Black Heart Page 39

He stood then, and gave me an assessing look. “You are not eating enough. You look pale. And thin.”

“Really?” I said, shaking my head at him. “We’re reunited after death, and you’re worried about how much I’m eating?”

He gave me a brief smile, his dark eyes dancing. “I’m sure I can think of something else to do, if you only have the time.”

“We have time for that,” I said, reaching for him, but he drew back. I stopped, confused. “What’s the problem?”

“Madeline, I do adore you, but . . . perhaps a bath is in order first?”

I looked down at my clothes, which were covered in dirt and sand and Cimice blood. My boots were coated in some unidentifiable goop. My hair felt greasy, and I probably smelled bad. But . . .

“Okay, you have a point,” I said. “But it’s not exactly tactful to point it out.”

“I would like to make love to my wife when she is not covered in bug organs,” Gabriel said, taking my hand and leading me to the sparkling lake.

“You’re so romantic. How can I resist?” I said.

The lake was so blue and perfect it didn’t seem real. The whole place seemed like a faerie illusion, something out of a dream. I put my sword on the ground and sat to pull off my boots. Even my socks were disgusting.

“The problem is,” I said as I undressed, “that once I’m clean, I’m going to have to put these yucky things back on again.”

Gabriel shook his head. “No, you will not. This place has a way of providing what is needed.”

I paused, still in my bra and underpants. “Why is it so different here, compared to the way it is where Evangeline was? And why are you the only one around?”

He looked thoughtful. “I think it is because we see what we expect to see.”

“So if you think you’re going to sit on white fluffy clouds and all your loved ones are going to be there, that’s what will happen?” I asked.

“I do not have all the answers,” Gabriel said. “I have never seen another soul in all my time spent here.”

“Isn’t that lonely?” I asked.

“Not right now,” he said, and his eyes were full of heat. “Madeline. Take the rest off.”

I felt suddenly shy with him looking at me like that. He was still clothed, and I was just about bare-assed naked with the sun shining down on me. But there was also longing, and need, and so my underthings fell to the ground. I stood before him, and he just looked. Heat spread over me, soft and languid.

“Gabriel,” I said, and it came out breathless.

He reached for me, took my hand, and led me to the lake. The water was warm as it lapped against my bare feet. I stepped in up to my ankles, and turned to him.

“You’re still wearing your clothes,” I said.

“I know,” he said, his hands going to the top button of his shirt. Even here, in the afterlife, he dressed like a young professional in a button-down and slacks. “Let me wash your hair.”

Just like that, there was shampoo and soap and soft towels on the bank of the lake. I waded in deeper, folding my wings against my back, ducking under the water, letting it run over my body. My shyness was diminishing rapidly. I felt so free and easy, naked in the water, with no one near to stumble upon us.

I kicked back to the surface and found Gabriel standing in the water up to his waist.

“Come here,” he said, and there was nothing else I could have done. I was drawn to him, the way I had been from the first moment I saw him.

I walked to him, aware of what was revealed as the water became shallower.

“Turn around,” he said, and I had the satisfaction of hearing the need in his voice.

I turned, conscious of my body and my power over him in a way I had never been before. He trailed one finger down the curve of my spine, stopping just before he went anyplace interesting. I shivered, and he gave a low chuckle.

Then his hands were in my hair, massaging through something that smelled sweet and herbal. He rinsed my hair clean, and then started on the rest of me. He took his time, and also took the time to touch and to kiss when he wanted, turning me in the water, building anticipation until I thought I would explode.

Then he lifted me to him, meteors shooting across the dark expanse of his eyes.

“I love you,” he said, and then he was inside me, taking my breath away.

His magic flowed through me, and mine through him. I could feel Gabriel in my blood and in my bones, in the very beat of my heart. I was a part of him, and he was a part of me, and it would be this way forever.

The tension between us rose, our magic and our bodies winding around each other until they reached a fever pitch, until the stars in his eyes and mine exploded and light poured from inside us.

After there were soft towels on the beach, and a blanket for us to lie upon in the sun. We faced each other on the blanket, lying on our sides, hands intertwined. It felt so good to let the sun dance over my bare skin, to feel happy and content for a change. I never wanted to leave.

Gabriel must have sensed the direction of my thoughts. He leaned toward me, kissed me once again, softly and gently. Then he said, “This cannot last. You cannot stay.”

My afterglow receded like a balloon that had been pierced by a pin. The grief was bubbling up again, the broken parts of my heart tearing anew.

“I know that,” I said.

“But you considered it,” Gabriel said.

I couldn’t lie to him, but I didn’t want to admit it, either. “Don’t you want me to stay with you?”

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