Sure, Galen and the Lords had since made up. But she knew he wouldn’t hesitate to take one out if it meant saving his own life. No one self-preserved like Galen. Would he willingly take out Legion to serve his cause? Whatever his cause happened to be.

Ugh. Had False Hope attacked her thoughts again?

Galen reached over to ghost his knuckles along her jaw, cajoling her from her thoughts. “Tell me what troubles you. Let me help ease you.”

“I’m wondering if I can ever trust you,” she admitted softly. She’d demanded the truth from him, so she would offer the same in return.

His lips pressed into a thin line. “I’ve changed. I’ve learned the value of genuine friendship, and I will die to protect the people I consider mine.”

What do you consider me? No, no. She wouldn’t ask.

Picking up the conversation where they’d left off, he said, “We are in a relationship—your words, not mine, no take-backs—and we do have things in common. We both have a dark, seedy past. We have dreams for a better future. And let’s not forget our sexual desires. We both enjoy climaxing.”

Maybe he was right. Maybe he’d changed. Maybe they had things in common, and they could make something work. But sexual desire…

The blood rushed out of her head, her ears ringing. Knowing she deserved pleasure and actually remaining calm while experiencing it proved to be two different animals.

He reached for her once again, and this time she flinched. She’d started something, and now she wasn’t sure she could ever finish.

He stilled, then dropped his hand to his side. The fascination she’d loved seeing in his eyes morphed into disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean—”

“No, you did nothing wrong,” he interjected. “I want you. I want you badly. And I think you want me, too. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. But you never have to worry that I’ll push you for sex. Your pleasure matters to me, and if you aren’t ready, you won’t experience pleasure. Besides, I can’t bed you until I’m certain you’re not going to try to kill me.”

Ouch. Another flinch.

He added, “Too soon to joke about?”

“Forever might be too soon.” She heaved a sigh. “Galen, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give myself…to do…”

“Do you remember our first time?” he asked.

As if she could ever forget. She had stomped right up to him and said, “I don’t want to wed you, and I don’t want to have your babies. We’re gonna have sex, and you’re gonna like it.”

He’d replied, “Let me get this straight. We’re going to the bathroom, and I’m going to fuck you, and you don’t even care to know my name?”

“I’d actually prefer it if you’d keep your stupid mouth closed,” she’d told him.

“Well, well. You might just be my soulmate,” he’d replied.

“Yes,” she said now. “I do.”

“Good. Just making sure. As for our different palates—” He held up a French fry. “—food is of little consequence. The company you keep matters more.”

He wasn’t wrong. She liked what she liked, and he liked what he liked. As long as they had fun together, the cuisine wasn’t important.

Legion ate with gusto, and oh, the flavors exploded on her tongue. Galen watched her, seemingly fascinated again, maybe even mesmerized…and ravenous. When she licked cotton candy from her lips, his pupils spilled over his irises, like ink spreading over the surface of an ocean.

He might not like the food, but he definitely enjoyed the sight of her eating it.

New shivers danced over her spine, surprising her. Tingles in her breasts followed. Between her legs, she ached.

Well. No wonder he’d reminded her of their first time. The memory had sensitized certain parts of her body.

He cleared his throat and muttered, “I have a present for you.”

“A present? For me?” She bounced in her seat. “Gimme!”

He reached into his pocket and withdrew a cell phone. “This is fully loaded with fashion apps, and has my number programmed into the contact list. It will work anywhere, any time.”

Hugging the phone to her chest, she said, “Thank you, Galen. I love it.”

Expression dazed, he offered a nod of acceptance. “Time for a distraction. I mean, a conversation starter.” One of his big, beautiful hands reached out and lifted a card from the stack next to the lamp. Reading aloud, he said, “If you were a shape, which one would you be?” He narrowed his eyes and scowled. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Probably a square?” she began.

Motions jerky, he lifted another card. “Which celebrity name is on your hall pass?” Deeper scowl. Another card. “If you were an X-rated Hallmark-type movie, what would you be titled?”

“Give me a chance to answer,” she said, exasperated. “Hmm. Let’s see. My title would be…”

“You don’t have to respond,” he grumbled.

“Oh! I know! My title would be I’ll Be Evil For Christmas. What about you?”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “A Royal Christmas Fuck Up.” With a sigh, he dropped the cards. “Forget the distraction—I mean the conversation starters.”

He’d been so nervous about dating her, he’d needed help with things to talk about? More than adorable—heartwarming. She smiled. A full-blown one. Then she laughed again, her entire body shaking. Then he was laughing, and it was such a perfect moment of merriment and communion. A moment she’d never thought to experience with anyone ever again. Just like desire.

You can have a future with this man…

Such a beautiful thought. So hopeful. But the food she’d eaten turned to lead inside her stomach, her amusement dying fast. Was the thought too hopeful, mayhap? Like False Hope hopeful, setting her up for a terrible fall?

Humans had always likened “love” to falling. I’m falling in love with you. Blah, blah, blah. But falling wasn’t fun, or welcome. When you hit, you hit hard. Sometimes different parts of you shattered. Like the ability to trust, or the wherewithal to fight for happiness.

Legion wasn’t sure she could crawl away from another fall, much less survive it.

“So,” she croaked, pulling at the collar of her dress. “You said we would start our new relationship with a dinner date.”

He blinked, as if curious where she was headed. “I did.”

“What’s next, then?”

His gaze held hers and heated another thousand degrees. Only when she squirmed in her seat did he say, “For one month, we’re going to hardcore court each other. We will write love notes—and actually deliver them. We’ll have dinner together every night, smile and flirt. We will give each other more gifts.”

Courted. Her. As if she was someone special. The thought made her a little giddy. “But couples have sex. I wasn’t exaggerating before. I don’t know if I can.”

“You misunderstand. We’re only pretending to be a couple, so we can take our relationship for a test drive. After we’ve gotten a taste of commitment, we’ll decide if we want to try for real.”

That wasn’t a terrible idea. Excitement actually bubbled up. “Quick question. Since I don’t have any money, and I don’t want to leave the house to go shopping, are you good with homemade gifts? Like, I could paint a breathtaking mural on one of your walls or something.”

“I enjoy murals with naked females lounging inside massive seashells. Give the robo-birds a list of all the paints and supplies you’ll need, and they’ll fetch everything.”

“Oh, that’ll be easy. I’ll need one rolling brush and a can of pink paint.”

His dark brows knit together. “Your mural will consist of a single color?”

“I’ll call it…cloudless pink sky,” she said, waving her hand for extra flair.

Eyes twinkling, he said, “How about I paint you a mural? When I lived in the heavens, I painted as a hobby. I’m quite good. I’ll create a massacre of our enemies on one side

of the wall, and a celebration ball on the other side. We’ll call one Leila’s Darkness and the other Leila’s Light.”

Our enemies, he’d said, not just hers. As if they were already a couple. A team. “I want both murals more than anything else in the world. Give them to me!” Uh-oh. Her demon side was showing.

“The murals will be my first gift to you, then.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’ll also bring Aeron here for a reunion.”

She shook her head. “I’m not ready to see Aeron.”

“Why?”

“I just…part of me resents him, I guess.”

He leaped to his feet, all menace and aggression. “This part of you resents him for choosing Olivia? Does that part of you want to be with him?”

“No, not at all,” she replied, wondering why she wasn’t afraid. “I had what humans call dog love.”

Some of his tension faded. “You mean puppy love?” He returned to the pillow.


Tags: Gena Showalter Lords of the Underworld Fantasy
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