I HATE MYSELF FOR LOVING YOU
DEEP IN THE HELL REALM, KUR.
“What do you mean you couldn’t find the Witch?” Ereshkigal screamed at the demon in front of her, a fireball forming in her outstretched hand. “How hard is it to find one human woman? Are you not my best tracker?”
The Demon cowered back from his mistress, bowing so low that his horns scraped the stone floor. “She is cloaked, Your Highness. I cannot see her. I know she is there, but I cannot get close.”
Ereshkigal closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache brewing, and for an immortal Goddess that was saying something. If she didn’t know better, she’d say the incompetence of her minions was doing some permanent damage. How hard was it to find good help these days? Was it too much to ask just to have a Demon with more than two brain cells to rub together? Apparently so.
“You are a Demon, you do not have to play by the rules. If you can’t track her than find me someone that can!” she exploded out of her chair, her robes fluttering in some unseen wind, giving her a dramatic and pissed off air. Which was exactly what she wanted. “I want to know everything about that Witch, everything! Now get the fuck out of my sight before I find myself in need of a new tracker.”
The Demon leapt to his feet, bowing quickly before it raced for the door, vanishing as if Hell Hounds were snapping at his heels. Which could be arranged.
Ereshkigal thumped back down onto her throne, her fingers curling around the skulls that made up the arm rests. Why did things have to be so difficult? It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to do, keeping a Hell realm running wasn’t an easy task, especially when your minions were so useless. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back to rest against the cool marble throne. Why did Zagan think he could do as he pleased? Why did he continue to test her patience every single day? No matter what she did to him, the bastard just wouldn’t submit. He would physically bow when she took measures to force compliance on him, but she never had his loyalty or his mental submission. He was too strong for that, or so he thought. Once again playing the waiting game had yielded results, he’d finally let his guard down enough to fuck up. Always with the witches, it was a curious thing-
“Your Highness…” the tentative voice of her handmaiden jerked her out of her thoughts.
“What?” she growled back, her eyes snapping open to pin the Demoness with a glare that would kill a mortal man.
“Begging your pardon, mistress, but I don’t understand why it is so important to find the Witch. She is just a human, insignificant to one such as yourself. I hate to see you so disturbed by it.”
“It isn’t what she is, its who she is.”
“Forgive me, but I fail to see the difference. His Highness has many bed fellows and no more than a handful have ever bothered you before.”
She was talking to an idiot, if she hadn’t needed the handmaiden she would have fried her on the spot, but it was so hard to get her hair just right without some help, and Janelle was the only one that could manage the task.
“The difference is that Zagan cares about nothing, so when he shows an interest in something, I make it my business to show an interest too. With one such as him you require all the leverage you can get.”
“You suspect she is like the others?”
Ere paused while she thought about it, her mind rolling back over the centuries to pluck out the faces of the few women that Zagan had dared open up to, perhaps even love. Witches, every last one of them. How she hated Witches, they were always causing trouble, thinking they were better than they were, thinking they could summon her Demons for their own person gain. The idiots. They were nothing but a bug to be squashed underfoot.
“I do not know, but I am not willing to take the chance of him having even a scrap of happiness without my say so, he doesn’t deserve it.”
Janelle inclined her head. “I understand, Mistress.”
It had been more than a month since he had last seen the Witch, and time had never dragged so slowly. He had been filling his days the only way he knew how, by terrorising and torturing the Demonkind that populated his realm. He was in the foulest of moods and it showed no sign of changing any time soon.
His nights had been somewhat different. He had returned from his summons with Ereshkigal, who had wanted nothing more than to discuss his latest bargain, this time with an Ice Demon in Denmark. The Demon had defaulted on the bargain and Ereshkigal was desperate to have it contracted to her for the next two centuries.
As soon as Zagan had stepped back into his room he had smelt the mingled scents of himself, the Witch and their activities, his body instantly hardening. He didn’t dare open up their connection to see how she was feeling, he felt bad enough for the both of them. He had never wanted to hurt her, had known that getting closer to her, completing their bond, was the most stupid, selfish thing he could do, but he had been unable to resist the lure of her sweet self. And now they were both paying the price.
He had stripped the sheets from the bed, unable to face the thought of spending a night surrounded by her scent. He needed to distance himself from her, to keep away. He knew there was no way of breaking their bond now, not unless one of them died and he wouldn’t allow that to happen. He might not be able to give her all that she deserved, but he would do everything in his considerable power to protect her. Although he had to be careful how he went about it. He couldn’t just simply warn all Demons and nastier beings away from her, well, he could, but that might put her in more danger, effectively making her a target. He might as well conjure up a giant arrow above her head for Ere to follow.
The first thing he did was extend his own cloaking to cover the Witch too. He often went places and did things that Ere would never allow, and for that he had to keep himself hidden. In over a thousand years since he had first conjured it, the cloaking had never let him down and now that he had a bond with the Witch, she too could share it.
The second thing would prove far harder than he had ever imagined. He had to forget her.
It turned out to be an impossible task. Every time he relaxed his guard he could feel her, like a memory at the back of his mind, a warm feeling deep in his chest, but he could also feel her emotions. And she wasn’t happy. He knew that she would hate him for what he’d done, to be pissed off but he hadn’t expected to feel such a level of hurt and sadness from her. He hated that he was the reason for it, even though he knew he had done it for the right reasons.
Staying vigilant against her was exhausting and it didn’t help with his foul mood. He tried all his usual ways to forget and distance himself from a situation, but none of them worked. Punishing Demons and other debtors had never been his favourite of tasks, but now he found it boring and repetitive, his mind frequently wandering back to the Witch. He refused to leave the realm unless he had to, not taking advantage of any chance at freedom as he usually did. Knowing his luck the first person he would see would be the Witch, plus, staying in Kur dampened their connection enough that he could think. Demons of all sexes had always been readily available to him, but they couldn’t even raise an eyebrow on him, let alone his cock. He had tried, taking up the offer of one of his favourite Demonesses, but she left him cold, his body wanting no one else. Everything was betraying him for the Witch, his body, his mind and his soul.
Now all he could do was suffer.
Willow had confided in her friend the moment she had gotten back, stopping only to shower and dress. No matter how bad the situation was the Dragon didn’t need to see her naked arse. It was bad enough being a blubbering wreck.
Wills had gone through all the stages of a breakup, although it hardly counted as a relationship to break in the first place. She had been angry at first, but by the time she had calmed down enough to travel home and get in the shower she had reached the crying stage. The second she stepped under the water she was assaulted by memories of the past few hours.
She stood under the spray, her forehead resting against the cool tiles and sobbed like her heart would break. She couldn’t bear to move, to think about how his body had felt against hers, how he had made her feel.
Being with him had felt like the most natural thing in the world, like coming home. She couldn’t describe the depth of emotion that he created in her, or why she felt that way, she just knew that he was someone special and even after knowing him for such a short time, he had made a huge impression on her. Her heart ached deep down in her chest, like someone had it in a death grip and was squeezing.
She dragged her sorry self out of the freezing water and pulled on some clothes. It was a very bedraggled Witch that pitched up on the Dragons doorstep half an hour later.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know where else to go.”
Myst had taken one look at the state of her friend and dragged her into her arms for a hug, which had immediately set the Witch off into floods of tears again.
“What’s wrong? Did something happen? Are you hurt?” Myst was imagining all kinds of calamities, from the Coven finding Willow and demanding she be returned, to one of the cats being eaten by a ‘gator. Wills just sniffled, unable to get the words out. “Give me a clue here, Witch. Do I need to kill someone for hurting you?”
Wills shook her head. “No, don’t kill him. Just leave him alone.”
“Him?” The Dragon zeroed in on the problem instantly, leaning in to stick her nose against the Witches neck, inhaling deeply. “Bitch, you smell like Demon. Demon and…” she inhaled again. “Sex! You had sex. It’s faint now, but it’s there.” A sickening thought crossed her mind, and a low growl trickled out to accompany her words. “Did he hurt you? Did he force himself on in some way?”
“No!” Wills was shocked that Myst could think such a thing. “No, he didn’t force me into anything I didn’t want, in fact he asked me a number of times if I was sure.”
Myst crossed her arms, leaning against the door frame. “So why are you here, wet and dripping on my doorstep when you just had sex?”
“Got anything to drink?”
“I’ll kill him. Kill him dead and then eat his corpse.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I will,” Myst tossed back her drink and poured another from the tequila bottle on the table between them.
“You will not. You can’t go around killing the King of Hell. It’s just not done.”
“But he acted like an arsehole, he used you and then dumped you!”
“Yeah, thanks for summing it up for me.”
Wills gulped down her own shot, shuddering at the taste.
“No! This won’t do, I won’t allow it!” Myst slapped her hands down on the tabletop like it was a done deal.
Wills squinted at her through bleary eyes. “Won’t allow what?”
“I won’t allow you to sit here and feel hurt and upset. No. Girl, you are better than that. It’s time to get mad. Get pissed off. Get even! But I refuse to let you mope. We’re going out!”
Wills protested, but Myst ignored her. Dragging her home to get changed into something better, to slap on some makeup and brush her hair out of the rats tails it currently looked like. Then they went to town.
Wills tried hard, she really did, but she was just going through the motions. She had smiled and made polite conversation with all the men that Myst found and paraded in front of her, but ultimately she ignored her friend’s insistence that she had to “get back in the saddle and move on,” she had less than zero interest in anyone else.
That night, even after her promise to Myst that she wouldn’t cry over him again, she had lain in bed and sobbed until her pillow was damp and soggy. The next morning she had plastered a smile on her face and promised Myst that she was doing OK. She kept that mask on throughout the daylight hours, but it was the nights that were the hardest, when she was alone in her room. Then she would allow herself to cry.
She didn’t know why she felt so devastated, why she was clinging so much to the memories of their time together like it was something special when to him it clearly wasn’t. She hated herself for being so weak, so messed up over a man, and she hated him too.
Her nights, when she finally did manage to drift off into a fitful sleep, were plagued with nightmares. The dreams felt so real, so real that when she jerked awake, lungs heaving, panting for breath, her throat hoarse from screaming in her sleep, she swore she could still feel the pain.
Still she suffered in silence, refusing to break down in front of Myst or anyone else. She kept that smiling mask in place, she carried on as normal, squashing the pain down deep inside. Slowly but surely, it got easier to smile a real smile again.
It had taken a long time and a lot of effort, a lot of falling back into the earlier stages of sadness and despair, but now she was firmly in the anger territory and she had embraced it.
“I hate him.”
“I know you do,” Myst poured Willow another drink. They were in the middle of another all-night session of bitching and drinking, something that was turning out to be an almost nightly occurrence for them.
“I never want to see him again!”
“Damn straight you don’t. Power to the Witchy!” The Dragon knocked back her own shot of shifter strength vodka and immediately poured another.
“I don’t care if he is the sexiest man I’ve ever seen! I don’t care if he thrills me down to my toes with just a look!”
Myst saluted with her shot glass.
“I don’t care if he has the best dick on earth!”
Myst saluted again, then stopped, her arm still in the air. “The best?”
Wills nodded solemnly.
Myst raised an eyebrow and nodded her appreciation. “So, how good are we talking?”
Wills shrugged. “Well, I don’t have heaps of experience to compare it to, but it was pretty damn good.” Her face crumpled like she was about to cry again.
“Hey, no! No, no no, you are not gonna start crying over him again. There are plenty more sexy men out there with awesome cocks that you can play with.” Myst jumped up, slamming her glass down on the table. “Come on, up you get. We’re going out to find some cock!”
Wills protested but she was no match for a drunk Dragon that was hell bent on dragging her out of the house and taking her to the noisiest place they knew.
Myst cheered loudly, waving her beer bottle in the air as she watched her friend prancing around on the small stage that took up a whole corner of the rowdy bar.
Willow was in that perfect place where she wasn’t quite drunk enough that she couldn’t stand up straight, but just enough that she had zero inhibitions or shame. Which was why she was currently screaming, rather out of tune, along to Joan Jett, screaming about how much she hated herself for loving too much.
Wolf whistles and cat calls (literally) rang out, along with the suggestions.
“You don’t need him, come and try a real man!”
“Forget him, try a loyal canine instead!”
“Every Witch needs a cat!”
She left the stage to thunderous applause, returning to the bar to gulp back her beer, another appearing as if by magic as a feline Shifter cosied up to her side.
Myst eyed the cat with slightly blurry eyes, sweeping her gaze the length of his body from top to toe, then back up to rest right in the middle.
“He looks like he’s well endowed, Witchy, I say try him.”
The cat gave Willow a devastatingly handsome grin. She didn’t really want to get to know him better, she didn’t feel ready for something like that. Hell, she hadn’t even truly felt ready for Zagan… she paused as a fresh lance of pain stabbed at her heart. She didn’t owe him a thing, so why did she feel like she was being disloyal by even being there with someone else, let alone contemplating what the Dragon was proposing?
Would it be so bad? She had no doubt that Zagan had forgotten all about her by now, it was obvious that she was nothing but a convenient bed warmer for him. Why shouldn’t she have some fun too? Maybe Myst was right, she needed to forget about Zagan as he had forgotten about her and move on.
When the cat held out a hand she didn’t even hesitate to grab on, letting him tug her towards the dance floor.
Zagan turned away from the scene unfolding in front of him. Hidden away in a dark corner he had watched his Witch as she drunkenly took to the stage, her choice of song and the anger and passion with which she sang along didn’t fail to hit its mark.
He’d done that to her. He’d hurt her that way. Being this close it was harder than ever to keep his shields locked down tight, preventing him from feeling the true depth of her emotions, but the echo sneaking through his defences was more than enough.
He wanted to go to her, he wanted to scoop her up in his arms and beg her forgiveness, to wipe away the pain she held inside. But he couldn’t, he had to be strong for the both of them. He had to stay away; he should have stayed away but he hadn’t been able to help himself.
He’d been summoned by a smoke Demon for the most ridiculous reason and had found himself alone in New Orleans for the first time since the night he had taken her home. Drawn by her invisible siren song he had allowed his feet to pick the direction, wandering with no destination in mind, simply content to be out of Kur for a few hours.
He’d felt her as soon as she had winked into existence just down the street from where he was standing, appearing out of an alleyway with the Dragon. Unable to resist, he had followed.
And damn, did he wish he hadn’t.
He turned away as he saw her settle into the feline’s embrace, the cat’s arms around her middle, one hand drifting down to rest upon the curve of her delectable derriere. He almost lost it, he almost shot a bolt at the cat, intending to light the fucker on fire. How dare he touch his woman?
He physically forced himself to leave the bar, to walk away, but not before he saw the slimy cat lean in to claim her lips with his own. It was for the best, but it didn’t mean he had to like it.
He tucked himself away in a dark corner he closed his eyes, traveling back to Kur. For once he was happy to leave the mortal realm.
The Shifter had nice lips, very nice, but they weren’t the lips that haunted her dreams, they didn’t taste the same, they didn’t feel the same and they didn’t act the same. She allowed the kiss to come to its natural end, but when he reached for her again, she found herself stepping away.
“I’m sorry, you’re lovely- “
“Just lovely?” the Shifter pouted, his bottom lip sticking out in what was obviously meant to be an adorable and appealing way.
“Well, no…” Wills groped around for the right words that would make this situation better. “Obviously you’re cute- “
“Cute? Woman I’m not cute, I am sexiness personified. This…” he gestured the length of his body, “is nothing short of spectacular.”
“Well, yes, obviously you’re sexy… I’m just, I’m not ready to be with someone in a romantic way. But I could always use another friend.”
The Shifter looked at her, as if he were looking deep into her soul. “He probably doesn’t deserve your loyalty. He was a fool to let you go.”
“How do you know I wasn’t the one to let him go?”
The Shifter shrugged, sliding his arms back around her waist to pull her in for a hug. “Because you wouldn’t be so sad if you had a choice in it.”
Wills smiled, letting her arms slip around his shoulders, cuddling closer, allowing herself to enjoy the comfort of a warm body against hers.
“Plus, there would be no way you’d turn me down if you were the one to do the walking. I’m perfection in feline form, a gift from the gods themselves.”
Wills grinned against his shoulder.
“You’d be lucky to have me as a friend, though I can’t promise that I won’t look at your ass or make inappropriate, flirty comments…come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever known a girl that was just a friend.”
Wills shrugged. “First time for everything, right?”
The Shifter nodded. “Cool, let’s give this friend thing a go. My name’s Angelo, but everyone calls me Angel.” A wide grin split his face. “Told you I was God’s gift.”
“I’m Willow, it’s nice to meet you.”
The Shifters hands roamed their way down to cup her butt.
“Nice to meet you too.”