Lilith often found herself drawn to gardens. No need for perfume amidst fragrant bark and flowers; no need for sheets against the soft earth. The dappled shade of a leafy canopy. Wind against bare skin.
She seduced the gardener and then sent him away a broken man, forever looking over his shoulder in the distant hope that she might be looking back at him. In peace she explored the rest of the grounds: its maze of paths, the dreamward arch of trees overhead. Under the roots of a silver birch she buried the man's soul, a gold coin etched with his visage and his name. She didn't bother remembering either.
Neither men nor demonkind pleased her these days. Restless, she'd left Hellsgate, the city of demons, and ventured farther into the mortal plane in hopes of finding someone to amuse her. It had been a fruitless quest thus far. She had been the first demon to ever tempt a mortal, and perhaps she was jaded to the game now.
She heard a footfall and an extraordinarily handsome man stepped into view, lean and tawny-haired. From his garb and aristocratic cheekbones she knew him to be noble, perhaps the man who owned this estate. He looked startled to see her — as well he should, confronted by a demon in his garden. "Who are you?" he asked.
She smiled at him, senses prickling. He would do very well. She didn't bother hiding her wings or her claw-like nails; there was no use pretending to be an ordinary woman, and her appearance was such that she had never failed to lure a man despite them. There were legends of her beauty. "I am—"
There was a soft rush of air behind her. "Lilith," someone whispered into her ear, and she whirled to face the angel who had just landed.
Not a mere angel. An archangel, from the span of his wings and the deep echo of power she felt from him. Her smile faded. Angels were meddlesome, high-handed creatures, and she imagined that an archangel would only be worse.
He made an urgent gesture for her to accompany him, and launched himself back into the air with a powerful beat of his wings.
Lilith's curiosity won over her irritation, and she followed him upward. She knew the movements that would take place between her and the mortal: of tongue, of hands, of deepest flesh. In the end, the offering of his soul. The angel, on the other hand, offered a mystery. That was far more compelling.
He led her to an grove some distance away. She looked about as she landed, but saw nothing of interest that would have prompted an angel to bring a demon here.
"Thank you for coming away from there with me," he said, a bit stiffly. Courtesies to a demon must not come naturally to him. "We don't like letting mortals realize we're present, and if you and I had spoken there, he would have guessed."
Humans had trouble seeing angels, but Lilith supposed that witnessing a demon speaking with one would be revealing. "So why did you take me away from my prey?" She let her voice turn hard. She was not lightly interrupted.
"To keep you from seducing that man," he said.
Her annoyance sharpened. How like an angel to interfere so arrogantly. "And how did you know me or what I intended?"
"Is there any being in Heaven or Hell who doesn't know you or your nature?" he asked in exasperation.
She was used to flattery, but this angel didn't sound as though he was complimenting her. "And which one are you?"
"Baraqiel," he said.
"An archangel guarding a mere man?" she said scornfully. It was a task usually given to lesser angels.
His wings flared, but he contained his temper. "He is a prince marked by destiny," he said. "He can't fall under your thrall. There is a woman he has yet to meet."
"I was only looking for an hour or two of pleasure," she said. "Not to steal his vaunted destiny."
"Lilith," he said, "what man could spend time with you and then not yearn for you after? How could he become intrigued with another woman if he'll be thinking of you?"
His gaze upon her was fierce but not, she realized, out of anger. He wanted her.
She smiled, her irritation suddenly gone. "You speak like one who knows." She began to walk in a circle around him.
He turned to keep her in view. "I have never lain with a demon."
"But would you?" She noted the breadth of his shoulders and his large, strong hands with approval.
His eyes narrowed. "What?"
"You ask that I not pursue that mortal," she said, her voice all silk. "What do you offer in return?"
"You will never take my soul," he said flatly.
"You would have to tell me your true name and offer your soul to me before I could take it. You know that."
"And you do not ask for these things?" He watched her warily.
"Perhaps I'll coax it out of you," she said. "But even if not, the bed-sport would prove entertaining, I think." Her circle tightened into a spiral and she stopped in front of him, close enough to lay a hand on his chest. He was all taut muscle. She could feel the heat radiating from him, not so unlike mortal flesh.
"So you will leave him be if I give you the chance to tempt me," he said. His voice was rough.
She came up onto her toes and brought her mouth close to his ear. "And how I shall tempt you," she breathed, and nibbled.
His hands came up and tore her dress in two. She laughed as he crushed her to him, his hands roving along the length of her bare back. She knew what game he played. He thought that if he dominated this encounter, he would stay in control of himself.
So she let him twist her hair around his hand and pull her head back to bite at her throat, and she raked her sharp nails down his arms so that he felt he had to trap her wrists. Her entire body was a weapon, though; she rubbed herself against the steel of his erection and felt herself tighten in response.
His own reaction was even more pronounced. He pulled her away from him and pinned her to the ground face-down, yanking her hips up so that she was on her knees. Then his finger was between her legs, hot and probing. She gasped and writhed. She left his entire hand slick.
He knelt behind her and buried his cock inside her with one stroke. She moaned at the way he filled her, his hard body pressing against her buttocks and his breath on her nape. His hands came up from underneath her to cup her breasts. Wherever he touched her, her skin was wild fever. Whenever he pulled away from her, her mind went incandescent with need. She kept trying to rock back onto him but his hands held her still as he thrust into her with a punishingly deliberate rhythm.
When she felt the tension in him kick up, she remembered herself.
"Give me your name," she said huskily.
"No," he growled. His fingers curled hard over her hips.
"Give me your soul," she said, losing the thread of her words as he started to pound into her with even greater force. Her body, too, began unraveling.
His voice was hoarse. "No." His movements grew jerky, finesse abandoned for mindless urgency.
"Then give me your seed," she cried, and he slammed into her and roared out his climax while she clenched around him again and again, lost to the pleasure that wracked her body.
He stayed draped over her after they collapsed, a little askew so that if she turned her head she could look at him while she caught her breath. His eyes were closed, and his face free of many of the stern lines that had been there before. The curve of his lips was relaxed, sensual. She traced them, and he caught her hand to kiss it.
"I see how easily succubi lead men to fall," he said with feeling.
"But not archangels." She could still feel him hard inside her. "I may have to try again. For pride's sake, of course."
"Naturally," he said dryly, but he didn't seem displeased by the notion. He pressed into her almost experimentally, and she dug her nails into the earth as her nerves reignited. "And while I keep you occupied, I presume my ward remains safe?"
She had no interest in the princeling any more. "I won't touch him," she promised. "But you'll have to keep me busy for a long while."
"I do need to keep guard over him." He sounded regretful.
"Good. I'll need sleep occasionally," she said, and he chuckled. He shifted them onto their sides so that his hand could roam over her more freely.
His fingers dipped into her cleft and stroked. Deftly, he brought her to another peak before possessing her as completely and relentlessly as before, while she fought to bring him to the same pitch of passion he incited in her. Sex with Baraqiel felt like battle, furious and exultant and somehow victorious for both sides in the end. Her blood hadn't sung like this for ages.
He finally left her limp and satisfied before he left to tend to his princeling. The heat in his gaze, sated though he had to be, told her that he would return.
She knew it was madness, a demon and an angel, and yet she kept meeting with him. They always exchanged harsh words, always coupled fiercely, always lay beside each other afterward in truce. He liked to touch her hair, twining it around his fingers and marveling at its sable length. She took to using his stomach as a pillow.
They never spoke of next time, but there always was one. He would come to the grove to find her, and she would be there to be found. Then he would return to his prince.
On the day a storm swept in, she thought of mating with Baraqiel amidst all that elemental force and wished that he were with her. Perhaps he wouldn't venture out into the rain, but there was no reason why she couldn't seek him out.
He was likely in the castle by the garden. She had slipped into better guarded places. But she had not reckoned on the prince emerging just as she entered the courtyard.
He strode toward her eagerly. "You!"
Lilith backed away. She had promised Baraqiel to stay away from this man, but she lingered a moment longer, hoping to see the archangel. It gave the prince the time to reach out and snag her wrist.
"I've seen you before," he said. "I just want to know who you are. You're so beautiful."
She tried to pull away, but he was insistent. She could see in the way he looked at her that he was already enraptured by her succubus's allure. Worse, she reflexively responded to his desire. It was so easy to let him draw her toward him, to mold her body against his... He offered warmth against the cold rain, his kisses hot and his hands knowing on her body. This was what she had sought from Baraqiel.
The imperative rose cold and clear within her: she had to get away. "Let me go," she said, but the prince's caresses only grew more demanding.
How dared he disregard her? She lashed out at him with her nails and felt them tear flesh.
The prince cried out and fell to his knees, covering his face with his hands. Blood began to well between his fingers.
She turned and fled on wing, cursing herself for her thoughtless panic. She had never allowed a mortal to unbalance her so.
No, it hadn't been the man. It had been the thought of Baraqiel and his disapproval.
She waited for him at the grove, knowing he would come. When he arrived, it was with all the thunder and fury of an angel of vengeance. The wind from his landing whipped at the trees, and the blaze of his eyes was worthy of hellfire.
"You harmed a man under my protection," he said grimly.
She would not let an angel rattle her. "I harmed his face, but you still succeeded in protecting his virtue, which you seemed to consider more important."
"So instead of seducing him, you disfigured him so badly he's withdrawn into his castle and refuses to see anyone, raging like a beast."
"Do you want me to lure him out?" she asked in exasperation. How much could a mortal matter?
He spread his wings as though to block her way. "No!" He took a moment to calm himself, then went on, "He'll recover eventually, and some woman will one day be able to see past his hideousness. Not that you care, demon." He watched her with a new wariness.
Then she realized this was how he had looked at her originally. Over their time together his regard had changed to something warmer. But she'd lost that now, even though all along he'd known her for what she was. She couldn't pretend remorse for what she had done, and so said nothing.
"You're skilled, succubus," he said. "You've rendered me senseless. But I will never give you my true name or my soul. Only my heart. Is that enough for you to leave us be?"
She shivered. His words weren't so unlike the many declarations of love she had gathered over the centuries, but they were utterly, starkly different. They had meaning to her.
"Do you truly want me to leave?" she asked.
"Stop taunting me," he said wearily.
"I'm not taunting." She reached for his hand and pressed her lips to the back of it. She had never begged in her life. "If you send me away, I will go. But I will twist your dreams with such torment that waking without me will be Hell."
He took in the tenderness of her gesture and the threat of her words. "Lilith..."
She refused to listen to a man reject her for the first time. She flung herself into the air, seeking as much distance as possible. It was hard to see in the rain, but it didn't matter, for she had no destination except away.
Baraqiel caught her before she went too far, catching her ankle and yanking her down so that the rhythm of her wingbeats faltered. He took advantage of her brief plummet to twist her around toward him and pull her into his arms.
She struggled, but he held her with unyielding resolve and somehow kept them airborne. He kept kissing her, kept saying her name, kept telling her he hadn't realized how she felt, and when she kicked out her legs he wrapped them around him, and the hardness of his cock right against her center made her suddenly dizzy with want. She abandoned her attempts to claw at him, clinging to his neck instead.
He claimed her there in the storm-drenched sky, their mouths and bodies desperately fused while lightning cracked the air around them.
Afterward, he took her back to the grove. Her legs were unsteady. It was a good reason to hold onto him.
"I can't let you go," he said finally. "But I don't know how this can work. We'll have to steal time together."
"Yes. And no one must know." She knew that those of both Heaven and Hell would never let them be together.
"But you really must stay away from my ward," he said, his embrace tightening possessively.
"I don't care about him," she said. "I went to the castle to look for you. Where were you?"
"I was in the garden, trying to save a flower from the storm." He let go of her and bent down to pick up something he must have brought earlier then dropped. "I found this and thought of you," Baraqiel said, handing her a black rose.
Even wet, its petals were softly furred and exquisitely gentle against her skin as she breathed in its scent. That he gave it to her, she knew, meant that he forgave her. "Do you know why I like gardens?" she asked him when she raised her head.
He sighed. "Because that's where you first tempted a man."
"The man was one of many," she said. "But I will never again be in a place as beautiful as Eden." She remembered the verdant richness, the sweetness of the very air. There was an old ache within her.
His expression softened. "The way is guarded," he said, by which she knew he meant he would have taken her there otherwise.
She kissed him. "When I'm with you, it reminds me of how I felt when I was there."
"Close to Heaven?" he asked, puzzled.
"Happy," she said simply.
He held her face in his hands and pressed his lips to her forehead. That was his blessing, which no demon had ever received before, she knew. Then he kissed her mouth. That was his love, and even rarer.
She was a demon — she could never reach Heaven. But in her moments with him, she could reach Paradise.