I had been in a very dark place when I met my first angel, so I guess it was only fitting he be a ‘dark angel’. Of course at the time, I had no idea the handsome young attorney handling my just-departed father’s last will and testament was a bonafide angel—albeit a fallen one. He’d been disguising himself as an estate attorney for so long, no one, certainly not me, ever suspected there was ever anything supernatural about him outside of his incredible looks. From the soles of his feet to the part on his scalp, he was a picture-perfect physical specimen, and could have had just as lucrative a career modeling Calvin Klein underwear if he’d been so inclined. From the first moment I’d laid eyes on him, I was crazy infatuated with him.
After Daddy’s passing, he showed up practically tailor-made for me. He was exactly what I thought I needed at the time, riding to my emotional rescue like a knight on a white horse. He had taken my hand in my hours of deepest despair and had led me out of the vacuous pit of my toxic existence. With blind willingness, I had followed him too, letting him guide me down the slippery, sometimes twisted road heading to hell.
Thankfully it hadn’t ever come to that. In the past three years, our relationship had weathered the total disintegration of our status as a couple, not to mention the resulting episodes of true revulsion on my part, fearful mistrust, and comfortable absences from one another. Its current state was one of unrequited love, although maybe love was too strong a word for what he felt for me now since I’ve never been wholly convinced he actually knows what love is. I preferred to think of us as close, but wary friends--with an unfortunate, ever present, underlying sexual tension between us.
His name is Mazriel and he’ll be the first to tell anyone who’ll listen how much in love with me he is, bragging about it almost like how a kid shows off his first black eye. Mazriel would also be the first to tell you what a miserable state being in love had put him in and it wasn’t just the unrequited part either. Dark angels aren’t supposed to love anybody and I knew he got punished for it on a regular basis, but he seemed to embrace that aspect of his strange feelings for me just like he welcomed all the ensuing heartache those feelings caused him.
It was always hard for me not to respond to him when he talked about love; hearing those traces of sad longing and painful regret in his beautiful, melodic voice. It was hard too, not to actually feel something for him in return, and I did still care about his well-being, but I knew better than to let him know the full depth of my feelings for him. I knew he’d only torture me with that knowledge until I collapsed under the weight of his will and gave into him.
Despite our friendship, that was one of the reasons I didn’t go out of my way to keep company with him and even avoided him as much as I could. What Mazriel wanted of me was downright dangerous in more ways than one, and I’d learned from hard past experiences, he could be very, very persuasive when he put his mind to it. Old habits died hard and his love for me didn’t keep him from trying to trip me up in the spiritual realm because he saw my sinning as simply a means to an end and in a sense, a way to reclaim me. As it was, I had to constantly be on guard around him.
He and I remained an uncomfortable fit, but above all, we were friends. Time and time again, Mazriel was there for me when I needed him to be and he’d proven his devotion by pretty much doing anything I asked of him. He had even looked after me and protected me from harm on more than one occasion. I protected him too, keeping my guardian angel from punishing him for the havoc and mischief he created in my life. I had forgiven him and had even offered him what time, attention, and affection I could, and although such things didn’t seem to be enough to keep him interested in me, his feelings were unwavering.
Now, as I searched out his number in my phone, I wondered if I was taking advantage of those feelings, asking him for favors the way I did, knowing he’d more or less drop whatever he was doing to oblige me. He even drove a BMW now simply because I had once mentioned he seemed to be more of a BMW-type of guy. I guess I could be persuasive too when I wanted to be.
I had two phone numbers for him. One was his cell and the other was his office at the law firm. I knew he would be at work this morning since it was the middle of the week, but this was a personal call and I didn’t want to go through his secretary for it.
As I debated the pros and cons of calling one number over the other, my phone’s ringer suddenly blared out, startling me half out of my skin more than it usually did. One of these days I was really going to have to sit down and program in a ringtone that didn’t supernova the phone every time someone called.
Taking a steadying breath, I gave a glance at the number calling and shouldn’t have been surprised to see that Atlanta area code and Mazriel’s cell phone number, but I was. I answered it with a grin.
“Wow, Maz. I was just thinking about you,” I proclaimed, turning around to settle myself into the corner of my sofa for our conversation.
“I know,” his killer sexy voice purred over the line, sounding pleased. “You were thinking so hard, I could feel it. Which leads me to inevitably ask: what can I do for you, Mya, my lovely?”
I sighed, not liking the fact I only tended to call him when I needed him to do something for me, but unfortunately, it was true in this instance.
Being an artist by trade, I was often in need of models for new paintings I wanted to undertake and I knew Mazriel would be perfect for my latest project. He’d offered to pose for me before, but I was always wary of the prospect of staring at his nude body for hours on end without something…untoward happening between us as a result. Recently, I had more than set him straight about what I was going to allow from him regarding me within the context of our current relationship, so I did feel more confident about this remaining a strictly professional process, but there was no denying the fact, I still found him hot as hell. No pun intended.
I was going to just come right out and ask him, but then hesitated. I decided to feel him out first. Besides, it didn’t seem very polite to just up and ask him for another favor and not at least exchange a few pleasantries first.
“I’m sorry. Was I distracting you from anything important?” I questioned. He was at work and might have a meeting to go to or something.
“Not at all,” he replied. “I’m flattered the likes of me factor into your stray thoughts now and then.”
I rolled my eyes. If there was one thing I could always count on with Mazriel was that he could irritate me inside minutes of any given conversation we struck.
“Stop it. You know as well as I do, that I think about you way more than I should and if I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to encourage that considering how it only strengthens our metaphysical connection—which hasn’t really been to your advantage lately.”
I heard a sound like a little throaty growl in response and had to smile. He had once used our mental bond to influence my thoughts and behavior, but he’d also strengthened the power cord running between us to the point I could get inside his head now just as easily as he got into mine. I hadn’t exactly figured out how to manipulate his thoughts the way he could mine, but I knew I could influence him certain ways, and lots of times, I knew what he was thinking and often felt what he was feeling. It helped me to know when he was lying about one thing or another. I also knew every time I thought about Mazriel, the bond between us got that much stronger which caused my guardian angel to warn me against it initially, but Mazriel and I had come to a mutual agreement regarding it. He had promised not to use his influence on me and I had promised to continue to grace him with my presence. So far, so good.
“Go ahead. Tell me what I’m thinking,” the angel said in a taunting tone.
I heard the creak of his desk chair as he apparently settled back into it and I could just picture him loosening his tie and stretching out his long legs in the process. There was no way of me knowing what he was thinking about when he was in one of these more blasé moods. His emotions had to be projecting his thoughts to me in order for me to ‘hear’ them, but I wasn’t about to let him in on that.
No matter. I had a pretty good idea of what might be on his mind at the moment as I figured I’d take a stab at it to impress him.
“You’re bored,” I began and licked my lips. “You’re bored out of your skull and you’re thinking about doing me someplace…unusual. Like in the alley behind your office building or in the lavatory of the company’s airplane.”
“Mmm, close,” he told me. “How about the dressing room at Sak’s? I have to go pick up a suit there later this afternoon.”
I grinned. “What happened? Did your nine o’clock will reading cancel?”
Now he laughed. “You really are good! It’s like you’ve got your own little window into my private affairs over here.”
I shifted the phone to my other ear and drew my legs up underneath me on the couch.
“Well, to be honest, my soothsaying was just an educated guess,” I confessed. “Aren’t you always picturing me in one sexual tryst with you or another?”
“It’s not my fault,” he said, his voice sounding like he was pouting after being scolded. “How can I keep from recalling those exquisite nights we spent making love at the Casa Monica in St. Augustine? Especially now considering the way I feel about you. It’s only natural that I long to make love to you once more.”
My mood abruptly sobered. “Only once?”
“I would make love to you as many times as you would let me.”
That made me think of something. “You know, it’s kind of ironic how we actually have more feelings for each other now that we’re just friends than when we were a couple. Let’s face it. We never made love, Maz. We were just more or less scratching an itch.”
He sighed as if in resignation. There was no denying the truth.
“I never anticipated actually falling in love with you, Mya,” he said, a solemn sadness leeching through his tone. “It would be so much easier on me if I hadn’t.”
“I know,” I agreed, sobering right along with him. “If I could wave some kind of magic wand and do away with this weird spell I’ve put you under, I would. As it is, I can’t fathom why you so much as bother with me anymore. Aren’t I a total bitch to you ninety-nine percent of the time?”
“Mmm,” he answered and it sounded like he was savoring that fact. “But it only makes me love you more.”
For a minute, I had to stop and really think about what he was saying. True to his nature, I knew he didn’t care for ‘nice’ girls. If his women had criminal pasts or were bitter atheists or like me, just total bitches who mistreated him, all the better. He certainly wasn’t about to waste his sexual fantasies on soccer moms—unless they were cheating on their husbands or dealing drugs in the schoolyard.
“I don’t mean to be mean to you,” I said, apologizing in general. “I could try to be nicer if you think it would help you get over me. I could always send you some homemade oatmeal cookies, or arrange to have your dry cleaning delivered, or I could send you Hallmark cards for your faked birthday.”
“Baby, please,” he muttered. “You’re making my skin crawl.”
“There, see,” I announced as if I’d just solved all our problems. “It’s already working.”
The dark angel knew me too well though.
“It’s all right. You can be mean to me. I know you feel you have to now and then to protect yourself,” he stated.
His implications were a little too close for comfort. I tensed and eased my feet back on the floor, leaning forward, feeling like I needed to get ready to spring up and run away.
“You’re wrong,” I said, trying to sound more nonchalant than defensive. “I don’t need to protect myself from you. I know someone I can call up anytime who will make you behave.”
I was, of course, speaking of Pershabael, the second angel I had met who turned out to be my guardian and had since become the most beloved person in my life. Pershabael had been my oasis in the hostile, barren desert I’d stranded myself in with Mazriel.
“But does he protect you from your own feelings?” the dark angel hinted. “Your feelings for me?”
What he said shouldn’t have caught me off guard, but it did. I could feel heat flushing my face just as chills pattered down my spine. I stopped myself just as I was about to lash out at him, knowing my anger would only confirm his suspicions. Instead, I took a deep, calming breath and threw myself back against the couch cushions. I grunted with frustration.
“You know, you say shit like that and it makes me reconsider asking you what I had originally called for.” I left it at that knowing his curiosity would get the best of him and force him to make amends just to get me to follow through.
His voice was as creamy and smooth as whipped chocolate pudding now.
“Forget I said that. You know how I can’t resist baiting you to get you to unleash all that beautiful, pent-up anger of yours. It’s what makes my heart beat after all.”
I couldn’t help but grin. He was so very predictable at times.
“Well, you can forget I even called because I don’t want to have to listen to you ‘baiting’ me for hours on end,” I countered.
I heard his chair creak again and could just picture him leaning over his big oak desk, his dark arched brows rising with intrigue.
“Hours?” he was quick to pick up. “Did you want to see me?” His voice sounded hopeful.
I hesitated. “Kind of.”
“What if I promise to behave all on my own?” he said with a laugh. “I won’t provoke you anymore. I’ll keep quiet. I won’t say a word.”
“Don’t go making promises you don’t intend to keep,” I told him outright. “Besides…I want you to talk to me. Just don’t be irritating.” I was sure that made him smile.
“What did you have in mind?” the angel went on, obviously hooked at this point.
“A nude painting,” I said in an exhale. “I got the idea the other day and figured you’d be the perfect model for this particular angel I want to depict.”
He had said that word as coolly as if he were commenting on the weather, but I knew his heart had probably skipped a beat when he had heard what I had in mind for him. I was sure he’d believed I had called him just to see if he could get some boring information for me on city zoning or tax percentages. Stuff like that was what I usually called him for. I never called to invite him up to Idlewild, the old Gothic cemetery property my father had left to me in his will, or the renovated church rectory I had taken up residence in after moving to South Carolina from St. Augustine, Florida. I never called to ask him out or even to come spend time with me. His enthusiasm now made me regret that.
“Well? How ‘bout it? You interested?” I prompted.
“Of course,” he replied. “When do you need me there?”
“Tonight? Can’t it wait until the weekend?”
I frowned. “I know calling you at the last minute like this is kind of pushing it, but it took me that long to talk myself into using you. It’s a full moon tonight. I need the moon full for the right lighting and shadow-play, so I’m limited time-wise. I need to start this painting tonight. The weekend will be too late.”
I heard him sigh. “Even if I drove over the speed limit, I don’t think I could make it there before midnight.”
I must not have been making myself clear. “Maz, I um…was hoping you’d fly.”
From the sound of his voice I knew I’d startled him with that. He was probably just realizing the full extent of the favor I was asking of him. Not only did I want him to drop everything he had planned for the evening, I wanted him to physically transform himself, fly all the way up here, and then strike a pose and maintain it throughout the entire night.
“I know, but…I want you with wings.”
He gave a light laugh. “I would like to think you purposefully laden that request with innuendo just to entice me all the more to fulfill it.”
He was incorrigible, but I’d happily play along if I could get him to comply. “Sure. Consider it laden. Listen Mazriel, I’m serious now. I need you to promise to cooperate once you get here. I want to get this idea down before I lose it. I’m going to be working around changing light as the night goes on so if I can just paint what’s in front of me and not have to create it, that will speed up the process and make the depiction that much more realistic. You in, or not?”
Apparently his arrogance took hold of him then and he must have felt the need to let me know he wasn’t at my beck and call. Not entirely anyway.
“Why don’t you have one of the heavenly denizens you’re so fond of pose for it then? At least you know they’d be happy to ‘cooperate’ and wouldn’t make you so uncomfortable you feel you have to…rush things.”
I sighed. I knew then I had pushed him a little too hard. It was time for a little ego-stroking.
“Because…none of them have the right look and without the right look, my painting isn’t going to have the same impact.” I thought about the angels who visited Idlewild over time and had so graciously posed for my paintings. Pershabael had been the subject of more than one of my nudes. I took a deep breath. “Those angels are all perfect and alluring in their own way, but for this, I need a certain dark sensuality. I need an angel who can seduce a saint. I need you.”
It was all true, but I was worried I might have laid it on a little thick. I wasn’t sure he’d buy it.
Then I heard him clear his throat and shift around a bit. Just as I was beginning to think he was about to politely decline due to the ‘behavior clause’ I’d insisted upon, he spoke.
“I’m leaving right now. I can be there just after sunset.” He paused and seemed to take a deep breath. “Just what are you calling this particular piece, if I may ask?”
A smile as wide as Texas spread across my face. I got to my feet, flipping the phone to my other ear.
“I’m calling it…Temptation.”
Now that I knew Maz was on his way and would be here by nightfall, I got to work blocking out the overall composition of the painting in graphite pencil. By mid afternoon, I had my base colors done and come evening, I had finished most of the background.
I took a break to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a pot of coffee. I wondered if I should whip up something with a little more substance for Mazriel to eat. The very least I could do was feed him. I was sure he’d be hungry by the time he got here. It wasn’t like he could stop at a Taco Bell along the way.
While I was standing by the stove, spatula in hand, through my kitchen window and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him glide to the ground and land just outside Idlewild’s ornate gates.
As if reacquainting himself with the place, he paused and took the time to look around the cemetery, which gave me a moment to take in the sight of him.
Mazriel was a strikingly handsome man, but he was a magnificent-looking angel. He stood well over six feet and had an imposing, aristocratic carriage and natural grace that in itself was an attention grabber. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Mazriel in his true form, but standing there in the full moonlight the way he was only reaffirmed my decision to use him for this painting.
He was even dressed to seduce—if bondage and intimidation were your thing. His muscular bare torso resembled the marble statues marking the graves beyond the iron gates, smooth but chiseled like a stone sculpture. Around the base of his neck he sported a kind of spiked collar with numerous thick hooks. Criss-crossing leather straps with an excessive amount of small silver buckles draped over his shoulders, two of which fastened the straps to one of the studded belts circling his tiny waist. I counted no less than four belts total, but they weren’t the only accessories wrapped low around his svelte hips. Thick silver chains gleamed through the heavy shadows giving shape to his leather-clad lower body which blended so seamlessly into the darkness, it made him look like a legless apparition. His long dark hair would have been hidden in the shadows as well if not for the thick tendrils spilling over his paler skin, down the front of his chest. I noticed his hair had grown since I’d last seen him six months ago.
He must have felt my eyes on him because he turned and looked right at me, folding his wings down the center of his back. Those full, curvy lips of his parted and he flashed a rather dazzling smile at me. Even from where he stood, I could see the warmth radiating from his deep set golden-colored eyes. Obviously, he was pleased to see me.
I was pleased to see him too, though I probably didn’t look it. I realized all this time I remained awestruck and immobile by the window, brandishing my spatula like a scepter, with my mouth hanging wide open.
I snapped it shut and tossed my spatula aside as Mazriel strode this way and told myself to walk across the kitchen and let him in the back door. I tugged open the door and was surprised to find him already at my threshold.
“Hello my lovely,” he greeted, bending forward to touch his lips to my cheek.
In response, I stretched up on my toes and planted a kiss on his mouth.
“Thank you for this!” I told him, breaking into a smile of my own. I wanted him to know right off just how much I appreciated what he was doing for me.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, lowering his voice almost in reverence and passing the tip of his tongue over his upper lip like he was trying to capture any lingering taste my kiss might have left there.
“You made good time. You want to maybe sit for awhile before we get started? I can make you something to eat. Are you hungry?” I ran my fingers along the center of one of his chain belts, getting an idea. “You know, I think I’m going to have you leave these chains on. They’re real sexy and kind of…symbolic.” I knit my brow as something else occurred to me. My eyes drifted up the straps crossing over his chest. “These will have to go though.” My hands rose up the center of his chest along the path my eyes had just taken and I toyed with the black and silver collar around his throat. The curved spikes reminded me of sand shark teeth. I pricked my finger on one, noting they were just as sharp too. “Now this…definitely stays. This pretty much says it all.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he replied, his killer voice sounding a little breathless and thick.
Maz had just a trace of an accent which was so peculiar I never could place it. Once I found out what he really was, I just put it down as being angelic.
“I can tell you’re anxious to begin,” he continued, “so I won’t keep you from it. You can always make me breakfast tomorrow morning.”
I felt a little embarrassed by the fact I wasn’t giving proper consideration to his needs over mine. Of course I was anxious, but I shouldn’t have let him know the extent. I knew he’d rather deprive himself if he believed it would please me and earn him Brownie points. He tended to do things like that to further demonstrate his devotion to me since I’d all but forbidden him to show his feelings any other way. I wouldn’t even allow him to tell me he loved me, but I had good reason. He had abused it too much in the past to have that privilege now and had yet to earn it back.
“You took tomorrow off work?” I questioned, raising my brow.
He kind of half-shrugged as if it really were of no consequence. “I had to, Mya. There was just no realistic way I could be up all night, leave here in the morning, and arrive back at Remy, Paul, Jackson, and Jackson at eight-fifteen as my alter-ego. And even if I could, for the sake of argument, I wouldn’t be any use to anyone.”
I took a step back from him and gnawed the inside of my cheek fitfully. “I guess I hadn’t thought about all that when I asked you to do this for me.”
“No, you didn’t,” he was quick to point out. “But then you know how I adore that inconsiderate, selfish side of you.”
I frowned. “Oh, don’t tell me that! If you make me feel guilty about this, I’m going to send you home.”
He shook his head. “Don’t. I like that I can make you feel guilty. It shows me you care.” He offered me a teasing smile.
Problem was, I did feel guilty now. If I had stopped to consider the fact he was going to lose a day of work on top of everything else, I could have at least waited until this weekend for him. I could have always added moonlight later. A month later.
“It’s just that I get kind of single-minded when I come up with an idea for a painting,” I went on to explain. “I’m afraid I’ll lose the image I have in my mind if I don’t get it out of my head right away. I have before. That’s why, at this stage anyway, there’s always that sense of urgency.” I looked up into Maz’s eyes and offered him an apologetic smile.
“I understand and I’m fine,” he gently chided. “Don’t worry. I just took a personal day.” He sank into the nearest kitchen chair. “Just give me a minute to sit before we get started. Could I trouble you for a cup of coffee?”
I frowned again. I should have offered him some before. I really was being inconsiderate. “Of course! It’s no trouble. I’ve already got a pot made.” I went to the cupboard and took out a mug, but then got stuck watching him preen his flight feathers with his hand like it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be doing at that moment. I’d never been privy to witnessing this process before and found it mesmerizing in a way.
He looked up at me after awhile and grinned. He inclined his head in the direction of my coffee maker.
At that, I snapped out of my self-induced trance and whirled around on my heel.
“Oh! Right!” I quickly poured him a cup and actually got it over to him this time. “Sorry.”
“Thank you,” he said and released his wing, letting it slide behind him. “Cheers.” He raised his cup to me and took a sip.
I nodded at him, but my eyes were still fixed on the angel’s large wings. My gaze glided along the majestic arch rising from the point just above his shoulders where they connected to his body and then curved down into a sleek cloak of darkness ending mid-calf. Initially, his wings appeared to be black, but actually they were iridescent—like a grackle’s feathers in the sunlight. Even under the overhead kitchen lights, I could make out flashes of indigo, emerald, and plum.
“I might have to take some pictures,” I mumbled. My mind was already busy plotting the course of action needed to properly paint his wings and do them justice. “I think this is going to be the most challenging part. They’ll certainly take the longest. But I want to take my time with them. They deserve to be done right. They’re absolutely beautiful.”
I slipped behind him and ran my hands over the swell of muscles beneath the dark plumage, feeling my way along the bone structure beneath.
With a startling hiss, Mazriel jerked away from me and shot to his feet, turning around to face me and effectively putting his wings well out of my reach.
“Mya!” he said, his tone sharp. For a moment he stood glaring at me, but then his expression softened along with his voice. “Do you have to touch me?”
I realized right then how difficult this was going to be for him. I got a sudden mental impression regarding his present level of sexual arousal and knew I should have never put my hands on his wings.
“Oh. Um…you too, huh?”
He grimaced. “What?”
I gestured behind him. “They’re, ah, extra-sensitive…in that respect?”
In an overt display of indignation, Mazriel raised his chin and peered down his nose at me.
“But you said—“
“Because they’re one of Pershabael’s erogenous zones too,” I told him without really thinking.
He shrank away from me further and the look on his face told me all I needed to know about what he was thinking now.
“Did you have to tell me that?” he growled. “I could have happily gone the rest of eternity not knowing that about him. T.M.I. my lovely. Too much information.”
I couldn’t help but grin. He so openly despised my guardian angel. I held up my hands in surrender.
“I promise I won’t touch you. I shouldn’t have touched you and I’m sorry.”
That appeared to appease him. The tension in his expression ebbed and he took a slow, deep breath.
“Don’t apologize.” He gestured at me. “I suppose I should have expected to feel a little uncomfortable doing this for you, but to be honest, I thought I’d be the one making you uncomfortable.” He paused and leaned towards me a little. “Your eyes have been roving my body in the most provocative way since I got here and I haven’t even taken my clothes off yet. If you truly want me to behave myself and abide all your ground rules, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to draw the line at being touched.” The corners of his mouth twitched as if he were fighting back a smile. “Unless you want me to ravish you outside the gates of the graveyard.”
I smiled back at him. “I promise. No more touching. No ravishing. I just got a little carried away.”
Now he frowned. “Well, it was worth a try.”
I stood back and gave him a quick once over. “I wasn’t aware I was looking at you that way, Maz. I’m just excited about using you. I can’t believe I never had you pose for me before.”
He sighed. “If you remember, we haven’t exactly been on the best of terms for the most part.”
Nodding, I blinked up at him. “I know,” I acknowledged, feeling a stab of regret along with it.
It was still too easy to recall the night I had hidden from him inside Idlewild’s gates on the cemetery’s sacred ground, genuinely afraid of what the dark angel could do to me and the influencing power I knew he had over me. I didn’t like being afraid of him and strangely enough, he didn’t like it either. I believe it was a major motivating factor in getting him to change the way he behaved around me. I was glad we’d since come to an understanding, and were now friends--even if his idea of friendship included certain benefits.
“What’s the matter? You have the oddest look on your face,” he noted. He was regarding me with a visible curiosity in his eyes, his lips pursed as if in thought.
I shrugged, feeling a little melancholy. “Sometimes I just wish…things could have been different between us.”
For a split second, the angel lowered his eyes and then raised his gaze and fixed it on me.
“I do too.” His voice had gotten soft and quiet. Then, not even a moment later, his brow knit and a frustrated-sounding growl escaped his throat. “Of course I do. I’m the one who got the short end of the stick. Your angel left me with nothing after he’d finished with me.”
I ambled over to him and placed my hand on his cheek to soothe him.
“Not true,” I stated, peering into his eyes. “Even after everything you did to me this past year, he and I still let you be a part of my life. That’s got to count for something.”
“Mmm,” he seemed to agree, closing his eyes. “True. You are either too compassionate…or insane. Anyone else in their right mind would have refused me.” He turned his head, sliding his face over my palm and then placed a languid kiss there. His hands came to rest on either side of my waist and he drew my body against his.
Now I felt his lips slide down the side of my neck and the heated moisture of his exhaled breath on my skin.
I wiggled out of his grasp, patting his hip. “Stop now. No touching, remember?”
“You touched me first,” he protested, pouting like a little kid.
I frowned. “Oh, I did, didn’t I? My bad.”
I must have gotten him started however because he wasn’t so easily dissuaded. He reached for me again, grasping my left hand in both of his. He raised my wrist to his mouth and dotted it with kisses. His free hand smoothed up my arm. I tugged it away.
“Who promised me he was going to behave himself tonight? Wasn’t that you?” I looked out the kitchen window, turning my face away from him so he wouldn’t see the blush he’d put on my cheeks. “C’mon. The moon is rising. I need to start making my masterpiece.”
Mazriel sighed and folded his arms across his chest. He shifted his weight to one leg, looking petulant.
“Wouldn’t you rather start making me?” he teased, picking up the double-entendre I’d inadvertently dropped. “Since when did my caresses stop having an effect on you?”
I grinned. If he believed that, I was a better actress than I thought. He wasn’t going to behave himself and I don’t know what had possessed me to actually think he would, but tonight, I had to be the one calling the shots.
“Outside, Maz. The next time I see you, you better be naked.”
That earned me his most wolfish grin yet. “Aren’t you…coming?” he quipped in reply, tossing his head to flip his hair over his shoulder.
“Ah, good one,” I commented, realizing we could probably keep this kind of banter up all night. “I have to get my supplies. Do you want a robe?”
I had a man’s robe in my closet but it didn’t belong to anyone in particular. Since the majority of my paintings were of nudes, providing my models with robes to wear before and after sittings was just a common courtesy. It wasn’t considered kosher for an artist to have a model strip in front of them—or get dressed for that matter. Slipping in and out of a robe seemed to take away some of the underlying sexual connotations involved with getting naked in front of a stranger.
Mazriel and I weren’t strangers, but being former lovers actually made it worse. I definitely wanted to utilize the robe tonight. Another unwritten rule I should have heeded was one of my own which wisely advised not using ex-boyfriends as models. Especially since this particular ex didn’t care to be an ‘ex’ anymore. Without waiting for Mazriel to reply, I retreated down the hall to fetch the robe. He was going to wear it whether he wanted to or not.
“Here, put this on once you get undressed,” I more or less commanded him, throwing him the wadded-up garment. “You can tie it around your waist. Wait for me in front of the cemetery gates.”
Mazriel caught the robe and unfurled it. If I hadn’t been looking right at him, I would have missed the flicker of hesitation that crossed his face. When he spoke, his tone was one of bored observation however.
“I can’t go inside the gates.”
I paused and put my hands on my hips. I got the impression he thought I sometimes forgot what spiritual side he was on and felt the need to remind me, even though he didn’t like to.
“I know and I’m not asking you to,” I said, keeping my tone just as nonchalant. “Having you outside the churchyard gate is a way to symbolically show what evil temptation lies beyond the sacred realm, waiting to prey on the innocent and unsuspecting.”
Mazriel looked less than thrilled with that description however.
“Ah. No wonder you wanted me to model for this,” he grumbled and studied the green plaid pattern on the robe he held with open distaste. “You certainly couldn’t depict your beloved Sweetness and Light so demonically.”
I sighed. “Pershabael would have worked too—he’s just as seductive. But I wanted you for this because…me knowing the temptation you pose adds an element of truth to the art.” I came towards him. “I’m not going to paint you as some leering, wild-eyed devil. There won’t be anything grotesque about this depiction. I want this painting to be like a warning. You once told me evil has to have a certain allure in order to be tempting. I want you just as sexy as you can be tonight. I just hope my talent can do you true justice.”
The angel’s scowl eased into a slow smile. He took a deep breath and seemed to shake off his previous indignation.
“I have faith in you—if not anything else.” He paused to trace the curve of his upper lip with the tip of his tongue. “I promise to be very sexy for you tonight so that you’ll be tempted in all the right ways. How does that sound?”
Frightening, was the first thing that came to mind. Mazriel didn’t have to try to be sexy, and imaging him actually putting an effort into seduction made me feel very vulnerable all of a sudden. Almost subconsciously, I twisted my wedding band between my fingers and gave Mazriel a wary sideways glance.
“Maybe a little too perfect,” I told him, trying to keep my tone casual in spite of the fact just the way he’d said the word ‘sexy’ was enough to make my mouth water.
To show him I fully intended to stay detached and professional about this, I purposefully stepped closer to him, even invading his personal space.
“Remember, I want you to leave the chains on.” I reached up to toy with his collar. “This too. Definitely. Everything else comes off.”
He looked down at me and shrugged. “Whatever turns you on.”
I planted my hand on the center of his chest and shoved him towards the door. “Go. Now. I’ll be out shortly.”
Without another word, Mazriel tossed the robe over his left shoulder and pulled open the door.
I took a deep breath, feeling a strange sense of relief, and then hurried down the hall into my studio to gather my supplies.
“You look like the cover of some torrid romance novel,” I commented as soon as I was in Mazriel’s earshot. “Her Lusty Highland Laird or something along those lines.”
He kind of did too, especially the way he had the green plaid robe twisted and draped around his waist. It looked like a tartan kilt. His shapely bare torso, muscular arms, and long, dark hair billowing about his shoulders in the night breeze only added to the idea.
Facing me, he raised his brow. “Do I?”
I plopped my tote bag on the ground several feet from him and leaned my canvas against it and then set up my easel on the west side of the gate along the ornate iron fence surrounding the cemetery.
“Uh-huh,” I said with a nod, but then gestured his way. “Well, minus the wings and the intimidating Goth accessories, you do.”
Of course, I knew why he dressed to intimidate. Mazriel’s primary occupation as an angel was collecting the souls of the dead who had reservations awaiting them in hell. He was an angel of death and instilling fear and anxiety in the damned was just one of his job descriptions.
Knowing that about him didn’t put me off as much as it probably should have, but I had previously met another angel of death named Aksariel, who worked for the ‘other’ side. He was sweet and funny, and liked to give me wildflowers he picked from my yard. Aksariel’s embrace also had a peculiar tranquilizing impact on me.
In sharp contrast, even when Mazriel wasn’t in his true form, he could still disturb people he came in contact with. In my case, I tended to get irritable and snippy when I was around him for any length of time, but at least when I got that way, I knew why. Normally Mazriel had a thick-skin and could take all my verbal abuse without batting an eye. Normally he seemed to prefer me to be in a less-than-benevolent mood. I didn’t like being angry with him all the time though, and lately it seemed my insults struck nerves. Unfortunately, it seemed Mazriel couldn’t help angering me anymore than Aksariel couldn’t help comforting me whenever he was around.
For a moment I stopped to consider that. Maybe Maz was right and I lashed out at him to keep him at a safe distance. Maybe it wasn’t so much his supernatural influence as me protecting myself. After all, I really couldn’t afford to let him get under my skin because deep down, I knew how he could make me feel.
“Have I done something to earn that frown?” Mazriel questioned in a soft, wary voice, further confirming my suspicions.
Sighing, I placed the canvas on the easel and uncovered it. I shrugged.
“I don’t know, have you?” I teased, trying to lighten the moment. I busied myself sorting pencils, brushes and then picking out paints.
Scowling at me, he grumbled back, “Who knows with you.”
I looked up at him. I think the coolness he perceived in me was unsettling him. He was too used to being able to wrap me around his finger with just a certain look, but tonight, he had discovered I wasn’t in a very pliable mood.
He stood a few feet from me with his hands on his hips, his square chin raised, giving him an overall arrogant air.
Pointing the end of the brush I was holding at him, I warned, “Don’t start with the attitude. I don’t have time to smooth your ruffled feathers or stroke your ego all night, Mister. I’ve already lost valuable moonlight. Now…go lean against the gate and take off the robe. Please.”
I could tell he wanted to reply just by the way his jaw was working. It was like he was chewing on his words, but couldn’t spit them out. After a moment or two, he went to the cemetery gate. He tugged at the knot of robe around his waist and let it fall open. It slid away from his hips like it really didn’t want to let him go. He tossed the garment aside and was suddenly standing in front of me in all his naked glory.
So much for playing it cool. I licked my lips without thinking and before I could stop myself, my eyes just kind of slithered down the length of him with open appreciation of his art-inspiring form. I hadn’t seen him nude in…quite awhile and too readily recalled the first time I had. Even though he had looked like a mortal man at the time, the sight of his body had taken my breath away.
Mazriel’s mouth turned up in a rather lascivious smile. I guess the way I was staring at him now was all the ego-stroking he needed.
“You still think I’m hot, don’t you?”
My eyes shot up to his face. I was sure he thought I’d deny it, but instead, I shrugged off my initial embarrassment and continued digging out my supplies.
“Of course I do. Anyone would have to be dead not to…appreciate…your supernatural beauty,” I told him, choosing my words carefully. I did have to take a bit of a steadying breath before looking up at him again.
Mazriel was tall—every angel I had met was—and his body was formed with long, chiseled lines, but you couldn’t call him rangy, he was too well built. There wasn’t a detectable trace of fat on his anatomy either. I could see the hollows of his hips even in the moonlight and the never-ending defined muscles running up either side of his text-book washboard abs. He had great legs that just seemed to go on forever with curved, sinewy thighs and nice shaped calves. He also had a tapered, toned waist that broadened into a smooth, strong chest, powerful, square shoulders, and thick, muscular arms.
The prospect of painting all those delectable lines of his was becoming more and more exciting to me. I already had a position in mind for him that would first attract an unsuspecting eye and then capture it and all but force it to follow those lines.
He was standing in profile to me, directly in front of the wrought iron gates now, his right side closest to me with the majority of his weight shifted on his left leg which was farthest from me, and his right leg slightly flexed. I looked him carefully over and realized I wouldn’t have to make him move all that much to get into the right pose.
“Spread your wings a little and put your shoulders against the gate. Twist your hips away from me slightly,” I instructed him, directing his movement like I was conducting an orchestra with the end of my paint brush.
The angel complied, but made a face as if to protest.
“Scoot a little closer to the gate if that’s too uncomfortable. I just don’t want your butt touching it so thrust your hips forward some.”
That earned me a grin. I shook my head, determined not to encourage him. I noted the way the silver chains lay against his skin and then nodded with approval.
“Good, good. Turn your face towards me, head back, stretch your neck, and raise your left arm up beside your head and grasp the gate with your hand.”
“How long are you going to force me to stay like this?” Mazriel questioned, fidgeting with his position already.
I glowered at him. “A few hours. Look, you agreed to this,” I warned him through clenched teeth. “You better hold still.”
His dark eyes narrowed at me. “I hope you realize I’m going to need a massage after this. I didn’t know posing for you would require me to become a contortionist.”
I grinned, setting the brush back in my tray, and selected a light pencil in its place. Before I could start painting, I first had to outline everything. “I bet you thought I was going to have you sprawl across satin sheets by candlelight, huh?”
He cracked a smile now. “I was hoping.”
I gave him a light laugh. “This is art, Maz. Not porn.” I studied him a moment, then nodded. “But you look great. Great lines. Very sexy.”
Now he laughed. “Is this what they mean by suffering for your art?”
I started drawing his outline on the canvas. “Usually it’s the artists who suffer, not the models, but I have to admit, there’s not a whole lot of suffering involved with painting what I do.” Which tended to be a lot of handsome, naked men and as of late, handsome, naked angels. Their bodies were an artist’s dream and I had discovered, to my surprise, they weren’t modest in the least and graciously agreed to be depicted in my art when I asked them to.
I glanced up at the angel I was depicting tonight and noticed he had turned his head.
“Maz! Quit moving! For crying out loud, at least stay still long enough for me to draw the position you’re supposed to be in. Then you can move any part of your body as long as I’m not painting it, okay? Head back please.”
Mazriel emitted a soft growl but obeyed.
I tried to focus my attention back on my drawing, hurrying to get down as much detail as I could before my subject got up and flew away in a huff.
I realized I wouldn’t blame him if he did. I guess my bitching at him didn’t help. This was his first time modeling. First timers were always a little tense and antsy. I should have been trying to get him to relax. I sighed.
“If I have an itch, are you going to come over here and scratch it for me?” the dark angel asked, his accent kicking up a notch as he poured a little silken seduction into his voice to imply he didn’t mean that literally in the least.
I peered around the canvas at him. And here I had just been considering cutting him some slack.
“There’s a stick down there by your left ankle,” I told him. “Use that to scratch your itch.”
With a frown, Mazriel looked at the ground beside him. Then he apparently spied something of interest and suddenly smiled with all the delight of a kid come Christmas morn. “Look what we have here,” he announced.
I continued watching him, curiosity getting the best of me. He bent down and plucked up a red Gerber daisy blossom that was growing wild by the cemetery gate. With a slow, stroking motion, he passed the petals over his lips and cheek a few times before taking a whiff of its delicate scent. His gaze drifted my way and he gave me his most seductive look yet.
Too intrigued by what he was doing to scold him for moving again, I watched him reach up and pull one of the petals from the flower.
“She loves me…” He pulled another petal off, letting it spiral to the ground. “She loves me not.”
“Maz,” I said, hoping he’d heed the warning in my voice. He didn’t of course.
“She loves me. She loves me not.”
“Stop. Now.” I set my pencil aside.
“She loves me…”
I picked up a wrapped package of kneaded rubber erasers and threw it at him. It bounced off his chest with a wet-sounding smack and startled him enough to make him drop the mutilated daisy. I half-expected that assault to warrant another glare from him, but strangely enough, he just looked sad. For a moment, his eyes stayed fixed on mine, but then he lowered them.
“She loves me not.” He exhaled a heavy sigh and resumed his pose against the gate. “Mya…why won’t you let me tell you I love you anymore? You know I mean it when I do.”
I became aware of the way my heart was banging uncomfortably in my chest and how tight my throat suddenly felt. I didn’t like it when he talked about loving me. Even his referring to it was enough to make me feel unnerved and overwhelmed with emotions I didn’t want to have.
Trying to be nonchalant, I resumed drawing, tracing out moonlight and the night’s shadows playing on his skin.
“You may think you mean it, but you’re still learning what love is and right now, you only say it to mean what you believe it is, not what it really is. You’ve got a long way to go before you reach that point. Real love wouldn’t let you do to me the things you do.”
I bit my lip and sighed again. I regretted telling him that. I knew it would only lead into more talk about love.
As it was, my explanation didn’t seem to fly with him. When I looked up at him again, he appeared more dejected than ever. His eyes fixed on mine.
“I know what love is.”
I shrugged, determined to move on. “Sure.” I returned my attention to my drawing, finishing up the basic outlines I needed. Now I was ready to work on his facial features and glanced up at him only to find he still had that hound dog expression going on. At least he’d stopped talking. I gestured at him.
“What is that?”
“What is what?”
“That! That face! It sure as hell isn’t seductive. I need you seductive right now and I know you can be on cue, so chop, chop! Let’s see it.”
The angel just looked at me.
Squeezing my eyes shut to ward off the tension headache breaking down concrete blocks with a jackhammer behind my eyes, I tossed my pencil aside, and moaned with frustration.
It wasn’t that his current expression was unusable, but ‘tragedy’ wasn’t exactly what I had wanted to depict in this painting.
I went to erase what I had previously drawn, but then realized I had used my package of erasers as a projectile weapon. I thought about asking Mazriel to toss them back to me, but knew it would be a hundred times easier for me to simply fetch them. Then I got an idea. I knew a way to get his mind off of love and back onto sex.
I stepped out from behind the easel and stalked up to him. His eyes locked onto mine. His expression was wary, but the closer I got to him, the more intrigued he became.
“I need my erasers,” I said in a quiet, but frank tone, edging close enough to him to have to lean my head back in order to keep my eyes on his.
Our bodies were almost to the point of touching and I could even feel the heat radiating off his bare skin. I licked my lips nice and slow, and watched as he opened his mouth as if anticipating a kiss.
Just as he turned his head, I sank to my knees in front of him, all the while keeping my eyes fixed on his. His mouth opened a little wider as if he had emitted an inaudible gasp for air and his lovely golden eyes veritably glistened with lust now.
After all, there I was, right in front of him, on my knees, my lips mere inches from his sex, and I sure didn’t have to read his mind to know what he was thinking of at the moment.
I exhaled, using enough force to let him feel my breath on him and went about my business of searching the ground for that little package of erasers.
“They’ve got to be here somewhere,” I muttered. My hand brushed across the cellophane wrapping and I closed my fingers around them. “Here they are!”
At that moment, I felt Mazriel’s hand caress the top of my head. His fingers delved into my hair as his palm smoothed over my scalp. I looked up at his face and slowly rose to my feet, realizing I had been rather recklessly playing with fire.
His hand slipped around the back of my head and I felt the pressure of his palm urging me closer.
I pulled away from him. “Hey. None of that. Remember?”
He was taking long, shallow breaths like he needed to tell himself to inhale, exhale.
“Kiss me,” he whispered. “Touch me.”
His expression was all about seduction now. I shook my head, hoping with all my heart he didn’t know just how tempted to kiss him I was in that instant. I wanted to make him feel better. I wanted to show him I did care, but I knew giving into him would only make things worse for both of us.
“No. I can’t.”
I thought about it. “It was your rule, Maz.”
A flicker of objection crossed his face. “It was a stupid rule.”
I smiled and lowered my voice. “Well…I won’t mind if you want to touch yourself.”
At that, his eyes widened. “Are you serious? You want me to…masturbate in front of you?”
I had to turn my face away. I knew I was blushing now. I was sure he had no qualms about doing it if I truly wanted him to. “Well, no, not that exactly. Just enough make yourself feel good and keep yourself interested. Feel sexy.”
I hurried back to my easel, only turning to face him again once I was safely tucked behind it.
As expected, his eyes were all but piercing through me. He had resumed the pose I had originally put him in, but now his thigh closest to me was raised a little higher, his foot braced against the gate as if concealing what his hand was doing between his legs.
It was all too perfect: his pose, his expression, the way the silver light from the moon was illuminating his skin and wings, the way his hair danced about his shoulders in the breeze. Seeing it all come together like that thrilled me and gave me a kind of artistic orgasm.
Needless to say, I doubled my efforts to capture it all on my canvas, mixing colors at a frenetic pace, using different brushes instead of cleaning them, emptying whole tubes of paint instead of wasting time with dabs.
When the moon’s light started to fade with the appearance of dawn, I decided to wrap this particular sitting up even though I was loathed to stop. I wasn’t close to finishing, but I had accomplished more than I thought I would tonight. Of course, it helped having my model’s complete cooperation throughout.
I blinked up at Mazriel and smiled, setting my brush down for the last time. He smiled back at me as if knowing he’d done well and that I was pleased.
I stepped towards him and his expression softened as I did. He almost looked like he was in the throng of an afterglow, but I knew he always tended to look like that when he was tired. It was just another feature of his that made him so damned sexy. I knew I couldn’t have used anyone else to model for this painting.
“You can move,” I told him. “You can get dressed even. I’ve done all I can for now.” I retrieved the green plaid robe and handed it to him. “I’ll be inside. I’m going to brew us a fresh pot of coffee and get some breakfast started.” I reached up and placed my hand on the side of his face. “Thank you. I mean it.”
He tied the robe around his waist and then reached up to cover my hand with his.
“I’m not hungry, my lovely,” he said in a quiet voice. His hand smoothed up my arm to my shoulder. “All I want to do right now is curl my body around yours and sleep for the next twelve hours.” He leaned towards me and turned his head. I felt his hand slide up my neck, tilting my face up to meet his. “I’m sure you know I’m not the kind of person who bothers with resisting temptation, but I promise to be good. Nothing will happen.”
Startled, I twisted away from him. “You’re right nothing’s gonna happen because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you sleep with me even if you literally do want to sleep with me.” Too late, I realized with my outrage, I’d just made a monumental confession to him.
To my surprise, Mazriel simply eased farther away from me. He sighed heavily, letting his hand fall to his side. His expression was both sad and amused.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” he said in a quiet, breathy voice. There was no trace of his usual seduction however. “I’m not going to let anything happen.”
My heart sunk. I knew he knew it wasn’t him I didn’t trust. “Look, you’re welcome to crash here for awhile. It’s the least I can do. I know you must be tired and sore. You can take a hot shower and then take your pick of the guest bedrooms.”
“Mya,” the angel said, “it’s all right.”
Frowning, I blinked up at him, forcing myself to look him in the eye. Through our bond, I could tell he actually felt sorry for me and wished there was some way he could ease my inner turmoil.
“Don’t worry,” he continued in a gentle tone. “I understand. What I don’t understand is why you even feel like you need to divvy out a small piece of your heart to me. And while knowing what I do to you thrills me to some degree, it pains me as well. There was a time when I would have taken advantage of you and your compassion for me and your amazing ability to feel love…and even your secret desires. I know I could simply look at you, caress your skin, kiss your lips, and hold you tight, and you would succumb to your feelings for me. But I also know what that would do to you inside here.” He paused and tapped the center of my chest with his fingertips. “I know you would subsequently hate me for it and hate yourself too. Ironically, I love you too much now. You told me that I didn’t know what love was, but I do know love doesn’t really work on its own. It needs to be nurtured, it needs to be reciprocated and expressed, fed like a living thing, or it eventually dies.” He raised his hand and ran his fingers through my hair. He smiled warmly. “Give me time. I’ll get over it and you’ll be free of these conflicts to wholly love the one far more worthy of your heart than the likes of me. And I won’t mind. You’re really not my type.” He leaned forward again and touched his lips to mine.
I didn’t resist, or pull away from him this time. I knew he was more or less saying good-bye.
“Come inside,” I begged, my throat feeling tight. I wished I hadn’t made such a big deal about him sleeping with me. “Please?”
He nodded. “I will. You go on. I’ll get dressed and be in shortly.”
Turning away from him, I started back to the house, knowing he had no intention of coming in now. I wanted to say something to change his mind, but I knew there wasn’t anything I could say or do to make things right between us.
And by the time I reached the back door, I could hear temptation’s wings carrying him away.