Only You – Excerpt


“I am part of the part that once was everything,
Part of the darkness which gave birth to light…”
Mephistopheles, from Goethe’s Faust

Chapter 1

~~ MARIAH ~~

Within a minute of his arrival, I knew the guy in black was going to be a problem. Unlike the other men in the pub who’d arrived several hours earlier to watch hockey on Gustav’s ancient television and were now very drunk, this one walked in at half past midnight, stone cold sober. Alone. He took a seat at a table next to the wall, not far from the loud group in the middle, and swept his gaze across the dim, smoky room. His inspection stopped at me.

I was used to guys sizing me up to decide if I was worth hitting on. I worked in a bar, after all. But this one’s black-eyed stare was different. Inquisitive and intense. As if he knew me. I had zero sexual vibes from him, so his attention had nothing to do with sex, and as much as anything, that made me nervous. If an interested guy didn’t want sex, he was a wild card. Could he be with the police? My heart raced and I talked myself back to calm. He certainly wasn’t dressed like a policeman. Probably no older than twenty-one, he was tall and broad with a handsome face, and wore his long, black hair in a ponytail that reached just above the spot between his shoulder blades. Who was he? And what did he want?

Only one way to find out. I went to his table and asked what he’d like to drink. He ordered whiskey, neat, and thanked me when I delivered it, but didn’t attempt to make conversation. I washed glasses behind the bar, cleaned a table in the corner, helped Gustav tally up the evening gross, and all the while, I could feel the new guy’s stare.

Nimbly avoiding grasping hands and crude come-ons, I deposited a round of vodka and beer to the hockey fans, then carried my tray over to his table. Despite all of my instincts screaming that something was horribly awry, I smiled as if my life had been lacking until he appeared; genuine and warm without suggesting anything. Friendly and hospitable. I earned very good tips with my smile. “Can I bring you another whiskey?”

“Where do you go after you’re done here? Where do you live?” His voice was deep, his Romanian perfect. Too perfect for a Romanian. I decided he was either British or American.

Determined to ignore his unnerving stare, I never lost my smile. “In an apartment, with a cat and the mice she’s too lazy to kill. So, how about another drink?”

“Yeah, I’ll have another one.”

When I returned with his second whiskey, he handed me a U.S. one hundred dollar bill. A pay-off of some kind? I gave one millisecond’s thought to refusing it before I folded it into my pocket. If I had a prayer of attending university, I needed all the money I could get my hands on. Ignoring my uneasiness, I grinned at him. “I had a feeling you’re American.”

He pointed to the chair across the table. “Give me two minutes.”

“I can’t sit down or Gustav will be angry. I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sorry at all. What was it about this guy that set my teeth on edge?

“I know who you are.”

So he did know me, but how? Never abandoning my barmaid guise, I laughed and pointed to the name badge I wore above my left breast: MARIAH. “It’s not a secret.”

“I know a lot more about you than your name. You were born in a tiny village fifty miles from here to an older couple who thought they couldn’t have children. Not quite two years later, they had another daughter. When she was four, they were killed in a car wreck and you and your sister came to live with your mother’s cousin here in Bucharest.”

Mention of my sister was all it took to send me into extreme panic, but this guy went so much further. He knew things I’d never shared with anyone. Not even Gustav or his mother, Marta, the only two people in the world I’d ever considered remotely close to me. No longer able to keep up my bogus smile, I eyed him apprehensively. “Who are you?”

“My name is Kyros.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to know how your sister wound up at an orphanage. Did your mother’s cousin take her there?”

This needed to stop. Now. “My sister died. You’ve got the wrong story, or the wrong person.” I mentally placed Kyros in a box, shoved it into a space next to all the others, then turned and walked away.

He stayed where he was and drank his whiskey and continued watching me, but I would not be afraid of him. He’d been boxed; him and his black staring eyes and nosy questions and unfathomable knowledge of my most closely held secret. Once something went in a box, it was no longer a threat.

As it grew closer to two in the morning, the regular patrons began to trickle out of Gustav’s like the last foamy dribble of a finished beer keg. When the only guy left was Kyros, I went to his table and picked up his empty glass. “We’re closing now. You should go, because if you don’t, Gustav will make you.”

“I know she didn’t die, Mariah. She was adopted by a man who became the American president.”

Blood rushed and roared in my ears, making me lightheaded. He knew. He didn’t just know of my sister’s existence. He knew who she was now, in real time. I could no longer hide my panic and my voice shook ever so slightly. “Please tell me who you are.”

“I’m a friend of your sister.” He pulled a stuffed patchwork rabbit out of his trench coat pocket and handed it to me.

My mouth went dry. “Oh, my God.” A thousand memories floated around me as I ran my fingers across his stitches and his button eyes. Tears clogged my throat when I saw the tiny embroidered initials inside the bunny’s right ear. V.A. Viorica Ardelean. My baby sister.

Kyros’s box came flying out at me, the lid flung too far away for me to shove it back on and make this stop killing me.

His voice was low and earnest. “I came to Bucharest to find who made him, to have it repaired. It took all day yesterday and most of today, but I finally found a little shop in a village fifty miles from here, and the woman who made this was still there. She remembered your family. All I want to know is why your sister wound up at an orphanage.”

Desperate to make him stop, make him go away, and equally determined not to show my desperation, I said calmly, “If you’re her friend, you’ll leave right now and never, ever tell her what you’ve learned.”

“She and I are a lot more than friends, and I can’t keep something like this from her. I’d like to keep it from everyone else in the world, but not from her. She’s going to want answers, and there’s no doubt she’ll want to see you, but for now, I just want to know why she was in an orphanage.”

Dressed in black leather, with a scruff beard and a hard edge to him that could only come from an unforgiving life, he looked like a criminal. Why would my sister, the adopted daughter of a wealthy family who now lived in the White House, have anything to do with this guy? She wouldn’t. He had to be lying. I took a step closer to him. “How did you get the rabbit? Did you steal it when you stole her? Did you have something to do with her kidnapping?”

That surprised him, and he blinked. “I rescued her.”

“You’re a liar. She was left in Hyde Park by her captors.”

“That’s what the world believes, but that’s not what happened. You tell me about the orphanage, and I’ll tell you the real story of her abduction.”

If only he didn’t have the rabbit. Viorica’s rabbit. It was her treasure, her heart, and the only thing I’d allowed her to take when we ran away all those years ago. This guy couldn’t possibly have it unless he was very close to my sister. I didn’t know what he might do with what he’d learned, but I had to know more. Had to protect Viorica. After all I’d done to make sure she was safe, I wouldn’t allow anyone to threaten her peace of mind and happiness.

I shot another glance at Gustav, who was busy cleaning the bar, then whispered to Kyros, “I took her there.”

He looked incredulous. “Why? How? You were six.”

Gustav’s voice rumbled across the pub. “That floor’s not going to mop itself, Mariah.”

Facing the inevitability of talking to Kyros about Viorica, I handed the rabbit back to him. “I’ll be done here in an hour. Meet me outside, down at the corner.”

Kyros immediately got to his feet and walked out.

An hour later, my mind having run in circles while I mopped and cleaned, I said goodbye to Gustav before stepping outside into the cold night. In the faint light from the streetlamp at the corner, I saw Kyros waiting just beyond the door. I looked up at him and said, “Let’s walk.”

He fell in with me as I went down the street, and I sensed his impatience. At the corner, while we waited for cars to pass, I looked up at him again. “Is there any way I can convince you not to tell my sister about me?”

He shook his head. “Not a chance. Why don’t you want her to know? Wouldn’t you like to see her?”

More than I wanted anything, I wanted to see my sister. But not yet. Not now. I kept my attention on the top button of his coat. “It’s just that I want her to be happy, and nothing about any of this is good. I thought that someday, when we’re older, when she’s settled and not living in the White House under a microscope, I’d see her and explain. She’d want to know. But she’s still so young, barely seventeen.”

“Barely? She’ll be eighteen in three weeks.”

I met his eyes. “She was born on Christmas Day. She just turned seventeen. I turned eighteen last February.”

“Did the orphanage not know how old she was?”

I shook my head. “They didn’t know anything about her. Either they made up a birthday for her, or her adopted parents did.”

“Please tell me what happened.”

His voice had softened. Noticing the concern in his expression and the light in his eyes, I realized what hadn’t been evident before. “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

“Does it matter?”

It mattered a lot, but I didn’t say so. I wondered if Viorica felt the same about him? “How are you here? And why? No guy I know would come so far to get a girl’s stuffed animal repaired. There must be a million places you could have gone to in the States.”

He barely blinked, but I knew he lied when he said, “I’m here for a family funeral. Jordan’s rabbit was torn up because of me, an accident, and she’s so attached to it, I thought it’d make her happy if I found where it was made and took a picture. I didn’t expect to find out so much, but now that I know, I’d like to have the whole story.”

Why did he lie? I supposed he didn’t trust me any more than I trusted him. But he was in love with my sister, and since he had the bunny, she must feel something for him. He was determined to tell her about me. My only hope of convincing him to keep quiet was to tell him the whole bloody truth. When he knew, when he understood, he’d change his mind, I was certain.

I focused on the button again and took a deep breath.

Speaking of it meant remembering. I hated him for coming to Romania, for walking into Gustav’s, for digging and asking and making me do this. I carefully drew a very old box from the deepest recesses of my mind and hesitantly lifted the lid. “My mother’s cousin, Nadia, was married to a horrible man named Emilian. We’d only been living there a week when he broke my arm. He’d get angry and lock me in a closet and wouldn’t give me any food for days at a time.”

He clenched his hands into fists and I could feel anger roll off of him.

I ignored it. “It’s said that very young children who are abused don’t know it’s not normal, because that’s all they know. So maybe if our parents hadn’t been so loving, I wouldn’t have understood how wrong it was. But I knew he was evil, and as much as I hated what he did to me, I couldn’t bear watching him torment Viorica. She was so happy, so sweet, and I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to her. So I took her and ran away.”

“Where did you go? Where did you plan to go?”

“As you said, I was six. I had no plan. I just knew I had to get her out of there. Emilian was already pinching her hard enough to leave bruises. I sometimes wonder if God led me, because I took refuge inside a church that happened to have an orphanage. I hid there for two days, trying to decide if I should ask the priest for help, but I was afraid he’d call Emilian and we’d be sent back. I’d been watching what went on at the building across the street, the children in the play yard, and the nuns who looked after them. I realized those children lived there, that they had no parents, no family. So I took Viorica late in the night and left her on the doorstep, rang the bell, then hid to watch, to make sure the nuns took her in.”

The cars had long since passed, and I stepped off the curb, restless and anxious to get home. I wanted him to go away. I wanted to shove all of this night into a box and go to sleep and when I woke up tomorrow, it’d be life as usual.

“Why did you leave her?” Kyros asked. “Why didn’t you stay, as well?”

If only that had been an option. “I knew if I didn’t go back and make up a story about Viorica, Nadia would search for us, and she might look where orphans live.” I stared down at the sidewalk as we traveled from one rundown part of Bucharest to another. The air was frigid, and I buried my hands deeper in the pockets of my old coat, wishing I had fur-lined gloves like Gustav’s. “So I went back and told her I had gotten lost when Viorica and I followed a dog down the street. We couldn’t find our way home, and when we were in a crowd of people, a lady picked up my sister and took her away. Maybe because Viorica was such a beautiful child, Nadia believed my story. She made a halfhearted attempt to find her, but I know they were glad to be rid of her.”

“Didn’t they call the police?”

He didn’t get it. Not yet. I glanced up at him. “Emilian wouldn’t let Nadia call.”

“What about neighbors? Didn’t anyone ask what happened to your sister?”

“If anyone noticed one of us was missing, they must have assumed she’d been visiting or something. We’d only been there two months when I ran away. And even if they were curious, no way they would have knocked on the door and asked. Emilian and Nadia never spoke to their neighbors and had no friends. You really can’t imagine what horrible people they were.”

“You’d be surprised. I’m kind of an expert on evil people.”

It hit me then what it was about Kyros that was so odd, what set him apart from other guys. There was an air of darkness about him, a faint but distinct feeling of doom. I checked him out as we walked. “You seem . . . different. How do you know my sister?”

“It’s a long story.” As we turned a corner, he asked, “Didn’t Emilian and Nadia recognize Jordan when her adoptive father became president, and she became a public figure?”

There it was, the question I’d known he’d ask, that I’d tried to prepare for. Didn’t matter. This box I had hidden deep and well, but I could never completely lose it. That it existed at all was my certain damnation. It was why I never attended mass. Hadn’t since . . . . “Nadia died from cancer before he was elected president, but yes, Emilian knew it was Viorica, and he had big plans to demand money in exchange for not taking her back. He also wanted to extort money for his silence. How would it look if the American president had adopted a child with legitimate guardians? That President Ellis didn’t know wouldn’t have made any difference, because there would be people who’d insist he did know. Emilian would have threatened to go public, and play up how Viorica was stolen from him. I was so afraid for her. She didn’t know any of this, and having that slime crawl out of the gutter and come after her family . . . I couldn’t let it happen. By then, I was almost fourteen, and after all that time, after what I did to save her from Emilian, I wasn’t going to let him screw up her life.”

“How did you stop him?”

I killed him. “It turned out I didn’t have to do anything. He died when his house burned down. He was a drunk, and a smoker. He passed out with a cigarette, and that was that.”

“When did Nadia die?”

“When I was twelve. After she was gone, Emilian started . . .” I paused, horrified by what I’d almost said. Had I been that close to saying it? Kyros’s peculiarity was getting to me. “Everything got worse,” I finished lamely.

He fell quiet and I wondered if he guessed. He was young, but an old soul. I had a feeling Kyros knew about men like Emilian.

He asked in a low, hoarse voice, “After he died, what did you do?”

“I lived with the woman across the road, who wasn’t unkind, but she expected me to work for my keep. I cooked and cleaned, and when I was old enough, I went to work for her son.”


I nodded. “He’s gruff and hard, but generous, and he makes sure none of the customers get out of hand. About six months ago, his mother passed on and he sold her house. That’s when I got my own apartment.”

“Are you . . . with someone?”

“No. I’m never going to be with someone. I don’t even date.” I shot him another glance. “I don’t like men.”

“You mean, you’re—”

“No, I just don’t like guys. You saw, in the bar. You know. And after Emilian . . .” I couldn’t possibly be close to anyone, ever. I was dirty. Damaged. And the thought of . . . no. I was absolutely content to be alone. I determinedly slid the lid back on that box and shoved it where it belonged, in the darkest part of my mind. “So, are you going to tell me how you met my sister, and about her kidnapping, and who you really are? Because I’m pretty sure you’re not a regular guy.”

“What makes you think so?”

“There’s something about you, a little bit spooky. No offense.”

“None taken. As soon as we get to your apartment and you get your cat, I’ll tell you everything.”

Panic returned. “What do you mean, get my cat? Do you think I’m going somewhere with you?”

“I’ll explain when we get there, and you can decide if you want to go, or not.”

He could explain whatever, but no chance I was going anywhere with him. Especially if it involved seeing my sister. I had to convince him to keep my existence a secret from her. “Just so you know, if you didn’t have her bunny, I wouldn’t be taking you to where I live, and I wouldn’t have told you anything. I don’t ever talk about her with anyone.”

“How do you know it’s the same bunny?”

Because I still saw it in my dreams, my little sister’s arms around him while she watched me back away from the orphanage steps, her lip trembling. She cried and tried to follow. I told her I’d be back to get her in the morning, that she just needed to keep the nuns company for a little while, but she knew I lied. She was so smart, even as a tiny child. With tears on her round cheeks, she held her bunny and watched me disappear into the shadows.

But I didn’t say any of that to Kyros. I simply said, “Viorica’s initials are embroidered inside his ear.”

We reached my building and he followed me inside and up seven flights of unsteady stairs without comment. It was past three in the morning, but some of my neighbors were up, loud music coming from behind several of the doors along my hallway, the guy in 742 shouting at his girlfriend, and somewhere, glass broke.

As soon as I opened the door and stepped inside my very tiny apartment, Olga wound between my legs, meowing her greeting. I picked her up and turned, about to introduce her to Kyros when he reached for my arm. Before I could pull away or tell him to back off, everything went dark and the floor disappeared.

I sucked in a harsh breath, too stunned to scream.

Seconds later, my feet were once again on solid ground and light returned. Except I was no longer in my apartment.

Where was I? How had he brought me here? Confused and angry, I clutched Olga against my chest and stepped back from Kyros. “Holy God, what just happened?” I dashed a look around what appeared to be a circular grand hall. Very grand. My brain registered rosewood and gilt, life-size portraits, and a vast expanse of white marble decorated with an ornate inlaid onyx M, where I now stood. To my left was a grand staircase; to the right, a gigantic door. A domed ceiling soared three floors above me, painted with angels and clouds.

Kyros was about to say something, but a deep voice from above distracted him. I knew very little English, but I understood two words I’d read in a badly translated Dickens novel: Yorkshire and heather.

Then a girl spoke and I understood nothing of what she said.

A couple appeared at the top of the stairs. They caught sight of me and instantly stopped moving, staring at me with shocked expressions. She was blond and beautiful, tall and graceful, and there was something different about her that I noticed immediately. All around her, the atmosphere seemed a tiny bit brighter. It was astonishing and I wondered what would make her body do that. Where was this place? Fairyland? Maybe I’d been hit on the head and was dreaming this. Or maybe I was struck by a car and was now dead on the street, and my spirit was on the other side. But, no, that couldn’t be. No way a girl like that would be in Hell.

By contrast, the guy next to her looked exactly as I imagined a guy from Hell. His eyes were black as midnight and he had a ferocious scowl. He was tall and broad with dark features very similar to Kyros’s. His brother. This had to be his brother. Was Miss Glowlight his sister? Or was she attached to the brother?

Did I care? Not really. I wanted to be taken home. I had to work two shifts tomorrow and I needed sleep. And food. I also needed to wash out my pants so I could wear them again. I only had the one pair, and a pair of jeans, but Gustav didn’t like me to wear jeans at work. I had a lot to do, and being brought to this freaky place in the middle of the night was not on the list.

The girl asked Kyros a question in English, her voice communicating a note of wonder. I caught “Jordan’s sister,” but didn’t understand anything else. She continued talking and asking questions as she hurried down the stairs toward me.

Her companion, Sir Frownsalot, stayed on the top step, completely still.

She said something to me, and all I caught was the name, Sasha. Then she turned to Kyros with a brilliant smile and exclaimed in an excited voice. I imagined she said something like, “We need an exhausted barmaid with a cat! How clever of you to bring her!”

Looking skeptical, Kyros jerked his gaze to me and said in Romanian, “I don’t think so, Sasha. She’s exceptional, but not Anabo.”

Of course I wasn’t Anabo. I was Romanian. And furious. Olga meowed in protest when I squeezed her too tightly.

Smiling at me, the blond rattled off more meaningless words.

Equally bewildered and irritated, I said, “I don’t speak English.”

She nodded and said in Romanian, “I’m Sasha. Poor thing, you look scared to death. Please don’t be. You’re safe here.”

My definition of safe and hers were miles apart. I said to Kyros, “Please take me home.”

“I know this is confusing,” he said, “but no one’s going to hurt you, I swear it.”

Getting hurt wasn’t the issue. I didn’t feel threatened. But I’d been brought here against my will. I was in a strange place with strangers – and no one asked. I didn’t get the chance to say no. Old anger surged and I clasped Olga tighter, forcing it back in the box. Anger never helped. It brought more pain. Always.

Kyros asked the guy at the top of the stairs, “Can you see it, Phoenix?”

See what?

His expression had changed from anger to disbelief. He was staring hard at me, as if he was powerless to look away. “No, but I can feel . . . I can . . . .” His voice was low and rough.

Spellbound by his black eyes, I forgot to be upset about Kyros bringing me here against my will. I lost the thread of wondering how he’d done it. The beautiful girl faded, along with the exquisite grand hall and every conscious thought but one: the guy named Phoenix despised me. His loathing slid down the wide staircase to wrap around me, making my breath catch, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t not stare back. I couldn’t stop the shiver in my belly. And I couldn’t fathom why someone I’d never seen before would hate me this much.


Chapter 2

September 6, 1888
Yorkshire, England

Standing with my brothers, circling the Mephisto M in the center of the great hall’s flagstone floor before we leave for London and what promises to be an excruciatingly difficult and exhausting takedown, I’m surrounded by the scent of heather. Mathilda had the Purgatories who serve as housemaids go out to the moors and gather up great bunches of the tiny purple flowers, which are now stuffed into vases and crockeries all about the house. I know I will never smell heather and not think of Yorkshire. It is wild and beautiful, sometimes savage, though more accommodating than Russia and infinitely more jolly than Greece, but perhaps I only think so because these are modern times. Greece was almost nine hundred years ago, after all, and we haven’t lived in Russia since just after Catherine the Great died.

Key looks at me and each of my brothers in turn, silently communicating his expectations and his authority. He does this before every takedown and I’m always reminded of a wolf pack, of the alpha asserting his superiority. It’s needless with Kyros. We accept that he’s leader of the Mephisto, but he’s compelled to give us this look, and waits for a nod before moving on to the next brother.

We will take out the lost souls tonight, and tomorrow we’ll begin planning the next takedown. It never stops, never ends.

I feel energized by the scent of the heather, anxious to be gone.

Jax says into our silence, “On three.” He begins to count.

Moments later, I’m standing at the entrance to the Duchess of Rothschild’s ballroom, cloaked so no one can see me. The last time I was here, it was for a masquerade ball held by the sixth duke of Rothschild, and we were not invisible – only disguised. My brothers and I wore masks and pretended to be Russian aristocrats. We danced and drank champagne and every single one of us found a bed partner for the evening; even Zee, who generally finds it difficult to speak to females without offending them.

Tonight’s ball is held by the eighth Duke of Rothschild, a celebration to commemorate his wife’s thirtieth birthday. This night, we aren’t here to dance, or look for willing girls. We’re here to take out seventy-nine people who were faithless and gullible enough to hand their souls to Eryx.

I scan the sea of color swirling around the dance floor, searching for our oldest brother. Key had said Eryx might be on to our plan, that he might show up and attempt to stop us. In all the smiling, flushed faces, I don’t see Eryx’s. I’m relieved, but to be absolutely sure, I concentrate carefully, mentally searching for him. His location comes to me in little waves of awareness. He’s nowhere close to London. I stay focused and eventually I know he’s in the mountains of Romania, walking the halls of his castle. He won’t be interfering with tonight’s takedown. He doesn’t know. I feel glad, and smug. This one is huge – he will lose a large group of his followers after we’re done.

At the far end of the room, just behind the musicians’ dais, Jax holds up a finger, then two, then three, and as one, he and I throw a freeze across the entire Mayfair house. The music and the dancers instantly stop and all conversation ceases. The only movement in the large room is by us and three Skia, Eryx’s immortal minions who convinced the other seventy-six souls to turn their backs on God and follow their master. Our inability to freeze Skia and their ability to see past our cloaks never fails to hamper takedowns, and tonight is no exception.

Giles St. John sees me scarce seconds after the freeze and grabs his frozen dance partner around the neck. “I’ll snap her like a twig,” he threatens.

“Go ahead,” Key says, winding his way through the stiff, still crowd toward St. John. “Just know that no matter what you do in the next two minutes, it won’t change your fate.”

St. John lets go of the woman and makes a mad dash toward the terrace doors, but Key pops there before him and easily overtakes him, disappearing immediately.

In the southeast corner of the room, a similar scene plays out between the queen’s favorite chancellor and Denys. The man manages to land a punch to Denys’s face, but seconds later, they, too, disappear.

The third Skia is more wily, but Ty finds his hiding place beneath the musicians’ dais and drags him out, ignoring the man’s shouts and curses, never flinching when the Skia buries a dagger in his arm. As soon as they are gone, Jax, Zee and I begin carrying the lost souls to the gates. I grasp the arm of a beautiful young woman with blond hair, wide blue eyes and porcelain skin. She is Lady Georgiana Rutledge, daughter of the Earl of Longbourne, a debutante just finishing her first season in London. Rumor has it she will marry the Duke of Rothschild’s eldest son, a brilliant match that will join two of England’s oldest families.

I feel nothing but a pang of regret that one so young and lovely has traded her soul to Eryx. I wonder what she asked for, what she considered worth her soul. But I don’t give it much more than a flash of thought before I take the arm of her intended in my other hand, and transport from the glittering ballroom to the barren desert of the Arabian Empty Quarter. The couple are still frozen and make no move or sound when I drop them to the sand that hides the gates to Hell on Earth. Key chants, waiting for Lucifer to open the gates and allow the Skia and lost souls to fall in.

I pop back to London to ferry two more lost souls, then two more and so on, until my brothers and I have emptied the ballroom of them. The freeze will soon fade. We hurry to transport the rest of the ball guests to the back of the townhouse, standing their statue-like bodies in and around the cook’s vegetable garden and in the mews, where they would be if they ran from a burning house. When they wake from their frozen state, they’ll be disoriented and won’t remember running from the house, but will assume they did when they see flames and smoke.

Key, Denys and Ty are almost done placing the lost souls’ doppelgangers in the ballroom. Jax is readying to set a catastrophic fire. I run to the last room with people, an anteroom where there are low settees and comfortable chaises filled with dowagers and matrons who spend time at balls sipping madeira while they gossip and reminisce. As I expected, it is filled with old ladies, all frozen, but I’m surprised to find one who isn’t old. Or frozen.

Sitting on a chair next to the fire is a mirror image of Lady Georgiana, but this girl is surrounded by soft light, almost a glow. I blink. I move toward her, forgetting about the old ladies, about the takedown, about everything in the universe but this girl. Staring at me, her hand moves to her throat. Why isn’t she frozen, like all the others? She’s ethereal, lit from within. My confusion lifts as I realize she must be Anabo, something I’ve never seen in all my nine hundred years of immortality.

I’m awed.

She doesn’t get up or make any attempt to run from me, despite her obvious fear. Her blue eyes widen as I come closer.

I catch the scent of heather and my heart races. Long ago, when we first learned about the Mephisto Covenant, our father said when an Anabo is meant for us, we will know by her scent. After centuries of waiting and hoping, I’ve found my Anabo. It seems fitting that she smells of heather.

“Hello,” I say. “What’s your name?”

“Jane,” she whispers. “I’m Lady Jane Rutledge.”

Georgiana’s twin. I face the fact that even beyond being a son of Hell, I have another huge obstacle to winning this woman.

Less than fifteen minutes ago, I killed her sister.


I was so dizzy, I didn’t move a muscle, afraid I’d hurtle down the stairs as if it were a landslide. It would be the ultimate indignity to fall in a heap at her feet.

Oh, God rhythmically repeated in my head, over and over like a squeaking wheel. I wasn’t sure who I was more angry with – Key, or God. That my brother would bring this girl to Mephisto Mountain without asking, without warning, was infuriating. But why would God make her smell like heather? Like Jane? Was this a divine joke?

We’d moved from Yorkshire to Colorado to get away from the memories, and the heather, and here it was, right in the house, making me euphoric, suicidal, and enraged all at once.

The scent filled my head and I was gripped with an extreme need to draw closer, to snatch her right off of the onyx M and carry her away somewhere and take every stitch of her clothes off and just feel her skin. Soft. It would be so soft. It had been over one hundred years since I’d felt a woman’s skin, since I’d touched a woman’s hair, since I’d felt anything but the burn of guilt and the yawning hollow of loneliness. I didn’t even know her name. I couldn’t see her glow, but I knew she was Anabo, and I knew, against all the odds, against everything that followed the laws of karma and fate, that she was intended for me. The worst of all my brothers, the one who let my Anabo die, I had been gifted with another, while three of my brothers had none.

I hated God for making her smell of heather. I hated her for existing. I hated Kyros for his arrogance. But mostly, I hated myself for wanting her, for betraying Jane.

Jane, who was kind, beautiful and gently bred. A lady, always.

This girl was dressed in skintight black pants, cheap, worn boots with low heels, and a shabby coat. Her dark hair was pulled into a ponytail at the back of her head. Her eyes were the color of the evening sky, not quite gray and not exactly blue, lined with thick, dark lashes. Anabo always have blue eyes. Jane’s had been the color of cornflowers, wide, innocent and filled with compassion.

She was sublimely fine.

This girl was rough.

And clearly something was wrong with her. She had no glow and her eyes were almost dark. Maybe she wasn’t entirely Anabo.

No, that made no sense. There was no such thing as shades of Anabo. Like being pregnant – you either were, or you weren’t. Because of her scent, and Sasha’s unquestioning declaration, I knew she was Anabo. But something was way off about her. This was a good thing. I couldn’t possibly want a defective Anabo. I’d steer clear of her until I could convince Key to take her back; put her out of my mind and forget her. I wouldn’t think about her skin, or the fullness of her bottom lip, or the uncertainty in her eyes as she stared back at me.

Oh, fuck.

I was an idiot. A fool in deep denial. I couldn’t bullshit myself that I didn’t want her. She was the most beautiful thing I’d seen since Jane, and it took every ounce of willpower to stay where I was. I knew if I moved at all, my body would go to hers of its own volition. I wanted her with crushing desperation.

And I could never have her.

“Phoenix?” Key had the strangest look on his face, almost as if he wanted to cry. But that couldn’t be. Kyros hadn’t cried since the night Eryx murdered our mother, over a thousand years ago. “This is Mariah. I brought her here because I think she should become a Lumina.”

Mariah. A beautiful name. Why couldn’t she be called Bertha or Helga? Why couldn’t she have a face like a horse, a third eye, some kind of horrifying growth? Why couldn’t she smell like sheep shit?

It wouldn’t matter. I’d want this woman no matter her name, appearance, or scent. Instinct and a thousand years of loneliness demanded it, because what she could do for me was light years from the superficiality of those things. Unlike every other human female on planet Earth, this one had the ability to love me.

The thought was horrifying. Jane died because she loved me.

Sasha slid an arm around Mariah’s shoulders and Mariah carefully and politely stepped away. Sasha’s touch bothered her and I wondered why. The orange tabby meowed again, then made her escape, leaping from Mariah’s arms to dash across the hall and disappear beneath the middle console, the one with a portrait of Jane next to it.

My gaze was drawn to her beautiful, innocent blue eyes. Jane. Who loved me.

With one last look at Mariah, I popped away from the Mephisto house and landed in Yorkshire at the foot of Jane’s grave. I stared at her headstone and cursed Kyros. And God. And Mariah.