His jaw clenched and he gritted his teeth, knowing the evening was thoroughly ruined before it ever had the chance to begin.
“So tell me more about estate law,” Miller’s date said from across the little table.
Pulled away from his thoughts, he turned back to stare dispassionately at the petite brunette whom he had bumped into at the café the other morning and had subsequently asked out. They had chatted after they reached for a stirrer at the same moment. She was cute, funny, and seemed interested.
The bustle within the small cottage sans restaurant seemed to soften to a hum. A Hole in the Wall had photos of the owners with dozens of celebrities plastered across the walls at the entrance. It had one of the best handmade pasta within a hundred mile radius.
And this was where he had decided to go on his first date in months.
With the danger around his friend Daria, Miller had put his life on hold. But now that she was under the protection of the House of Fallen Angels, he thought he could spend time on his personal life again.
Obviously, he was wrong.
A brush of cream flicked across his vision and he sat back, the old, familiar dread invading every cell of his body, shortening every muscle along his back until he was nothing but a wad of tension. He bit his lip.
“Miller?” came a breathy whisper.
Should he look up? Would it be better if he ignored her? But no, he kind of wanted to see if there were any changes. Otherwise it would be like watching a rerun. The same awful show. Too predictable.
Miller turned and raised his eyes, regretting it the second he did.
Tears brimmed her blue eyes and she brought her hands to her mouth in a gasp. A thin black band decorated each wrist and a large, almost blinding diamond ring glinted on her finger. He grimaced. Nice. That definitely wasn’t there last time.
The woman choked on a sob. “It’s our anniversary, Miller. How could you?”
Miller didn’t even have the chance to turn to his date before he felt the cold liquid splash all over his face. Curses filtered through the now diminished white noise of the restaurant. He heard something about his parentage and where he should travel to after he died, before a flurry of footsteps left him sitting alone.
Though he had been the unwilling actor in this play many times now, he couldn’t stop the sigh from escaping his lips as he blinked back the liquid from his lashes. He calmly picked up his cloth napkin from his lap and dried his face, glad to see the cloth come away clean. Water was much easier to clean out of the clothes than wine. Red wine especially. It really ruined his shirts. And he had lost enough shirts over time.
He looked back up at the woman standing next to the table, ignoring the glares and shaking heads from neighboring diners. And he really needed to look up. She stood five-eight in flats and enjoyed wearing heels that brought her close to six-feet. Thankfully, he was taller. When they actually stood side-by-side, he still had the option to look down at her literally while doing it figuratively too.
“Have you had enough fun, Candace?”
No emotion laced his words. Not even resignation. It was a simple question really. They had gone through this so many times now that he didn’t have any feelings left.
She peeked through her fingers, eyes twinkling, before dropping her hands and plopping into the recently vacated chair. Her usual blood-rid lips had changed to a gentler auburn tone as fitting of her current outfit. She began to laugh, hearty guffaws to say she had bested him once again.
Miller tapped his finger on the base of his wineglass, glad his now, ex-date, had preferred simple water with a lemon. “How many times has it been now, Candy?”
Her eyes widened in mock innocence. The dim lighting in the restaurant had enlarged her pupils, turning the sapphire blue eyes into pools of blackness.
“I’ve lost count,” she replied in her usual sultry voice.
Candy always had a breathy, smoky voice. The kind porn stars had. Where one syllable left men with an ache in the groin, one word made them hard, and one sentence had them begging for release. She could never just speak like a normal person. Her words slipped through the air in feather caresses, taunting the listener. He hated that voice. Had an absolute visceral abhorrence for that voice. He avoided talking to her as much as humanly possible.
“So have I.” Miller raised his glass to her, toasting her for yet another successful evening of mischief-making, and finished his drink.
He kept his comments to her as short as possible. He worried that if he spoke too much, everything that he really thought would pour out of his mouth the way a burst faucet spewed water. All unwanted and unwelcomed. And regretful. It was really better to keep his thoughts to himself. No one wanted to know what he really thought. Least of all himself.
Still, he couldn’t stop his next scathing remark.
“You have ruined every single f---ing date I have had for the last decade. I hope you’re happy with yourself.”
Something passed over Candy’s eyes briefly before she broke into that seductive smile which would make priests break their vows of celibacy. She rested her elbows on the tablecloth and clasped her hands beneath her chin.
Normal people would want to know why. Why had Candace Angel, one of the most powerful in the supernatural realm, the second child of Lucifer, bother to endlessly harass and torture a mere human, a simple witch, like Miller Lang? Surely it wasn’t merely sadism. It couldn’t be the favorite pastime for fallen angels.
But Miller didn’t ask because he knew why. This was payback. And apparently her revenge never ceased.
“I’m kind of hungry,” she murmured.
“I didn’t know fallen angels needed food,” he mumbled. Miller retrieved his wallet and pulled out some cash. “We’re not staying here. They might spit in my food after your latest stunt.”
He stood and threw her an expectant glare. Well? She was going to go with him, right? He certainly wasn’t going to beg the torturer to follow.
As he turned, he heard Candy stand also. They left the restaurant and once outside, she asked, “Where are we going?”
Miller shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and whirled around in annoyance, barking, “Didn’t you say you were hungry?”
He stalked to her car and wrenched open the passenger door, waiting with impatience for her to get inside. Did she expect him to shove her inside? He would. He might even derive great pleasure out of it too.
“We can travel by shadow.”
“No, we can’t,” Miller bit out, the edge in his voice growing ever sharper. “My car is here. In a private parking lot. I’m not going to have it towed.”
When she still didn’t step forward, he snapped, “Are you upset that I didn’t drive the Lamborghini?”
At that, she smiled and strode toward him in that predatory way of hers, hips swaying gently, gaze never leaving his face, alluring smile still playing on her lips. God, he wanted to kill her. If homicide were legal, if it wouldn’t bring the wrath of the realm’s ruling family, he would reach his long limbs out and strangle her.
She stopped by the open car door and his grip tightened on the metal sheet of the car, asking for divine patience while simultaneously imagining what he gripped was her slender neck. Her hands began to reach for him, getting dangerously close to his chest.
His heartbeats pounded against his ribcage, drumming in his ears. Don’t do it. He had to stop her.
“Don’t even think about touching me after what you did,” he hissed.
Surprise lit her eyes and then vanished. She arched a brow and slid inside the car.
Miller slammed the door of his Porsche and stomped to the driver seat. He barely remembered pulling out of the lot and getting on the highway. They had driven for a few minutes in a silence when Candy’s fingertips touch his arm.
He practically jumped out of his skin.
“It actually is an anniversary of sorts.”
With pursed lips, he snapped, “No. We met in the fall. It’s still the summer.”
The moment he said it, realization hit him. The summer. That summer. He gripped the steering wheel, knuckles going white at the memory. Seconds trickled by.
“I don’t like cars,” Candy whispered.
“Why?” he grunted.
“They go fast and I’m not in control.”
That’s when Miller noticed the speedometer. He had almost reached ninety. Easing his foot off the gas pedal, he leaned back and murmured, “Don’t worry, we’re almost home.”
When he saw the amused smile from the corner of his eye, he knew he had slipped again. What the hell was he saying? It wasn’t her home. They weren’t really married. This was all just a big farce. A stupid act she put on to ruin his evenings, his personal life, and every chance he attempted to begin a relationship with normal people.
A long silence stretched between them and as the tension in his body eased, he finally said, “You’re right.”
“The anniversary. Only it’s not today. It’s tomorrow.”
Candy turned to stare out her window and Miller suddenly wondered if she didn’t want him to see her face. Now that he thought about it, they always did spend a few hours together around this time of year. They rarely saw each other the rest of the year. With the exception of her showing up to ruin his dates, of course. Their recent interaction was only a result of the mutual interest in protecting Daria. He had thought things would go back to the way it was after that.
The occasional obligatory appearance at some political function. The short note by oven mail when the House of Fallen Angels needed something. All impersonal and infrequent. That’s how it had always been. He liked it that way. Predictable.
“Tomorrow is your party.” Then a pause. “You shouldn’t be having dates anyway.”
A sick pit grew in his stomach at her words and he found his mouth had gone dry. He didn’t want to talk about this with her. With Candy of all people.
He needed to get onto safer topics. Or rather, more familiar ones.
“You look nice today,” his tone saying anything but. “The ring was a new touch.”
Candy stared at her hand and asked, “When you propose, Miller, will you also give her a big diamond like this one?”
A pang struck his heart and he wondered if she said it on purpose to twist the knife in just a little more. But when he stole a glance from her, she still stared at her ring.
“You know I won’t,” he whispered.
He had family jewels and would pick one amongst the collection to give to his wife as part of his proposal. She knew that. He had told her all of this. Told her all of this all those years ago, that summer, tomorrow.
He pushed the memories to the far corners of his mind. Yet as soon as he did, he suddenly began to wonder if that summer was the only thing holding any civility between them. If that was the sole reason for her visit today. Perhaps it was the only thing that still bound them to each other. Regret. Guilt. Revenge.
Why did it have to revolve around that summer? Why couldn’t they just act like the old acquaintances they were?
Sometimes, he really wished he could have a normal conversation with her. Besides her lurid voice, Candy was a woman of few words. What she lacked in words, she made up for with facial expressions and body language. She always managed to say more by saying nothing. And her beautiful eyes reflected every possible emotion. They were the only part of her that seemed to stay innocent.
They said nothing more until they arrived back at his estate in Winnetka. When they got out of the car, he noticed Candy lingering instead of following him to the house.
“Still hungry?” he asked. “I have some leftovers. Or I can order in.”
She didn’t answer, merely stepping to one of his other six cars.
“Or we can go out?” he suggested hesitantly.
What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she saying anything? Just because she didn’t talk much it didn’t mean it was okay to not talk at all. Maybe he had pushed her too far this time. But she had never cared when he told her off or copped an attitude. It was almost…expected.
“I should go.”
That dread began to spread through his body from his bowels again. Except it was a different kind of drowning. He had the distinct impression she didn’t mean she should go now. But that she meant she should go always.
They had their differences. She made his life a living hell when she was around. Embarrassing him by sidling up to him, forcing him to shove her aside. It was the way it had been for…for over a decade. He raked his hand through his hair. Had it really been that long? But he was so used to her torment now that he couldn’t actually imagine her leaving him alone. She was like a scab on his arm that he picked at. One that never healed because he never let it.
Yet if she left him, what would he do?
“You’ll be at the party tomorrow night, right?”
Heat blanketed his face and he was glad her back was too him. Could she hear the desperation in his voice? The fear? The last thing he needed was for her to laugh in his face.
“I’ll think about it.” Then she turned and flashed an evasive smile. The old Candy had returned.
She caressed the waxed black finish of his vehicle, circling it until the car stood between them, a physical barrier to keep everything unsaid.
They stared at each other across the expanse of the garage and he wondered if her weary gaze came from her centuries-long existence or if they had just worn each down over the years.
“Same time next year?” he joked. At least, he tried to jest. The half-hearted effort fell flat even to his ears.
Candy cocked her head, studying him. “No, I doubt it.”
Miller stepped forward and then stopped, as though afraid to startle an animal. “There’s always the fall. When we actually first met.”
This time her smile was small and sad. “You were five when you first came to my father’s house.” She shook her head again. “No.”
Every fiber of his body tensed, ready to spring for her should she try to leave. And that’s what he felt she was trying to do. Leave. Forever.
“Why?” he rasped, fear and anger coiling around his chest like a snake. “Why now?
Candy didn’t answer him, she merely patted the car and said, “I always did like the Lambo.”
With that, she stepped into the shadows and disappeared.
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