“Of course not. I like you just as you are.” He would take her however he could get her. But the woman she was now? The one who melted when he touched her? He liked her best of all. “I hope you’ll grow to like you as much as I do.”

“Wait. Why wouldn’t you change me back into someone fierce and fearless?”

“Don’t get me wrong. I liked that girl, too, and admire her sass. And I think she still exists inside you.” Every so often, he caught a glimpse of her fire. “But she desired Aeron, which is a total deal breaker for me. The woman in my arms is smarter. Obvi. She chose to be with me. And she’s stronger than you think. She fought to survive a bleak situation. Twice! But the icing on top? She knows my past, yet she still looks at me as if I hung the moon.” He got high on that look.

She met his gaze, and he sucked in a breath. There it was. The look of adoration. An-n-nd yes. Instant high.

Hard as a rock, he cupped her nape and urged her closer for a soft, lingering kiss full of languid heat and wanton desire. When he considered sliding into her a second time, a realization dawned, and he cursed. “I didn’t wear a condom.”

Her eyes widened, and she sat up, crossing her legs, her breasts bobbing. “So I could end up pregnant. A mother… I’ve never considered having a child. Have you? Wait. You have Gwen.” Brow furrowing, she said, “Why do you have a scrapbook about her life, but ignore her in reality?”

A clench in his chest. “Her life is easier without me in it. If I sought a relationship with her, I would only drive a wedge between her and Sabin.”

“I think she’s capable of managing a relationship with both of you, the same way I’m going to manage a relationship with both you and Aeron. So how about you give her a choice in the matter?”

Jealousy frothed, ready to pounce. Leila and Aeron? I’ll die first!

Galen ignored the demon, and the fury. He scrubbed a hand down his face. “Once upon a time, I worked with Rhea, Cronus’s wife. She knew about Gwen before I did and though we were allies, she sought the girl’s destruction. How much worse would my enemies attack if they knew I loved her?”

“Gwen can take care of herself. Plus, she has the Lords.” Leila drummed her nails against her knee. “Did Rhea help you create the Hunters?”

Hunters—an army of humans who had believed Galen was an angel. At his orders, the men and women had fought to eradicate immortals and their “evil” from the world. All the while, he’d laughed that they’d had no idea they worshipped the evilest immortal. “She was imprisoned in Tartarus for centuries, but yes. Until her escape, she used mortal advocates.”

The things they’d done together…

Ignore the guilt. Guilt would only weigh him down.

Leila traced a fingertip over the sheet. Hoping to appear nonchalant? “Would you be upset if I was pregnant?”

“I…wouldn’t,” he said. Shocker! But he’d spoken the truth. A chance to be a father, and part of a legit family…to have an eternal tie to the woman he loved…the idea appealed to him greatly. “Until we’ve gotten things straightened out with Aeron and the others—and Cronus, and Lucifer—we should be more careful.”

Disappointment sparked in her eyes, but she nodded. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I mean, we haven’t even talked about whether or not our relationship is exclusive.”

“We just discussed having a baby. We’re exclusive. However, since Aeron came up, you should know that he and I have some unfinished business.”

“About me?”

He gave a clipped nod. “We’re in the middle of a multifaceted argument.”

When he offered no more, she sighed and prompted, “About?”

Why not admit the truth and gauge her reaction? “I want to be with you, and he wants to gut me. I want to keep you always, and he wants to separate us. I want to continue breathing, and he wants me to stop.”

Her shoulders rolled in, the reaction he’d expected but had hoped he wouldn’t receive. “Promise me you’ll talk with him, like a gentleman, and not hurt him.”

Once again, fear rose up. Here it was, proof that he would lose Leila if he couldn’t make things work with Aeron.

Looked like he would be letting go of past grievances and focusing on the future, after all. Otherwise known as handing the Lord his balls, with a thank you, sir, may I give you another? “I will promise, if you promise not to be alone with him. And I reserve the right to protect myself from a deathblow.”

She stiffened, grating, “You don’t trust me not to cheat with a married man?”

“I don’t trust Jealousy. The demon will fray my control.”

“Sounds like an excuse.” She hmphed, but also petted his butterfly tattoo, as if to soothe him before Jealousy struck. “But I agree to your terms. So. Go on. Practice your gentlemanly speech. Pretend I’m Aeron.”

“All right, I will. While most humans like to picture their audience naked to keep from getting nervous, I’d rather pluck out my eyes than imagine this particular audience unclothed. So, we’ll switch things up. You can picture me naked.”

She chuckled as he untangled his body from hers. Then he stood at the side of the bed, giving her full frontal access to his rising erection. Feminine approval colored her cheeks, and she fanned her face.

Sign me up for more of this.

“Well, hellllll-o, handsome,” she said, and wiggled her brows. “But, uh, how am I supposed to use my imagination when you are actually naked?”

He stroked his length up and down. “Oops. My bad. Should I put something on?”

“Don’t you dare! Now let’s hear that speech, so I can have my wicked way with you.”

Want that. Want her. He cleared his throat with exaggerated force. “Aeron,” he said in the kindest voice he could manage. “I’m here today to humbly request you back the fuck off. The end.”

Leila covered her mouth in a failed attempt to mask her smile.

He arched a brow. “What do you think? I know, I know. The middle is too long and needs tweaking. And I wasn’t sure about my use of humbly. Or request.”

Pouting, she said, “You didn’t list any of the reasons you’re attracted to me. Or how perfect I am. Or how you revere every inch of me.”

He gave his length another stroke. “How about I give you every inch of me?”

Temptation made flesh, she leaned back, reclining on the pillows. “Yes. Remind me how perfectly we fit.”

Awareness charged the air. Smile slow and languid, he placed his hands and knees on the mattress, one after the other, and crawled up her lush little body, thrilling when goose bumps spread over her inner thighs.

“Would you like an oral presentation first, or hands-on instruction? Never mind.” He licked the heart of her need, earning a raspy moan. “I mentioned I like to multitask, right?”

* * * *

Though resplendent with sexual satisfaction, Legion was a bundle of nerves. She toyed with her diamond choker, but the jewelry failed to comfort her. It was then that she realized she hadn’t wanted jewelry when Cronus had taken her; she’d wanted Galen.

He and Fox stood sentry in front of a large window, watching as she paced from one side of the entertainment room to the other. A massive plasma screen occupied an entire wall. A leather couch scattered with beaded pillows and forgotten popcorn kernels formed a half moon around the coffee table, a million game controllers scattered there. A trash bin overflowed with empty beer cans and broken bottles of wine.

On the walls were different paintings of the Lords, each one more hilarious than the last. Clearly they’d tried to outdo each other with the ridiculousness of their outfits and poses. A thousand magnets covered the mini-fridge door, everything from Care Bears to an ad for erectile dysfunction. At the small, round kitchenette, a blowup doll sat in one of the chairs.

Home sweet home. How she’d missed these people and their warped senses of humor.

The door flew open, startling her. Aeron stalked inside, his eyes narrowed. His hands were fist

ed, but he wasn’t carrying a weapon, so Legion considered it a win.

Aeron was a stunningly beautiful man. Not Galen beautiful, but then, no one was Galen beautiful. Even better, the tattooed warrior had a heart of gold underneath that bad boy exterior.

“Aeron.” Heart galloping, she raced over and threw herself into his waiting arms.

He swung her around, then set her on her feet and pushed her behind him. Confused, she peeked around him…ah. Okay. Galen had crossed the room and now stood a few feet away. His eyes were narrowed now, his hands fisted.

He warned me. She moved between them, her arms outstretched. “I don’t want you guys to fight. Please, don’t fight.” How was she supposed to make the two most important men in her life get along? Especially when her boyfriend carried the essence of jealousy, and his “competition” was her first love, the man she’d given up everything to be with.

Aeron ran his tongue over his teeth. “You like him?”

“Yes.” Very much. But she loved him, too. Not that she was ready to admit her feelings to everyone. First, she had to get her new life in order.

In hell, her abusers had killed her spirit. Now, thanks to Galen, she had been revived.

“Tell me why,” Aeron insisted. “Why him, and no other?”

“Yes, Leila. Tell him why,” Galen prompted, his tone devoid of emotion.

Okay. Let’s do this. “No matter how much Galen despised me for my actions toward him, no matter how furious he’s been with me, he has always desired me. Me, and no other. He’s always excited to see me, even if I only leave a room for five minutes. He thinks I’m perfect just the way I am.”

Galen’s expression began to soften.

“He’s a thief and a liar. A betrayer.” Aeron reached for her, but she sidestepped him, her stomach flip-flopping. “He can’t be trusted. He destroys everything he touches.”

Now Galen laughed. She heard pain, but no hint of amusement, and it ripped her insides to shreds. He’d made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. But so had she. So had Aeron. He’d paid in blood. It was time to forgive.

“You’re right, Aer-bear. I can’t be trusted, and I destroy everything I touch.” Galen’s baby blues slid to Legion. He no longer resembled the fun, sensual warrior who’d rocked her world. Here, now, he was the merciless villain capable of any dark deed. “He’s right. I lied to myself. I won’t let go of the past. I lied to you. I won’t just defend myself from an attack. If he attempts to keep you from me, I will kill him. No one keeps you from me.”

Allowing Jealousy to rule him? She lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. The past few weeks, Galen had been strong for her. Today, she would be strong for him.


Tags: Gena Showalter Lords of the Underworld Fantasy
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