The music was bad. The drinks were cheap. And none of the humans in the rundown bar had any clue that they were being served by one of the most powerful paranormal beings in the world.
Mora tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear as she let her gaze drift around Resurrection. The bar might not look like much, but the place was hers. All freaking hers. When she’d first arrived in town, she’d been a waitress at the bar. She’d bided her time, she’d taken over slowly, and now she owned the place—every creaking board there—and the people who frequented Resurrection…well, she even thought of the humans as hers, too.
Mora pushed a shot of whiskey across the bar toward the rather dangerous-looking biker who sat with his shoulders hunched. He wore a battered leather jacket, but she could see the tattoos that peaked out from his sleeves. “This one’s on the house.” She patted his arm. A friendly little pat.
He looked up at her. She stared into his eyes a moment and she saw…too many things.
Let it go, Mora. Let it go. Keep your mouth shut. Keep—
“They’re going to find out.” Oh, dammit, she needed to stop talking. She needed to stop interfering. But some habits were just hard to break. Mora leaned over the bar, and she moved her hand so that it was pressed hard to his. To outsiders, it would look as if they were flirting. But as a rule, she didn’t flirt. Especially not with humans. When she touched him this time, a dozen images spun through her head, and it took her a moment to speak. It’s worse than I thought. “You’re going to die, and it will be horrible. You’ll suffer for a very, very long time.”
The biker—he went by the name of Dax—drained the whiskey in one gulp. “Aren’t you a ray of sunshine tonight, Mora? But, luckily, I don’t have any clue what you’re talking about…”
She kept her hand on his, and she kept leaning over the bar. She’d gone too far to stop now. “You’re pretending to be something you’re not. You won’t get the man you’re after.”
She saw the faintest tightening near Dax’s dark eyes.
“He’ll get you.”
A muscle jerked in his jaw. “Are you threatening me?” His voice was low and lethal. “Lady, you have no clue who you’re dealing with.”
No, you have no clue.
“You think because you serve me a few drinks, and we share a few laughs that you can get into my business?” His voice was still only for her ears. “Think the hell again.” Dax snatched his hand from hers. He shoved to his feet and tossed some cash down on the bar. “And screw the free drink. I always pay my own way.”
He didn’t get it. She was trying to help—
The door to Resurrection opened. It shouldn’t have been anything special. The door opened and closed all the time, as doors did. That was their whole purpose.
But as soon as the door opened this particular time…
Mora felt him. The awareness started as a slow shiver, one that worked its way all over her body. Goosebumps rose on her arms. Her breath caught. Her heart raced faster. A flood of memories filled her mind, and she wanted to turn and run.
She’d spent centuries running.
She blinked. Dax was still in front of her. Only now he didn’t look angry. He looked worried.
“You okay?” He squinted as he studied her. “I swear, you’ve gone ghost white.”
That was because a ghost from her past had found her. Her head turned—very, very slowly—and she found herself looking toward the door. He was there. Standing in the doorway, filling up all of the available space. And sending her night straight to hell.
Leo. He was a legend in the paranormal world. Little baby paranormals whispered about him. And big, adult paranormals? If they were smart, they steered clear of him.
He was the Lord of the Light. The ruler of the so-called “good” paranormals. He was the protector. The all-powerful being who could snap his fingers and make the earth shake.
He was also—as far as Mora was concerned—the biggest bastard on earth.
“Y-you should leave,” Mora whispered to Dax. Actually, everyone in that place should leave. Because what was about to happen next in her bar? Not pretty.
Leo was staring straight at her. His eyes seemed to be drinking her in as the temperature in Resurrection spiked.
Leo was still handsome. Damn him. His hair was dark, his eyes deep and golden, and a faint growth of stubble covered the perfect square of his jaw. The man was tall. Muscled. Sexy.
She hated him.
He smiled at her.
“The bar is closed!” Mora’s voice boomed out. That boom cut across the bad music and the voices and led to absolute shocked silence. Humans gaped at her.
“But—but it’s barely midnight!” A woman in a red dress cried, her make-up perfectly in place. “The party just started!”
No, it had just ended. Because Mora’s jerk of an ex was in town. She opened her mouth to speak…
“You heard the lady.” Leo’s voice didn’t boom. It just…carried. Deep and rolling and sinking beneath her skin. “The place is closed, so get the hell out.” He waved his hand across the room and a swell of power swept out to cover Resurrection.
Her eyes narrowed. He got to play with humans, but other paranormals were supposed to keep their hands off them? Not exactly fair.
“What’s happening?” Dax asked her.
The others in the bar were grumbling, but they were leaving. Probably because Leo had put a compulsion in his words. Now the humans were helpless and had to do his bidding. Controlling a mortal was particularly easy for Leo when a human’s inhibitions were already lowered, and drinking at Resurrection was a guaranteed way to lower inhibitions.
Everyone was following Leo’s command. Almost everyone. Dax wasn’t leaving.
Her head cocked and her gaze slid back to him. Wasn’t that interesting? He was still standing in the exact same spot.
“You’re afraid.” Dax rolled back his shoulders. “Should I go kick the ass of the joker who just walked in?”
Her lips parted. “Ah, no, trust me, that’s not a battle you want.” Or one that you can win. “And you’ve already got more than enough trouble coming your way. You don’t want to add my baggage to your list.”
A furrow appeared between his brows.
“I meant my warning,” she whispered to him. Because she couldn’t change what was coming. Unfortunately. That power wasn’t hers. People had to change. People had choices. There was only so much she could do in the grand scheme of things. “You need to watch your ass.”
The furrow deepened. “But—”
A hand slapped down on Dax’s shoulder. “I don’t know you,” Leo drawled. “But it’s time for you to hit the road. Now.”
Dax glanced back at Leo. Back…and up. Because while Dax might slip past six foot, Leo was even bigger. His shoulders were broader. He was more powerful.
He was also the toughest bastard she’d ever met.
“You’d better not be a new lover,” Leo said suddenly, and his face hardened even more than normal. “You’d—”
Mora sighed. “Leo, I know it’s second nature to you, but seriously, try not to be an asshole for five whole minutes, okay?” Mora gave him a wonderfully fake smile and tried not to choke on her hate. Because hate was what she felt for him. Had to be. Nothing more. Nothing less. “Dax is a customer, and he’s leaving.”
Everyone else had already slipped out—because that was what Leo did. He cleared a room.
Leo dropped his hand.
And still, Dax hesitated.
“Get out,” Leo snapped. He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Mora and I need to talk.”
Dax glanced at Mora. “Are you okay with him?”
“Uh…” No, okay was the last thing she’d ever be with—
“I would never hurt her,” Leo said, nearly growling the words and actually sounding as if he meant them.
Her back teeth ground together. He was such a liar. He’d hurt her more than any other man ever could. Why else had she avoided him all these centuries? Some guys just could not take a hint.
Leo was definitely one of those guys. No, he was probably the leader of those guys.
“It’s fine, Dax. I can handle him.” Now she was the liar. But at least her words got Dax to leave. She followed him to the door, skirting around the tables and chairs, and making sure to lock up once Dax was gone. She didn’t want any unlucky humans stumbling in on the little catch-up scene that was about to play out.
Her fingers were trembling a bit as she turned the lock. She didn’t look back to face Leo, not yet. She needed to regain her composure first.
Her eyes squeezed shut. He had not just said that to her. He had not let his voice dip and go all tender as if the years hadn’t passed in a horrible, terrible, painful blur. As if he hadn’t taken her heart and ripped it right out of her chest.
He cleared his throat. “You’re a hard woman to find.”
“That’s because I didn’t want to be found.” She opened her eyes and schooled her expression. Breathing slowly, Mora straightened her shoulders. Then she turned to confront him. “Well, you sure can still clear a room. Nice to see that winning personality of yours hasn’t changed.”
She expected anger in the face of her taunt, but…he didn’t look angry. Didn’t even look mildly annoyed. If it had been anyone else, Mora would have sworn that he looked happy as he stared at her. His gaze slid slowly from the top of her head all the way down to the tips of her heels.
“Fate,” he breathed, “you are even more beautiful—”
“Mora.” The name blasted from her. “That’s my name. Picked it out all by myself because I liked the sound of it. Fate is just some dumb title that I was saddled with a long time ago. If you’re going to talk to me, use my name, got it?” She stalked forward. Her heels clicked on the wooden floor. “And you’d better talk fast. I’m giving you five minutes—just five—and then I want your ass out of here.”
He leaned back against the bar, crossed his arms over his chest, and just stared at her.
Could he hear just how fast her heart was beating? Could he smell her fear? His senses were all super amped up, she knew it—he probably had the best senses of any paranormal beast. There was a reason he was at the top of the paranormal badass ladder.
She kept her chin up, and she didn’t let her pace slow. So what if he smelled her fear? She was more than just fear. “Shouldn’t you be out saving angels or something?” Mora muttered. “Do you really need to be here, messing up my life?”
“You hid from me.”
Why, why did she still find his voice sexy? “Guilty.” She gave him a smile. One that she knew would not reach her eyes. “Ever so very guilty. I hid and I would have stayed hidden, but you just burst up into my place. Without an invitation.” She stopped about a foot away from him. Close enough to touch. Not that she planned to make that epically bad move. No, thank you. Mora tilted her head as she stared up at him. “How did you find me?” The clench in her gut told Mora the answer, and she hated this new betrayal. I was not ready for him yet.
There was only one person who knew where she was. Her cousin. A muse with unfortunate taste in men.
Like I’m one to judge.
“Sabrina sent me.”
And there it was—another knife to her heart. Her cousin had sold her out.
“She made a deal,” he added, his voice rumbling right over her. “She was desperate, and you were the only thing I wanted.”
You were the only thing I wanted. If only those words were true.
No, no, she didn’t care if he wanted her. Not now. But back in the past, it would have been nice if his feelings for her had actually been genuine.
“So Sabrina told me where I could find you,” he continued, seeming to carefully choose his words, “and in exchange, I helped her.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you helped her plenty. I know how the deals you and your brother work play out—you and Luke are the only ones who really seem to benefit.”
He didn’t deny her charge. Probably because she was dead-on right.
“Have you thought about me?” Leo asked her.
She blinked. “What?”
“Because you’ve been in my head. Every single damn day.” He gave a grim laugh. “Though I have to say, the nights were the worst. The worst…” He paused. “And the best. Because the things that happened in my dreams—”
“Do not say another word.” And suddenly, she was standing toe-to-toe with him. “How dare you?” Mora demanded. “How fucking dare you come back into my life this way? You’re going to stand there and spout out some bull about dreams? You threw me away. You used me. You lied to me. You betrayed me.” You ripped out my heart. Stomped on it. Then stomped on it some more.
“I’m not the same man.”
Now she had to laugh. Bitterly. “No, I suspect you’re even worse.” Her gaze held his. “Lord of the Light.” Her voice was mocking. “Should I bow or something? You know, since I’m in the presence of such greatness.”
His jaw was rock hard.
She spun from him. “Your five minutes is tick, ticking on down—”
He grabbed her wrist. “You don’t bow to me. You don’t bow to anyone. You’re Fate. You hold the world…” Now he looked down at her hand—the one he’d trapped. “You hold the world in your hand.”
His touch seemed to burn her. She hadn’t wanted to touch him. When she touched him, Mora felt too much. Her breath was already panting out. The desire she felt for him—it surged inside of her. She hated him, but she still wanted him. That was the way it was between them. No sense, no reason at all, just a savage need.
The first time they’d met…it had been so very, very long ago. Savagery had ruled the land back then, and the wild desire she’d felt for Leo as they stood at the foot of a volcano? It hadn’t seemed so strange. In fact, she’d thought it was rather perfect.
She’d been wrong. About many things.
But the desire hadn’t died. After everything that had happened—every terrible thing—it was still there. Their skin touched, and her body primed. His touch charged her, and every inch of her body seemed to yearn.
“Let. Me. Go.” Her words were ice cold even though she was burning red hot. She might want him—her body was betraying her that way—but she was more than just a body. She was a mind and a broken heart.
No, it’s not broken. I’m over him. Have been for centuries.
His thumb smoothed along her inner wrist. “Your pulse is racing.”
“Because you make me angry.”
His thumb caressed her again. “Just anger?”
“Lots of anger.” She licked her lips. Her whole mouth felt desert dry. “I figure you have about three minutes left. So tell me why you’re here, why you made a deal with Sabrina.” You are totally paying for that one, cousin! “And don’t waste any more time talking about dreams.” She snatched her wrist from him and took several reassuring steps away from Leo. “Because I don’t want to hear about those.”
His lips thinned. “Do you want me to say I’m sorry?”
Did she want—Her jaw dropped. I don’t want you to say that you’re sorry. I want you to scream it. I want you to bleed sorry, I want—
“Because I am,” Leo rasped. “I lost you, and I fucking hate that. You know how humans have all those trite expressions they love so much? Like how you don’t really know what you’ve got—”
“Until it’s gone.” The words slipped from her and she wanted to throw her hand over her own mouth.
He nodded. “I didn’t know how much I wanted you until I couldn’t find you.” His hands fisted at his sides. “You cloaked yourself from me. I’ve searched this whole earth—again and again—and there was no trace of you. Not a scent, not a whisper. Nothing. It was as if you’d never been here at all.” Now there was anger in his voice, slipping through the cracks of his control. And he’d always prized that precious control of his.
Do not weaken. “Yes, and right after the next two minutes are over, I’ll be doing my cloaking routine again.” She marched behind the bar. She needed a drink so she helped herself to a little bit of scotch and then slammed the empty glass onto the countertop. “Because, you know, I’m avoiding you for a reason.”
“I need your help.”
Mora rolled her eyes. Same old story. “Everyone wants Fate’s help.” She should have another drink. Or five.
“I’m not everyone.”
Her hand was gripping the glass. She was afraid it might shatter soon. “No.” She forced herself to stare at him. “You’re just the man who sent me to hell.”
His hands flattened on the bar. “No one was supposed to hurt you.” His voice was hoarse. “I had claimed you, I had—”
Now she laughed. “You’re the Lord of the Light. You can’t claim someone from the dark.”
“You aren’t dark. You aren’t evil.”
She smiled at him. “I am now.”
Surprise flashed on his face. Real shock. Nice to know she could still stun him. She waved her hand, and a little burst of electricity shot from her fingers—and right into his chest. She didn’t hurt him—Mora had total control—but the power burst pushed him back a few feet. “Your time is up, Leo. So get your ass out of my bar.”
But he…shook his head.
Her eyes narrowed so much that she was sure they had become slits.
“I need you,” he said.
Those were almost the words she’d fantasized about so long ago. I’m sorry. I need you. You are the only woman I could ever love—
Nope. Not happening. She slammed the door shut on that long-forgotten fantasy. He wasn’t really sorry. He could just lie very, very well. An unbecoming trait in someone who was supposed to be so good.
He’s not nearly as good as he wants the world to believe. She knew that secret better than most.
“I don’t need you.” Her voice was flat and her spine was ramrod straight. “And I don’t want you anywhere near me. So, for the last time, get out.” She felt the hum of her power beneath her skin. “I won’t tell you again.” She’d just hit him with every bit of magic that she possessed.
“Mora—” But he broke off and his gaze jerked toward the front door. She saw his eyes widen. For an instant—one crazy instant—she could have sworn fear appeared in Leo’s gaze. But that was absolute madness. He feared nothing.
She shook her head, disgusted. “We are done—”
“Never.” He flew toward her. His wings were out. Big, giant, scary wings. A dragon’s wings. He grabbed her in his arms and held her tight even as she roared her fury at him. Even as—
Fire erupted. There was a deafening boom, and Resurrection shook all around her. Mora felt the rush of flames lance over her skin. Terror clawed at her.
But his arms wrapped around her. Leo bounded into the air, holding her tight as he flew straight toward the ceiling. She looked up, terrified, because flames were up there, too, rolling across the ceiling. The fire was unnatural. No way should it have spread so fast. No way should those flames be so big. No—
“I’ll keep you safe.”
Like she was supposed to believe his guttural promise. Mora ducked her head and held him even tighter as they flew right through those flames. She held him tight, and she braced herself to feel the fire on her flesh.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d burned for him.
And I’m afraid it won’t be the last.