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Roshana? I spun so quickly on my new heels that I lost my balance and, toppling, clipped my glass against a display case. My champagne flute shattered at the stem. “Oh crap!” I yelped—and looked up into a face that wasn’t Roshana’s at all. The face of the man I least wanted to ever see again in all the world.
The least, and maybe the most.
It was Egan.
Egan Kansky. The man who’d saved me and betrayed me. The man who’d snatched me from under the noses of my Orthodox enemies and taught me to trust him, only to try to deliver me to his own masters.
Egan, who’d done his best to bury Azazel for an eternity of torment again, for the good of us all. I’d let him hold me as we slept together. He was the gentlest, most caring man I’d met apart from my own father—yet I’d seen him coldly shoot dead the thug who tortured me.
Egan: Irish-American, ex-military, now Vatican agent. He’d stepped in front of a bullet for me.
There were no words for the confusion of feelings in my breast right at that moment, seeing him there before me. His square face looked a little more lined than I remembered, but his sandy-blond hair still stuck out over his forehead and his eyes were still that blue strangely flecked with gold; eyes for staring at horizons. The formal evening jacket suited him; way more than it would Azazel, say.
“Egan?” Go away, go away, I can’t bear to see you, I thought, but the words refused to rise to my lips. “What are you doing here?”
I was actually shaking.
He didn’t answer. Instead he sank to his knees before me. It took a moment for me to realize what he was doing; picking up the pieces of my broken glass. Standing again, he dropped them deftly on the tray of the waiter who’d hurried over. “Thank you,” he told the young man.
“I’m sorry,” I gabbled to the waiter, “I’m not used to wearing heels.”
“No problem, madam. May I get you another glass?”
“No… No, thanks.”
The distraction reset our conversation. As we looked back at each other Egan smiled, tentatively. “Hello, Milja. How are you? You’re looking…very well.”
I blushed, wishing that the saleswoman hadn’t persuaded me into a dress quite so short or so tight, wishing that my hands weren’t trembling. “I’m good.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
The depths of all that we dared not speak about yawned like the Grand Canyon. “You made it out then?”
“Yes. I walked.” He gestured with open hands. “Then hitch-hiked.”
I brushed my fingers over my face, wanting to hide.
“How’s your hand?”
Of course. The last time he saw me I’d just had my finger broken. “It’s fine. He fixed it.” I didn’t have to say Azazel’s name.
Egan nodded, sucking his lips in. “Are you still with him?”
“You don’t need me to tell you that, one way or another,” I said, finding some backbone at last. “Your people will have been keeping an eye on me, I assume.”
He looked suddenly uncomfortable. I got the distinct impression he was winging it. “I’ve recused myself from that particular mission.”
“Sure, I told my superiors that I couldn’t in good conscience accept their plans for you.”
Imprisonment. Breeding. The murder of my children. “I bet that was a fun conversation.”
He grimaced. “That it wasn’t. But they accepted it. I’m not here on their behalf.”
“You’re not planning to kidnap me, then?”
He shook his head. “No. You won that round, Milja. You were right and I was wrong. You know how I feel about what happened.”
“No.” I shook my own, defiantly. Let him spell it out. “I’ve no goddamn clue.”
“That it’s not right to do a heinous evil for the sake of doing greater good later. I slipped into error while spending time with you, unacceptably so.”
“What—liking me? That was an error?”
“No.” His pale eyes narrowed with pain. “Betraying your trust. You were an innocent. I ask your forgiveness.”
That was it: his apology. I stared at him mutely.
“Liking you…” He blinked and looked over my shoulder. “It wasn’t what I planned. It messed things up, from the point of view of my superiors. But I don’t regret it.”
My eyes stung and my throat felt swollen, but I knew no tears would slip down my face. “Thank you for letting me choose,” I said, my voice a wobbly whisper. “You did let me choose, didn’t you?” Between you and Azazel?
“I chose him. Now go away. Please.” I turned my back on him, staring blindly into the reflection of the glass case.
From behind, he put both hands on my waist. My world flipped upside down. His breath was on my hair, his warmth against my back. “Milja,” he whispered, his lips soft against my ear, “that’s not forever. You can change your mind.”
If Azazel sees this, I don’t know what will happen.
I shut my eyes, swaying, almost leaning back against him. I wanted him to slip his arms right around my waist. I wanted to turn within the circle of his arms and press my face to his chest, breathing in the warm sweet scent of him.
Here’s the thing, the terrible stupid thing. Azazel loved me, Azazel was powerful as a thunderstorm, and he would protect me from men and angels even if he had to tear the world apart and drown it in blood to do that. But I never, ever felt safe with Azazel. I felt safe with Egan. Even with everything I knew and everything I guessed, even in moments of horror and rage, there was a part of me that instantly and instinctively fitted into the shield of his arm, that felt like this is my home, I belong here. I could think of no other way to articulate it to myself.
“Choose again,” he whispered, sending shivers from the whorl of my ear down my neck and my spine, right inside me. “Please—come outside with me. We need to talk.”
Author picture credit to David Woolfall.
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