could escape by melting into the wall. She trembled and whimpered as the Demon Kin male approached.

Promise wanted to yell at her. What was she so afraid of? She was a whore, after all. It wasn’t as if she’d never done this before. The Life Studies Center met all her physical needs, so she wasn’t being deprived. Yet she cringed and whined as if something terrible was about to happen to her.

Promise tensed, her hands clutching the corners of the table. She wanted to scream at the woman to run, fight, do something. It was completely ridiculous, of course.

The woman, and the Demon Kin who stalked her, was here in the facility because of Promise. She’d been selected to provide a sexual outlet for one or more of the Demon Kin prisoners. What happened now, the event Promise watched on-screen, was part of the all-important experiment.

Everyone in the galaxy knew that Demon Kin were so oversexed that once they hit adolescence they couldn’t survive without it. According to Demon Kin folklore, abstinence brought cravings so powerful they consumed the mind, made eating impossible, and eventually drove the Demon Kin mad. But no-one had ever tested that lore to see if it were true. At least, not until now.

The Demon Kin had lost their females in the war between them and Promise’s world of Novus Vita. In fact, Novus Vita had sent the plague that had wiped them out. Unfortunately, it had mainly killed females when everyone had hoped – prayed – it would destroy them all.

Of course, Demon Kin being what they were, they hadn’t allowed the sexual deprivation to drive them off the brink of insanity. They’d turned to homosexuality instead, preserving their sanity and using all their resources to discover what exactly the plague was. They’d soon traced it back to her home world.

The Demon Kin had then quickly rallied and retaliated by conquering Novus Vita.

That was why this series of experiments was so important. The Novus Vitan Life Studies Research Center, along with a couple of other secret research installations, was frantically looking for ways to use the Demon Kin’s depraved nature against them so Novus Vita could take back its sovereignty, drive off the invaders, and destroy the evil Demon Kin forever.

They were an affront to the Maker. So what if they’d been genetically engineered – by perverted humans, no less – to look like demons rather than being true evil spirits? Some galactics wanted to excuse them on that basis, but the High Council knew better. No excuse could possibly make their deviant and degenerate nature anything but an oily stain on the universe. Creation was better off without them.

A soft cry from the monitors brought Promise’s attention back. The woman cried out again as Cain touched, fondled her breast. The angle of the camera made his actions clear to Promise. He had her breast in the palm of his hand.

One of the woman’s arms crept around his narrow waist. She was holding him, pressing herself up against him. Promise watched in disbelief. Yes, she’d known the woman was a whore, but she’d been so frightened just a few moments earlier. What was going on?

Did the Demon Kin have some kind of hormone, some chemical messenger that forced the woman to submit?

She continued watching, unable to turn away even though she knew it would harm her immortal soul to see this. Their bodies began to move together, rubbing against each other as their hands explored each other. The sight of Cain’s angular, masculine form wrapped around the smaller female made something deep inside Promise clench in recognition.

What was this ache in her belly? She’d never felt anything like it. The sensation made her nervous, edgy, as if she needed to do something, only she had no idea what that something might be. It must be part of the overwhelming disgust she felt for Cain and his behavior and, yes, for that of the female test subject as well.

Disgust. It wasn’t pretty.

“Angel Promise!” The masculine greeting made her jump.

She turned with a guilty start to find one of the newer guards standing in the doorway with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Oh. Yes. I was…I couldn’t sleep. So I came in here and…well, I couldn’t sleep,” she ended lamely, her cheeks burning.

He’d caught her in her nightgown and wrap, with her hair down, and it was most improper.

He gave her an odd look. “I see that. Are you all right, Angel?”

“I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” Promise smoothed her hands down the skirt of her wrap. “Yes, I’m completely fine. Maybe a cup of tea would help me settle down.”

“I only stepped out for a cup of coffee myself.” He hoisted his mug at her.

“Yes. Coffee must help you stay awake.”

“It’s no trouble when I’ve got a good show, if you know what I mean.” He winked at her. Then a comical look of dismay crossed his face and he blushed. “Sorry, Angel Promise. I didn’t mean anything by that. I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s quite all right,” she said. Thank goodness focus had shifted from her inappropriate watching to his remark. “I’m going to the kitchen now. Good night, Bradley.”

What was wrong with her? This facility was corrupting and changing her in a frightening way. She should never have stopped to take notice of what Cain was doing, let alone watched him…ravish that woman. She received written reports on the test subject encounters and that was quite enough filth for her.

I’ll never watch those monitors again.

Chapter 3

The Kiss

The next night, sleep eluded her once again. She got out of bed and lifted the wire lid on the mouse cage. Tiny gray Milli was currently hunched over the food bowl, chewing on some seeds Promise had stolen for them. She squeaked as Promise scooped her into one hand, but she didn’t offer any other protest. She was a tame little mouse.

Milli sniffed at Promise’s hand, then scurried up her arm to her shoulder. The movement of her tiny feet tickled, making Promise smile. The creature ran around the back of Promise’s neck and disappeared beneath the neckline of her nightgown, running down her other arm inside the tube of her sleeve. When she reached Promise’s wrist, she poked her minuscule head out of the sleeve opening, her shiny dark eyes peering over the edge of the human’s hand toward the floor.

“You’re so cute,” Promise cooed, running a fingertip gently over Milli’s little head. “Aren’t you a cute little mouse?”

She wasn’t as cuddly as the dogs Promise vaguely remembered from her early childhood on the family farm, but she was soft and warm and alive. She responded to Promise and depended on her in a way the humans at the Center did not. Sometimes Promise thought Milli and Micro were the only real friends she had.

Catherine was so far away. On the station, Promise was alone and isolated among all the other people here.

The first mouse she’d ever kept had been Tiny, a white mouse she’d acquired while training for Angel status. She would have been kicked out and disgraced if anyone had discovered her pet, which begged the question of why she would bother having one. She couldn’t answer that. She’d seen the mouse for sale in a pet store and bought it, carrying it home in a shopping bag with her shawl over the cage so no-one would see what was inside.

She’d kept a couple of pet mice ever since – two because they were social creatures and she didn’t want them to be lonely. They didn’t live very long and she’d gone through quite a few generations of pets. It was sad to see them die. Yet she continued to acquire new ones, naming them and training them to allow her to handle them.

She returned Milli to the cage. Micro poked her small black head out of the play tube. Her playmate immediately ran over and they sniffed each other’s noses. Promise put the wire top back on the cage.

She still felt too jumpy and nervous to sleep. She needed to walk. Physical activity would help burn off all this nervous energy. She left her quarters, but not for the office. There was no way she was getting near one of the monitors. The Maker only knew what she would see if she did.

Instead, she turned into one of the cell blocks. They would be quiet as death at this hour, as long as she stayed away from the section where the current encounter was taking place – and a night encounter was rare anyway. Here, in one of the identical gray passageways, she could walk and walk without interruption or fear of meeting one of the guards.

There was no way for a prisoner to escape his cell, so the guards had little to do when their subjects slept. Promise found the corridor as empty as she’d expected it to be, the prisoners all locked into their respective cells.

Her feet made little sound on the thick padding of the floor. She glanced to her left at one of the cells. The window in the door was closed, the barrier down tight. The one next to it was the same, but the third one had the barrier up.

Curious, Promise wandered over to it and peered into the cell. Thick darkness hid everything inside it. Probably the cell was currently unoccupied. With a shrug, she wandered on.

She’d made little progress on her scheme to replace her staff. The problem was finding new people before she let go of the old ones. She couldn’t simply purge the place of all the guards and then look for replacements or there would be a period of time with no-one to take care of the prisoners. She couldn’t condone that, even if the prisoners were Demon Kin.

There’d been little time to scheme anyway. This facility was understaffed and underfunded, and it took everything she had to keep it running properly. Although she used the term “properly” only in its loosest sense.

A dark sound drew her attention to one of the cells on her right. She turned her head toward it to see a male peering out from the shadows of his cell. A familiar-looking male. Her entire body tingled in recognition.

“You,” he said in a rough voice.

“Cain.”

Was it coincidence that she’d ended up next to his cell or had some part of her sought him out? She hoped it was coincidence.

“What are you doing here?” He sounded angry.

“That’s none of your business.”

Cain snorted. “You are my business, Angel.” Her title sounded like a curse coming from him.

“Why are you not asleep?” she said.

“Why aren’t you?”

Promise folded her arms across her chest, frowning at him in irritation. “I asked you a question. Answer it.”

“I asked you one as well.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” She took a step toward him. “Why is your barrier up?”

“I don’t know. They left it this way.”

She glared at him, wondering. Perhaps there was something wrong with his implant, the one which controlled the Demon Kin’s psychic abilities. Every Demon Kin prisoner received one upon being received at the facility, for the protection of the staff. Perhaps, if his wasn’t working, he’d managed to warp the mind of one of his guards. But no. If he could do that, he could have escaped, yet here he was behind a locked door. It was probably nothing more than carelessness.

They had a problem with carelessness in this facility.

She came even closer to him, heart beginning to race at his proximity. The light in the corridor was so dim it was difficult to tell what color his eyes were. But she could see their expressive shape, the long and heavy fringe of curled lashes, the straight slashes of his brows. She could see the contempt and hatred, too.

“What you’re doing is evil,” he ground out. “You should be ashamed, but I’ll wager you’re not.”

“We’re doing important work here. I’m proud of it.” Yet an uneasy twinge moved through her at his words.

He was trying to suborn her. Trying to twist her thinking to suit himself. Well, he wouldn’t win. She was an Angel, not some street whore like the female he’d taken the night before.

“I’m going to shut the window barrier, Cain,” she said.

“You’ll have to come close to me for that.” He smiled at her, a predatory glint in his eyes. “Are you sure you have the courage for that?”

Her heart stuttered. She wasn’t sure. Coming close to him would be dangerous – not so much in the physical sense, but spiritually. The pull of him already threatened to overwhelm her; what would happen if she came within centimeters of him?

She stopped herself. Was she truly going to allow this degenerate monster to stop her from doing her duty? Promise lifted her chin, giving him a narrow-eyed glare.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re no threat to me.” She marched up to the wall and punched in the close code.

Nothing happened. Promise’s lips tightened as she tried again. What now? Honestly, the guards were the most incompetent bunch of idiots she’d ever had to manage. They’d probably been playing around earlier and had bungled the code, most likely by changing it to something childishly obscene.

A hand shot out between the bars of the window and grabbed her by the neck. Promise gasped as Cain’s fingers closed around her flesh. She was an idiot! Even a child would have known not to come so close to a dangerous man like him.

She’d let his taunting compromise her good judgment, let her pride make the decision to get close to him.

“Angel Promise,” he purred, reeling her in like a helpless fish on a hook.

He touched her. His skin pressed intimately against hers. The tingling pull toward him intensified even as he forced her closer.

She could have screamed, but that would alert the guards to her abysmal foolishness and she couldn’t afford the damage to her reputation. So she allowed him to pull her toward the window, until her face was merely inches from his.

Gray. His eyes were gray, a pale and chilly color that reminded her of a cloudy winter sky. They were filled with rage, hatred, and something else that brought back the ache in her core. Promise’s heart raced and she broke out in a sweat.

“Let me go!”

“Ah, Angel, you first.”

She swallowed hard and the movement of her throat made her even more aware of his fingers on her. She could smell him, too, right through the bars. He smelled pungently male, of sweat and desperation. Disgusting.

“What do you want?” Her voice sounded so breathy and helplessly feminine she could have kicked herself.

“You.” He grinned, but it wasn’t a friendly smile. “I want you, Angel.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Why not? Isn’t it your title?”

She couldn’t reply, couldn’t seem to form a coherent thought, let alone a sentence. His fingers felt like bands of titanium around her throat. Demon Kin were much stronger than humans. He could have choked her to death, could have snapped her neck, could have bruised her terribly at the very least. But he didn’t do any of those things. He merely held her against the door.

Then he angled his head, pressing his skull against the bars until his lips met hers. She jerked, yanked backward, but his grip on her neck held her in place. No-one had ever kissed her. Well, perhaps her mother had, long ago, but she couldn’t remember it if it had happened. Certainly, no man had ever dared to put his lips to any part of her.

At first they felt hard. Angry. He mashed his mouth onto hers and she could feel the hard planes of his teeth through the flesh of his lips. She made a wordless sound of protest, continuing to press her skull back against the force of his hand.

Her palms rose and met the cold, metal surface of the door. She pushed, shoved, trying to pry herself backward. He was too strong for her. The pressure on the back of her neck became painful, bruising. She whimpered, just like the woman on the monitor.

Cain refused to release her. His hand on her neck kept her trapped against the door, pinned her so her face remained in the opening between the bars. But his lips gentled, the force and pressure of his kiss gradually lifting until his mouth merely rested against hers.

His breath sawed in and out of his nose, agitated and angry. Or was the emotion there something else altogether? She stared at his face, so close to hers she could see the individual hairs of his lashes and brows, the texture of his skin, the faint lines at the corners of his eyes. They were closed. His eyes were closed. What did that mean? It seemed important, but she couldn’t decode it.

Then his lower lip drew away, briefly, and returned for a gentle pull on her upper. She drew in a surprised breath. He did it again, his lips grabbing lightly at hers, pulling, releasing, first her upper and then her lower. Moisture from his mouth slicked over her lips.

The gentle tugging and caressing went on and on while she merely stood there, trapped, enduring. She’d given up on fighting him. Further resistance would only bruise her. The best course of action was to stand here and pretend this meant nothing to her. That it couldn’t really touch her, not inside where it mattered.

Of course, that was a lie.

She’d already changed. Her heart still raced, and she trembled, and she couldn’t tell if it was from fear or horror or that other thing, the same magnetic thing that made her achy and restless. Because the truth was that the movements of Cain’s lips over hers felt good. She wanted more of it.

That tingling ache had reappeared in the depths of her body and even between her legs. It made her restless. It made her want to move her body against the metal door, as if the door could stand in for Cain. What would it be like to press herself up to the hot, hard column of his frame? To feel his arms around her?

She whimpered. Something hot and wet slid suggestively along the place where her lips met and she whimpered again at the strangeness of it. His tongue. He’d just licked her.

He did it again. For some reason, it prompted her to part her lips. The instant she did, he took advantage and thrust his tongue into her mouth.

Promise reared back, or at least she tried to. His hand on her neck prevented her from escaping. Instead he kept her still for his invading tongue.

Cain groaned, his fingers tightening faintly on her neck.

He was a scalding, wet possession of her mouth, a column of pure male need thrusting and probing the depths of her. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think or react or understand what was happening to her.

Then she remembered to pull air in through her nose and suddenly she could breathe again. And she noticed he wasn’t hurting her. Somehow the sensation of his tongue inside her, violating her mouth, somehow it made the ache in her almost unbearably sweet. Soft noises escaped her throat and the noises seemed to inflame him even more because he groaned again, more loudly this time.

Was that her own tongue moving against his? Had she really put her tongue in a man’s mouth?

Apparently, she had. He tasted wild. He tasted like a need she didn’t understand, had never wanted to understand.

Her left hand rose, as if it had independent will, and reached through the bars to bury her fingers in his hair. So soft, even as unkempt as he was. Soft and cool over his warm scalp.

He jerked away, releasing her neck as he stumbled backward. Panting. Promise clapped her hand over her still-wet mouth. She was wet from his kisses.

Was he wet from hers?

Oh, Maker, what had she done?

Enough light seeped into his cell from the corridor that she could see his face. She could see the horror there. He was horrified? He was the one who’d started this. What did he have to be dismayed about?

He actually looked ashamed, sickened, as he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Leave me,” he barked, his beautiful lips twisting in apparent disgust.

Chapter 4

Breach Of Ethics

Promise turned, her eyes stinging, and ran back up the corridor toward the entrance to the cell block, the squashy floor muffling the sound of her footfalls. She crashed through the door that separated the cells from the offices and laboratories. She ran past closed rooms, darkened for the night, ran until she reached her own private quarters.

In her front room, she threw herself onto her small gray couch, gray like everything else in this awful place, and buried her head in her hands. Her whole body quivered. She still ached inside, in her breasts, in her belly, in the unspeakable place between her legs. What had he done to her?

It occurred to her that she’d run, according to his order, even though he had no right to give her orders and no way to enforce them. Ridiculous. A man barked at her and she obeyed, just like every other Novus Vitan female. She wasn’t nearly as different as she’d imagined.

She couldn’t stay here at the facility. She wasn’t fit for her position. For one thing, she’d committed a gross breach of ethics by touching a prisoner in such a manner. For another, the work here was corrupting her in ways she couldn’t have even imagined before she’d accepted the job. She hardly recognized herself anymore.

Tomorrow. When the day cycle began, she would tender her resignation. But on what grounds? She was an Angel, not a private citizen. She couldn’t simply walk away, not without leaving the Order of Angels altogether.

If she explained what had happened, she’d have to reveal her actions to someone in charge, and that someone would be a man. It would be difficult and humiliating enough if she were to confess to another woman, but to a man? Every person on the High Council was male. She would have to confess her behavior to one of those blade-mouthed old men, perhaps to all of them, while they sat in judgment on her.

And what then? The consequences for a female Teacher who broke her vows and engaged in any sort of sexual behavior were severe. Usually, no-one ever heard from those women again. She’d heard rumors, horrible tales of brutal violations and executions, but she didn’t truly know anything about their fates.

Until now, she’d always assumed they deserved what they got. Until now.

She was no ordinary Teacher, either. She was one of only two female Angels to ever exist at all. They would make a terrible example of her. For the rest of history, her name would be remembered as that of a female Angel destroyed by her feminine weaknesses. She’d be used as an excuse to keep other women from rising into similar positions.

She could see the smug faces of her detractors as they observed her demise, her torture and violation leading to death.

Promise’s stomach churned and cramped. Bile rose in her throat. She felt as if she might vomit.

She put her hand over her mouth again, breathing slowly in and out through her nose. She did not want to end up like one of those disgraced Teachers.

She couldn’t tell, then. She couldn’t tell anyone, or behave in such a way as to even hint at what she’d done. No-one but her and Cain must ever know what had happened on Cell Block One.

***

 Cain backed into the shadows of his cell as Angel Promise turned her back on him and ran away. Good. She ought to run.

If she’d stayed, he would have had to – to what? It wasn’t as if he could really do anything at all, especially once he’d released his hold on her. When she was too far away for him to grab through the bars, she might as well be on the surface of Belleren.

His heart ached with longing for his home world. His cock – his whole body – ached with longing for a hateful, undersexed, dried up Novus Vitan fanatic with beautiful hair. That hair, freed from its knot and hanging loose in a thick golden curtain, had almost made him groan with desire at the beauty of it. And the taste of her. God, the taste of her. He’d never be able to get her flavor, the heat and slickness of her sweet mouth, out of his head.

What, in the all the names of the gods of Belleren, was wrong with him?

He liked human women. Demon Kin women were better, but there were few of them left. Although human females were more fragile, they were just as delectable. But normally he avoided pinched little sticks like Angel Promise. There were plenty of sweet and willing women who knew how to enjoy themselves; he didn’t need to pursue nasty, hateful old bags like Promise.

Except she wasn’t old. She was younger, he’d wager, than he’d first estimated. Her lips felt softer than rose petals under his and the taste of her had driven him wild with lust.

The heavy door of the cell block banged loudly enough to hurt his sensitive Demon Kin ears. She must have gone through it full tilt. Running as if the Novus Vitan Devil himself were after her.

Cain should never have touched her. Now he wanted her even more, wanted her more than he’d ever desired a woman before – even Lili – and he could never have her. Talk about the unattainable woman. Angel Promise was as unattainable as a female could get.

Now here he was, suffering unrequited lust for a woman who despised him. He would have to ensure he got over it quickly, or it would turn into torture.

Aching guilt settled into his heart and belly. He wanted that unspeakable creature even more than he’d ever wanted Lili, the love of his life. How could that be? What was wrong with him that he would even look at someone like Promise, let alone allow desire for her to overtake the desire he’d felt for his own enchained mate?

Never mind that Lili was long dead. That wasn’t the point. He owed her some kind of loyalty. He’d loved her with single-minded desperation and now he was sullying her memory with this inexplicable yearning for a Novus Vitan Angel, of all people.

He’d never been so painfully aroused from a mere kiss. Only their mouths had touched, yet now that Promise was gone, his body began to hurt. Not the ache of unsatisfied sexual excitement – something deeper, more powerful. Something that almost felt like enchainment.

His kind could become addicted to lovers, and they could inspire addiction in return. Even humans – maybe especially humans – were vulnerable to Demon Kins’ addicting effects, called enchainment. But enchainment usually resulted from several intense sexual encounters, not one kiss. His and Lili’s enchainment hadn’t taken effect until they’d been together at least five times.

The single kiss enchainment was the stuff of myth, legend. He’d never believed it was real, yet now he wondered.

Promise had felt the attraction too. He knew that, had sensed it that first time they’d met, when they faced off in her office. And the sexual nature of this imprisonment suggested they were manipulating Demon Kin sexuality at this facility.

Could she have planned tonight’s encounter that way? Had she come to his cell hoping he would attempt to touch her, attempt to make physical contact? Was she so devious she would deliberately tempt him with her nearness, just so she could deprive him of herself?

No. He’d bet she hadn’t meant to get so close to him. She’d seemed legitimately terrified of him when he’d grabbed her. He’d been able to smell her fear.

And then he’d smelled her lust.

He smiled to himself as he remembered it. Angel Promise wasn’t a dried up stick at all. She’d softened to him with astonishing rapidity. She’d even put her sweet little tongue in his mouth.

Desist, Cain. You want to forget her, not reinforce your…

He stopped himself before he could think the word “attraction.” Or any synonyms thereof, such as lust, yearning, desire, want, longing –

Sweet breasts freed from their confinement, soft in his hands; long golden hair brushing his skin; the hot, wet cave of her sheath tightening around his –

Gods of Belleren. Stop. It. Now.

He slammed his fist into the unyielding wall of his cell. The pain instantly jammed his thoughts, interrupting the endless, obsessive loop of Promise images.

She is nothing to you. She is tainted, ruined by her fanatic upbringing. She will never be anything to you. If she has her way, you will slowly go mad here and eventually die.

A few repetitions of that litany doused his remaining lust better than an ice-water bath. Angel Promise was not for him. Even if he were free, he would never truly want or pursue a woman like her.

Chapter 5

Josiah

The Council member Angel Josiah had the thinnest lips Promise had ever seen. He also had the deepest frown lines and the coldest eyes. He epitomized the blade-faced men of the High Council of Angels, which was probably why he’d been chosen to be the Council’s liaison with the Life Studies Research Center. There would be no nonsense with Angel Josiah, no sweet-talking him, no friendly chit-chat.

He was all business. The Maker’s business.

“Chisholm tells me you’re having problems with one of your test subjects,” Angel Josiah said without preamble.

Promise stiffened, her jaw tightening as rage over Chisholm’s behavior threatened to erupt right through her exhaustion. He’d violated protocol by going over her head, for one thing. For another, his statement was untrue.

Yes, Cain had been inappropriate with her, but what could one expect from a Demon Kin? It had been Chisholm who’d brought the creature into her offices, an act which was strictly against the facility’s procedures.

At the thought of Cain, his lean and muscled body, his spectacular erection, she flushed all over. The taste of him…Maker, she hoped Josiah couldn’t see her reaction over the vid link. He would probably take it as an admission of guilt.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said. “The test subjects are completely under our control.”

Except when Cain had kissed her. Then he hadn’t been under her control at all. She’d been under his.

Her whole body throbbed in a traitorous ache at the memory of his lips on hers, his tongue in her mouth. She’d been aching a lot lately and wracked with exhaustion, as if she were coming down with the flu. But it wasn’t the flu. In her experience, a virus didn’t get worse when she thought about men. Not even beautiful men like Cain. Not that she’d ever met a man like Cain before – she certainly had never kissed one.

Her unspeakable parts, deep between her legs, ached too in the strangest way. She avoided squirming in her seat only by a tremendous effort of will.

“Then the story he told me about the male who spoke directly to you wasn’t true?” Josiah said. “You know it’s against protocol for you to have direct contact with the subjects, especially the males.”

Promise held herself carefully still. If she shifted or showed any sign of unease, the administrator would pick up on it.

“The subject did speak to me, but only because Chisholm acceded to his request. The test subject demanded to see me and Chisholm allowed it. He’s been suitably reprimanded.”

“I see.” Josiah lifted one dry, gray brow. “The subject or Chisholm?”

“Both, however I was referring to Chisholm. He should have tranqed the man rather than giving in to his demands.”

“I agree, Angel Promise. However, I’m concerned you have insufficient control over your staff.”

So was Promise. The last night cycle, she’d awoken from a nightmare that the guards had mutinied and overthrown her. She couldn’t admit that, though, and she could never let Angel Josiah know her staff didn’t respect her. If he thought for even a moment that she, as a woman, had failed to impress her authority upon men such as Chisholm, she’d be snatched back to Novus Vita before she could say Life Studies Research Center.

“I’ll clamp down on Chisholm, sir,” she said, far more calmly than she felt. “He’s a troublemaker. The rest of them are all right.”

“I hope you’re correct, Angel Promise, for your sake.”

Promise gave him a manufactured smile. “I am, I assure you. All is well here.”

What a lie. She didn’t believe it, and she had a feeling Angel Josiah didn’t either.

“I’d like a report in three days,” Josiah said. “To make sure you’re getting Chisholm back on track. And I advise you to have a staff meeting with all the guards, in which you remind them of correct protocol and their duties to you and to Novus Vita.”

“I’ll do that, sir.”

“Excellent. In that case, I’ll let you get back to work.”

She didn’t trust the thin-lipped smile he gave her. It never reached his eyes. Come to think of it, none of the men on the Angelic High Council smiled with their eyes, just with a strained-looking stretch of the lips.

She turned off her vid-link console with a sigh of relief and slumped in her chair. Thank the Maker that interview was over.

The ache in her belly was not. The conversation had opened the genie’s bottle of her feelings regarding Cain and she was going to have a difficult time shutting it again.

I don’t have any feelings about Cain except for loathing and disgust.

She didn’t really believe herself, but she repeated the thought anyway. Loathing and disgust. That was all he provoked in her. Well, those two things plus a healthy dose of fear. He was a formidable male and he would terrify her if he ever got loose.

Lucky for you, he’s in a cell and those cells are impossible to escape from.

She took a deep breath and noticed her hands were trembling. Maker, she’d been so proud and full of herself when she’d arrived at the facility, so sure she could handle anything the guards or test subjects could throw at her. She was an Angel, after all. Now, every turn of the day/night cycle brought a deeper sense of doom.

Something awful and unstoppable was on its way toward her, like an asteroid heading straight for the surface of a helpless planet. And, like a rock on that surface, all she could do was huddle and wait in dread for the catastrophe to strike her.

She didn’t even know the name of the disaster, what form it would take. All she knew was something big, dark, and terrible was coming.

Nonsense. Stop this superstitious sniveling and get back to work.

But she couldn’t focus on anything except Angel Josiah’s words. It was three o’clock in the morning according to the facility’s day/night cycle, a time chosen for its convenience to Josiah’s schedule. She’d gotten up just so he could grill her over the Chisholm Incident, and now she couldn’t sleep and she couldn’t work either.

What was wrong with her? She’d been asking herself that question for a few weeks now and was no closer to the answer. At first, she’d thought it had something to do with the artificial environment of the facility. Canned air, insufficient gravity, artificial light, and food grown in hydroponic gardens instead of on the natural surface of a planet could all contribute to derangement of the human body’s systems.

But now she suspected there was something else going on. Her symptoms had grown dramatically worse since that first meeting with Cain. And that kiss…that kiss had nearly ruined her. She’d thought of little else since.

Shame flushed her body with painful heat. She was an Angel. Carnal contact with a male was not only forbidden, it was unthinkable. Yet not only had she submitted to Cain’s kiss, she’d thought of it continually since it had happened.

And the aches and pains in her body had grown worse, markedly worse, since the kiss. It was as if he were making her sick. Could she have caught a virus from him?

She prowled restlessly across the open space of her office. Perhaps she should have the medical team test both her and Cain for illness. Although how she could arrange that without tipping them off that she had a connection with the redheaded Demon Kin was beyond her.

Perhaps she could have all the test subjects and the staff examined, so the guards and scientists couldn’t pick out any single person in whom she might be interested.

No-one could know. No-one could even guess. It would be the end of her. And Cain would suffer too, if anyone suspected he’d touched her.

She stopped pacing. Why should she care if Cain suffered? He was Demon Kin, evil by nature. He’d assaulted her, kissed her against her will.

She ought to rejoice in the thought of his punishment, but instead it made her cringe inside. It made her…Maker, it actually made her sad to think of him suffering because of her.

She was going mad.

Was he feeling these aches as well? Were his thoughts turning toward her? Did he wake from dreams with the feel and taste of her lips still on his?

No, surely not. He was an experienced male, a man of the world and a soldier. He’d probably kissed more women than he could count or remember. She probably meant nothing to him.

Promise’s gaze settled on one of the monitors and lingered there. Images had caught her eye, images of sex. She leaned closer, half afraid she’d once again see Cain with another woman. But it wasn’t Cain.

A striking black-haired Demon Kin embraced a much smaller, dark-skinned human female. The woman’s head had been shaved, identifying her as one of the criminals they’d recently imported from Novus Vita Planetary Prison For Women Number One. The way the two of them touched each other struck Promise with a combined sense of wonder and astonishment.

Their caresses were nothing less than tender. Almost loving. The woman stroked the man’s face as they stared into each other’s eyes. She’d never seen anything like it, even at home on Novus Vita. Maybe especially not there. These two had bonded in some way. Maybe it was only enchainment, but something about the softness on their faces suggested otherwise.

They reminded her uncomfortably of herself and Cain. Yes, he’d forced himself on her, but at the same time she’d wanted him to touch her. There had been sweetness in his kiss, gentleness as well as desire. The sweetness had all been a lie, of course, but for the black-haired man and his lover, it was no lie. She could see, even through the distance provided by the monitor, how real their feelings were.

And the facility – she herself – were keeping them locked up, separated from each other except when the experimental schedule demanded they be put together again. How could that be right? Didn’t they deserve some happiness?

This line of thinking wasn’t healthy. She needed a distraction immediately, something to take her mind far off the images on the monitor.

Feeling a little desperate, she linked to Catherine. Her friend lived in the same city as Josiah, so she shouldn’t be sleeping. But as soon as the call went through, Promise thought of disconnecting. What would she say? Catherine was an Angel too. She might think it her duty to report Promise; she might even think she was helping.

The screen wavered and Catherine’s image appeared. Too late to back out now. Her red hair was braided tightly to her head. Red hair, just like Cain’s.

Promise flushed uncomfortably.

“Hello, Promise,” Catherine said, her voice smooth and well-modulated, with only the merest hint of warmth to show they were friends. “How are things at the Center?”

“They’re fine,” she said brightly. Maybe a bit too brightly. She didn’t sound particularly Angelic with that tone in her voice. “I’m learning a great deal.”

“I can imagine.”

Was that irony she heard in Catherine’s tone? Surely not. Catherine was never ironic or sarcastic.

“I…um…I shouldn’t have called,” Promise stammered. “You must be busy.”

“It’s late where you are,” Catherine said. “The middle of the night cycle. Why are you awake?”

“I had a discussion with Angel Josiah and I couldn’t sleep afterward.”

“Oh.” A barely detectable frown crimped Catherine’s brows. “Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yes. We had – have – a difficult prisoner. Josiah and I were discussing how best to handle him.”

Catherine’s frown deepened, just enough to be clearly visible. “I hope you’re safe. Are those animals violent?”

“They’re – not usually, no.”

Catherine’s labeling of the Demon Kin as animals, her assumption that they would be violent and dangerous irritated her. Which was very odd. She’d had the same assumption before she’d started work at the facility, and most of the time she still believed it. Although now that she really thought about it, they’d shown little desire to hurt anyone.

That’s because they’re locked in cells. Let them out and see what happens.

“I’ve been thinking of you lately,” Catherine said in her serene way.

“Oh? Why is that?”

“I miss you, for one thing.” The dimple in Catherine’s cheek made one of its rare appearances. “We haven’t seen each other in months.”

“That’s true. I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you more often.”

Catherine made a dismissive gesture. “I’m sure you have more important things to attend to. But I have been wondering how your new position is affecting you. Exposure to Demon Kin can’t be good for you.”

“I’m doing well, Catherine. They aren’t affecting me at all.” Liar.

“Well. That’s good. I’m glad you’re doing so well. I was afraid the work would change you.” Catherine gave a stiff little laugh. “You know I worry too much.”

“Don’t worry about me. Honestly. I’m fine. I enjoy my work and I’m proud to have been chosen to do it. How is your work going?”

“It’s all right. I’ve begun a new study of Demon Kin culture.”

Promise let her eyes go round. “Demon Kin culture. Isn’t that awfully dangerous?”

Catherine rolled her eyes in an unusually playful way. “No. I’m only reading and watching vids, not interacting directly with them.”

“Still, you be careful.”

“We’ll both be careful. I’ll call you again in about five days, if that’s all right?” Catherine said.

“Yes. Five days. Talk to you then.”

She cut the connection, feeling slightly unsettled. Why was Catherine studying the Demon Kin? Surely there were other Angels who could do that job. It seemed odd that the only two female Angels in existence were both assigned to Demon Kin related positions.

Promise sighed. Her distraction had done little good. She’d merely talked to someone else about the prisoners instead of moving on to a completely unrelated subject. And now Catherine knew, or at least guessed, that she was over her head with the prisoners. The Demon Kin.

Catherine was a good friend. The only real friend she had. But she was an Angel and her first loyalty would always be to the High Council of Angels.

She wouldn’t say anything about me to them. Besides, I didn’t give away anything important or incriminating.

Still, the call had done nothing to settle her. She felt just as restless as before.

There were no experiments tonight on Cain’s cell block. All the prisoners – er, test subjects – were locked safely in their cells. It would be quiet there.

Cain would be there.

Without thinking about what she was doing, Promise left her office and headed for Cell Block One.

Chapter 6

Love And War

Angel Catherine leaned back in her office chair and heaved a discreet sigh. No-one would hear – she was alone in her office – but long habit made her careful about any display of emotion whatsoever. One never knew when a watcher might be present, unseen, and report one’s actions to the authorities.

You are an authority.

But she was authority in name only. She and Promise were Angels, but they were also female and under constant and intense scrutiny. Any hint of a slip, a mistake, a weakness of any kind would bring the High Council down on their heads and there would be no mercy. They were Angels on sufferance.

Some in the High Council wanted to be rid of them. Although no-one had said so publicly, she sensed it. The two female Angels had powerful enemies.

Promise must know it too. That was why her almost-confession over the vid link worried Catherine so. She hadn’t said anything incriminating, but the temptation had clearly been there. The words – whatever they were – had been on the tip of Promise’s tongue and if she’d said them aloud, although the conversation was theoretically private, they could be picked up by someone with a vested interest in seeing the women fail.

That was why it worried Catherine so much. Only the worst stress imaginable would drive Promise to risk revealing her true feelings. Especially if there was trouble with her new position.

Catherine chewed thoughtfully on her fingernail. Was there something she could do to help her friend? She couldn’t think of anything. After all, she didn’t know what the real problem was, only that Promise had a troublesome prisoner.

“Angel Catherine, is everything all right?” her secretary said.

She started slightly, knocked out of her reverie by the other woman’s voice. She hadn’t even noticed her entering the room. “Yes, Naomi, everything is fine. Why?”

“You looked worried.” Naomi gave her a questioning look, her light-brown brows drawn together.

“Just thinking, that’s all.”

“Did your conversation with your friend go well?”

Naomi was fishing for information again. Catherine had wondered, off and on, whether her new secretary was being paid extra to report her activities. The woman was constantly asking questions, unnecessary ones, and keeping careful tabs on Catherine’s whereabouts. She quizzed her every morning about her activities the evening before, never mind the fact that all Catherine ever did was go home, pray, go to bed.

“Yes, thank you.” She smiled her serene Angel smile, the one she’d learned as a girl. “It was lovely to hear from her.”

“I imagine so. I’ve never had the honor of meeting Angel Promise.” Naomi straightened some paper files that didn’t need straightening.

“She’s a lot like me,” Catherine said. “So you’re not missing much.”

“You shouldn’t talk about yourself that way,” Naomi scolded. “You’re a holy woman. Everyone looks up to you and loves you.”

She kept her serene smile affixed to her face. “Thank you, Naomi. What a sweet thing to say.”

No-one loved her. Some might admire her, some envied her, some despised her, but no-one loved her. No-one except perhaps the Maker Himself, and sometimes in the darkest hours of the night, Catherine even wondered about that.

“My little niece wants to be just like you,” her secretary said. “She’s begging her parents to send her to a Teacher training school.”

“Is that so? Do you think she has a true calling?”

Naomi blinked, looking a bit taken-aback. “Why, I don’t know. I never thought of it that way before. I’ve just been so proud of her, that’s all.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Catherine smiled again, trying to inject just a hint of warmth into it. “She must be a wonderful little girl.”

There was no way she could explain to Naomi what attendance at a Teacher training school would likely do to her little niece. No way to warn her about the harsh stripping away of every softness, every bit of warmth, everything sweet and comforting the girl had ever known. She couldn’t tell her about any of that without revealing herself too fully for safety.

For women like Catherine and Promise, no place was truly safe.

*** 

Cain had had a female just the day before. She knew this because she’d checked the rotation when she’d arisen that morning. Promise turned her thoughts away from the reason she’d checked. It didn’t matter. It was merely idle curiosity.

Just like now. She was unable to sleep, agitated, in need of distraction. Her call to Catherine hadn’t worked and she needed another strategy. That was why she was going into the cell block.

Only that wasn’t true and she knew it the instant she came up to his cell, because he was awake. He was awake and standing at the window of his room, gripping the bars, staring out into the passageway as if he’d known she was coming.

Why was his window open again? That was against the rules. The windows were only to be opened when the guards needed to spray down a subject or fire a tranquilizer dart at him. Was Chisholm responsible for this?

Cain stared out at her with hungry eyes. He looked exactly like a starving man staring at a feast he couldn’t eat. No-one had ever looked at her that way before.

“I knew you’d come again,” he said hoarsely.

“No, you didn’t,” she said with automatic contrariness. “I didn’t even know myself.”

He laughed softly. “I did, little Angel. Come here.”

“No.” But her idiotic feet took one step toward him before she realized what she was doing. She stopped dead in the center of the passageway.

“You should let me out of here,” he said. “We could run away together.”

Promise’s jaw dropped. “Run away together? Why in heaven’s name would I do that?”

“Because you want me.”

She gaped at him, stunned into silence by his overwhelming arrogance.

“I want you, too, although only the gods know why,” he continued.

She clenched her hands at the insult. “Only the gods, indeed.”

His head tilted slightly to one side, causing an errant red curl to fall over one eye. “Did I hurt your feelings, Angel? I thought you holy types didn’t have any.”

“Of course we have feelings.” Although when she remembered Josiah’s flat eyes, she wasn’t so sure.

“It’s a relief to hear that.” He smirked, the expression so full of confident insolence that she gaped again. It was almost as if he didn’t understand he was a prisoner.

He lost the smirk as he stared more intently at her, his gray eyes almost black in the low night-cycle lighting. The sharp, chiseled lines of his jaw were now obscured by weeks of beard growth, the hair curly and darker than that on his scalp. He was still beautiful, but she preferred him clean-shaven.

What am I saying? I don’t prefer him at all.

“Come here,” he said again, this time with a lazy smile.

She didn’t trust that smile. It could mean almost anything. It could mean he planned to reach between the bars again and grab her, maybe bite her.

“You hate me,” she said, surprising herself. “Why would I want to go near you?”

“Do I hate you?” He sounded as if he were seriously considering the matter. As if he didn’t know how he really felt about her.

Promise scowled at him. “Of course you do. You blame me for your imprisonment.”

His long-fingered hands came up to casually grasp the bars. “I blame your government, certainly, but I don’t think I blame you personally. You didn’t seek me out in particular, did you?”

She flushed. “No. Why would I?”

The smile reappeared. “Why indeed?”

Promise crossed her arms over her chest, frowning. “Cain, I didn’t choose you. I had no idea you even existed until that day Chisholm brought you into my office.”

“All right.”

“It’s true!”

He grinned. “I never said it wasn’t.”

“Well, your tone of voice suggested otherwise.”

“Did it? How odd.”

He was impossible. Rude, insolent, and full of himself. How she’d like to teach him his place, but if he hadn’t learned it yet being trapped in that cell then he probably never would.

His arm shot out between the bars and grasped her by the wrist. Promise gasped, jumping backward. But his hold was too strong and she couldn’t free herself from his grip without an injury.

She’d come too close to the window again without even realizing she was moving forward. Truly she’d lost her mind.

“Your skin is soft,” he said as he hauled her toward him, apparently without effort.

Promise stumbled, falling against the door of his cell. “Let me go.”

“Ah, Angel, you aren’t in a position to give me orders at the moment.”

She growled. “I can call for help. Guards will come. They’ll hurt you for touching me.”

“That’s true,” he said, staring into her eyes. “But I don’t think you will. If the guards came, how would you explain my catching you? How would you explain the open window?”

“I wouldn’t,” she said, her voice irritatingly breathless. “Clearly the open window was someone else’s mistake.”

“Was it? Whose? After all, you’re the only one with me.”

She froze for an instant, struck by a terrible idea. “Did you – did you pay someone to leave it open? Or influence their mind?”

“Now, Angel, if I could do that, don’t you think I’d escape? No, I didn’t ask for it to be left open.”

His lashes were so long and thick they almost looked fake. They were dark, too, much darker than the hair on his head. They outlined his pale eyes like some kind of natural cosmetic, making him look all the more striking.

She hated his eyelashes. No-one should be that beautiful. Especially not a Demon Kin.

“I want to know who’s responsible for this,” she said, even more breathlessly.

“So do I. I’d like to thank him.”

By now, he’d drawn her arm through the window and into his cell. This forced her up against his door, just like that other time. The metal felt cold through her nightgown and she cursed herself for forgetting her robe.

Cain’s other hand reached out. His fingers brushed against her cheek.

“So soft,” he murmured.

“Don’t touch me.”

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” he said, continuing to stroke her face.

“Angels don’t care about such things.”

“Don’t they? Then why did I hurt your feelings earlier?”

She gritted her teeth. “Let me go before I scream.”

“You’re not going to make any noise. You don’t want anyone to know you’re here, do you, Angel?”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Why?” He stroked the side of her neck. “I thought you were proud of your title.”

“I – I am an Angel. We have no pride.”

Now his thumb brushed ever so gently across her lower lip, flooding her with heat. “Ah, Promise, how you lie to yourself.”

She tried to pull her face out of his reach, to no avail. “What do you want with me? Why are you doing this?”

“Don’t you know?” He continued to explore her face with those butterfly caresses. Damn him, they felt good. He probably knew they felt good.

“If I knew why,” she snapped, “I wouldn’t ask you.”

“We’re connected, you and me,” he said. “We belong to each other.”

She snorted a laugh, in direct contradiction to the trembling and yearning that flooded her at his touch. “That’s ridiculous. We don’t belong together.”

“Yes, the gods have a perverse sense of humor,” he said. “But we are connected. Can’t you feel it?”

“The only thing I feel is severe annoyance.”

He chuckled and it made her want to smack him. “Liar.”

“I’m really starting to despise you, Cain.”

“That must be very uncomfortable for you.”

He had no idea how uncomfortable. “Let me go now. You don’t like me. I don’t like you. We don’t belong together.”

“The problem is that we mortals don’t get to choose these connections. We can deny it, of course, but denial is extremely painful. Debilitating. You’ll only get sicker and sicker the longer you try to resist your attraction to me, and that will undermine your authority in your job.”

“You’re undermining my authority right now.”

He left off caressing her face to reach around and cup the back of her skull, drawing her even closer to the bars as his gaze focused on her lips. Just like the last time. Her heart jumped frantically. He was going to do it again. Kiss her.

She didn’t want this. She ought to stop him. It was wrong, evil, degenerate.

Yet she said nothing. She allowed him to urge her face into the open space between two bars. He bent his head and brushed his lips over hers.

Promise sighed. She was a fool. A weak fool with no self-control at all. Why couldn’t she fight him? She could bite his lip at the very least.

Of course, she did no such thing. She closed her eyes and let him slowly seduce her mouth, one kiss after another, sucking lightly on her upper lip and then her lower, licking her like an animal. And she, weak idiot that she was, liked it.

She couldn’t lie to herself. He’d said she deluded herself, but that wasn’t true. She’d always worked hard to be honest with herself, and the truth was that she liked the feel of his mouth on hers. She loved it.

He was the devil. He’d been sent here to tempt her. And it was working all too well.

His tongue slipped inside her mouth and she didn’t fight him then either. He made a soft sound in his throat, like a moan. Promise’s other hand, the traitor, reached through the window to touch him, her fingertips resting on the side of his face. Just a light touch, hardly anything, and it seared her.

“Sweet girl,” he whispered against her lips. “Open the door. I’ll take you away from here.”

What? Had he really said that? He was trying to use her to free himself. That’s what all this touching and kissing was about.

Promise opened her eyes, feeling more foolish and vulnerable than ever. His grip had loosened and she backed away from the door, pulling to the very limit of her arm’s length and more. “Never. I’ll never free you.”

He let go of her, causing her to stumble backward. “Go, then, damn you,” he snarled, his amorous mood apparently gone as quickly as it had appeared.

Her hands trembled as she smoothed the skirt of her nightgown. “It was all a lie, wasn’t it? We’re not connected. You just said that to fool me into letting you out.”

His gorgeous mouth twisted. “That’s right. I made it all up.”

She’d known it was true, but hearing it from his own lips hurt. “That was cruel of you.”

“All’s fair in love and war, darling.”

“We’re not at war anymore.” And they certainly weren’t in love.

He laughed bitterly. “Oh, we are. Yes, we are.”

Promise bit back a sob. Why was she so upset, on the verge of crying? She never cried. She didn’t even like him, so why did she care what he thought of her or whether he’d tried to use her? She couldn’t understand herself.

“Go back to your safe little office, Angel,” he said. “And don’t come back here again.”

She drew herself up to her full height; yet as tall as she was, she still had to look up to meet his eyes. “I can go wherever I like on this station. I’m the senior administrator.”

“Don’t come here again, Promise. Or I’ll let all the guards know what we’ve been doing together.”

“They’ll tear you apart if they find out.”

He gave another ugly laugh. “Good. I’d like a swift end.”

Promise shook her head. “How can you joke about it? There’s nothing amusing here.”

“Of course there is. I find the whole situation delightfully ironic.”

“Do you want to die?”

“Angel, anything would be better than this.”

Once again, he reduced Promise to speechless stupidity. Was he telling the truth? Did he feel such despair he wanted to die or was he merely playing her again?

She didn’t want him to die. He’d insulted her, tried to trick her, yet still she didn’t want him to die. She didn’t want him to long for death either; the thought of him going willingly to his own demise stabbed her heart with pains she couldn’t understand.

He must be lying. He was only saying it to shake her confidence, shock her, make her feel guilty. Well, it wasn’t going to work. He would see she couldn’t be manipulated that way.

“Now that I know you for a liar, why would I believe anything you say?” She tried to infuse her tone with cool indifference, but it came out sounding more bitter than anything.

Cool or bitter, it didn’t matter. She was done here.

Promise turned away from him and marched down the hall without looking back.

Chapter 7

Toxic Stress

She opened the door to her office to find the lead scientist on the project, Dr. Gliptrout, bent over her desk. In spite of the absurdly late hour, he still wore his lab coat over his regular clothes, his wiry frame nearly dwarfed by the generous cut of the coat. Thinning gray hair slid over his forehead as he gazed down at her vid link.

Promise halted in surprise. Gliptrout rarely visited her office and never – as far as she knew, anyway – after hours. What if he decided to invade her private rooms and found the mice? Gliptrout wouldn’t hesitate to throw Milli and Micro against a wall, breaking their necks. Maybe he’d even snap them with his bare hands.

When she was twelve, one of the younger girls in her dormitory in The School Of The Sacred Teachings had been caught with a kitten. The matron had beaten the girl with a branch cut off a tree in the school garden, leaving stripes that had scarred permanently. She’d twisted the neck of the kitten, right in front of all the girls in the dorm, throwing the tiny body on the floor and making the sobbing girl pick it up and dispose of it.

Later, alone in her bed, Promise had secretly cried over the fate of the kitten and the little girl who’d lost her pet.

What if that happened to Milli and Micro? She thought of how terrified they’d be in the doctor’s large, unfamiliar hands, the pain they’d suffer when he broke their tiny spines, and shuddered.

“Doctor?” she said. “What are you doing here?”

He straightened and turned to face her, looking not the least bit guilty. “Oh, good evening, Angel Promise. My vid link isn’t working and I thought I could borrow yours. I didn’t expect to see you awake so late.”

Gliptrout was looking at her strangely. What did he see in her face?

She took a deep, calming breath. She had no evidence he’d been snooping in her bedroom, so it was highly unlikely he’d discovered her pets.

“I couldn’t sleep.” She folded her arms across her chest to provide a bit more coverage than her thin nightgown could.

“Me either.” He smiled thinly. “As hard as we try to provide a normal day/night cycle here, the artificial environment still confuses our bodies.”

“Yes, it certainly does.”

“Would you like me to prescribe a sleep medication for you?”

There was something in his eyes that suddenly reminded her of Angel Josiah. It wasn’t the color or shape. It was the flat, emotionless look of them, a look that matched his impersonal tone of voice perfectly.

How had she never noticed this before? She’d been working with the man for almost a year, yet the coldness of him hadn’t struck her until now. It must be Cain’s influence. Could Demon Kin psychic powers be catching?

“That’s very kind of you, but no,” she said. “I’ll use the time for prayer if I can’t sleep.”

“An excellent choice.”

Something in Promise bristled at his praise. She was an Angel. She didn’t need or want praise from him. Besides, what did he imagine she did with her extra time, play cards? Dance? Of course she used every extra minute for prayer.

Except for those times you’re visiting Cain, whispered a sly inner voice. Or thinking about visiting him. Remembering his kisses. Wishing for more…

“It’s part of my job to pray,” she said stiffly. “Both for us Novus Vitans and the test subjects.”

“Yes, I’m sure. And speaking of test subjects, the second phase of the experiment is coming along nicely,” Gliptrout said. “I’m quite pleased.”

He didn’t look pleased. He looked distant, chilly, like a fish.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she said, with perfunctory courtesy.

Anything would be better than this.

Did Cain really want to die? If so, they had done it to him. Their program had sent him – and probably many others – into such depths of despair he’d contemplated suicide.

For the first time in her tenure at the Center, Promise felt real guilt. She’d not only administered the facility, she’d helped design the second phase of the testing. She was partly responsible for Cain’s desperation.

An image appeared in her mind’s eye – Cain collapsed on the floor of his cell, dying from some self-inflicted wound. His eyes, open and staring, all the vivid life and spirit in them gone. That couldn’t happen. It wasn’t right for such a vital soul to die.

Yet, according to his own words, it was what he wanted. At this very moment, he was in so much pain that he longed for death. What was worse? The finality of death or lingering in an unending state of despair? He might not be likable, but he was a sentient being and although she’d always believed his people were evil, she could not deny the pain he’d revealed to her.

His eyes. She hadn’t realized it until now, but his eyes had betrayed him.

“Are you well, Angel?” Gliptrout said, his voice shattering her reverie.

“What?” She blinked at him.

“You looked rather unwell there for a moment.”

“Oh. I’m only tired.” Another lie, of course. Somehow, Cain’s desperation had become her own. Part of her wanted nothing more than to march back to Cell Block One and free him, just as he’d asked.

Gliptrout’s eyes narrowed with far too much awareness for her comfort. “This place can wear on a person. Some find it too emotionally taxing.”

“Do they?” Promise struck a casual pose of unconcern.

“Yes, they do.” Gliptrout came closer, peering into her face. “I had one guard who took it upon himself to lecture me about the immorality of our experiments. Needless to say, he didn’t last much longer.”

“I’m not surprised.”

His gaze only sharpened. “If you’re experiencing toxic stress, I would be only too happy to recommend a vacation for you.”

“Oh, no.” She forced a light laugh. “That won’t be necessary. I love my work here at the Center.”

Gliptrout gave her another of his thin smiles. “Good. I’m gratified to hear that.”

“How are you faring, Doctor?” Let’s see how he liked the interrogation being turned on him. “Are you holding up under the stress? I can authorize a half-month of vacation for you, if you need it.”

Gliptrout chuckled. “There is no stress here for me, Angel Promise. I love my work. You might say I’m in my element here.”

“Ah.” Why didn’t that reassure her? “We’re both very lucky, then, to have jobs we love.”

He patted her arm in a parody of conviviality. “Indeed we are, Angel Promise. Indeed we are.”

The little man was beginning to make her skin crawl. And this was the person who had ultimate control over all the test subjects, over Cain. Not her. She was merely the administrator. Gliptrout was the one who made the important decisions.

She yawned, her hand over her mouth like a proper lady. “Goodness, I’m tired. I think I’ll go back to sleep now.”

“Good night, then,” Gliptrout said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to make use of your link.”

She never had anything personal in her work area – not that she had a personal life in the first place – so there was nothing she needed to hide. If he hoped to make her nervous by snooping in her things, he was going to be sadly disappointed.

She smiled sweetly at the doctor. “Make yourself at home. Tomorrow we’ll see about getting yours fixed.”

She escaped into her private quarters with a sense of profound relief at being out of his presence. At least he couldn’t follow her in here. She never allowed anyone into her rooms.

Unfortunately, her relief was short-lived. Did Gliptrout know something about her contact with Cain? Had he spied on her through the cameras? She’d done nothing to prevent it, having assumed that because Cain wasn’t scheduled for a female, he wouldn’t be watched.

The doctor could have been in her office or his own, spying on her confrontation with Cain. He could have seen the Demon Kin kissing her. Promise shuddered at the thought that anyone had seen her with Cain, let alone Gliptrout.

But if Gliptrout knew something, wouldn’t he have confronted her with it? Or perhaps gone straight to the Angelic High Council? He’d have no reason to stand in her office and chat, pretending that everything was fine while planning to betray her. In fact, he could have notified the authorities without ever telling her he’d done so.

Maybe he already had. Maybe he simply enjoyed toying with her.

Chapter 8

Insubordination

Chisholm hated her. Promise could see it in his eyes, the flat black of them full of malice and resentment. She had on her best Teacher face, the stern one where she brooked no disobedience from her students. But it didn’t seem to be making any kind of impression on him.

He stood with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his gray uniform trousers and glowered at her, as if his bad work performance were somehow her fault.

“Do you know anything about the cell window that’s been left open?” she said calmly.

“What window?”

She didn’t believe for one second that he was unaware of the security breech. “One of the cell windows in Block One has been left open during the night cycle at least twice that I know of.”

He regarded her speculatively. “Is that so? And how do you know about it?”

“I discovered the problem by watching the security monitors.”

Chisholm grinned. “The monitors, huh?”

“The monitors,” she repeated in a severe tone. “Do you have a problem with me accessing the security monitors of my own facility?”

His jaw worked. “No, ma’am.”

“Good. I should hope not. It’s a serious breech of security and protocol for a window to be left open, as I’m sure you know.”

He cleared his throat and shifted his weight. “I know that.”

“Then why did it happen? You’re in charge over that wing. What was going on, Chisholm?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” he said, meeting her eyes boldly.

Promise suppressed a shiver of unease. “Me? Why would you ask me?”

“Oh, I thought you might know since you’re so taken with that desire.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Desire? What in heaven’s name are you talking about?”

“Desire. Cain Desire.”

She blinked. “Cain’s last name is Desire?”

Chisholm laughed. “You didn’t know? I think it’s pretty appropriate, considering the way you go all moony eyed whenever you see him.”

“I’ve only seen him once, and I have no interest in him at all,” she snapped.

“Whatever you say, ma’am.”

She nearly growled aloud. Chisholm was out of control. Just a week ago, he’d foisted yet another test subject on her, this time a female. He’d brought it off as if it were a mistake, as if they’d merely run into each other in the Center greenhouse while he took the subject for her exercise, but Promise was sure it was intentional. He was doing everything in his power to rattle her.

“I don’t appreciate your attitude,” she said. “It’s disrespectful and inappropriate.”

“Is it?” He removed his hands from his pockets to cross his arms over his brawny chest. “I guess you’d have to say that, seeing as how you’re the senior administrator. But I think you’re the one being inappropriate. Just think what headquarters would say if they knew you were taking up with a prisoner.”

“You’re insane.”

He sent her a gloating smile. “Not insane. Just observant.”

“Well, observe this, Chisholm. You’re fired.”

His mouth dropped open. “Fired? On what grounds?”

“Gross insubordination and dereliction of duty.”

Chisholm leaned toward her, his gaze furious, his big fists clenched. “That’s a lie. I’ve never been insubordinate and I’ve never neglected my duty.”

“You’re being insubordinate right now, and that window was left open on your watch. Get your things and be on the next shuttle out.”

“You bitch,” he growled. “You can’t do this to me.”

“I am doing it. Now get out.”

He loomed over her and Promise fought back a stab of fear. If he decided to attack her, he could do major damage before anyone knew she was in danger. Why hadn’t she alerted her staff that she was confronting him?

She hadn’t wanted them to know, that was why. She hadn’t wanted to create a scene or embarrass Chisholm more than necessary, nor had she wanted any juicy gossip flying around the facility.

It seemed there was no end to her poor judgment.

“I’m not leaving,” Chisholm ground out. “You can’t fire me. I don’t accept your decision.”

“It’s not in your power anymore,” she said. Her fingers slid along under the edge of her desk, searching for the security alert button. If he tried anything, she’d push it and they’d drag him out of here in shackles.

Except Chisholm was a guard, part of the security team. They were his people more than hers.

“Who do you think you are, anyway?” Chisholm said. “You prance around this place like you’re so far above the rest of us, but you’re just another Bambi, ready to spread your legs for any man who wants you. Hell, you’d do it even for a Demon Kin.”

Bambi was Novus Vitan slang for whore.

Promise felt her face go pale. “How dare you speak to me that way? I am an Angel, not some common woman off the streets.”

He sneered. “Same thing in your case, isn’t it, Bambi?”

Before she could press the button or order him to leave, he spun on his heel and stomped from her office.

Promise slumped into her desk chair, her knees shaky and weak. For a moment there, she’d thought he would actually hit her. She’d had no idea until now just how much he despised her. Yes, she’d known he resented a female being in charge, but she hadn’t understood how much raw hatred there was in him.

She called security and alerted them to his change in status. He would be off the station entirely within the next forty-eight hours, and then she could rest a bit easier.

*** 

Twelve hours later, Promise found herself awake in the small hours of the morning, heart pounding, nightgown damp with sweat. What had awakened her? She couldn’t remember any dreams and nothing sounded unusual. All she could hear was the soft background hum of the station’s ventilation system and other machinery.

It was probably nothing more than anxiety about the latest round of problems at the Center. That interview with Chisholm had worried her and now the stress was ruining her sleep.

Her insight, sound as it was, did nothing to help her get back to sleep. After tossing for another hour, she reluctantly rose from bed and put on her day gown and twisted her hair into her usual tight knot.

Normally, she would have merely wrapped a robe over her nightgown, but the persistent sense of uneasiness drove her to get dressed. The dark thing that had been creeping toward her for the past few weeks was almost upon her and for that she needed regular clothes.

Promise shook her head at her own dramatics. Lost sleep didn’t equal doom. It was merely an annoyance, nothing more. Perhaps when the work day began she ought to see Dr. Gliptrout for a sleeping pill after all.

She left her quarters and went into the offices. Her haunting of the workplace was becoming a habit, and not a healthy one considering the kind of images that tended to show up on the monitors. But she went anyway, the same way she always did when she couldn’t sleep.

Someone had left a coffee mug sitting on one of the desks. It still had a few swallows of coffee in it. Were there experiments being run at this hour? That didn’t happen often, but it wasn’t unheard-of.

She sat down at the desk and peered at the images on the monitor. What in heaven’s name? What was that?

Bodies. There were bodies all over the floor – several men lay sprawled in one of the corridors. All of them wore the gray uniforms of facility guards.

Frowning, Promise took a closer look, only to see that one of them was half-dressed, his trousers pulled down. Heavens, it was Chisholm and his throat had been cut. A pool of dark blood lay beneath him.

He was dead. He must be dead. No-one could survive a wound like that.

She paused, staring in shock. In disbelief. Someone had killed at least one guard and probably more. There were dead bodies, murdered corpses, in her facility.

Why were his pants down? Had he been peeing in the hallway? That seemed unlikely. Were they – Maker, had the guards been engaging in some kind of sexual behavior together?

She sat there for a moment with her mouth open, too stunned to do anything but continue to stare. Perhaps the corruption of the Demon Kin had finally caught up with the guards and turned their minds.

Chisholm still wore his uniform, although it had been half a day since his firing. That suggested he’d meant to fight her. Either that, or he’d simply gone and gotten stinking drunk with his cronies and forgotten to put on his civilian clothes. Either way, he was dead now and not her problem.

For God’s sake, Promise, he’s dead. Shouldn’t she be feeling some sorrow at the loss of his life? But she didn’t. She was numb, looking at the image of his corpse. Below the numbness was relief that he couldn’t make trouble for her anymore. He’d never be able to report her misconduct to the High Council.

But who had killed him?

Maybe the guards had gotten into a fight. If so, she had a much more severe problem in the Center than she’d ever suspected. She’d always thought the guards were loyal to each other, even if not to her.

She checked another monitor, just to see what was happening elsewhere in the facility. More unconscious guards. And there, in Gliptrout’s lab, the doctor himself collapsed on the floor.

Gliptrout’s throat was intact, but he was also bleeding. In his case it was from the nose and eyes. Was he dead? She suspected he was. And it seemed unlikely that fighting guards would have paused to murder the doctor, especially in such a strange manner. Someone else must be responsible. But who? Had they been invaded?

She wasn’t sure what could cause the kind of bleeding she saw on his body. Poison, maybe. Whatever caused it, Gliptrout was gone.

The man who’d so frightened her just the night before was dead. And just like with Chisholm, she couldn’t seem to find any grief inside her.

What was going on in the rest of the facility? Whoever had committed these murders must still be loose, wandering somewhere in the hallways. Promise switched to Cell Block One. And stared again, for one instant unable to take in what she was seeing.

Men. Naked men with horns and tails, running through the corridors. And women, pouring out of their cells.

The test subjects had somehow gotten out. She swallowed hard as her belly broke into crazed flutters and sweat blossomed all over her body. The test subjects. On the loose.

They must have been the ones to kill Chisholm. Were all the guards dead? Chisholm was the only one bleeding. The others – she found images of incapacitated night guards from all over the facility – all seemed wound-free. Whatever had knocked them out hadn’t broken their skin.

All the Demon Kin in the facility bore implants that prevented them from using their vaunted psychic abilities to influence and control the humans here. If a subject attempted to remove an implant, he would immediately go into convulsions. And when the males were released to hunt females, the entire area of that experiment was closed down to those outside that cell block, and all the cells were locked down, the windows locked.

Only the Demon Kin being tested and his female counterpart were allowed into the corridor during a test. When the test was over and sexual congress finished, guards went in and tranqed the Demon Kin so they could safely return him to his cell.

There was no way for a Demon Kin or a human test subject to escape the facility. Yet there they were, tearing through the hallways.

Where was Cain in all this? He must have been freed along with the rest of them. But in the madness she could see on the monitors, he might have been injured or even killed and there was nothing she could do to help him.

The Demon Kin were going to find and kill her.

No. Not if she could get to Novus Vitan Headquarters first and request reinforcements. They would scramble troops to take out the Demon Kin and restore order. The Angelic High Council had promised her immediate military support in the event of a prisoner escape, and once the soldiers arrived the test subjects’ fate would be sealed.

All she had to do was hold out until then.

Chapter 9

Caught

They weren’t sending reinforcements. The High Council of Angels cared nothing for her. They were letting her and the facility die, a sacrifice to keep the rest of them safe and cozy on Novus Vita.

They’d even intimated that she ought to be grateful and proud to be a sacrifice for the greater good of the Novus Vitan people. Promise was not grateful and she wasn’t proud.

She wasn’t sure what she felt. Her gut churned with so many emotions she couldn’t tease them apart. All she knew was she felt sick and terrified, and her terror grew the louder the noises of rage and debauchery grew outside her office.

They were all free out there. The Demon Kin males and the human females. The Maker only knew what the Demon Kin were doing to those females.

Promise shook her head at her own absurdity. Of course she knew what they were doing. They were mating. She merely wondered whether they were doing it violently or not.

She backed into the corner of her darkened office. Her hands felt like a couple of ice blocks attached to her arms. Where was Cain in all this madness? Was he out there randomly mounting human women?

Her skin tingled at the memory of his kiss. Her body ached with an unholy longing to find him, go to him, let him touch her. He’d bespelled her somehow, cast some Demon Kin enchantment on her to make her feel this way about him.

He must be overjoyed to be out of his cell. They all must be. And they hated her. They would come for her, eventually, when they’d regained enough of their sanity to remember her.

She shivered in the oppressive heat of her cramped room.

No-one at home on Novus Vita would know what had happened to her. The Angels wouldn’t make her fate public knowledge. They hadn’t said as much, but she knew anyway. She would simply disappear and no-one would ever know what had become of her.

She wanted to tell someone, so that other people would know what was happening to her. Someone ought to know. But she didn’t have any way to contact her parents, and who else would she call?

Catherine. She could let Catherine know.

In a panic, she called Catherine. Her friend appeared on the monitor with her hair loose and tangled, her eyes sleepy and unfocused. She blinked at the screen.

“Hello? Promise, is that you?”

“They’re out, Catherine,” she said.

“What?” Catherine frowned vaguely. “Who’s out?”

“The prisoners. The test subjects. They broke out somehow. They’re everywhere, all over the facility. They’re going to come in here any moment.”

The sleep instantly cleared from Catherine’s face. “Call the High Council. They’ll send military support.”

Promise gave a laugh that sounded more like a sob. “No. I already did that. They aren’t sending anyone.” Besides, even if they did send someone, it would be too late by the time anyone got here. Too late for her.

“What?” Catherine stared at her, mouth open. “That can’t be right. Maybe you misunderstood.”

“I didn’t. No. They’re not coming, Catherine. They’re abandoning us.”

“But why? I don’t understand. They promised. Right? They told you you’d have military back-up if anything went wrong.”

“Yes, they did. But they’re going back on their agreement.” Loud banging from somewhere just outside the office complex made her jump. “Oh, God. They’re getting closer.”

“Promise, you have to get out of there. Get in an escape pod. A shuttle or something.”

“I can’t. They’re between me and the docking bay.” She tried to smile at her friend and failed. “They’re going to find me. It’ll only be a few more minutes now, I think. I just called you to say…to say good-bye. We probably won’t see each other again and I wanted you to know how much your friendship has meant to me.”

Catherine’s green eyes filled with tears. Her lip trembled. “Don’t say that. You’ll be fine.”

Catherine’s distress hit Promise in the heart with sharp, heavy guilt. She didn’t want to upset her friend. But Catherine would be upset anyway, when she found out Promise was gone.

She didn’t want to give Catherine false hope, either. The Maker was unlikely to save her from this catastrophe. He certainly hadn’t protected her so far.

“We don’t know that,” she said somberly. “If they – if they get me, I want you to think of me happy.”

“I’ll pray for you. The Maker will save you; I know He will,” Catherine said urgently, leaning toward her monitor.

“Good-bye, Catherine. I’m glad you were my friend. I don’t know if I would have survived the School if it hadn’t been for you.”

Catherine dashed tears from her eyes. “Good-bye for now. Don’t give up hope. Do you hear me? I’m praying for you, Promise.”

“All right.” Her own voice had begun to waver. “Thank you. I – I love you, Catherine.”

“I love you too.”

She cut the connection before she embarrassed herself any further. Catherine would worry. Promise hoped she wouldn’t mourn too deeply after her demise.

At least she’d been able to say good-bye. At least Catherine would know how important she was to Promise, something she’d never been able to express before. Angels didn’t talk about feelings much. But these were extenuating circumstances, so she couldn’t be judged too harshly, she hoped.

Then she heard the voices. Male and female together. They sounded calm, not maddened, but she pressed her back against the wall behind her anyway. Just as that other woman had done when Promise had watched her over the monitor, what seemed like a century ago.

She’d locked the door, but they had the code, and with a low hiss it slid open. They were two forbidding silhouettes against the light from the outer room. Promise clutched at the skirt of her severe, gray gown. She ought to relax her hands, make herself look confident, but they refused to obey.

“Lights,” said a deep voice.

Not Cain’s. Something inside her deflated at the lack of his presence, which just went to prove what an unsuitable idiot she really was. Had she been hoping he’d find her?

A tall, black-haired man entered, along with a dark-skinned woman with a shaved head. Mercy, that was her name. They were the ones she’d observed in the monitor just last night. The tender ones.

Promise lifted her chin and gave them her best disapproving Angel gaze. “Get back!”

The Demon Kin stared at her. His tail lashed back and forth like a black whip. Then he laughed. “Or what?”

“If you come near me, you will offend the Maker and suffer the consequences.” She put every ounce of her faith into the words, overriding her own doubt.

He merely grinned, showing his obscene white fangs. “I’ll take the chance,” he said as he marched to her and grabbed her by the arm.

She struggled against him, yet had no more success than she had with Cain. Less, really, since this man wasn’t behind a door. He informed her in a mocking tone that he was now in charge of the facility as he dragged her toward the office door.

Oh, God, here it came. They were going to do it. They were going to kill her, and the Maker only knew what terrible things they’d do before they got around to the murder.

“You’ll burn!” she shouted, panicking. “Anyone who kills an Angel burns for all eternity!”

He glanced down at her with unreadable black eyes. “Who said anything about murder?”

What? He didn’t plan to kill her? She gaped at him, completely lost for words.

The woman with him laughed.

“You – you’re not going to kill me?” Promise said faintly.

“I would never kill a woman unless it was unavoidable,” he said.

That was…unbelievable. Demon Kin had no honor. They were evil, an entire race of evil bent on spreading their degeneracy across the rest of the galaxy.

Unless the High Council was wrong about them…

No. The High Council could not be wrong. Not about this. The Demon Kin were widely known to be living embodiments of everything that was sick and wrong and twisted and disgusting in the universe. He had to be lying.

The woman looked her boldly in the eye and smirked. “I think you might be the one about to be punished. And you deserve it, after what you did to me and all the other test subjects.”

Promise leveled a glare at the woman. Who did she think she was to question the administrator of the facility, an Angel, someone better in every way than her pathetic, whoring self? Even if Promise had succumbed to Cain, her crime was a mere kiss, not selling her favors the way Mercy had.

“We chose only degenerates for our experiments,” she said. “No decent people were harmed. You should be grateful and proud that you participated.”

Wait. Wasn’t that essentially the same thing the High Council had said to her? She faltered, cringing inwardly at the implications. Was she no better than the men who’d abandoned her to an unspeakable fate?

She couldn’t think about that now. Maybe never.

The woman’s upper lip curled in a sneer. “Really? You’re going to feed me that line now?”

The male informed her in his mocking voice that she was coming with them whether she wanted to or not and that he’d knock her unconscious if she fought him.

“You degenerate, naked barbarian,” she said. “Your people deserved what we did to you. I only wish it had been more effective.”

Even that didn’t seem to give him pause. He merely smiled at her again, although his eyes remained flat and cold. “I’m sure you do. And now you’re going to have an opportunity to make it up to us.”

What? Oh, God. Oh, Maker. Her bowels churned and trembled; her knees went weak. All the blood seemed to rush from her head.

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

“I mean that Belleren is short on females. And you are female, aren’t you?”

“No! You wouldn’t dare.”

They dared, all right. No matter what she said to dissuade them, they continued hauling her through the outer offices as if they didn’t care that Novus Vita would hunt them down for what they were planning to do to her. Even talk of the Maker and His Judgment seemed to mean nothing to them. It was hopeless.

*** 

Missed her. Wanted her back. Come back. Come back now.

No.

She was wrong. Bad.

Cain shook his head, although the motion made him dizzy. She was not for him. Lili – Lili was the one he should want. But it was the blond Angel’s face he saw, her body that made him burn with longing.

His empty stomach growled with hunger, even through the knife-edge of nausea that gripped him. No food today. His system had rejected everything offered.

He needed a woman. And the only woman who would do was that cursed Angel. Promise.

He staggered to the window of his cell, but it was closed. Locked down tight. Needed her. Why wouldn’t she come to him?

He’d driven her away. Lies. He’d lied to her. Told her he didn’t want her. Now she might never come to him again and that would kill both of them.

He rested his forehead against the cold door. She was bad, yet he wanted her anyway. Couldn’t help himself. He was doomed to love a Novus Vitan Angel.

A bitter laugh escaped him. Love? This wasn’t love. He wanted her body. That was all.

Strange noises came from the hallway. Thuds. Voices, many voices, both male and female. He frowned at the door in bafflement. Whose voices were those?

The sounds grew louder. Whoever they were, they were coming closer. So many of them. He pressed his palms against the door, his heart racing.

Could it be the other prisoners? Had they somehow gotten out?

Then his door whooshed open. A man stood on the other side, a Demon Kin. He had black hair and eyes, and there was a woman with him. Her hair, also black, had been cut so short it was almost shaved to her skull.

“What – happen?” Cain said, raging internally at the way his speech had degenerated.

“My name is Storm,” the black-haired man said. He spoke so normally that Cain almost hated him. “This is my mate, Mercy. We’re releasing the prisoners.”

“How? How – get out?”

Storm touched the back of his neck. “They had Mercy. The guards – they were hurting her. I tore out my implant so I could protect her. After that, I could control the guards.” He made an impatient gesture toward the hallway. “Are you coming or not?”

“Yes. I – come. Where? Where going?”

“We’re stealing a ship and taking it back to Belleren. With the women.” He gestured at Cain’s crotch. “Let me get that thing off you.”

Cain stood still and allowed the other male to remove the cage from his body. He used a key, which he must have stolen off one of the guards. Storm’s touch was impersonal, not sexual in the least. And that was good, because Cain didn’t want him. He only wanted one person and she wasn’t in the room.

Storm tossed the cage to the side. “You’re free now. When you can, come to the docking bay. There’s a cargo ship we’ll be taking.” He slung an arm around Mercy’s shoulders and they walked away. To the next cell, probably.

Cain bolted after them. He charged into the hallway to find it filled with a chaos of Demon Kin males and human females, all trying to have sex with as many partners as possible at the same time. Every one of them seemed to be shouting at once with pent-up lust and need. No wonder the sound had penetrated his cell door.

Storm and Mercy had already disappeared into the heaving crowd. Around the corner? Maybe.

He could follow them. Help.

His cock stood out stiffly, demanding he attend to it. And there were women everywhere, women who seemed eager to join with any Demon Kin available. He could fuck as many of them as he wanted.

But he couldn’t have her.

Promise. Where was she? Had they killed her? A growl burst from his throat. If anyone had touched her, he’d rip them apart. She belonged to him.

The sounds and smell of sex overpowered his senses. He paused, leaning with one hand against a wall, his head pounding, his heart racing, his breath coming in rough gasps. Woman. He needed a woman. If he could just quench himself in a woman, he’d have the full use of his mind again.

He knew that, even if he couldn’t have explained it in words.

A man took him by the wrist with a smile, drawing him close. He had an arm around a woman. She smiled at Cain too.

The woman wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her naked body against him. Her soft breasts felt like heaven. He clasped her ass in both hands and lowered his head for a kiss.

She tasted good. Musky. Sexual. But not as good as Promise. And her dark hair wasn’t right. She wasn’t the one he longed for.

Promise was in danger. She needed him. These Demon Kin were crazed with sexual deprivation. They might be capable of nearly anything, any kind of monstrous violence, especially against the woman in charge of the place. Who knew what would happen if she fought them? And Promise would almost certainly fight.

He must find her.

He released the woman in his arms. She pouted with disappointment, but he only smiled and pushed her gently toward her partner. The Demon Kin took her back into his arms and smothered her with kisses, and she didn’t seem to mind in the least.

Cain stumbled through the crowd in the direction of Promise’s office. Mating couples and threesomes got in his way, blocking his progress, sometimes tripping him. Hands reached out to touch, to offer comfort and pleasure. He ignored them, pushed them aside.

There were too many people in the hall for him to make rapid progress. He squeezed between one group and the wall, climbed over another. It seemed to take forever for him to get to the end of the hall, where a heavy security door separated the cell block from the administrative portion of the facility.

Finally, he left the cell block and entered the offices. Immediately he came upon a couple of guards slumped against a wall. One stared with the unseeing eyes of the dead. The other seemed to be merely sleeping.

Would Storm harm Promise? He didn’t know the man, had no idea what he would do to her. Cain broke into a run.

More guards and other staff members lay sprawled at their desks or on the floor. Most seemed to be asleep. At least, they didn’t smell of death, so he assumed they’d only been knocked out.

He didn’t really care about them. Only Promise.

But when he burst into her office, he found it empty. Her scent lingered in the air. She was nowhere to be seen.

He looked under her desk, just in case she’d tried to hide there. She hadn’t. There was nowhere else a grown woman could fit herself.

He broke into a sweat. They could have dragged her someplace. They could be savaging her even now.

Cain searched the adjoining rooms. Some of them appeared to be her private quarters. He found a long-skirted gray gown, like the ones she wore, in the tiny closet. But he didn’t find Promise.

Chapter 10

Out Of Control

They reached Cell Block One and unlocked the door. The barrier hissed open.

No! No! She couldn’t go in there. She couldn’t!

But she did. They dragged her in, revealing an orgiastic scene that almost stopped her heart.

Naked Demon Kin and human females filled the corridor from wall to wall, one end to the other. Some of the women were on their backs, Demon Kin between their thighs, their hips pumping. Other women sat on top of the males, their female hips rising and falling over erect cocks. The air smelled thick and musky with a scent she didn’t recognize.

They were cooperating. The women were cooperating. Promise didn’t know whether to be relieved they weren’t being hurt or outraged they were such sluts.

A few feet away, a woman knelt at the feet of a Demon Kin, his cock in her mouth. Promise’s own mouth dropped open in shock. People did that? It was foul.

She glanced away, only to see another woman sucking a different Demon Kin’s cock, except this male lay on his back while she was on all fours. And another male knelt behind her, mating with her from behind as if they were a couple of animals.

The air filled with groans and cries.

Oh, Maker. She couldn’t go in there. She couldn’t. They couldn’t make her.

Promise cringed back from the awful sight before her, dropping her weight like a toddler refusing to take her bath. If they forced her in there, she would die. She knew it. She would die, but only after being so humiliated and violated she would never recover even if she somehow survived.

A hand clamped around her ankle, jerking her off her feet. She yelled and hit the floor with a thud that knocked the breath out of her in spite of the padding. He was dragging her now. Her hands dug into the soft, padded floor. The male who’d grabbed her merely dragged her closer, a vile grin on his face.

He had dirty blond hair half covering his eyes and deep brown horns that curled all the way around. Although his eyes were half hidden, she could see the evil gleam in them. He knew who she was and wanted to punish her.

Other hands reached for her, tearing at her dress, her hair. Promise screamed, kicking frantically with her free leg. She clobbered someone in the chest, but he only grunted and came back for more.

The black-haired male who’d taken her from her office leaped toward her, his face grim. He bent down as if to pick her up by the armpits. Then a terrible bellow of rage roared over the crowd. An instant later, powerful arms wrenched her away from her attackers and lifted her into the air. He threw her over his shoulder, with her head hanging down his back.

Her new attacker – rescuer? – lunged into the crowd of mating Demon Kin. Promise shrieked. She screamed and kept screaming, as if her voice had come apart from the rest of her and was acting on its own.

The Demon Kin gripping her dashed between pairs and threesomes, the crowd passing by her confused eyes in a blur. The corridors seemed to go forever. Finally, he wrenched his body to the right. Narrow walls closed around them. A door hissed down, closing them off from the roar and chaos of the orgy. He’d brought her to one of the cells.

The male lowered her to the softness of the padded floor. She scrabbled away, crab style. Her hair had come loose from its bun and a thick shock of it hung over her eyes, half blinding her.

Then his hot, hard, heavy body landed on top of her. She screamed again, pinching her eyes shut against the terrible thing that was happening to her. He groaned, working his naked hips against her belly.

Promise struck him over and over with her fist. His shoulders, ribs, back, everything she could reach——she pounded on him, desperate to get him off her. But he only continued moving.

His voice caught in another groan and he shuddered. A moment later, she felt the warm wetness of his ejaculate seep through her dress. He’d achieved orgasm merely holding her.

Was that normal for them? He must have been crazed with the need for release for it to happen so easily. Being Demon Kin, though, he’d recover quickly and be ready to go again in a few minutes, so his orgasm was no true reprieve for her.

She lay beneath him, pinned to the floor, panting and whimpering and trembling in the most shameful way. She’d lost any claim to dignity the instant he’d grabbed her. Now she was lost in darkness and terror and frantic anticipation of the awful things in store for her.

The Demon Kin male lifted himself off her, propping his weight on his forearms. Promise kept her eyes pinched shut. She couldn’t look. Didn’t want to know.

A gentle hand brushed the loose lock of hair from her eyes. The same hand stroked the line of her cheekbone, then her jaw, her lower lip. She whimpered again.

Pathetic.

“Pr – ” he rasped in a familiar voice. “Pro – Promise.”

Her eyes popped open. She stared up at Cain’s bearded face in utter bafflement.

“C-Cain?”

He had the oddest expression on his face. Not anger or hatred. Not love, either, obviously. But something softer than she’d ever expected from him.

Promise’s whole body shuddered convulsively. She couldn’t stop the shaking. Her arms, her legs, everything quaked. Even her teeth chattered.

“Shhh,” he murmured. “Shhh, Promise.” He must have lost his ability to form intelligible speech. That happened to the Demon Kin when they were severely sexually deprived.

His tail switched, brushing against her exposed right ankle. She flinched.

He bent his head and kissed her. So softly.

Tears instantly welled in her eyes and poured down her cheeks as she continued to quake. She couldn’t control anything about herself. Not her tears, not the movements of her arms and legs, not her location or her position in the room. Not her fate, certainly.

She lay beneath Cain and quivered and sobbed helplessly, mindlessly.

He rolled off her. Then he gathered her against him, against his naked skin, his arms encompassing her as he murmured wordless sounds of comfort to her. He was comforting her? What in the Maker’s name did that mean?

She kept her head pulled back so she wouldn’t have to put the skin of her cheek against the naked skin of his chest. But his huge male hand came up and cupped the back of her skull and urged her down and she wasn’t strong enough to resist him.

Her skin met his skin. He was warm and smooth, the dusting of curled brown hair crisp beneath her cheek. He smelled powerfully of unwashed male, and that was her fault because the male prisoners were not allowed to bathe until they were about to have a female.

She gave a small, laughing sob. She was a female and he was about to have her. If she’d only known, she would have ordered him a bath.

Chapter 11

Taken

Promise reached for the hem of her gown. Her sobs had stopped and the quaking diminished, although she continued to tremble. The time had come to do something to help herself.

Cain watched her, his gray eyes unreadable, as she grasped the hem and pulled it up the length of her legs. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling. His eyes remained unreadable, dark, even as more and more of her legs became visible.

At some point during her meltdown, she’d accepted one simple, immutable fact. She was about to be ravished.

Either Cain would do it, or some other Demon Kin male. With the Demon Kin in control of the facility and the High Council refusing to help her in any way, her demise was inevitable. She could either accept it and try to manipulate events to be less damaging to her, or she could continue to fight and possibly end up in a much worse situation.

Promise had chosen to accept. She would offer herself to Cain instead of fighting him. She would allow him to take her, because he was better than any of the other savages out there. At least she knew he could make her enjoy his kiss, and that was something.

The magnetic pull, the yearning she inexplicably felt for him, had nothing to do with it. This was a decision of pure logic.

The High Council would be appalled. They would undoubtedly advise her to fight to the death before she allowed any male, let alone a Demon Kin, to touch her sexually. But her virginity was not worth enduring torture to escape; it was not worth her life – not to Promise, anyway.

She pulled her gown up over her hips. Cain released his hold on her and she sat up. Her hands shook more strongly now that she was about to bare herself to him. But she pulled off the dress in spite of that.

His nostrils flared as he took in her body. Promise swallowed painfully. She closed her eyes and stretched out on her back, arms at her sides. Waiting.

Nothing happened. What was taking him so long? She wanted him to get it over with, put her out of her misery.

A single finger touched her lightly on her breastbone, between her collarbones, and traced a path down over her breast binding. She opened her eyes again. Cain stared down at her, a quizzical look in his eyes as he ran his fingertip across the tight binding. He slipped that finger beneath the bottom edge and tugged.

He wanted to see her breasts, too. She should have known he wouldn’t settle for merely rutting on her and getting it over with. She wouldn’t win, couldn’t win, but she shook her head at him anyway.

He growled at her. Promise quailed at the frightening sound. He reached around her back and found the hooks that closed the breast binding, deftly releasing them. The tight garment sprang away and he yanked it off her and tossed it to the side.

She immediately covered herself with her hands.

“No,” he growled, grabbing at her wrists. He pulled them away.

Her bottom lip trembled. He could see all of her now. Well, most of her anyway. More than had ever been seen by anyone, including herself. She’d never seen her own naked body in a mirror. She never touched herself unless there was a thick wash-cloth between her hand and the rest of her flesh. Now Cain was freely staring at her nakedness.

Promise cringed. When she was little, before she’d learned better, she had hated clothing. She liked to take off her dress and run about the student Teachers’ dormitory with nothing on. It was something her parents had tried without success to stop her from doing at home, and she’d continued when she came to the school.

Only twice, though.

The first time, she hadn’t been caught. The second time, a matron had seen her. She’d been beaten with a birch rod and kept on bread and water for a week. That had been the last time she was ever naked in front of another human being.

Until now.

Only Cain wasn’t human, was he? He was a perverted, degenerate Demon Kin, and he was looking at her as if she were something unspeakably sacred to him.

Her breath caught at the wonder on his face.

At a time when she ought to be ashamed, full of grief for her downfall, she instead felt a stirring of something else. Something like the wonder she saw in Cain. That was wrong. She would doubtlessly suffer for it later.

But for now, she had to survive.

He reached out, slowly, and took her breast in his hand. Promise’s breath caught. His touch felt warm and gentle. It felt good.

She would burn in hell for her complicity in this, but she couldn’t see a way out that didn’t involve her being torn limb from limb.

“Don’t – ” Her voice broke. “Don’t hurt me. Please.”

His brows pinched together and he shook his head. “No.” His voice was as soft as his touch. “Never hurt.”

She was going to start crying again if she wasn’t careful. Cain lowered his head to hers and kissed her before she could be frightened. The caress of his lips felt even better than she remembered.

He brushed his palm lightly over her breast again and again as his mouth explored hers. Promise put her arms around his neck, the way she’d seen other women do. Whores. But she wouldn’t think of that just now.

The feathery brushing motion of his palm created a tension in her breast that she’d never felt before. First, her nipple beaded up and grew hard. Then, shocks of pleasure surged deep into her body at every stroke, as if her nipple and her – her unspeakable parts were connected by some electrical pleasure pathway. Her lower parts ached and grew warm.

Those lower parts lay in an area of her body she’d done her best to ignore all her life. The Teachers at her School had beaten into her the need to ignore it, to avoid even thinking of it or naming it to herself.

Now she named it, or at least gave it as precise a label as she possessed. The place where she ached, grew hot and wet, was between her legs.

She’d placed her hands right on the bare skin of Cain’s shoulders. He felt smooth and hot, the flesh beneath his skin hard like living rock. Promise moved her palms back and forth across him, feeling his strength and glad of a distraction from the terrifying sensations overtaking her. He reminded her of a horse; he was so big, so powerful, his muscles so firm.

He took her nipple between two fingers and pulled, released, then pulled again. She gasped. Her eyes flew open and she stared up at him as he did it again. His eyes were so dilated they looked almost black, his lids heavy, his lips slightly parted as he gazed at her.

She’d thought the brushing felt good, but this was incredible. It ached, nearly hurt, yet it filled her with longing for more.

And then he bent his head and took her nipple in his mouth. His carnal behavior brought back the reality of their situation like a flood of ice water. Promise tried to push his head away. He merely caught her wrists in one hand and held them while continuing to suckle.

Now she couldn’t resist him even if she wanted to. And she wasn’t sure she did. What he did to her filled her with so much yearning she could hardly remember a reason why she shouldn’t want it.

His free hand still cupped her breast, kneading it, lifting it to his mouth. Inside her, deep in her body, an emptiness seemed to open, a great hole that begged to be filled. She moaned.

The sound escaped her without her conscious volition. Another followed, just as involuntary. Cain moaned, too. What he did to her gave him pleasure as well, then.

He released her wrist in order to turn his attentions to her other breast. With his free hand, he stroked her along her rib cage and down the side of her hip. Promise couldn’t remember anyone ever touching her in those places, but it felt so lovely, as if her skin were only now coming alive.

She lost herself in his suckling, his stroking. Her hands moved up to hold his head against her, fingers buried in his soft curls.

The awful, grinding ache that had plagued her lately eased more and more as he kissed and stroked her. The ache that replaced it felt delightful, as if life were burning more brightly in her when before it had seemed to be guttering and going out.

His hand smoothed its way up her thigh, skating along the tender inner surfaces of her legs until his fingertips met that secret space between them. She jerked, gasping again with the shock of it.

It didn’t hurt. At all. In fact, it felt even better than anything he’d done to her so far.

Had the Council and all the Teachers lied? They’d always claimed sex was a sordid, ugly affair full of nothing but pain. At least for women. This, however, this was not painful in the least.

He pushed at her thighs, letting her know without words that he wanted her to open them. Promise shook her head. She couldn’t do that. She could submit to him, because she must, but she couldn’t simply part herself and lay there spread-eagled, shamelessly open to him.

Cain was ruthless, however. He merely picked up one of her legs and moved it to the side, repeating the action with the other. When she tried to bring them back together, he shook his head, trapping her right leg beneath his body.

“Shhh, Promise,” he said, stroking directly between her legs with a fingertip.

She gave a strangled cry and shut her eyes. Surely, surely, this must be wrong. He didn’t stop, though. His rude, presumptuous finger continued stroking her, teasing her, sliding through the shameful wetness coating that unspeakable part of herself.

Part of her silently wailed for him to stop, to have mercy on her. Part of her knew this felt better that she could ever have imagined. The rest of her simply accepted it, as something that had to happen, that would happen no matter what she said or did.

His finger probed at the entrance to her body. She stiffened in fear, her legs going tense and hard. This was it. He was going to hurt her now.

He crooned to her, kissing her cheek, her mouth, as his finger slowly sank into her body. With a sense of amazement, she realized it didn’t hurt after all. She could feel him inside of her, invading her, yet it caused no pain. Then he bent that finger, pressing it against her inner walls, and her world erupted into sharp bursts of pleasure.

Promise arched her back. Her hips moved against his hand, pushing, asking for something, although she couldn’t name what she wanted. Not even to herself.

He continued to work his finger in and out of her, as if it were his cock. She writhed under him, moaning like an animal, needing more, more, more, and he gave it to her.

And then he moved over her, positioned himself between her legs, and Promise cringed back against the flooring, her breath stuck in her throat. His sex was so much bigger than a mere finger. Surely he would hurt her now.

He reached between them and settled his cock at her entrance. She whimpered and bit her lip, hard, trying to distract herself from the agony she knew was coming. Cain shuddered and flexed his hips in a forceful surge and sheathed himself in her body, all the way to the hilt with a long-drawn groan.

She cried out, but not in pain. His size, the intense stretching sensation of him inside her, felt uncomfortable yet it didn’t hurt. Not the way she’d expected it to.

She looked up at him. His eyes were glazed, almost wild, his lips parted, his breath heavy and desperate. He flexed his hips again, drawing himself almost all the way out before thrusting back in with a harsh groan.

This time – this time, oh, a spear of undiluted ecstasy pierced her all the way to her breastbone. She grabbed his narrow waist as he set up a steady rhythm of thrust and retreat that drowned her in alien delight.

She’d never guessed it could be like this. No wonder those other women had cooperated with the Demon Kin males. No wonder they hadn’t fought very hard or tried to get away.

Her hips lifted against his, her pelvis bumping his every time he pushed into her. It seemed her body responded to his no matter what her mind thought it wanted. She couldn’t control her actions. The animal need for his possession drove her now.

Something was happening to the pleasure, as well. It seemed to get bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter, the longer Cain moved in her. Suddenly it burst in her, an explosion of sensation that ripped another cry from her throat.

Cain growled. He thrust faster, harder, pounding into her until he gave a great shudder and his head fell back and he groaned. His body shook and he whimpered, a strange almost helpless sound to come from such a powerful man.

In this moment, he was vulnerable. Almost as vulnerable as her.

He held himself over her, still shivering, breathing hard, his rough red curls falling into his face. Promise didn’t know where to look or where to put her hands. Their bodies were still joined, yet the act seemed to be concluded and she was coming back to herself.

Remembering who she was and what was expected of her. Remembering that Angels didn’t have sexual thoughts and feelings. Knowing that, how could she explain what had just happened?

He lowered his head to hers and kissed her lips. “Promise.” Then he rested his forehead against hers. “Promise.”

She didn’t understand him. Did he really think she had feelings for him just because she’d allowed him to mate with her? Well, of course, she did have feelings…but not ones of tenderness or attachment. Her emotions where Cain was concerned were nothing but disdain, distrust, and disengagement.

She’d used him. Used him to protect her, to keep her from being attacked by even worse Demon Kin. She didn’t want or need his affection.

Chapter 12

Interference

The door to the cell made a low squealing sound as it rose. Promise tensed beneath him, ready to move, but Cain didn’t budge. He just continued staring at her, as if he hadn’t heard the door. But she knew he must have heard it, because his hearing was many times better than hers. He was a Demon Kin.

She turned her face into Cain’s shoulder, hiding from whoever was standing in the door and praying he wouldn’t succeed in taking her away from Cain.

“Get out.” Cain’s voice sounded deeper and more growly than she’d ever heard it before.

“Let her go.” It was the black-haired man who’d forced her from her office.

What did he want with her? He hadn’t saved her from being taken by Cain, so what was the point of coming here now? Did he want to punish her further for her part in the experiments?

“No,” Cain said. “She’s mine. You can’t have her.”

She couldn’t bring herself to embrace him, yet her heart foolishly warmed at hearing him claim her. How ridiculous was that? He was not her friend. He was an enemy. She could never trust him, and for her to get all fluttery inside because he refused to share her was simply the height of stupidity.

The black-haired man sighed. “I don’t want her sexually. I want to protect her.”

“I protect her now,” Cain said, glowering at the other man.

Footsteps crossed the room. Two sets. Was that dark-skinned woman still with the black-haired man? She didn’t want to see or speak to either of them.

“Angel Promise,” the black-haired man said. “Are you all right?”

“As if you care,” she muttered.

“Say that again, please,” he said.

Maker, what was wrong with him? Didn’t he have any manners, any sense? She didn’t want to look at him. She, an Angel, lay naked under the man who’d taken her virginity. The last thing she wanted was to have a conversation with an interloper.

She forced herself to turn her face toward him, although she still couldn’t bear to look him in the eye. Her skin burned with shame as she forced out the words. “I am unharmed.”

It was true, more or less. Her virginity had been harmed, demolished. But she hadn’t been injured in the usual sense. Cain had been gentle with her.

“Are you saying that because it’s true or because you’re afraid of him?” the black-haired man said.

So he would try to take her away from Cain if she claimed he’d abused her. How chivalrous. But she didn’t trust the black-haired man at all, where she knew that Cain at least had some personal reasons to continue protecting her. He believed he was enchained. He wanted her. That would keep him from throwing her to the Demon Kin wolves.

Cain growled fiercely. “I would never hurt her.”

No, her heart was not warmed. Not at all. Because she wasn’t stupid and she knew better.

“It’s true,” she said to the black-haired man. “There’s nothing you can do to help me now.”

What a self-pitying load of garbage. She should have told him what had really happened, that she had offered herself to Cain in the hope he’d protect her. But that admission felt even more humiliating than the truth she’d already offered and she couldn’t get the words unstuck to tell it to him.

The black-haired man said he and his woman would protect her if she wanted to come with them. She couldn’t look at the woman, Mercy. She was probably gloating after the encounter they’d had earlier, and Promise couldn’t bear to see that smug expression on her face.

“No. I would rather stay with Cain.”

This time she lifted her gaze to Cain’s. He was staring down at her with the strangest expression on his face, as if the wonder of their union were still with him, still moving through his blood. He looked…almost loving, as his alien tail swept against first one side of her body and then the other.

The black-haired man was still talking, but Promise had no idea what he was saying. She didn’t care. She was transfixed by the look on Cain’s face. No-one had ever looked at her that way before. Not even her parents.

Dimly, she knew the black-haired man and his dark-skinned lover left. The door shut and she and Cain were alone again. He murmured something to her in words she couldn’t understand. They were foreign words. Malefican words.

The evil sound of his native language was like a splash of ice water in her face. It brought her back to herself with a jolt. She and Cain were not lovers. They might be stuck together for now, but they were not and could never be lovers. They were only enemies with a temporary alliance.

Promise shoved at his chest. “I want to get up. Get off me. Let me up.”

The softness in his eyes disappeared, replaced by cold cynicism. He withdrew from her body and rolled to his side. Promise sat up immediately, lifting her hands to cover what tiny spots of her body she could.

It might have been better to pretend to have feelings for him; that way she could have bound him to her more tightly. But Promise wasn’t the type to pretend, and the thought of fawning over a Demon Kin, even Cain, made her nauseated.

Her shameful breakdown into a crying fit still rankled. She simply couldn’t bring herself to snuggle up to Cain or let him pet her. Besides, Angels didn’t need physical affection; in fact, it not only annoyed them but it was known to make them ill, and while the Council might think she wasn’t fit to call herself by that title, she knew that inside her heart she was still and would always be an Angel.

The door to the cell hissed open and a huge, brown-haired Demon Kin she’d never seen before stumbled in. He looked down at her and grinned, his fangs showing even through the long drooping hairs of his unkempt moustache, his tail lashing excitedly. He grabbed his rampant sex, rubbing the length of it. She recoiled with a squeak.

First that test subject with the shaved head and her black-haired paramour and now this barbaric intruder. Would they never have one moment’s peace?

Cain leaped to his feet, getting between the newcomer and Promise before she even noticed he was moving. “No,” he growled. “Mine.”

The brown-haired man snarled at him. “Angel Promise. Belong…everyone.”

“No!” Cain roared the word so loudly the other male took a step backward and Promise jumped in startlement. “She is mine. Leave before I kill you.”

Brown-hair tilted his head. “Yours? So soon?”

“Mine.”

She knew better than to argue at a time like this, however they needed to talk in private. Because she wasn’t his. She would never be his.

“Leave,” Cain growled, one of those leonine rumbles vibrating in his throat. His tail lashed back and forth in whip-like motions as he stared fixedly at the intruder.

Brown-hair threw up his hands in surrender. “All right. Yours.” He backed out of the room.

As soon as the door shut, Cain turned to Promise and knelt beside her. “How many?”

She blinked at him. “How many what?”

“Demon Kin. How many?”

“Oh. Um…fifty. Including you.”

He shook his head. “Forty-nine too many. Even for me. We need…safe place. Safe for you. Lock from…inside. The others…they come get you. Take you from me.”

She swallowed. “Yes. A safe place would be advisable. These cells only lock from the outside.”

“Where safe?”

“I – I don’t know. I – what is happening out there? Do you know what that black-haired man has planned?”

“Storm plan for…men and women..all go…Belleren.”

Belleren, also known as Malefica. The Demon Kin home planet. So the test subjects were escaping and bringing the women with them as their booty. And her. What would they do to her once they reached Malefica?

More to the point, what would the escapees do to Milli and Micro if they found them? And if they didn’t, if the mice were abandoned, they would die anyway of starvation.

“I can’t go without my mice,” she said.

He peered down at her with a quizzical look on his face. “Mice?”

“Yes. My pet mice.” Her face began to burn at the need to confess she kept pets. It was most un-Angelic of her. But Cain wouldn’t care about that, would he?

“Where?” he said. “Where mice?”

“My bedroom. In a glass case on my dresser.” She put her hand on his arm. His naked skin. “They’ll die if we don’t take them along. Please, I don’t want them to die.”

He lifted his hand and brushed some hair from her eyes. “I get – mice. I go. You stay – safe place.”

“You swear you’ll get them? You won’t let us leave without them?”

He smiled, his eyes going softer and warmer. “You love – your mice.”

She gave him a broken nod.

“I swear – will get them,” he said in his halting voice. “Bring. After you safe.”

“Thank you.”

Cain put his arms around her and she let him. She noticed she was trembling. And she noticed that his arms felt paradoxically good around her, not like a prison but more like protection. As if he wouldn’t let anyone hurt her.

Yes, because that’s his privilege as my owner.

But he hadn’t hurt her so far. Why should she assume he planned to do it in the future? He could have killed her if he’d wanted to. He could have brutally raped her, then wrung her neck or turned her over to the other males. Instead, he’d comforted and protected her. He’d promised to go back for the mice.

He still took you. And now he thinks you belong to him.

She would have to allow him to think that a little longer, because unless she had someone on her side, she was dead.

“I keep you safe,” he murmured against the crown of her head. “Promise. You stay safe…with me.”

He tightened his embrace until her cheek ended up pressed against his chest again. She couldn’t bring herself to thank him. It simply felt so wrong that she could thank anyone of his kind that the words stuck in her throat and refused to come out. But she set her hands at his waist, in lieu of actually embracing him, and gave a short nod of acquiescence.

“Dress,” he said. “Then we go.”

Chapter 13

Protect You

Cain knew a gown was a flimsy defense against Demon Kin attack, but at least it hid Promise’s glorious body from casual glances. He nodded when she turned to him after pulling the ugly thing over her head. Not enough – a suit of armor probably wouldn’t be enough – but better than nothing.

She looked terrified. At one time, those wide eyes and trembling lips would have filled him with a certain angry satisfaction. Now they only made him want to comfort her again.

He had a dangerous weakness where Promise was concerned, and burying himself in her body had only made that weakness more acute. However, he’d taken responsibility for her and he would protect her, no matter what happened. No matter how cold she was to him.

Their liberators had coded the doors so they could open and shut but could not be locked, even from the outside. The portal slid open when he approached it, revealing an orgy winding down in the passageway.

A few couples still mated with enthusiasm, but most lay about, idly petting or dozing together. There seemed to be more males than females, judging by the number of threesomes with two males.

One of the men opened his eyes and stared lazily at Cain. A dark-haired woman lay between him and another man, her head cradled on the other man’s chest. He thought it was the brunette he’d kissed when he was searching for Promise. The first man’s gaze sharpened as Promise came up behind Cain.

He turned and scooped her into his arms. This time, she didn’t scream. She merely looped her arms around his neck and remained silent.

Cain turned back to the hallway and the observing male. “Mine,” he said with a glare.

The man only nodded. Perhaps his earlier efforts had sated him – for now, anyway. His attitude might change in the future.

Promise rested her head against his shoulder as he carried her into the crowded passage. Her hair smelled of something sharp and not altogether pleasant. He’d noticed that scent on Teachers he’d met during his assignment on Novus Vita. It must be something they all used to wash themselves. Was it meant as an anti-aphrodisiac? The odor certainly had that effect on him, except for Promise. Something about her overrode every other concern, including his common sense.

He picked his way between sprawling Demon Kin and human bodies. The males began to lift their heads, to stare at Promise. Cain snarled at each and every one of them, warning them to stay away.

If they decided to attack all at once, he wouldn’t be able to protect her. There were too many of them. He’d be overwhelmed, and Promise would be gang raped.

Since that could not be allowed to happen, he kept his head high, his eyes narrow, his shoulders square, and glowered at the males as he passed. He let them know that he would fight them, to the death, and many would die or be injured before they managed to take him down.

Why should he stick his neck out to protect a woman who’d reviled him, who’d imprisoned him and probably wished him dead? His life would be a lot simpler if he let them have her. But he couldn’t do that.

First, it was wrong. No woman, even Promise, deserved the treatment she’d get if he let her go. Second, he…cared about her. He didn’t love her or even like her. But he needed her, and he suspected she needed him just as much. Her quick capitulation to him and her eager sexual response told him she felt it too.

Enchainment. It shouldn’t be happening already. They’d only had one sexual encounter and one kiss before that. Enchainment usually took several encounters before it took hold, if it took hold at all. Yet he’d felt the addiction-like effects of it after one kiss from her lips.

Now that they’d given each other orgasms, the hook was set. He couldn’t give her away or allow any harm to come to her. Even if he had no honor, the enchainment wouldn’t allow it. Enchainment demanded he protect her no matter what.

He made it to the end of the corridor and through the cell block doors, running right into Storm. The black-haired male was striding toward him, his dark-skinned woman in his wake. Mercy, that was her name. Storm’s new mate.

“Cain,” Storm said. “And Angel Promise. Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”

He’d asked her that before. Did he hope she’d changed her mind?

“I am whole,” she said in a muted voice.

Storm nodded. “Good.”

“Why do you care?” she said. “You let him take me.”

Cain’s muscles tensed. She sounded like her usual cold and distant self now, the passionate young woman who’d moaned in his arms somewhere in hiding. She wanted him the same way he wanted her. He knew it. He could scent the desire on her even now. But she persisted in denying her own feelings as if they offended her…and they probably did.

“I did not allow him to take you,” Storm told her. “I tried to follow, but the others crowded around me and threatened Mercy. By the time I got through, you two had already joined.”

Promise bowed her head. “I see.”

Cain could have put her on her feet, yet he kept her in his arms. He didn’t quite trust her. She might try to run away if he put her down, and he didn’t want to lose her.

Yes, the enchainment had its hold on her, but she’d been trained as a Teacher and then as an Angel since early childhood. All of the Angels had undergone ruthless programming. Her training might assert itself and force her to run away, and if she ran, he couldn’t protect her.

“We’ve got a ship,” Storm said, meeting his gaze. “That cargo ship I mentioned. Mercy will show you. I want you and Promise in a cabin of your own, for her protection. I don’t trust the others. They’re so full of anger at Promise for her role in this that they could be capable of almost anything.”

“One already made an attempt to take her,” Cain said.

“Then we agree?”

“We do.”

Promise said nothing. Mercy smiled at him and gestured for him to follow. She was lovely, slender yet curvaceous, with full and beautifully shaped lips. Even her nearly-shaved head and the ugly male uniform she must have stolen from one of the guards couldn’t disguise her beauty. If not for Promise, he might have been jealous of Storm.

Mercy led him through a complex of offices and storerooms and then out into a small docking area. He hadn’t seen any of this when they’d brought him in. They’d drugged him to keep him docile and he remembered nothing of the capture.

The ship loomed above them. Although huge compared to him and the humans, it wasn’t very large as ships went. Probably a mid-size freighter. There wouldn’t be much cabin space on a ship like that, and Storm was giving him one of the precious rooms. He and Promise could probably expect some resentment, both of their living arrangement and their exclusivity. There was no way he was giving her up, though, so the others could stuff it.

Sound-insulated decking thudded dully beneath his and Mercy’s feet as they wended their way through the cramped ship. Promise’s feet brushed against the wall of the corridor leading off the bridge. She pulled them back.

“I can walk now,” she said with a touch of asperity.

“Will you run, though?” he said. His speech seemed to be returning to him in full.

“No. Why would I run? Where would I go?”

Mercy glanced over her shoulder with a wry smile at him. Then she frowned at Promise. “You haven’t been very cooperative so far. I don’t blame him for not trusting you.”

Promise gave an indignant little huff. “Running would be stupid, and I assure you I am not stupid. You can put me down, Cain. I swear I won’t run from you.”

Her blue eyes looked completely guileless. Without probing her mind, he couldn’t be sure she was telling the truth. Yet she was right about one thing – there was nowhere for her to go. His body blocked her exit from the corridor, and besides, if she re-entered the facility, the other Demon Kin would pounce on her.

He sighed. “All right.”

She slipped from his arms with insulting speed. Cain reminded himself she’d experienced a great deal of trauma today. Her beloved facility had been overtaken by the prisoners, many of her guards killed, and while she’d submitted to him voluntarily, he knew she would rather have kept her precious virginity.

She’d only agreed to have sex with him because he was the better option. What else could he have expected, given the circumstances? No woman wanted her first time to be under those conditions, so it was only fair to make allowances for her snippy attitude.

Her unpleasantness rankled anyway.

She would never be Lili. He’d never have with Promise what he’d had with his childhood sweetheart. The thought of Lili made his chest hurt in that old, familiar pain he’d carried with him for so many years. She’d been his soul mate, his partner in crime, his best friend. And he’d lost her forever.

Promise could never be to him what Lili had been. She didn’t have it in her. But she was all he had and he planned to make the best of it.

“Storm has the captain’s cabin,” Mercy said, leading the way down the corridor. “So you can have the first officer’s.” She stopped in front of a narrow door.

“We may need to have our food and other goods delivered,” Cain said. “I don’t think Promise should leave the cabin.”

Mercy sent an unreadable glance to the other woman. “I agree. It will be safer for her to stay inside with the door locked at all times.”

Promise lifted her chin and looked down her narrow nose at Mercy. “I know you don’t have my best interests at heart,” she said disdainfully. “You hate me.”

“I may hate you,” Mercy said, “but I want this operation to go smoothly and I’ll do whatever it takes to help Storm get us all to Belleren. So in you go. Keep the door locked. Storm will bring food later.”

She didn’t hold anything back. No wonder Storm liked her so much.

She opened the cabin door and stepped aside. Cain motioned Promise into the cabin, following closely after her in case she changed her mind about running. Inside, the lighting seemed glaring and cold, the furnishings less than luxurious. There was a bed just wide enough to sleep both of them if they embraced tightly, a tiny built-in dresser, a sink, a writing desk that was little more than a shelf sticking out of one wall, and a narrow door that probably led to a shower-toilet combination. His cell in the Center had been bigger than this, although it hadn’t had a bathroom.

He wasn’t going to complain. They were going home, and that was all that mattered.

The door shut behind them. Cain locked it while Promise sat woodenly on the bed. He turned and regarded her steadily.

Her gaze met his. “Are you going back for my mice?”

“In a moment.”

She kept her head high, her lips tense, her hands clasped in her lap. He couldn’t decide if she reminded him more of a Teacher about to deliver a lecture or a student anticipating punishment. Either way, she made him smile.

“What are you grinning about?” she snapped.

“You,” he said. “Don’t look so nervous. I promised you I wouldn’t hurt you and I meant it.”

“You must be very happy. You’re free and you can do whatever you want to me. I know you’ve wanted to humiliate me ever since that day Chisholm brought you to my office.”

“Not true,” he said, still smiling.

“Don’t lie to me. I could see it in your eyes.”

“I didn’t want to humiliate you. I wanted to fuck you.” He still did, more than ever, but he didn’t want to scare her with a raging erection so he turned his thoughts elsewhere.

She cringed. “Isn’t it the same thing?”

Cain leaned against the door and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you really believe that?”

“Yes,” she said with apparent conviction. But there was something, some shift in her gaze, that suggested she was lying. Perhaps even to herself.

“I consider it my mission on this journey to change your mind, then,” he told her.

Her lips nearly disappeared. “You’ll never be able to do that. You’re wasting your time.”

***

Cain found the mice under a pile of Promise’s clothes and other possessions. Someone had entered her rooms and ransacked them, throwing the few things she owned all over the place. They didn’t seem to be looking for anything in particular, just ruining her possessions.

He lifted the pile of gowns and underthings off the top of the dresser, revealing a small glass aquarium with a wire mesh top. Inside, the two tiny occupants scurried for the cover of a plastic tube on the bottom of the cage. One was gray, the other black.

There were more toys inside the case. A small basket woven of some kind of fine-textured grass hung from the lid, with a piece of rope dangling from the bottom. There was a stack of wooden blocks, like the kind children played with, and a cardboard box, one side chewed away, that looked like it had contained meal bars at one time. She really seemed to care for her tiny pets.

It wasn’t anything he would have imagined her doing. Cain hefted the case and tucked it under one arm to carry it back to the ship. They didn’t have much time before they had to depart the station. Although Novus Vita was technically under Bellerenic control, lingering here and giving the Novus Vitans time to respond to the insurrection would be unwise.

Some of his fellow Demon Kin gave him strange looks as he carted the mouse cage through the facility. The orgy had mostly died down. People were lounging on the floor, talking, or rooting around in the offices for anything they could carry away with them. Smiles and puzzled frowns followed him as he made his way to the docking bay.

He turned away potential questions with a cool stare. They could think whatever they liked. Promise needed her mice and he was bringing them to her. He’d do whatever he could to make her new life easier for her, because the gods knew she could never return to Novus Vita. Her own people would tear her apart after what had happened to her.

When he opened the door to the cabin, she jumped up from the bed. Cain squeezed inside and set the aquarium on the tiny desk affixed to the wall, taking up every square centimeter of surface area. Promise brushed past him to bend over the cage and peer inside.

“Are they in there? Are they all right?” she said anxiously.

“They are. I saw them before I picked up the cage.”

“It’s all right, girls,” she crooned through the mesh top. “I’m here. Everything’s all right.”

Her face had completely changed. The aloof chilliness was gone, replaced with a softness he hadn’t seen in her before, even when their bodies were joined. It was almost like looking at another person entirely.

“Do you like animals in general?” he said in a low voice.

She glanced at him before returning to her scrutiny of the cage. “Yes.”

“You keep surprising me, Promise.”

Another sidelong glance. “You didn’t think I would like animals?”

“No, I didn’t.” He’d wondered if she was even capable of such a thing. Knowing she was endeared her to him, at least a little.

“I always have.” She straightened, turning away from the cage, but still didn’t look directly at him. “I was born on a farm. We had dogs, too. At school, we weren’t allowed to keep animals and I always missed them.” Her gaze flicked over to him again. “My supervisor has no idea I was keeping mice. Animals aren’t allowed here.”

“I see.” He smiled teasingly. “A rule breaker, huh?”

“No. At least, not usually,” she said, looking abashed.

He tipped up her chin. “I like that about you.” And kissed her.

A barely-audible scratching sound issued from the glass cage. Promise twisted away from him to examine it again. She lifted the wire mesh and reached inside for a black mouse, which she lifted out in the palm of her hand. Tenderness washed over her face as she stroked the tiny rodent with her forefinger.

“Does it have a name?” he said, fascinated with the change in her.

“This one is Micro. The other one is Milli, short for Milligram.”

“Milligram?” he said, smiling.

“She’s very small.”

Cain stroked her golden hair. “Micro is a pretty mouse. I’m glad I was able to find them for you.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, still watching her pet as it sniffed her hand. She seemed more interested in the mice than in him.

Chapter 14

Stuck Together

How could Cain look so nonchalant as he lounged about the cabin utterly naked? Did he have no shame?

That was a stupid question. Of course he had no shame. He was Demon Kin.

Once again, Promise didn’t know where to look. If she wasn’t careful, she’d rest her gaze on his sex and that was something she didn’t want to see. Ever again.

Except she was locked into this cabin with him for the duration of the journey to Malefica, and it was going to be at least a week. She didn’t expect to make it more than a few hours without him wanting more sex from her.

She could endure it. She would have to, in order to stay alive. Somehow, life had become more important to her than her dignity or her personal purity. So she would go on allowing him to use her, putting up no fight, just to prolong her miserable existence.

She had none of the internal fortitude and little of the faith of the Novus Vitan martyrs. She was not the person she’d imagined herself to be, but just a weak woman after all.

The cabin had gone from chilly to hot in the hour or so they’d occupied it. She didn’t know if someone had turned on a heating system or if it was only body heat. Either way, the air felt uncomfortably stuffy and every time she glanced at Cain it felt even hotter than before.

The walls and built-in furniture were an ugly, glossy tan with various scratches and stains marring their none-too-attractive surfaces. A thin, gray-blue blanket covered the narrow bed. How were she and Cain going to fit on that thing? Only by wrapping their arms around each other, something that didn’t appeal at all.

Maybe she’d sleep on the floor.

Her stomach growled and she pressed her hands to her belly. “I’m hungry.”

“Let’s see if there’s anything to eat in here,” Cain said. He rummaged around in the dresser and then a tiny cabinet next to the door, coming up with a meal replacement bar. “Will this work?”

“How old is it?”

He crimped his brows in a quizzical way. “You’re worried about how old it is? We might have hours until we can eat again. Just take it.” He tossed it into her lap.

Promise sighed. She examined the wrapper. According to the use-by date, it still had six standard months of edibility in it, although she used the word edibility in its loosest sense.

Quit whining and eat it. At least you won’t starve. Somehow, though, she had to find a way to feed the two mice. Scraps of meal bar probably wouldn’t be good for them.

Cain pulled another out and unwrapped it, taking a generous bite. Promise followed suit and grimaced at the weird, slightly bitter taste underlying the sweetener. She hated meal replacement bars. No amount of modern food-processing wizardry could make them taste good.

Cain didn’t seem to notice how far it was from gourmet cuisine. He ate his with apparent relish. Maybe that was because he’d spent the past few months subsisting on the bland garbage the facility fed its prisoners.

Promise’s conscience twinged. They hadn’t needed to treat the prisoners so harshly. The extreme confinement, the bad food, the lack of baths, all seemed like punishment now that she’d gotten a little distance from it. And the facility wasn’t supposed to be about punishment. Their mission was scientific and had nothing to do with chastising criminals.

Cain tossed his wrapper in a waste receptacle and sat next to her, stretching his long legs across the cabin all the way to the opposite wall. She edged away from him with a wary sideways glance. What was he trying to do?

“We’re stuck together,” he said quietly. “You might as well get used to me.”

Promise crumpled the meal bar wrapper noisily between her hands. “I don’t think I can.”

“Believe me, if you must, you can become accustomed to almost anything.”

She turned her head and looked at him directly. His finely sculpted profile looked so deceptively beautiful, even in the harsh light of the cabin. “What do you mean?”

Idiot question. She knew what he meant – the facility. He must have gotten used to the conditions here, at least a little, in the time he’d been here.

He sent her a glance, just a sideways flick of the eyes before he returned to staring at the wall. “The facility, of course. But also the plague. The death of all the women I knew. Can you imagine a world without women?”

Did he blame her for that event? She’d had nothing to do with it. She’d been too young at the time to be involved with the planning and execution of such a major act of war, even if she’d been male.

“They never consulted me about that,” she said.

He gave a wry twist of his lips. “I never thought they did. But you ran this facility, so I assumed you endorsed it. After the fact, of course.”

And she had. If it had been up to her, she would have had every single Demon Kin, male and female, expunged from the universe. But now…now, she wondered. What if she’d been wrong?

They were degenerate, yes. But were they so evil they deserved to be annihilated? Cain was here protecting her even though she’d taken a major part in harming him. He didn’t have to do it. The mere fact they’d had sex once wouldn’t be much of a deterrent to a man of his strength of will.

If he’d really wanted to, he could have gotten rid of her. Could have had his revenge on her. Yet here he sat, speaking gently to her, offering her food, keeping the others of his kind at bay.

Perhaps not all Demon Kin were evil.

“I did at one time,” she said.

“At one time? What about now?” He asked the question in such a mild tone she almost thought he didn’t care much about the answer. But one glance at his eyes, fixed soberly on her face, disabused her of that idea. He did care.

Promise stared at her lap. “I don’t know. I won’t lie to you. Your people stand for everything I hate.”

“I see. You do understand that your safety rests with me, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Don’t sound so sulky about it.”

Promise sighed. “I know. I owe you my life and I ought to be grateful.”

“But?”

She shook her head. “There is no but.”

“There’s always a but with you.”

She turned her head and glared at him. “You hardly know me.”

He reached over into her lap and extricated one of her hands from the tangle of fingers and wrapper, bringing it back to his own lap. “I took your virginity, Promise, and I didn’t even do it with much finesse. I’m sorry for that. I truly am. I wish I could have given you a better first experience.”

She cringed. First experience. That implied there would be more, perhaps many more such experiences, while she wished there would only be the one.

“You were…”

“Not in my right mind,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. I found it difficult to hold myself back. But that doesn’t mean I wanted to brutalize you.”

It had been at least partly her fault he’d been in that state, yet he said nothing of that.

Promise cleared her throat. “You didn’t – you didn’t brutalize me.”

He looked at her. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I – I don’t know what you would have liked to do differently, but you – you didn’t hurt me. It wasn’t painful.”

His fingers curled more tightly around her hand. “Good. I’m glad.”

She stared down at their joined hands. Hers looked so small in his, almost fragile. And the touch of his skin – it brought back all the yearning, the aching need for more touch, that she’d felt before, when they’d….

“Why do you care?” she said, her voice low and rough. “You could have done whatever you wanted.”

“This may be hard for you to believe, but my people don’t make a habit of hurting females,” he said dryly. “Most of us Demon Kin males like to please our women. We take pride in it. Unless, of course, we’ve been driven insane by deprivation. What are your scientists hoping to accomplish with these experiments, anyway?”

Promise shook her head. “I don’t know the ultimate purpose of them.” She wasn’t going to blab her nation’s long-term plans to their enemies, no matter how good-looking they might be.

“Huh.” That single sound expressed so much doubt, so much disbelief in her words. He didn’t trust her.

“They don’t tell me everything, you know,” she said.

“I’m sure.”

“And you can’t expect me to betray my own people.”

He slanted another sideways look at her. “No, I guess I can’t.”

A horrible thought occurred to her. “Are you going to torture me?”

“No. I’m no torturer.”

“Will your king have me tortured then?” Her stomach trembled and threatened to rebel at the thought. Maybe she hadn’t been so lucky to have Cain as a guardian after all. Maybe she’d have been luckier if he’d let the others murder her.

“He doesn’t need to torture you,” Cain said. “He has other ways of acquiring information, ways that wouldn’t cause you any pain.”

Oh. She frowned. Was that a good thing or a bad one?

“What kinds of ways?”

“You’ll find out if and when you need to know. You don’t expect me to betray my people, do you?”

She gave him a glare of exasperation, but he only smiled blandly.

“I’m in your power now,” she said. “So how would you betray anything by telling me?”

“Until you’re on Belleren, I won’t believe you’re truly in my power. So until we arrive on my planet, I’m not telling you anything that isn’t public knowledge.”

She tugged at her hand, trying to liberate it from his grasp, but he refused to let go of it. “I don’t know much about your people.”

“Really?” he said. “How could someone ignorant of our ways run a facility that experimented on us?”

“I’m – I was only the administrator. I needed a general grasp of scientific protocol, but I didn’t need to know all the specifics of any of the experiments. The head scientist, Dr. Gliptrout, was in charge of that.”

“Dr. Gliptrout. Interesting name.”

She bowed her head. “Your people killed him when you got free.”

“I can’t say I’m sorry. Anyone who would design those experiments has something wrong with his mind.”

She’d been having doubts herself, yet hearing him criticize the facility so baldly rubbed her the wrong way. “Dr. Gliptrout is a highly respected member of the Novus Vitan scientific community. He is – he was a genius.”

Never mind the fact she hadn’t liked him, had distrusted him. Feared him.

“That doesn’t make him a decent person,” Cain said.

“As if you would know a decent person,” she scoffed.

“The problem with you Novus Vitans,” Cain said, “is you think you invented decency and kindness. Yet your planet is one of the most unkind places I’ve ever been. Your people are hateful and cruel. How do you explain that?”

She tilted her chin. “We are strict in matters of morality, that’s all. Of course someone like you would find that cruel.”

“Someone like me?” He turned his face toward her, one cinnamon brow raised.

“Well, yes. Someone so…so accustomed to…you know…” For some reason, she found it difficult to articulate just why she believed him degenerate.

“Perhaps you should stop there, before you crush my delicate feelings,” he said, his voice dry as the canned air in the ship.

“I didn’t mean – ”

“Of course you did. It’s all right, Promise. I understand your upbringing warped you.”

She made a valiant effort to free her hand, but he still wouldn’t let go. “I am not warped.”

“Sweet, you’re so angry, so tense, so busy judging everything and everyone around you, I can feel the nastiness rolling off you even with this cursed chip stuck in my neck.”

She gaped at him with open mouth. “You think I’m nasty?”

“Your attitude certainly is.”

“Then why did you want to – you know – ”

“Fuck you?”

She couldn’t help cringing and blushing every time he said that word. “Yes.”

“One, I was desperate for a female. Any female would have been acceptable. And more importantly, there’s something between you and me, a kind of chemical attraction that I can’t seem to fight. It’s called enchainment. I know you feel it too.”

She managed to tear her hand away this time. “I don’t feel anything of the kind.”

He laughed. “Didn’t they tell you about the Demon Kin sense of smell? I know you feel it, Promise. I can smell it on you.”

She jumped up from the bed and pressed herself against the wall. This gave her no more than a meter of space between him and her, yet it was better than sitting pressed up against him.

“You’re disgusting,” she spat.

“Of course I am.” He stared at her mockingly, knowingly, and that look in his eyes just made her hate him.

She noticed her back was pressed against the door of the shower-toilet enclosure. “I’m going to clean myself up,” she said, yanking the door open and bolting inside.

***

When she emerged, her privates newly clean and free of his – his residue, she found him stretched out on the bed, his arms folded behind his curly head, his sex fully on display. Promise gasped and shielded her eyes.

“Did you use all the water?” he said, as if he weren’t stark naked.

“No. I did not.” He must think the absolute worst of her. “I left plenty for you. I know it’s been a while since you bathed.”

“Thank you for reminding me I stink. I’ll take my turn in the shower now.”

You don’t stink. The truth was, she found the spiciness of his natural scent intriguing. She didn’t say it out loud, though. It would only encourage him.

This experience was ruining her irrevocably. She could never go back to being an Angel. Even if they took her back, she couldn’t do it anymore. She’d changed too much, just in these last few hours.

It probably didn’t matter anyway. It would take a true miracle to get her back to Novus Vita, and her status as Angel didn’t matter anywhere else. Why was the Maker doing this to her? Was there some terrible flaw in her, something that had brought this punishment down on her head?

Cain disappeared into the tiny shower cubicle. The showers were timed, the water lukewarm and the stream miserly. But he would probably find it enjoyable, as deprived as he’d been.

She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. The loneliness that had plagued her childhood returned in a blinding wave. She’d thought she was done with that, thought she’d put it away forever. She was too old, too much an Angel to feel the need for human contact. Wasn’t she?

But no, she wasn’t. Not anymore. She would never be an Angel again.

Chapter 15

What I Deserve

The bed gave a muffled creak as Cain lowered himself onto it. Promise’s eyes flew open. He arranged himself next to her, so close their shoulders touched. He smelled of the wash solution provided in the ship stores and his hair, slicked back and wet, looked almost black. He’d removed the beard, revealing the clean, hard lines of his jaw.

He looked so devastatingly beautiful, even with the horns, that she had to look away.

“Are you all right?” he said.

“I’m fine.” She edged away, which forced her to squeeze herself against the wall at the foot of the bed. “Don’t touch me.”

Cain gave her a look of disbelief. “Don’t touch you? I’ve already done a lot more than touch my shoulder to yours.”

“Yes, and I don’t need a reminder.”

He moved over, once again pushing his shoulder against hers. Now she had nowhere to go to escape him.

“I’m going to touch you, Promise. Often. All the time, in fact. And you’re going to touch me.”

“No, I’m not.”

He smiled, a wry twist of the lips. “You may think that now, but in a few hours or a day, you’ll find out the truth.”

She snorted. “I’m an Angel. Believe me, I have no interest in touching you or anyone else.”

“I can tell you really want to believe that, and maybe it even seems true. But the enchainment will change your mind.”

“The what?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “You’ve never heard of enchainment?”

Promise tilted her chin, reaching for her former cool detachment. “Of course I have, but that’s just a superstition. It’s not real.”

She was bluffing. She knew it was real. Proving the existence of the enchainment phenomenon and discovering how it worked had been the major thrust of the experiments at the Center. But she didn’t want him to know that.

He laughed. “It’s real.”

“I’ve seen no evidence that would convince me of it.”

“Maybe you didn’t do enough experiments. Trust me, it’s real and we’re enchained.”

She shot him a glare full of all the scorn she could muster. “We are not. I feel nothing for you.”

“Oh? As I said, wait a few hours and you’ll find out the truth.”

She rolled her eyes, a gesture that was truthfully beneath her dignity. She was no expert on Demon Kin sexuality, but even she knew it took more than one encounter to produce enchainment. That was why they’d begun exposing the Demon Kin males to the same female for several encounters in a row. She and Cain couldn’t be enchained. It wasn’t possible.

He must think she’d be easier to seduce if she thought she was addicted to him, that her defenses would go down and she’d do whatever he wanted. He was going to be so, so disappointed, poor demon.

The press of his shoulder did feel good, and she hated that. It should repulse her, not fill her with warmth and longing. But that was not because of some ridiculous supernatural attachment; it was because he was the only person in the universe – besides herself, of course – who had even the least interest in her welfare. Even if his interest was entirely selfish, it was all she had, so of course she felt warmed by him.

The thundering of a hundred feet came from the corridor. Promise shrank back against the wall, her movement as involuntary as her racing pulse. The others must be here, on the ship.

Cain took her hand, clasping it in both of his. “They can’t get in here. The door is locked, remember?”

“Maybe they have the code.”

“They won’t get you. I won’t allow it.”

She glanced at him. His winter-colored eyes looked so serious, as if he were promising her his life. Would he go to such lengths to protect her? Why?

“You don’t have to do this,” she said stiffly. “You don’t have to risk yourself.”

Another wry smile crossed his face. “Yes, I do. Clearly you don’t know much about enchainment if you think I could abandon you for any reason, let alone to be hurt and perhaps killed.”

She blinked. Frowned. “So you’re saying the enchainment forces you to care about me?”

His head tilted to the side in acknowledgment. “You could say that, yes.”

How lowering. He didn’t care about her at all, then. He was being driven by some biological imperative to protect his mate.

I thought you didn’t believe you two were enchained, Promise.

She didn’t, not really. But he did.

“So if I were to run into the hall and offer myself to them, you would stop me?” she said, watching him curiously.

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“What would you do if I did?”

“Stop you, of course.” He shook his head. “Don’t even think about it. They’d tear you apart.”

“Maybe it’s what I deserve,” she muttered, her voice barely audible.

He leaned forward to peer into her face. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“I d-don’t know.” She hated the waver in her voice. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

She’d forfeited the facility with barely a murmur, betraying the Council’s trust in her. She’d submitted to Cain without a fight, given up her virginity just to preserve her sorry life. And she’d participated in a program that had brutalized and tormented its test subjects, sentient beings whom she ought to despise but who were becoming more real to her with every instant she spent in Cain’s company.

What was happening to her? Who was she? She’d claimed to be an Angel, just a few moments ago, but she knew it wasn’t true anymore. She’d never be an Angel again, but she had no idea how else to live, how else to define herself.

“I may not like some of the things you’ve done,” Cain said, “but there is no way you deserve what you’d get from that crowd. Do you hear me?”

She nodded miserably. “I suppose.”

“No.” He inserted an arm between her shoulders and the wall, drawing her around to face him. “No supposing. No guessing. You deserve to live, Promise, and I’m going to make sure you do.”

She fought the nearly irresistible urge to burrow her face against his naked chest. “Why? You should hate me after the way I treated you.”

His brows creased. “How can you ask me that after we – ”

“It was only sex,” she interrupted. “Men take women all the time. They don’t necessarily care about them.”

He gazed at her sadly, and the pity in his eyes made her bristle. “Promise, it was more than that for me. Didn’t you feel it?”

Yes. Yes, she had felt it. She still did. But he was Demon Kin, her people’s greatest enemy, and she was a former Angel. They didn’t belong together. She didn’t belong with anyone, didn’t know how to belong to a man.

She must have hesitated too long. He drew back, the pity replaced with a cynical smirk.

“Never mind,” he said coldly. “I’m obviously not good enough for you.”

That wasn’t it. At all. But she didn’t know how to tell him and wasn’t even sure if it was something he ought to know.

She didn’t want to feel these things for him, or any other male. She wanted to return to her former state of purity. She wanted to reverse time, to go back to the day she’d accepted the assignment at the facility, to say no. If she’d never gone there, never tried to be something more than any other woman on Novus Vita, then none of this would have happened. Not to her, at any rate.

Maker, that was selfish. If she hadn’t been here, someone else would have suffered in her place, someone who might have deserved it a great deal less than she did. Maybe she was exactly where she belonged.

“Don’t look so glum,” Cain said. “At least you have me to torment.”

He removed his arm from her shoulders and edged away from her. She instantly missed the warmth and weight of it, the press of his body against hers, and that infuriated her. He was a Demon Kin. If she were going to have feelings for a male, he should be human at least.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe he isn’t good enough for me.

Sudden, loud pounding on the door startled her so badly she jumped backward on the bed, bumping into Cain.

“Open up in there!” shouted a deep male voice. “We know you’re in there, Cain. We know you have her!”

Heavens, not another one.

“She’s mine,” he yelled back. “You can’t have her.”

“We’ll find a way to get her out of there and when we do, her fate will become yours. Unless you give her up now.”

“Fuck off,” Cain growled. “I’m not giving her to you or anyone else.”

The male on the other side laughed. “Right.”

“I told you she’s mine.”

“You’re really taking the side of the director of that hellhole?” the other male said in obvious disbelief.

“I don’t know who you are,” Cain said, “and you clearly don’t know me, so I’m going to explain something to you. When I claim a woman, I don’t let her go for anything. She’s mine. We’re mated. We’re enchained. You’re not getting her.”

“Enchained?” The other male laughed again. “Impossible. You just met her.”

“That doesn’t matter. We’re enchained and she’s mine.”

“You’re serious?”

“Completely serious,” Cain said.

“Gods of Belleren,” the male said. Something about his tone of voice made her picture him shaking his head on the other side of the door. “Enchained to a Novus Vitan Angel. You poor bastard.”

Heavy footsteps moved away from the door. Promise turned to Cain.

“What did he mean by that? What’s so bad about being enchained to me?”

Cain gave her a dry look. “You’re not exactly an erotic prize, Angel. You’ve been trained all your life to hate your body. Everyone’s bodies.” He shrugged. “And you Angels probably hate us Demon Kin more than any other group of Novus Vitans. Would you want to be enchained to someone who despised you?”

She hung her head, unable to find the words to answer him. It seemed she was the one stuck with someone who despised her, judging by what he’d just said.

“I – no, of course not,” she said, biting her lip. “How many women have you become enchained with?”

“Other than you? One.”

She could almost see him withdrawing from her, pulling himself inward so he wouldn’t have to deal with her. That was what she wanted, right? They needed to keep as much distance between them as possible. Why then did it hurt so much?

She was a mess. She didn’t know what she was doing or thinking half the time.

Promise sneaked a quick glance at Cain. His gaze was fixed on the wall but his focus was far away, as if seeing something she could not.

Somewhere, he had a woman to whom he was already enchained. She pictured him with this other female, saw him bending his auburn head to hers, kissing her, crooning to her with love. The image brought cramping pain to her heart.

His lover, his woman would never accept Promise. She knew that because she knew she would never tolerate another claim on him. She, the once holy, once-pure Angel, now tormented by feelings she’d once imagined she was too superior to entertain.

She needed her Angelic armor back, the stiff and chilly emotional barrier she’d kept between herself and other people for so long. The armor had once even extended around the heart that now ached with jealousy and loss for something she’d never have. Armor had kept her safe and free, but it was long gone.

She brought her eyes up to his. “Is she – will she hate me?”

Cain’s face shut down. “She’s dead.”

“Oh.” Promise shrank into herself. “I see.”

“I doubt that.” He drew himself away, to the far end of the bed, and curled his legs beneath himself so that no part of him touched her. He shot her a sidelong glance. “She died in the plague.”

His lover was dead? The relief that followed his revelation was nothing less than humiliating.

She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

“Of course not. You know nothing about me.”

Promise bit back the obvious retort – that he knew nothing about her, either. It seemed likely he didn’t want to know her. They were two enemies with nothing in common except for the fact they were trapped together in this tiny cabin. There was no reason for him to be interested in her as a person.

But he’d been enchained. Had he loved her? Was it purely a physical addiction?

“She was my first lover,” he said, his voice muted. “We thought we’d be together forever. We were so damned young, just children. And then the plague came, and she got sick, and a few days later she was dead. My mother, too, and my youngest sister.”

His voice, though low, seemed flat and empty of emotion, as if he were reciting facts from a history book instead of his own life. She studied him, took in the big hands clenched in the blanket beneath him, the tension in his jaw. He felt something, felt it deeply. He simply didn’t want to share it with her.

She remembered when she’d heard the news of the plague that had devastated Malefica. As a young Teacher in training, although she’d been only ten at the time, she’d been privy to information denied most Novus Vitans, including the fact that her home world had sent the disease to the Demon Kin. A biological weapon. She’d been overjoyed to see it working, full of hope that the “scourge of the galaxy” would soon be no more.

Why couldn’t she access any of that righteous fire now? When she looked at Cain, she didn’t see a demonic monster who deserved to suffer. She only saw a man.

Apparently, having sex with a man could addle a woman’s wits. She needed to remember that Cain was not truly on her side. He only defended her because of his belief in the enchainment, and because it suited him. He’d probably turn her over to the Malefican authorities the instant they disembarked the ship.

It was going to be difficult, but she had to keep her sense of self. She had to resist being drawn into Cain’s world as much as possible, for her own protection. If she kept herself separate enough, it might even be possible for her to return to Novus Vita, although not as an Angel.

Longing arose in her, to see her homeworld once again, to stand amid the green, rolling hills where she’d been born and see the local sun dipping toward the horizon, brilliant colors streaming across the vault of the sky. She hadn’t been there in almost two decades, but her memories were so clear and strong she could almost smell the scent of the newly turned soil.

A memory hit Promise like a full body blow. Pain. Loneliness. Night after night laying in her narrow, lonely bed in the School Of The Sacred Teachings, waiting for someone to hug her six-year-old self and tell her it would be all right. That she hadn’t been abandoned. That someone knew her and loved her.

That person never came.

She’d learned that to be holy was to be apart, separate, alone. That the Teachings gave no quarter. They had no compassion for small girls who were afraid of the dark, who missed their mothers and sisters, who longed for even one pat on the shoulder. Only Catherine had ever provided her with companionship, and Catherine was even chillier than Promise herself.

She’d learned to take pride in her aloneness, although pride was a crime against God. She’d learned to see her isolation as a Teacher as a sign of her spiritual superiority. The elder Teachers had always complimented her on how well she’d adapted. They’d told her she wasn’t like the other girls. She was stronger, smarter, more spiritual. Almost as good as a boy.

Now Promise wondered if the boys had been just as lonely and lost as the girls.

All those years trapped in the narrow city streets of the capital, studying and working and striving for Angelic perfection, and she could still smell the soil of her parents’ farm. She could remember how tender the new spring grass felt beneath her bare feet and the softness of her dog’s fur. She hadn’t had any pets in the capital until she’d smuggled in her first mouse. Angels were forbidden from keeping animals.

Her heart suddenly ached for that lost world, one she hadn’t even known she missed. If she could keep herself whole, perhaps she could find her way back. Perhaps, among her own people, she wouldn’t be so alone anymore.

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