Once Upon A Time…Has Never Been This Hot.
“I know you’re there, Michael.”
Greyson poked at the bonfire he’d built next to the shoreline, watching as the flames flickered higher into the darkness. A bluish hue colored the fire where it kissed the wood, gradually shifting into a deep orange. Heat waves rose into the air, distorting the outlines of the trees in the background. The scent of cottonwood filled the glen, the heady fragrance easing some of the tension bunching his muscles.
He clenched his jaw, wondering how long it’d be before the archangel finally removed his glamour and materialized behind him. Or if his mate would choose to vanish—fly away without even acknowledging his presence.
Christ, when had Greyson accepted the fact Michael, archangel and God’s Warrior, was his true soul? That the sudden racing of Greyson’s heart, the unrelenting urge to wrap his fingers around the other man’s hair and taste his perfectly sculpted lips, meant anything more than uncontrolled lust? That Grey was worthy of someone so…pure?
The word settled uncomfortably in his gut. He was a playboy at best, and one good deed didn’t erase a lifetime of ditching his responsibilities. Of allowing his sister to become one of Abaddon’s victims. If he’d been the kind of man his people had needed, if he’d taken anything remotely serious, he knew in his heart she’d still be alive.
A soft fluttering noise sounded behind, followed by a rustle of wind across his back. The air thickened, the telltale strum of energy prickling Greyson’s skin as Michael’s glamour slowly diminished until Grey felt the angel’s grace envelope him.
Grey inhaled, closing his eyes against the rush of power that rippled through the air. It swirled across his skin, bathing it in a yellowish glow before slowly fading. While he’d experienced his fair share of powerful beings, including his father and Kei’s mate, Gabriel, nothing compared to the pure energy of Michael’s grace.
Hushed footsteps padded the soft grass behind him, stopping a few feet away. “How did you know I was there?”
Greyson shrugged. He didn’t need his inherent abilities as a prince of the faery realm to know Michael already knew the answer. Or that it was the truth that scared the angel more than anything else. “Please, angels aren’t bad with glamours, but faeries pretty much invented them.”
“I’m no ordinary angel. Only a few of my brothers should be able to sense my presence.”
Greyson fisted his hands in order to stop from spinning around—from grabbing Michael and shaking some sense into him. “We both know I’m not your brother.”
He turned, wanting to see Michael’s reaction when he finally stated what he’d felt since the first time he’d met the angelic man. “I’m the other possibility you don’t want to admit exists.”
Michael’s lips twitched, his expression faltering as he stared at Greyson. The angel closed his eyes, drawing several long, slow breaths, before finally gazing at him again, only there was no mistaking the sadness in Michael’s eyes. The restless shift of his feet as he stood there, his feathers rustling in the breeze, the iridescent pearl color reflecting the different shades of orange from the flickering flames of the bonfire. Indecision creased the lines around his mouth before he sighed and turned, walking a few paces away.
The angel’s shoulders slumped as his head bowed toward his chest. “Greyson.”
Michael tensed, his wings snapping with what looked like impatience before he spun, all semblance of indecision gone. He drew himself up, making Greyson’s stomach clench and roll. This was the man Grey had fallen for. The archangel of lore whose courage and honor were legendary. The man who’d fought to save the world, even though he’d had to shove aside his personal feelings for his brother Lucifer to do it. Though Grey wondered if Michael saw himself the way Grey did. Majestic. Unwavering. Pure.
Christ, just staring at the way his grace shimmered like an exploding star around him made Grey want to stay in the man’s presence and never leave. Forever feel the warmth of Michael’s power. His love.
Greyson shook away the sentimental thoughts. Despite Michael’s stance, there was no mistaking the look on the other man’s face. The one that said he’d never willingly admit what Grey was to him. That he’d rather suffer alone than give himself to someone who obviously wasn’t worthy of an archangel’s soul.
Michael frowned, tilting his head to the side as if he thought Grey was crazy. “Is that what you think? That I see you as unworthy of my soul?”
Grey’s heart skipped, then raced, making it hard to breathe. “Did you just read my thoughts?”
Michael glanced away, but there was no mistaking the flash of guilt Grey had seen in his eyes.
Greyson crossed his arms over his chest. “Still going to deny what we both know? Feel?”
Michael’s gaze snapped to his. “There’s nothing to deny. We’re…friends, if I’m capable of having such a thing.”
“Friends? That’s your explanation? So can all your friends sense you when you’re hiding behind your glamour? Can you read their thoughts, too?” He shook his head. “It’s one thing to hide behind duty and honor, and another to lie to me to my face. All you have to do is tell me this…” he waved his hand back and forth, “…thing between us is one-sided. That you don’t care, and I’ll walk away. But don’t stand there and pretend that what I’m experiencing isn’t real. I think I deserve better than that.”
The muscle in Michael’s temple jumped as the angel clenched his jaw. “I never said it wasn’t real.”
“You’re just not interested. Not affected the way I am.”
Michael pursed his lips, the fine lines around his mouth tightening. “It’s…complicated.”
“Why? Because I’m not an angel?”
Michael furrowed his brow. “Why would that matter?”
“How the hell should I know? But there’s got to be a reason you’re shunning me, unless we’re back to the simple explanation of you not being interested.”
“Nothing with you is simple.”
“That’s not an answer.” Greyson arched a brow. “Is it because I’m not female? I thought with Gabe and Kei being mates that wasn’t a thing, but—”
“I’m free to love however I see fit.”
“So it’s just…me.”
Michael groaned, carding his hand through his hair—poking it up in every direction. “Why are you pushing this?”
“You know why.” Greyson threw up his hands when Michael merely stared at him. “You think I like this? That I enjoy being drawn to someone who probably won’t ever return my feelings? Who is so bound by duty that he’ll most likely never say what I need to hear?”
“I’m God’s Warrior. I have…obligations.”
“And I’m heir to the throne. True, Oberon will hopefully choose to rule for another five hundred years or so, but that doesn’t negate the fact you’re not the only one whose heritage affects their life.”
“Then you understand why I have to remain distant.”
“What I understand is that you’re scared and hiding behind your legacy so you don’t have to face the truth.” Grey sighed. Arguing with an archangel was like arguing with his father. Stubborn didn’t begin to describe them.
Grey drew a calming breath. The last thing he needed was to get angry. In the end, Michael had to choose to be with him. Grey couldn’t force the man any more than he could push aside the unrelenting voice in his head that demanded he lay his claim. Recite the ancient binding rite and join their souls. A union only death could sever.
Crickets chirped around them as Grey relaxed his shoulders, stuffing his hands in his pockets in an effort to stop himself from closing the distance and running his fingers along Michael’s arms until he’d reached the angel’s shoulders. Not that Grey would be able to stop there. He’d been longing to sink his hands in the other man’s hair—wrap the golden strands around his fingers—finally discover if the locks were as soft as they looked.
Grey cursed under his breath, focusing on Michael’s face. “I’m trying, so cut me some slack.” He rolled his shoulders a bit. “Just tell me this—if you’re so damn determined to remain distant, why come here at all? And before you answer, you should know that I sense it when you travel through one of my wards.”
Michael arched his brow. “You sense it when people pass through your wards?”
“I said you. That I sense you. Like I’m always telling Kei…words have meaning. And in this case, I was very specific, but that’s not an answer.” He took a step closer. “Why visit when you have no intentions of seeing this go any further? Do you enjoy taunting me?”
“I’d never knowingly hurt you. You know that.”
“Do I? Because from where I’m standing you’re a big blank slate. And try as I may, I can’t figure you out. You come to my realm, then hide from me. You say what we have is complicated, yet you never say why.” Grey shook his head. “You can’t have it both ways, Michael.”
His lips quirked a moment before the color rose on his cheeks. “Believe me, if I could stay away, I would. But…” He slammed his fists against his thighs, fluttering his wings in the process. “I care. More than I know I should. But if I cross that line—take you as my lover…”
Grey sighed as Michael closed his eyes, his mouth pursed into a slight grimace. While a part of Grey wanted to shake some sense into the other man, another understood the angel’s turmoil. Felt his pain as if it were his own.
He closed the distance between them, palming Michael’s chest. The angel’s tunic bunched beneath his grip, the soft fabric gathering between his fingers. Michael’s eyelids flew open, his gaze clashing with Grey’s.
Grey took a moment to study the guy. To memorize the deep blue of Michael’s eyes, the hint of pink in his lips. How the skin over his nose creased as he furrowed his brow. The flash of arousal that colored his cheeks.
Michael gripped Grey’s wrists, holding his hands tight against his chest. Grey waited for the other man to shove him away, but Michael merely stood there, his heart pounding beneath Grey’s touch, his harsh breath sounding around them.
Grey gave him an easy smile when Michael’s hold tightened. “Surely, you’ve taken lovers before.”
The muscle in his jaw tensed. “I have, but…” He averted his gaze. “You’re different.”
Grey’s stomach clenched, and he knew those two words might be the closest Michael ever got to admitting they were mates. That there was so much more than mere attraction between them.
He forced himself to shrug, despite the frantic beating of his heart. “I don’t have to be different.”
Michael slid his focus back to Grey’s face. “What do you mean?”
“What if it didn’t have to be about anything more than one night?”
Michael frowned. “One night?”
“Are you going to repeat everything I say?”
“Only when you’re not making any sense because we both know neither of us would settle for one night.”
“Are you offering more?”
His jaw muscle jumped again. “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just—”
He muttered under his breath. “You make it sound as if I want to hurt you. Deny us, both.”
“All I’m asking for is one night.” He eased free of Michael’s hold then took a single step back. “I’ll make this simple. Gabe mentioned that every angel has a sanctuary on Earth. A place no one else knows about. If you accept my offer, and grant me one night with you, all you have to do is picture that sanctuary, and I’ll meet you there tomorrow night. Sunset.”
Grey smiled. “Trust me. I’ll know where to go.”
“How did you know I was questioning that?”
“Same way I’ll know the location of your sanctuary.” He held up one hand. “I won’t say it. Won’t claim to be anything other than what you need me to be.” He backed away. “One night, Michael, then I’ll never ask again. Think about it.”