Elyse pulled off the robe and slid into her assigned bed, sighing deeply.
Night had come too quickly, its foreboding darkness reminding her she had run out of time. Only a lonely candle still burned in the orphanage dormitories. Unsurprisingly, it was hers. Its light comforted her, as she was suspecting that in the shadows dwelled the one she dreaded to meet.
Around her, the girls were already asleep, unaware of the restless thoughts keeping their fellow bedmate awake. On the edge of the mattress, she swayed her legs nervously and fiddled with the two golden plaits she had braided her hair in.
What if I refuse to sleep? Immediately, she shot that idea down. Not only was it stupid, but it was also impossible for her to stay awake so long after the previous white nights. Yesterday’s emotionally tumultuous events had taken its toll on her body’s dire need for rest. She had been yawning constantly ever since she returned from Alora’s. After nearly dozing off in the dining hall and thus splashing her head in the soup, Madame Tildi had sternly sent her off to bed.
The grandfather clock in the room struck midnight then, way past the orphanage’s curfew. Elyse jumped at the startling sound, bringing her legs into her torso.
What if I run away? The thought was a tempting one. Perhaps if enough distance was put between her and Azrael, their mysterious bond would fade. She would be able to sneak away in the middle of the night and head as far as–
The candlelight flickered ominously, a sudden chill falling over the dormitory. Her cowardly train of thought stopped in fright. Her blue eyes swept across the chamber, finding nothing. Yet, she felt he was close.
The duvet was pulled tighter around her body, a futile protection against him. Elyse laid her head on the bed and with a resigned sigh, blew out the candle, letting blackness take over her mind.
It was time to meet her demon.
Her eyes blinked open. Impenetrable darkness was surrounding her. Coldness bit at her exposed skin. The surreal feeling in her painfully human body warned her this was indeed the world of shadows, the one Azrael belonged to. Why had he brought her here? With her long white attire and slippers still in her feet – she must have fallen asleep with them still on - she looked downright incongrous in this grim setting. She shivered yet again.
“Azrael?” the young woman called out into the darkness. A tugging at her leg had her looking down. A red ribbon, one she failed to notice before, was tied around her right ankle, the velvety rope taut as it stretched further ahead, the destination veiled in mystery. Where was it leading to?
She bent down, hoping to loosen the knot. In that instant, something pulled strongly at the ribbon; the blonde lost her balance. A shriek escaped her lips, feeling her body move in the direction of the force. Her hands tried to find purchase, to hold onto something, anything and stop her descent into the darkness. Her desperate attempts to dig her feet into the ground paled in comparison to the strength wielding the red rope. Nothing she did worked. Whatever awaited on the other end, it was frighteningly strong. What was this dark magic?
She desperately wished for this dream to end. Afraid, she screamed.
All of a sudden, the dragging ceased. The pressure on her ankle lessened, the red ribbon now slack. Someone embraced her. Arms trailed over her form, leaving goosebumps in their wake. Their familiar touch burned her.
“It is a cold and lonely place here, is it not?” One limb wrapped around her waist and the other tangled in her blonde strands. The demonic voice was tinged by something she could not identify.
She looked up. If not for the cinnamon scent drifting off of the creature, she would have been petrified by the towering mass of shadows before her. This was how he had appeared before her and the other orphans when he had first been summoned, that fated summer night. The sight of him then still gave her nightmares. It was an understatement to say that she much preferred the handsome red-haired persona of her demon to his monstrous one.
“I have given some thought to our deal,” he continued tonelessly.
She held her breath. “Yes?”
Azrael chose not to answer. Her hair was repeatedly being stroked instead. Despite their rough gentleness, Elyse winced at the claws dragging along her scalp. She told herself the shivers running over her spine were due to the chill of his realm.
The girl watched him take one of her plaits in his hands and slowly untangle her carefully braided locks. He did the same with the other one, taking his time. Wisps of smoke seemed to emanate off his body and she observed fascinated how the black mist lingered on her skin and hair before vanishing.
These strange moments of sweetness never failed to make her heart act as oddly.
Once done, the shadowed demon admired his work. Though she could not see his face, she fidgeted under his intense perusal. Finally snapping and pushing her softer emotions aside, she demanded. “I want to honour the end of my deal, Azrael. I am not blind to know that my friend is alive only thanks to you. What is the price to your kindness?”
The ever shifting shadows neared her, and sweet cinnamon invaded her senses. “Impatient, are we, little bird?”
She pursed her lips. The demon definitely liked his games.
A claw caressed her face. “Well, I usually demand the price to be paid beforehand, but now I am lenient. I want your innocence,” he whispered. Her heart stopped.
Hot breath fanned her face and his proximity provided her with a sick sense of security despite his nauseating words.“Is your dear friend worth giving your body away to a creature of darkness, Mistress?”
Shocked, Elyse staggered back and slapped his hand away. Her stupor morphed into molten anger in her veins. That is what happened when one made deals with a demon. Sister Ann’s scolding words haunted her mind. The HeadMistress was right.
Demons were never to be trusted.
But he did save Samuel...In her mind, a voice whispered that all this fury was a mask for the bitter disappointment she actually felt. Against all odds, she was beginning to care for him and she had deceived herself into believing he did too. How could her young heart choose him for her affections? The blonde exhaled slowly.
“Alright.” A hidden sense told her Azrael was taken aback by her defiant response.
A few quick movement later, the white chemise pooled at her feet. Holding his gaze, she straightened her back and tried not to cross her arms in front of her small breasts. Coldness had made her nipples harden obscenely. A violent blush was burning her cheeks right down to her neckline. She shifted on her feet, all too aware her right thigh was slightly less muscled than the other because of her cripple. Hundreds of thoughts crossed her mind in that moment and to her utter shame, she wondered if the demon liked what he saw.
She wondered if he would be a gentle lover or a rough one.
A red blur crossed her vision then. Elyse did not even have the time to regret her rash decision before Azrael, now in his hulking human form, dumped her clothes in her face and harshly pulled the chemise back on her.
His fingers had not even strayed to her bosoms in his mad dash. If she did not know any better, she would have thought Azrael was ashamed.
His usually playful emerald gaze was now a raging red.
“What are you doing?” he roared, shaking her shoulders. His claw tips were opening holes in the chemise’s material, but her skin was not yet punctured. She clenched her jaw. The nerve he had!
“What you told me to, Azrael,” she replied sarcastically, getting in his face. Dimly, she wondered when she had stopped being afraid of him. Not even like this, with his sharp claws gripping her body and the mad power swirling in his gaze. Her palms beat at his chest furiously. Why could she not hate him for playing her so cruelly? The impact of her blows seemed inconsequential.
“That boy is not worth this,” he growled, still inexplicably angry.
A ridiculous idea entered her mind. Could it be? Could the demon be jealous? Still? “Who are you to say what he is worth? He is my friend, I would have done it.” Elyse tried to be reasonable, mindful of the volatile demon before her. “You are the one to ask this of me.”
Azrael turned his back to her. Only then did she realise his chest was bare. Her eyes lingered on his broad shoulders and the tensed muscles that bulged under his movements. In the darkness, she thought she saw scars marring the pale skin of his back. Elyse blinked again, and they were gone. Surprised, her eyes widened when she took note of the blood red ribbon around his ankle. It was the same rope tied to hers. And it was connecting them together.
Her attention was diverted when he broke the silence, his tone subdued. “I saved your friend’s life because I could not bear to see you suffer. Not because I expect something in return, Elyse.”
Her breath hitched. “Then why make me believe otherwise?”
The demon sighed. If only she knew. Never had he pined so pathetically after a female. If the others of his kind saw him, they would laugh at the opportunity he had missed. By taking his Mistress’ first blood, all the power provided by their bond would be at his fingertips.
What had he done instead?
He had lured Elyse in this nightmare, appearing in his demonic form that frightened her so in the beginning and then spewed his twisted words. His entire plan had been orchestrated so she would reject his offer. So he would soothe himself wth false promises. He did not want to believe that her friendship with that damned Samuel ran that deep.
He growled out loud, scaring his mate away. Again. Envy boiled inside of him for all those that had her affection when he himself had not. “You were the one who asked for a price,” he gruffly said.
“And you went for the highest bid like the puritan you secretly are,” she countered, hands on delicate hips. Hips he had seen bare, their curve perfect to hold onto in passion. Azrael shook his head, but the memory of her naked form was forever imprinted on the back of his eyelids.
“I would have never taken you under such circumstances.” he turned towards her, his eyes imploring her to understand. She was the one being he could never hurt.
Her beautiful blue orbs softened. Elyse approached him carefully and he willed his body to appear as subdued and harmless as possible. Her nearness was the most addicting drug and he had been without it for long years. Her outstretched hand confounded him though.
“I reckon we both owe each other some apologies then.”
His little bird puffed out her cheeks, as if summoning the strength for the following words. Ah, his stubborn Elyse.
“Thank you for saving my friend,” she ignored him when he growled lowly at the mention of Samuel, “and forgive me for assuming the worst of you, Azrael. Even though you are a prince of darkness, hence a demon and hence my natural suspicion.” Bashful now, Elyse backtracked quickly. “Apologies, the last sentence was unnecessary.”
Azrael laughed and grasped her dainty hand in his much larger one, also bringing her closer. The harmonic sight of their skin touching appeased an utterly primal side of him. “Forgive me, Elyse, for lying and demanding your virginity as ransom.” He paused dramatically and a devilish smirk pulled at his lips. “Even though I do desperately want it for myself.”
The demon accepted her slap on his arm, glad to hear the undertone of amusement in her screams of mortification.