by Cherie Reich
"You deserve more than I can give you." Malach cupped Ina's face in his hands.
"But, I love you. It doesn't matter that I'm Ishtar's priestess, or you're a fallen one." She kissed him.
He didn't resist. His tongue touched her lips, and she parted for him like the love goddess.
"I love you, Ina," he whispered.
"Don't leave me." Ina wrapped her arms and legs around him.
"Shit." A voice cried out.
Malach blinked. He stood in the back corridors of Strong Hall. From the window, he could see the campus courtyard. Classes must have changed. Students, talking on their cell phones or listening to their iPods, scurried between buildings. A wind gust blew leaves across the sidewalk. Rubbing his eyes, he turned toward room 302 and knocked on the doorframe.
"Come in," the voice said.
Malach entered the room. The woman's back was to him, and she stood on a chair while pounding a nail into the wall. He noticed strawberry blond hair tied at the nape of her slender neck and jeans hugging her hips. Open boxes sat upon a couple chairs and in the floor. Books covered one shelf; titles ranged from ancient China to the Roman Empire. A framed diploma from Cambridge lay upon her desk.
When she finished driving the nail, she stepped off the chair. "Hello, can I help you?" Her sweater revealed no cleavage. She had a small freckle-splattered nose, plump pink lips, and flushed cheeks.
Not your typical history professor, he thought. "Hello."
She stared at him. "Yes?"
"I'm Dr. Malach Daimon." He cleared his throat. "It sounded like you needed some help." He motioned to the diploma. "You must be the new ancient history professor. Welcome to MSU." He found her pretty, but when his eyes caught hers, his breath left him like he'd been punched. Her green eyes reminded him of spring grass. He felt stirring below his belt that he hadn't allowed himself to feel for many years. Poor Ina. His gaze hardened, and he looked at the diploma on her desk instead her eyes.
"Thank you for welcoming me, but I don't believe I need any assistance. I'm nearly finished setting up." She grabbed the diploma, but then paused. "Did you say you are Dr. Daimon?"
"Yes, I am. Can I help?"
She held out the frame to him while stepping around the desk. "I'm Dr. Lillian Brenning." She flashed him a smile and offered her hand. "You may call me Lillian."
Malach nodded while shaking her hand. Her fingers felt cold, and he resisted the urge to warm them. Then, he took the diploma. "Allow me." He hung it upon the wall. "Think it's straight?" He tossed a glance behind him.
Lillian reached into the box and lifted a glass container enclosing a dagger. "Sure, looks straight," she said without looking.
Malach's eyes widened when he saw the black-bladed knife with the simple ivory handle. "Where did you find that? It looks old."
"It is." She set it on her desk. "I found it in a bazaar in Turkey. I believe it is several thousand years old, but I haven't had it carbon dated yet."
"You discovered it in Turkey?" He moved toward the desk and the dagger.
"Ina," Malach cried her name. Cradling her lifeless body, he rocked her back and forth. Blood smeared his white robes. "Ina!"
Mikael loomed over them. "Angels do not love mortals, Malach. You know the rules." He tossed the bloody dagger into the sand and turned away.
"Yes, according to rumors, it is called—"
"Melek katili," he answered.
Her eyes widened. "Yes, melek katili—the angel killer." She stepped toward him. "How did you know?"
Malach set Ina down, smoothed her hair, and clutched the handle. He pulled the dagger out of the sand, particles stuck to the drying blood. Lunging forward, he stabbed Mikael in the back. The blade slipped through and pierced the angel's heart.
"I teach comparative religions, so I've heard of the dagger with the heavenly blade." Malach's fingers brushed against the glass. "It's meteorite, very rare." The blade's dark energy pulsed beneath his hand.
"Yes, it is." She tapped her nails over the blade while her gaze captured his.
Her eyes caught him off guard again. A shiver of both pleasure and fear raced up his spine. Swallowing hard, he yanked his hand from the glass when her finger touched his.
"It was nice to meet you, Lillian, but I've got to go. There's work to be done." He glanced over to her and focused upon the knife before leaving her office. The dagger emanated danger. It was time to destroy melek katili.
Thirty minutes before the building closed for the night, Malach waited outside Lillian's office. He absentmindedly traced the 302 room sign while pressing his ear against her door and listened. He discerned no rustling of paper, breathing, or footsteps, so he touched his thumb to the lock. It glowed briefly and clicked; Malach was inside.
His eyes adjusted to the dimness. The boxes were gone. Upon the desk sat the dagger. He popped the top off its enclosing glass. The knife, as if reminding him it knew his secrets, gleamed. He grasped the ivory handle for the first time in over four thousand years.
Mikael fell to his knees. Proving how difficult it was to kill an angel, Mikael's heart pumped around the blade.
His hands slick with blood, Malach stood before him.
Mikael looked up at him. "A curse upon you, Malach."
Someone smacked into Malach with such force, he stumbled sideways. The blade flew in the air and embedded into the desk. His hand caught the bookshelf, and he tugged on it to keep himself from falling. The shelf bent and cracked, and books tumbled onto his head and shoulders.
A leather-bound, 1400-page Thucydides's The Peloponnesian War book written in ancient Greek with English translation saved Malach. The black blade penetrated the cover but stopped before the end. Like most readers trying to get through Thucydides, he thought wryly. He grasped the book as his attacker yanked on the knife handle. Thucydides gave up his prize, and she lunged at him again.
"What are you doing, Lillian?" He used the book as a shield and parried her thrust. "It's me, Malach. We met earlier."
"I know who you are." Her eyes flared with rage and despair. She struck again with melek katili. This time, the dagger sliced the book in two.
Confused, his mind tried to grasp why Dr. Lillian Brenning would be determined to murder him with the angel killer.
She stabbed again, and he shifted sideways. The blade ripped through his shirt.
"Lillian, stop! We can talk this through."
She screamed. Her entire beautiful face distorted in anger. Then, he spotted the fangs.
He understood then she wasn't a mere woman but a vampire, and he no longer had to play fair.
Breathing deeply, he yelled, "Stop." His voice thundered in the small office and cracked the window. Luminescence poured from him and filled the room.
Blinded, she swung the knife wildly.
Grasping her wrist, he struggled with her. They bumped into the desk and another bookshelf. More books fell. They toppled upon the desk. Pressing his weight against her, he banged her wrist against the wood. After a moment, the light vanished, and the dagger clattered to the floor.
"Get off me." She wriggled, but she wasn't strong enough to move him.
He clutched her throat in his right hand and squeezed lightly. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will, if I have to." Her wild eyes were changing to green again, and he felt pity and something more passionate stir within him. It was the closest he had been to a woman in many years. "Why are you trying to kill me?"
"What does it matter?" She squirmed and clawed at his shirt. He felt her breasts underneath his chest. She wasn't wearing a bra.
"Keep still." He grasped her other arm and brought it up until her wrists touched. With one hand, he pinned them together.
Her head jerked forward, and fangs grazed his cheek. He yanked her back down by her hair. "Don't be so difficult." Blood trickle down his face. "Please, Lillian, if that is your name, why are you trying to kill me?" Exhaling deeply, he attempted to regain his patience and control. He didn't want more blood on his hands if he could help it.
"I have no choice." Her features softened. She relaxed against him and chuckled. "If you kill me, I won't be the last one to come for you."
"So, you suppose I should just allow you to end it all?"
"It would be helpful." She shrugged. "As I said, there is no choice."
"There's always free will, Lillian." He knew it too intimately to believe otherwise. "Who hired you?"
The laughter burst from her again, but sadness and despair tinged it. "Who said I was hired?" She looked up at him with those eyes and shifted toward him. Heat stirred between them. Her tongue brushed against his bloody cheek. "I thought angel blood would taste different."
Swallowing hard, he noticed how her breasts molded against his chest. She wore a different shirt than earlier, and if he peered down a certain way, he could see erect nipples pressing against the thin cotton fabric. He grew aroused and shifted just enough so she wouldn't notice, but he still kept a tight hold on her. "I suppose after all these years I'm not much different than humans." His voice was low and husky. He had to get out of here or he would do something he would regret.
"Any mortal woman you love will perish, Malach. Mark my words." Mikael spit blood at his feet and died.
"Tell me, Lillian, why and who?" He hated his begging tone and how much he wanted her. Damn her eyes, her body, her.
Again she ran her tongue along his cheek. "I am owned by Amon. He had me find melek katili. If I kill you, I'll be free."
He released her wrists and touched her soft flesh while a shudder rocked him on the inside. Amon. He should have known. "If Amon has you, you'll never be free, Lillian, even if you serve my head on a silver platter." Focusing on her eyes, he felt his heart soften for the vampire. How could she be so beautiful and yet so dark? "Let me help you." He cupped her cheek. "When are you supposed to meet him with your proof?"
"Tomorrow night." Although she could escape now, she didn't move. "You would help me stop Amon?" She pleaded with him with her eyes.
"Yes." That simple word sealed his fate. Amon was a deadly, dangerous demon, but weren't they all?
Malach and Lillian stood before St. Mark's Cathedral while the last glimmer of sunlight dipped below the horizon. "A church? How cliché! I thought Amon could've done better."
"He likes his irony as much as his wrath." She shuddered, and he placed an arm around her. Twisting a silver ring around her finger, she glanced over to him. "Malach, do you think your plan will work?"
"Stop Amon and both of us keep our heads. Yes, I do." He stroked her cheek. "Amon has hounded me long enough. I've paid for my crimes. It's time to be free—for both of us." He wanted to kiss her, but the curse nagged him to stop. "Can you enter a church?" He moved away from her.
She wagged the ring in front of him. "This ring holds my humanity. As long as I wear it, I'm nearly human and can do things like walk in the sun or in a church." To prove her claim, she opened the heavy mahogany doors and entered.
Patting his left side, he felt the dagger hidden in his leather jacket. If melek katili worked on angels, it would kill a demon. He followed her inside.
Overhead lights illuminated the sanctuary. Candles flickered upon a table, and a scent of sandalwood and sage permeated the air. Malach couldn't remember the last time he had been inside a church.
Amon sat at the pulpit. "You disappoint me, Lillian. I thought you craved freedom."
She froze. "I do want my freedom. Would you have given it to me, if I did kill him?"
"Perhaps. Now, you'll never know for certain." The demon stood and stepped forward. "Malach, it has been a while. How's the love life?"
"Rather deadly, if you must know." He regretted the lost lives of the two other women he had tried to love hundreds of years ago. He walked past Lillian and ignored her attempt to grab his wrist. "Your anger needs to be tamed. I've paid for four thousand years."
"You killed my brother!" Amon's roar extinguished the candles.
"He murdered my wife." The words still exuded anguish and grief after all this time. "I've been cursed since that day. How many more must die before there's peace?"
"As many as it takes." Amon lifted his hand and a golden candelabrum flew into his hand. Flames erupted, and he swung the torch at Malach.
With a wave of his hand, Malach summoned a collection plate and shielded himself from the flames. "I don't want to kill you, too, but I will." A pew caught fire to his left. If they weren't careful, the entire church would burn. "Stop!" His breath smothered the demon's blaze.
"I should've killed you years ago."
"You couldn't without the angel killer." Malach reached into his pocket and withdrew the dagger. Lillian cowered behind a pew.
Rage swept around Amon like a tornado. He leapt in the air and struck Malach in his chest. The two hit the floor; wooden boards split in half when they skidded down the aisle. The dagger scratched Amon before he swatted it out of Malach's hand. His fingers wrapped around the angel's throat and fire swirled around them. "I don't need a mere knife to destroy you."
The dagger landed beside Lillian. Snatching it, she screamed, jumped over the inferno, and plunged the dagger into Amon's shoulder.
The demon released his grasp and twisted to remove the knife, but he wasn't quick enough. Malach had grabbed the weapon and thrust melek katili into Amon's chest.
"No!" Amon shrieked. His body burst into flames and vanished into ash. Melek katili fell to the ground and shattered on impact.
Malach sat up and rubbed his neck; the burns and bruises were already fading. He stared at the ashes. Amon was dead, and he had killed another one. Malach wept.
Lillian knelt beside him and wrapped her arms around his shaking shoulders. "You had no choice."
"There's always a c-choice." He breathed in and wiped the tears from his eyes. "But, there was no good choice in this matter."
She placed light kisses along his forehead and hands. "You saved us both. It counts for something."
He stared into her eyes. He could see springtime and hope in them, and it broke his heart. "I won't doom you. I'm cursed, and you're free." He brushed his thumb against her lips and sighed, knowing he must never kiss them.
"I know the curse. Any mortal woman you love will die." She took his hand and clutched it to her heart. "I'm not mortal."
A slow smile curled his lips. "You're right. You aren't." Yanking her toward him, he kissed her with passion of a man who hadn't allowed himself to love in hundreds of years—or freely love in over four thousand.