Updated: Jan 18
Every Last Breath
by Jennifer L Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen
Book 3 in The Dark Elements Series
Some loves will last ’til your dying breath
Every choice has consequences—but seventeen-year-old Layla faces tougher choices than most. Light or darkness. Wickedly sexy demon prince Roth, or Zayne, the gorgeous, protective Warden she never thought could be hers. Hardest of all, Layla has to decide which side of herself to trust.
Layla has a new problem, too. A Lilin—the deadliest of demons—has been unleashed, wreaking havoc on those around her…including her best friend. To keep Sam from a fate much, much worse than death, Layla must strike a deal with the enemy while saving her city—and her race—from destruction.
Torn between two worlds and two different boys, Layla has no certainties, least of all survival, especially when an old bargain comes back to haunt them all. But sometimes, when secrets are everywhere and the truth seems unknowable, you have to listen to your heart, pick a side—and then fight like hell…
RATED: 14+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Foul language #YoungAdult Exciting
Steamy moments #Supernatural Emotional
Every Last Breath by Jennifer L Armentrout is the third, and final (sob!) book in the Dark Elements series. This book starts right at the moment the second book ends, revealing that the Lilin has taken Sam's soul, and has been impersonating him for months. Throughout the book, we get all the loose ends from the series tied neatly in a bow. Layla goes with her heart, to be with the man she is in love with. She finds answers on what she is. She finds peace with her old clan. And we get a resolution on the Lilin.
The Dark Elements series as a whole has been fairly unique, so originality for Every Last Breath doesn't change here. The story is consistent from start to finish, and the characters line up perfectly with the last two books (three if you count the novella). The story itself ... I'm 75- 25 on. I loved the story. My only problem is that it felt too rushed. There wasn't a moment that there wasn't something happening that was pivotal to Layla's character. It was very much a BAM-BAM-BAM story line, and there was no enough time to breathe. It needed to be a touch longer I think. I don't like stagnant parts of any novel, but this one needed some moments where the reader could relax a bit, process the big event, or piece of information we got, before moving on to the next part.
At this point, the characters have all developed as much as they can in this series, so there wasn't a whole lot of character building. Layla, after the events of the last book, has finally come to terms with her bloodline, and FINALLY recognizes that what blood runs through her veins doesn't determine the person she is. Otherwise, she is still the take charge, kick ass heroine of the last two books. She has some hard choices to make in this book, but she wasn't a coward and went through with them. Roth's character is so wonderfully bad ass and loving to Layla. Zayne is such a sweetheart, and he went through a lot in this book that made my heart hurt for him. I'm glad he has a spin-off series, because he needs a happy ending after all the shit that went down.
Every Last Breath was a wonderful conclusion to the Dark Elements story, but I won't lie, it had some problems. There was almost too much going on, too quickly, tying up everything in a nice tidy bow. I want answers, but I just wish is was a bit more drawn out. Otherwise, Every Last Breath keeps up the series' unique, action-packed, interesting, and sometimes emotionally draining story line, and ending in a way that should make most readers happy. It really depends on who you wanted her to be with: Zayne or Roth?
Let me know. Who would you have picked and why?
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Lilin: "You cannot defeat me. So join me."
Layla: "Or what? Or die? That's not incredibly cliche or anything."
Roth: "You talk a lot. And I mean a lot. Why is it that the bad guys always have to give disgustingly long and boring monologues? Let's just get to the killing part, all right?"
Layla: "I said, do not touch her. Do not look at her. Do not even breathe in her direction. You do so, and I will rip your head from your shoulders and punt-kick it out a window."
Layla: "Oh my God. I have feathers."
Roth: "Those are definitely feathers wings."
Layla: "I have feathers on my wings!"
Roth: "Yeah, you do."
He was absolutely no help, so I turned to Zayne
Layla: "Why do I have feathers on my wings?"
Zayne: "I don't know, Layla. I've never seen anything like this."
Roth: "Liar. You've seen that before. So have I."
Stacey: "I haven't."
Layla: "Okay. How and why have you seen this before? Am I going to have to shave my wings now?"
Roth's lips twitched
I raised my hand, pointing my finger at him
Layla: "Don't you dare laugh, you jerk-face! This is not funny. My wings are freaks of nature!"
He lifted his hands
Roth: "I'm not going to laugh, but I think you should leave the razors alone. Besides, lots of things have feathers in their wings."
Layla: "Like what?"
Roth: "Like ... like hawks."
Layla: "Hawks? Hawks?"
Roth: "And eagles?"
Layla: "I'm not a bird, Roth!"
The dragon was about the size of a cat - a really small cat. Not exactly what I had been expecting. It's wings moved soundlessly as it hovered to the left of Roth, it's tail whipping around. It was so tiny and so ... so cute.
I blinked slowly.
Layla: "You ... you have a ... a pocket-size dragon?"
Zayne snorted from somewhere behind me.
A heavy sigh came from Roth.
Alpha 1: "How dare you speak to me? I could end your existence before you take your next breath."
Roth: "You could. But you won't."
My eyes widened
Zayne: "Roth. You might want to chill out a bit."
The Crown Prince smirked.
Roth: "Nah. You want to know why? The Alphas could end me, but they're not going to. You see, I am the favorite Crown Prince. They take me out when I haven't done anything to warrant it and they'll have the Boss to contend with. They don't want that."
Alpha 2: "There are rolls for a reason. It does not mean we have to like them, so I'd suggest you do not push your luck, Prince."
Then Roth did the unthinkable. He raised his hand and extended his middle finger.
Roth: "Does this count as pushing it, Bob? I'm not blinded by your glory. You sit on your lofty clouds passing judgment on every living creature there is. Not everything is black-and-white. You know that and yet you recognize no gray area."
Alpha 2: "One of these days, Prince, you will meet your own fate."
Roth: "And I'll do so quite spectacularly. Looking damn good while I do it, too."
Roth: "You take one step toward her and I'm going to fry myself up some Alpha. Extra-crispy style."
Alpha 2: "You dare to threaten us?"
Roth: "I dare a lot more than that. I will not stand for one hair on her head to be harmed. If you want her, you're going to have to come through me."
Zayne: "Is it ... stomping its feet?"
Roth rolled his eyes
Roth: "He doesn't get out much."
Stacey: "For obvious reasons."
Was I okay? Anger mixed with fear - fear for him. I stared for a moment and then I shot toward him.
Layla: "What were you thinking?"
Hauling back, I smacked his chest.
Layla: "You threatened an Alpha!"
I smacked him again, harder this time, enough to sting.
He rubbed his chest, but his eyes twinkled. He thought this was funny!
Zayne: "More than just threatened. He let Thumper eat them."
Roth: "Hey, technically Thumper fried one and ate the other."
Layla: "Oh my God!"
This time my hand connected with his arm.
Layla: "You're going to be in so much trouble, Roth! So much trouble."
He shrugged a shoulder
Roth: "Defended myself."
Layla: "Defended myself. You can't just go around killing Alphas, Roth!"
Stacey: "You killed those angels?"
He sent her an innocent grin
Roth: "Well, I didn't, but ..."
Layla: "Roth! This is not a joke. You -"
He was damn fast when he wanted to be. One second he was several feet away from me and the next he was there, clasping the sides of my face. He lowered his head so he was eye level with me.
Roth: "There are rules, Shortie."
Layla: "But -"
Roth: "Rules that even the Alphas have to abide by. They cannot attack me without physical provocation. If they do, they tick the Boss off, and then the Boss retaliates in a way that makes what the Lilin could do look like child's play. I'm not just some random demon. I'm the Crown Prince. They took a swing at me, and I defended myself. End of story. I'm going to be okay. Nothing it going to happen to me. I promise."
Layla: "You can't make that promise. None of us can."
His hands slid back and he curled his fingers in my loose hair.
Roth: "I can."
Cayman: "I leave you alone for a few hours, and you let Thumper fry and eat an Alpha."
Layla: "Is Roth in trouble?"
Roth: "Shortie, I'm -"
I raised my hand, cutting him off.
Layla: "Shush it. Cayman, is he in trouble?"
Cayman: "I think the better question is - when is he not in trouble?"
Layla: "Okay. Is he in more trouble than he normally is?"
Cayman: "Ah ... Let's just say that the Boss is not pleased with what just went down here. Actually, the Boss is ticked off about a lot of things, and if Roth goes down below anytime soon, he probably won't be leaving for a while. Like for a couple of decades.
Layla: "That's not good."
Roth: "Could be worse."
Cayman: "If you want to truth, I think the Boss secretly was pleased with what Thumper did, but you know ... politics. Ruins everything fun."
Layla: "I can see where I've taken some. I can tell in your aura."
Zayne: "I'm fine -"
Layla: "No thanks to me"
Roth: "Are you getting snappy with me?"
Zayne: "What does it sound like?"
Roth: "I don't know."
A slight smile formed on his lips as he threw his arm along the back of the cushion. I sighed, because I knew that look.
Roth: "But you catching a tone with me is about as interesting as reading up on the benefits of a water purification system."
Layla: "Knock it off."
The smile spread until there was a flash of white teeth.
Roth: "Anything for you, Shortie."
Roth: "What are the Wardens going to do once they realize Layla is alive and well? That's what I'm concerned about."
Zayne's lips thinned
Zayne: "They will do nothing. They know she's not the cause of what happened -"
Roth: "That doesn't undo anything they've done."
Zayne: "I didn't say that it did. I'm not going to allow them to touch her."
Roth: "And I'm not going to forget a single thing that was done to her. I haven't forgotten how she came back to me with claw marks on her face."
Sucking in a sharp breath, I leaned back against the cushion as Stacey turned to me.
Stacey: "You were clawed in the face?"
Zayne: "I will never forgive myself for that."
Roth: "Neither will I."
Layla: "Stop it. Talking about that isn't getting us anyplace. It doesn't matter."
Roth: "It does matter. Because no matter what, I would never, ever hurt you."
Zayne jerked back as if he's taken a fatal blow.
Layla: "But you have. You have hurt me.
Cayman: "I'd go with you, but ... Yeah, I really don't want to talk to Grim."
Layla: "Your support means the world to me."
Cayman: "I'm beginning to think your darling naivete is actually adorable idiocy. You're like the cute version of the village idiot."
Cayman: "Why worry about your awesomely superior wings when you have a Lilin who's going to quickly realize that there is no way in holy Hell that Lilith will be getting free and that's no joke. The Boss has her on lock-down. She's going nowhere, my little frosted cupcake. And what do you think that Lilin is going to do when it realizes mommy dearest is not getting free and there's nothing that it can do? Chaos will ensue, and what do you think will happen when chaos ensues? The Alphas will step in, and there will be so many of them that Thumper would get an upset stomach trying to eat them all. We don't want that. For realsies. "
I opened my mouth.
Cayman: "And why worry about your sleek-ass feathered wings when you have an entire clan of Wardens who just found out in the last twenty-four hours that you're really not dead? Because trust me, they know. Zayne wouldn't have to tell them. The Alphas would have. Some aren't gonna be happy about your survival. Oh no, sugar bear. Then there's the whole witch thing, and don't even ask me what they wanted in return for saving your butt, because I am not gonna be the bearer of that bad news bears."
I snapped my mouth shut. Goodie gumdrops, I was really starting to feel super stressed out. He wasn't done.
Cayman: "And why stress over wings in general when you're going to break someone's heart?"
Cayman popped off the bar stool, all grins.
Cayman: "Let's stop playing around, my own personal Beanie Baby. Zayne's in love with you. Roth's in love with you."
I inhaled sharply, but the air caught in my throat
Cayman: "Both would do anything for you - live, breathe and die for you, but you can't have both of them, Layla."
My hands fell to my thighs and I whispered, "I know that."
Cayman: "And you know which one is the real deal. You know, the forever kind of love, so why are you dragging this shit out?"
Layla: "I'm not dragging anything out. I was kind of out of it, you know, what with the whole being held prisoner and then nearly killed by my own clan thing. Then I was holed up here recovering, and then yesterday happened. And maybe I don't think it's the right time for me to be with either of them. Did you ever think about that?"
Cayman: "When is there ever a right time to fully give your heart to another? There are always going to be obstacles. You just have to decide which ones are worth it."
Cayman: "Don't be a coward."
Layla: "Excuse me?"
Cayman: "A. Coward. Not making a choice is the coward's way out. You love both of them. I get that. But you don't feel the same kind of love for both of them, and the sooner you accept that, the better."
Layla: "Why are we talking about this again? And why do you even care?"
Cayman: "Because I'm a caring sort of demon."
Layla: "Ugh. You can be so annoying."
Cayman: "Don't hate. Procreate."
Now I just glared at him.
Cayman: "Procreate with the right guy. Just wanted to clarify that."
Layla: "Oh my God."
Roth: "What in the world are you doing, Shortie?"
Layla: "I was ... I was thinking. Thinking about stuff."
Roth: "Was the countertop helping you think about stuff?"
Roth: "That's an odd way to do some thinking, Shortie."
Layla: "I don't think you give yourself enough credit, Roth."
Roth: "I know what I am."
Cayman: "Don't wander off. You have Alphas and who knows what else potentially gunning for your ass. And I really don't want to go back to the house and have to explain to Roth that I lost you somehow."
Layla: "Yes, Dad."
Cayman: "Do me proud."
Cayman: "Stop being a coward and let go of the past. Embrace the future, because they are two very different things."
Layla: "We could have made it work without ... without the kissing and we could've been careful. And I trust you, but this isn't about trust. Zayne, you're important to me, and I -"
Zayne: "You love Roth. You're in love with him."
My eyes met his bright blue ones
Layla: "Yes. It's him. It's always been him. I'm sorry. I do love you. I care about you so much, and in so many ways, being with you was a dream come true, but it's not the same."
He drew back, as if I'd reached across the table and slapped him.
Zayne: "Please don't expect me to sit here and listen to a speech that makes me feel like a damn runner-up in some kind of contest."
I sucked in a sharp breath
Layla: "That's not how I want you to feel."
Zayne's brows lowered as he stared at me.
Zayne: "How in the Hell did you expect me to feel?"
Tears burned the back of my eyes, because I'd never, ever, wanted to hurt anyone. Especially not him.
Layla: "I don't know."
I hadn't been careful with my own actions or with his heart. I didn't regret anything we shared, but I'd messed up and I shouldn't have allowed myself to get involved with him, because what I'd said a few moments ago had also been true.
It had always been Roth; from the moment he swaggered into that damn alley where I'd been unsuccessfully fighting off a demon, it had been him for me.
One second I was standing there and within the next breath, my back was against the door. A hard, warm and very bare chest was flush with mine, and hot breath skated over my cheek as two hands hit the door, on either side of my head.
Roth: "What are you doing here?"
My heart slammed against my ribs, then doubled its beat as his lips brushed the curve of my jaw. He inhaled deeply.
Roth: "Hell, you smell good. Like peppermint and ... and the sun. I let you go."
He went on, dipping his neck into my neck, and a shiver swept through me
Roth: "You were right yesterday. I hurt you. Not like him. Worse. I let you walk out of this house so you could be happy with him. Wasn't that what you wanted? Bit you're here. I let you go and it killed me to do so, and you're here."
He slowly lifted his chin and rested his forehead against mine.
Roth: "Why are you here, Layla?"
Layla: "I'm here ... I'm here because this is where I'm happy, with you."
Roth: "I want to kiss you again."
Layla: "As you pointed out, you're drunk."
Roth: "I still want to kiss you. I want to do other things. A lot of it involves touching, with and without clothes."
My cheeks heated. Tipping his head back, he sighed heavily.
Roth: "But yeah, drunk. Sorry."
Layla: "Roth. How long have you been drinking?"
Roth: "Since you left? If I didn't, I would've gone after you and possibly let Thumper eat Stony, and you wouldn't be okay with that."
Layla: "No. I wouldn't be."
Roth: "Aaand I might be a little drunk still..."
Layla: "I'll say."
Roth: "I know I shouldn't be drinking. It makes me a naughty, naughty boy."
Roth: "It's not in my genetic makeup to feel guilt. Not until you. Now I think about these things and I wonder if there is any ... goodness in me. Or what you could possibly see."
Leaning down, I kissed his cheek, and as I straightened, he turned wide amber eyes on me.
Layla: "I see what you don't. You're not selfish, even if you have moments of acting like it. We all do. You're not evil, even if you were created by the greatest evil of them all. You've proven to me and yourself that you have free will, and you've made the right decisions time and time again. You've accepted who and what I am from the beginning. You've never tried to chance me or ... or hide me. You've always trusted me, even when you probably shouldn't have. You've ... you've celebrated what I am, and very few can claim that. Like I've said before, you're more than the latest Crown Prince. You're Roth."
Roth: "And I'm yours."
Layla: "You know I love Zayne. Always have and will, but Roth? He's ..."
Stacey: "He's the one."
Layla: "Yeah. As much as he annoys the ever-loving crud out of me, I kind of love that he does."
Roth: "I have to admit, waking up and find you in my bed was a pleasant surprise."
Layla: "It was?"
Roth: "Yeah. When I woke up, I realized I'd never done that before. Not with you. Not with anyone. I always ... I liked it so much that now I'm spoiled. One morning and I'm spoiled for life. I want you here every morning, with me. Well, maybe in the master bedroom. That bed is more comfortable."
Layla: "I thought this bed was nice."
Roth: "Because I was in it?"
Layla: "Wow. Good to see your ego is still functioning normally."
Roth: "Can we do something?"
My fingers stopped on the first tightly rolled ab
Roth: "Dirty girl, get your mind out of the gutter. I wasn't talking about that stuff. Yet. What I meant was, can we start last night over?"
Layla: "How so?"
Roth: "I was plastered, but I think you told me you wanted to be with me, and well, I want to hear you say that again."
My heart did a backflip and I tilted my head back, so that our mouths were close.
Layla: "I want to be here with you. I want to be with you."
Roth pressed his forehead against mine as he rolled slightly onto his back, bringing me with him. I ended up lying half on him. But I wasn't done. Staring into eyes that were as bright and beautiful as any tawny jewel, I said what I had never said before. And I said it with every ounce of my being behind it.
Layla: "I love you, Roth. I'm in love with you."
Roth shifted again. This time I was on my back and he was above me, his one leg thrust between mine and his hand still cradling my neck.
Roth: "Say it one more time."
Layla: "I love you. I love you."
And I said it again and again, until I couldn't say it anymore, because he's silenced me with his mouth.
Roth: "I covet you like any good demon would. And my desire for you increases every waking second in a way that should frighten me, but really just excites me. But most of all, I love you. I, Astaroth, Crown Prince of Hell, am in love with you, Layla Shaw. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. A hundred decades from now, I will till be in love with you, and it will be as fierce today as it will be a decade later."
Roth: "Beautiful. You are so beautiful, Layla. And if I could pick one thing I could stare at for the rest of eternity, it would be you. It would always be you.
Roth: "I think we need to get you a tattoo."
Layla: "A ... a tattoo?"
Roth: "Yeah. A familiar,"
He kissed just above my belly button
Layla: "I can do that?"
Roth: "I don't see why not, and I know who can do one for you. This would be a good spot."
He dragged his hand over the side of my ribs.
Roth: "Or here?"
That same hand made it's way under the band of my pajama bottoms and curled around my hip.
Roth: "I really like the idea of it being here."
Layla: "Does it really matter where it's inked on? It's going to move anyway, right?"
Roth: "Oh, it matters. Mostly just matters to me."
Layla: "Okay then."
Roth: "I want an eternity of mornings like this. An eternity."
Cayman: "So, what's on the menu today, kids?"
Roth's slow grin sent fire across my cheeks as he cast a long glance in my direction. He opened his mouth, but the look I sent him promised murder if he answered that question the way I thought he might.
Someone cleared his throat and Cayman groaned
Cayman: "Really guys?
Cayman: "While I'm glad you guys have decided to become the twosome of the year, I really don't want to see you sucking face. It does things to my indigestion. Bad things."
Roth: "Guess what?"
Roth: "If you behave yourself today, I have a surprise for you later."
Layla: "If I behave myself?"
Roth: "Uh-huh. And by behaving yourself, I mean being as naughty as you can possibly be."
Roth: "You didn't bring a jacket?"
I shook my head
Roth: "A scarf?"
Roth: "What about mittens?"
Roth: "What about a little beanie for your little head?"
Layla: "No, Dad. I'm fine."
Roth: "I like it when you call me -"
My steps suddenly felt lighter, and I wanted to stop in the middle of the sidewalk, grab Roth's face and plant one on him. How many times had I wanted him to do that before? Even when I'd been pushing him away, I'd wanted him. Now he was mine.
Roth: "Layla? What are you smiling about? Not that I'm complaining. That's a freaking beautiful smile, and it makes me -"
I did what I wanted to do.
Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, I ignored the harsh glances in our direction, and no one said a thing to us after receiving one look from Roth. I stretched on the tips of my toes. With my free hand wrapped around the nape of his neck, I guided his head down. Surprise flickered across his face, and then I closed my eyes, pressing my mouth to his. The kiss was brief, but when I pulled away, his expression made my day.
He stared down at me, his eyes wide, and the pupils slightly dilated. His lips were parted and that bolt in his tongue glittered. The tops oh his cheekbones were flushed. He looked ... He looked gobsmacked.
Roth: "What ... What was that for?"
Layla: "Just because ... well, there were many times that I secretly wished you'd done that in the past, and I thought, why can't I?"
Roth: "I just want you to know that whenever you feel the need to do that, you do it. I don't care what we're doing, I'm always going to be down for that. Always."
Roth: "Okay. You're crazy, but that was also crazy hot. Just thought I'd share that with you."
Layla: "Hello, Dad."
Elijah: "Do not call me that."
Layla: "Why? You're my father."
One of the other Wardens, a tall, dark-haired man, glanced at Elijah questioningly. Did they not know? A horrible smile pulled at my lips and it was without any warmth. Instead, it was full of scorn and seventeen years of wondering.
Layla: "Yeah, maybe you remember how you hooked up with Lilith - the Lilith -"
Elijah: "Shut up."
A low grumble of warning rumbled from Roth as a blast of heat rolled off him, but my smile, it spread.
Layla: "And the two of you produced little old me. What? You didn't think I knew?"
Two of the Wardens behind him exchanged uncertain looks
Layla: "What? They didn't know?"
Elijah: "That doesn't matter."
Layla: "It doesn't? You boinked Lilith."
Roth: "Boinked? God, I love you."
Layla: "Don't try to act like you know anything about love. You're no better than me, and you're sure as Hell no better than him. He's a thousand times better than you could ever hope to be."
Elijah: "Him? A demon? You are -"
Layla: "He's the Crown Prince. Not just a demon. But even if he was merely a Fiend, he'd still be too good for the likes of you."
Roth: "That's my girl."
Elijah: "I should've known the moment that bitch left you with me that you weren't right. You'd be just like the whore -"
Roth: "Proceed very carefully with what you're about to say. That's my girl you're about to insult, and I'm not going to be happy about that. At all."
Layla: "Whatever. Same stuff. Different day. Try something new next time."
Elijah: "I cannot say I'm surprised to find you with a demon."
Roth: "I cannot say I'm surprised to find you're just as ugly as your son. Oh, wait. Dead son. My bad."
Elijah: "Do not speak of my son."
Roth: "I won't speak of him, only because he's worse than the scum that lines the streets below. But do you want to know what I did with his spine after I tore it from his body?"
Throwing a punch that would make a boxer proud, I cold-cocked Elijah in the jaw, snapping his head back. Pain burst across my hand, but I ignored it as I looked up, meeting Roth's gaze.
Roth: "Damn. Still hot as Hell."
Layla: "What do you want to do when this is all over?"
Roth: "For real? I can't believe you even have to ask that. I plan to be wherever you are."
Roth: "We confronted them and they attacked."
Layla: "He still wants me dead. Nothing new there."
Zayne glanced in my direction, but didn't make eye contact.
Zayne: "So what happened?"
Roth: "Well, Bambi ate one of the Wardens. So kind of not sorry about that. I sort of put another out of commission. Permanently. Self-defense. I swear."
Nicolai: "I'm sure of that."
Danika: "If they were from his clan, they won't be missed."
Danika: "What? It's the truth. They're all jackasses. We all know that."
Nicolai's lips twitched.
Nicolai: "What happened to the third Warden?"
Roth: "He was taking a nap on the rooftop when we left him. Not sure if he's woken up or some demon has come along and done bad, bad things to him. Don't know. Don't care."
Zayne: "And Elijah?"
Layla: "I was fighting him -"
Nicolai: "You were fighting Elijah?"
Layla: "Uh. Yeah?"
Roth: "Have I told you how much I love those pants?"
Glancing down, I bit back a groan. They were skintight, and I'd practically had to lie down this morning to zip them up.
Layla: "Your and Cayman's taste in clothing sucks."
Roth: "I cannot stop staring at your -"
He kissed my earlobe as we finally passed the stage.
Layla: "How about my nose?"
Roth: "Not quite."
Layla: "You must be checking out my kneecaps then."
Roth: "Closer. Later I can give you a hands-on explanation of what I've been staring at all day."
Layla: "You're so helpful."
Roth: "What can I say? You bring out my altruistic side."
Roth: "Did I hurt you?"
Layla: "No. They're just super-sensitive."
He arched a brow as he opened his mouth and then closed it. I grinned.
Layla: "I think your mind just went into the gutter."
Roth: "Shortie, my mind exists there."
Layla: "I feel like a ... peacock."
Roth: "Back to birds again, I see. Many believe peacocks are beautiful."
Layla: "How about a cockatoo?"
Roth: "I'm sure there are some that find them beautiful, also."
Layla: "A pigeon?"
Roth: "Layla, nothing about you reminds me of a pigeon. Have you really looked at yourself since this ... this change, while you're shifted? Except the first time?"
Lowering my gaze, I shook my head.
Roth: "You should do that sometime soon. Maybe you'll see what I see. Maybe you'll see what everyone else sees. Because you are beautiful, Layla, and while I may say that one word to you a lot, I don't simply toss it around. And I've seen many, many beautiful things. People as beautiful as demons are atrocious. You, by far, shine brighter than any of them. It's more than what is on the outside. It comes from within you. I've seen a lot of things and nothing, nothing comes close to you."
Roth: "Do you know why sometimes I have to move away from you?"
Roth: "Whenever I'm around you, I always want to be touching you. I'm not even sure if it's a want or more of a need to do so. It's always been that way, from the first time I saw you. I think it's because ... there is nothing like you where I'm from. Your inherent goodness. I can feel it. I don't know how, maybe I just like the way your skin feels under my hands. Who knows? I might have a boundaries problem"
Layla: "Maybe just a little, but I don't mind."
Layla: "You make it sound so easy. Like me looking like your grandmother one day isn't a big deal."
Roth: "It's not. I don't think you understand what it means when a demon falls in love, Layla. It doesn't go away. It doesn't fade, even if we want it to. We love until death. That's not just something we day. We love and we love once and it's forever. No matter what. And that's a bit twisted if you think about it, but luckily you feel the same way, so this isn't awkward. You feel me?"
Layla: "God, Roth, sometimes ... sometimes you're just perfect."
Cayman: "You know what you're getting?"
Layla: "A fox, because they are fast and clever."
Roth: Like me."
I rolled my eyes
Layla: "Not because it's like Roth."
Cayman: "A fox? Interesting. I'm going to need some space to do that. Pull up your shirt."
Roth: "You might want to rethink that request."
Cayman snorted as he looked up through a lock of hair
Cayman: "Please. As pretty as our little strudel cake is, she doesn't do it for me. You taking off your shirt, however, floats my boat and anchor."
Cayman: "Don't mind me. I'm not here. Nope. I'm not the awkward third part, having to witness you two eat each other's face."
Roth: "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but we ... we need to slow it down."
Layla: "I ... I don't want to slow down."
His eyes flared a bright, tawny color as his arm tightened around me.
Roth: "Layla -"
Layla: "I don't want to stop. I don't want to slow down. I want to go fast. I mean, I want -"
Roth: "I get what you're saying. Damn, do I ever."
Layla: "I don't ... understand. You don't want this?"
Roth: "Is that a serious question?"
With his arm, he lifted me up just a few more inches, until our bodies were pieced together in all the ways that counted.
Roth: "What do you think the answer to that question is?"
Layla: "I ... I think you do."
Roth: "There's nothing else I want more than that in this moment. Layla, I want you. I want you so badly that every time I'm alone with you - Hell, whenever I'm in the neat vicinity of you - it takes every ounce of restraint I have not to have you. Make no mistake, the very thought of being with you undoes me. But I only want to go there if you're ready. There's no middle ground. There're no maybes, and I'll wait for however long that takes."
My hand didn't tremble as I placed it against his cheek, and my gaze was steady when I met his.
Layla: "I'm ready, Roth."
His eyes slammed shut
Roth: "Layla. I'm not a saint. You know this. I want to -"
Layla: "I don't want you to be a saint. I want you to be you. I love you and I want this."
Roth: "Are you sure?"
Roth: "You make me ... You make me wish I had a soul so that I could be worthy of you."
Layla: "You are worthy of me."
Roth: "I don't know if we can produce a child - if I can or you can. So I think we just need to be careful."
Layla: "Good call."
Inclining his head to the side, he grinned
Roth: "Yeah. Maybe one day, we'll test that out."
Roth: "I want this to be perfect for you."
Layla: "It will be, because it's with you."
Roth: "I feel like I've -"
A choked laugh cut him off
Roth: "Like I've never done this before."
Layla: "Well, that makes two of us. SO this could be really good or -"
Roth: "It's going to me more than really good. Yeah, it's going to be more."
Roth: "You okay?"
Layla: "I feel ... perfect."
His lips brushed mine
Roth: "I didn't hurt you?"
I shook my head as my eyes drifted shut
Layla: "No. You were ..."
Roth: "Amazing? Divine? Mind-blowing -"
Laughing softly, I snuggled in against him
Layla: "Yes. To all of those things."
His embrace tightened and neither of us spoke for a long moment as he smoothed his hand up and down the center of my back, lulling me into a pleasant, blissed-out haze.
Roth: "Thank you."
Layla: "What are you thanking me for?"
Roth kissed my brow
Roth: "For everything you have given me."
Layla: "What are you doing?"
Roth: "I'm probably going to sound like a creep, but I was watching you."
Layla: "That is a hallmark of a creeper."
Roth: "I can't help myself. You're just too beautiful to look away from. It's true. I'm a demon. I don't lie."
I stared at him. His grin spread.
Roth: "I got up to get something to drink. And I glanced back at you. I don't even know why. I just did and then I stopped."
Roth: "Let me see what I can do with this. You're right. This is a mess. You look like you could've been in an '80's music video. What did you do to it?"
Layla: "I didn't do anything. That -"
I pointed at my head
Layla: " - is all your doing?"
He started to ease the brush through my hair.
Roth: "Blame the demon. I see how you are."
Roth: "When I was in the pits, I really didn't think I was going to get out of there. I figured the Boss would either not care enough to pull my happy ass out of it or would forget. I honestly have no idea how long I was in there. Time moves differently down below. It wasn't pleasant. Actually, it freaking sucked, but you got me through it."
Roth: "Easy. I thought about you. You were all I thought about. I focused on the time we spent together, and as crazy as it sounds, I thought about you being topside with Zayne."
Roth: "Knowing that you'd be safe and would eventually be happy made it somewhat more bearable. And I know - I know - that Zayne would've laid down his life to protect you. Probably still would. You'd be okay. So knowing that helped when it got ... well, when it got hard."
Layla: "I wish I could take away the time you've spent in the pits."
Roth: "You already have."
Layla: "And I wish you never had to sacrifice yourself."
Roth: "I wouldn't change a thing."
Layla: "I know. You know, you know that I care about Zayne deeply. That's never going to change. Even though right now he'd probably rather punt-kick me into traffic than talk to me, I'm always going to love him. I told you this before. I love Zayne, but I'm not in love with him, and I don't know if that would've ever changed. Could I have been with him?"
I raised a shoulder
Layla: "Yeah, I could've been, but it would never be like this - like it is between you and me. I don't know how long I would've stayed happy with Zayne if he and I got together and you never came back. Or if he would've remained happy with it himself, but at some point, what I felt for him wouldn't have been enough. That's unfair to him. So I'm glad that knowing I had someone helped you get through that, and to be honest, that blows my mind, but I want you to know that it would've ... it would've never been enough for me."
Roth reached around me, placing his hand above my heart. He flattened his palm, and I lifted my arm, folding my hand over his. His breath was warm against my shoulder when he spoke.
Roth: "I know."
Roth: "I want you to listen when I say this. Nothing in this world or down below is going to keep me from you. Nothing, Layla. That's a promise I will never break."
Layla: "I will make you the same promise."
Roth: "You will?"
Layla: "I love you. Just wanted to throw that out there."
Roth: "I desire you."
Lowering his head, his lips skated up the side of my neck, to the sensitive spot below my ear.
Roth: "I want you. I need you."
He nipped the fleshy part of my lobe, causing me to gasp.
Roth: "And I love you."
Roth: "I like your pants."
Layla: "I'm never allowing Cayman to go shopping for me again."
Roth: "I hope he shops for you from now on."
Walking past me, toward the door, he slid his hand over my leather-clad legs.
Roth: "Or at least keep these."
I rolled my eyes as I turned around
Roth: "Mmm. Please keep them"
Layla: "Only because you asked nicely."
Roth: "And because your ass looks sumptuous in them?"
Roth: "I think that's a valid reason."
Layla: "I'm sure you do."
Roth: "How your ass looks is a very important thing when shopping for pants, Shortie."
I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing
Layla: "I'm sure there are things that are even more important."
Roth: "Like what?"
Layla: "Oh, I don't know. How about comfort?"
Layla: "What about usefulness?"
Roth: "There is nothing more useful than leather pants. They'll protect your ass while making it look fine."
Layla: "You have an answer for everything, don't you?"
Layla: "It's annoying."
Roth: "You still love me."
Layla: "This is unspeakably weird."
Bambi: "I think it's fantastically delightful. But you know what's not delightful? Your taste in men. I was really hoping you'd hook up with Zayne. He looked yummy."
Layla: "You've already eaten one Warden -"
Bambi: "Honey, that's not the kind of eating I'm thinking of when I clap eyes on that big, blond ball of sweet, sweet loving."
My eyes widened as Robin rolled his.
Layla: "I'm ... uh, sorry to disappoint you?"
Bambi: "I liked it when he would pet me and I think you liked it, too. But I wonder how he'd feel if he knew what part of me he was actually feeling up. It wasn't my neck."
Robin: "That's disgusting."
Bambi: "It was amazing."
Grim: "By giving life to you, she ultimately set into motion the only true weapon that could kill her. Nature. That's the true bitch."
Grim: "You are like Lilith - utterly unique. Something that should not exist but does. So, too, is the Lilin. It should not exist, but you ... you can stop it."
Layla: "I will stop it."
Grim: "Really? Because all you've done since the Lilin revealed itself is mourn your friend, pout, indulge in relationship drama I would normally only expect from a pitiful human teenager and surrender your chastity."
Grim: "I think I spoke clearly. You need to stop the Lilin, but the only thing you've really accomplished is the loss of your virginity. Still, I suppose congratulations are in order. It is a milestone, after all. Please pass on my good tidings to the Prince."
Layla: "No pressure or anything. I'm just stopping the apocalypse."
Grim: "Unlike your mother, I have faith in you, Layla. But remember one thing. Everyone pays a price in blood in the end."
Layla: "Roth. I know you're upset. I'm sorry, but I had to go down there and I knew it wasn't safe for -"
Roth: "Yes, let's talk about safety! Do you even know how much you risked by going down there? How incredibly lucky you are to be standing here, unscathed?"
Layla: "Yes, but -"
Roth: "There isn't a but in this, Layla. There are any number of extremely disturbed and twisted things that could have happened to you. And for what?"
Layla: "For what? You knew I had to help Sam. That I couldn't -"
Roth: "I could've helped you if you had allowed me! I know what can happen down there, and I don't care what Cayman said to you, there was no way you could've been prepared. Any number of demons could've taken you, and they would've done things that would make you beg for death."
Layla: "Nothing happened to me, Roth. I'm okay -"
Roth: "I didn't know that, now, did I? I woke up after that asshole snapped my beck and you were gone, Layla, into Hell, and I couldn't go after you. I tried, but the damn elevator wouldn't come up. I knew the entrance had been blocked, and you have no idea what that made me think. I didn't know if you were okay. I spent a day and a half fearing the worst!"
Layla: "Roth, I'm sorry. I really am. I didn't want you to worry."
Roth: "If you didn't want me to worry, you never would've conspired against me. I offered you my aid and you stripped that choice from me. And I was left utterly powerless when it came to helping you. Dammit, Layla, I want to throttle you."
Layla: "Well, that's not really helping me."
Roth: "Do you think this is a joke?"
Roth: "You risked too much, Layla. You -"
Layla: "I wasn't going to risk you!"
I shouted, my control stretching and then snapping. I stepped forward, planting my hands on his chest and shoving hard. He stumbled bck only half a step.
Layla: "Do you understand that? I had to go down there to help Sam, but I was not going to risk you and I wouldn't go back and change that if I could. Sorry! You can be mad all you want."
Roth: "I'm pissed off because I love you, Layla, and the idea of losing you fucking terrifies me!"
Layla: "And I wasn't going to chance losing you! Because I love you, you annoying, self-important and over-controlling -"
Roth shot forward, clasping my wrists in his. Pressing me back against the wall, he pinned my hands above my head. Our bodies were flushed, and my heart pounded erratically as he dipped his head.
Roth's mouth was on mine, and it was a raw kiss, one that brooked no room for denial. Not that I could ever want to deny him. The kiss was almost too powerful, too primitive.
Roth: "I can't lose you. I can't."
Layla: "You won't. Are you still mad at me?"
His breath was warm on my lips
Roth: "I still want to strangle you. But in the most loving way possible."
Layla: "Okay then."
Roth: "Seriously? You're not jealous, are you?"
Layla: "At first, yeah, I was. But then I realized how stupid that was. And besides, she apparently has the hots for Zayne."
Roth: "Why doesn't that surprise me? Bambi's always had bad taste."
Layla: "Anyway, good news is, I'm kind of immortal, so you don't need to worry about me look like your grandmother one day."
Roth: "I fail to see where there is any bad news involved in what you've just told me."
I almost smiled
Layla: "Well, I'm kind of a bigger freak than you thought in the beginning."
Roth: "I don't care if you grow a third boob when you shift or if you are part Hellion. Or if three days a month you end up needed to consume the flesh of the dead. I'm going to love you all the same. But knowing that I'm not going to have to make some crazy deal in the future to prevent you from dying of old age on me is the icing on my cake, babe."
Layla: "You're ridiculous, you know that? You really would make a deal?"
Roth: "I would do anything for you."
Roth: "To bruise your skin, someone would've had to have gripped your arm with enough force that if you were human, it would've snapped your bone."
Layla: "My arm is fine."
Roth: "That doesn't answer my question."
Layla: "I don't think I need to answer your question, because you'll flip out."
Roth: "I'm totally calm. I would just like to know who marred your skin so that I can put a name and face to the creature I'm going to kill very slowly."
Layla: "I think we might have different definitions of calm."
Roth: "I've never been calmer in my life. It was Grim, wasn't it. Touchy, impatient bastard."
Layla: "I have a feeling you can't kill him."
Roth: "I can try."
Paul: "All of us have heard of the Prince's arrogance. How reassuring to see that this rumor is correct."
Roth: "Did you also hear the rumor of how I strung a witch up by his teeth once? Because that was also true."
Layla: "No. You don't have to do this. Screw it. They can't hurt me or you. We do not have to do this."
Paul: "You'd have him break his word?"
Layla: "I'd have you shut the Hell up."
Cayman: "She's right. Roth, she's right. You know there's a way out of this. I would not ... hold it against you. I know how much Bambi means to you, and I knew that when I brokered the deal."
Roth: "You brokered the deal believing that I would not honor it?"
Roth: "You know what will happen if I do not honor this deal."
Cayman nodded once more
Roth cursed as he reached up and thrust his fingers though his hair before stalking toward the other demon. I braced myself for a brawl of epic proportions, but Roth clamped his hand around the back of Cayman's head.
Roth: "You stupid son of a bitch. You would die? You know that's what would happen. If you broker a deal and it's not upheld, you die."
Cayman: "You would do anything to save her. And I would do anything to serve your best interests, even if that means my death. I never expected you to give up Bambi, but that's what it took for them to save Layla. So that's what I promised."
Roth: "I cannot promise that whatsoever."
Abbot: "Layla, I -"
Layla: "Don't. Don't apologize. A handful of words don't make up for what you did."
Abbot: "I know nothing I say will ever erase any of what happened, but I ... I regret the role I played in it all. You were mine to raise and protect. I failed you."
Roth: "Yes, you did. I won't, but here's the thing, and this message goes out to everyone. She doesn't need protection. Not anymore."
Abbot: "I've heard from my son that you are ... something else. That you do not look like us anymore."
Layla: "I'm not like you. Turns out, I was never a demon."
That got Zayne's attention and an emotion out of him.
Layla: "Yeah, I have some demonic abilities, but ... Well, does any of that matter?"
Zayne: "No. It never mattered before. Bot to any of us. It doesn't matter now."
Roth: "Remember the guy who threw holy water on you?"
Layla: "Not something I'd forget."
Roth: "I really hope he's in there."
Layla: "Oh dear."
Crudely drawn Wardens who looked more like overgrown bats than gargoyles, were on wither side of the words THE END IS NIGH.
Roth: "So cliche. You'd think they'd come up with something new."
Layla: "But the end is nigh."
Roth: "You - are adorable."
Tony: "Just so you know, when you ended up chained in the fiery pits, I wwasn't laughing like I predicted. Maybe just a low chuckle of amusement."
Roth: "Are you sure it wasn't a high-pitched giggle of amusement? Since you haven't hit puberty yet?"
Oh dear. Tony lifted a chubby hand and flipped Roth off.
Roth: "Ah, did I upset the wee, little baby -"
Layla: "Roth. I can't take you anywhere."
Roth: "Not true. I'm adaptable in any situation."
Tony: "Everything is for a reason. Not one thing in this world happens without a purpose. Everyone's actions - those of the Prince and of your Wardens - have all been leading up to this. They've all sacrificed for you, for this. And it will not be in vain."
Stacey: "You know you're the sister I never really asked for, right?"
Stacey: "And I love you, no matter what. You know that also. And you know how much it ... it killed me to lose Sam. I can't lose you, too."
Layla: "Why do you think that's going to happen?"
Stacey: "Because I know you."
Layla: "Would you also be there in a barely there bikini?"
Roth: "You would not be able to control yourself if you saw something so amazing. You'd treat me like a piece of meat."
Layla: "Hiding out at a beach isn't going to save us."
Roth: "We could try, dammit. We could try to survive. Leaving here promises us at least a tomorrow - maybe even a week or a month, but staying here - what do we have?"
I sucked in a sharp breath
Layla: "What do you mean?"
Roth: "You don't think I know what's been going on in your head since you realized your life was tied to the Lilin's?"
His hand curled around the nape of my neck as he leaned in, pressing his forehead to mine.
Roth: "Dammit, Layla, I know . .."
My eyes squeezed shut against the sudden burn.
Roth: "You're too good. You don't see that, but I do. You're too good, but I'm not. Let me be selfish enough for the both of us."
Roth: "I'm terrified."
Layla: "You're never scared."
Roth: "I'm not scared. I'm terrified. I'm terrified of losing you and that there will be nothing that I can do to stop it."
My fingers itched to touch him, just one last time, but I'd risk waking him by doing so. I settled for memorizing every beautiful angel of his face, from the sharpness of his cheekbones to the hard line of his jaw, only slightly softened by sleep. I committed to memory the thickness of his lashes and the natural arch of his brows. I looked my fill when it came to his full lips and I wished I'dget to see those dimples once more, or the way the tawny amber of his eyes would brighten when he looked at me. I yeared to thread my hand through his hair just once more, feeling the silky smoothness as the strands sifted through my fingers.
I ached to hear him say I love you once more time.
None of that was going to happen.
Squeezing my eyes shut against the rush of tears, I carefully rolled out of the bed and tiptoed to where my clothes were piled on the floor. In the quiet darkness,I dressed, grabbed the iron dagger off the piano, and then crept over to where Roth lay on his side, facing the space I'd rested on.
Layla: "I love you. I love you so much."
And then I did the one thing I never planned to do, but the only thing I could. I left Roth.
Layla: "Destiny is bull. No one is destined for anything. We control our own fates."
Lilith: "Obviously. But look at you now, the road you've chosen. What do you know of life? Your entire existence was pointless."
Layla: "Not true. I know of friendship. I know of ... of live. You know nothing of those things."
Lilith flinched and for a long moment she was silent.
Lilith: "That is not true. I did know of love, the purest kind."
Layla: "Is that so?"
Lilith: "Yes. When I held you in my arms and you stared up at me, only a few minutes old, I knew the purest brand of love."
Roth: "The moment I read that text, I swear my heart stopped. I left the room and found Cayman downstairs. The look on his face confirmed it. You were gone and I ...I couldn't deal with that. That's when I went to Hell, but you weren't there, and I though ... you'd gone up there. And that made sense. That no matter what ran in your blood, you would end up there. But up there, you were totally out of my reach. Forever."
My heart broke when his voice cracked
Roth: "I'm a demon, Layla. I'm a selfish prick. Even though I thought you'd ascended to a place like that, I couldn't ever get to you. Never again. I wanted to be happy for that, but I couldn't. I couldn't deal. These six days you've been gone, I ... There was nothing but anger and pain. It wasn't fair. Not for us. It wasn't fair, and when the anger finally faded away, I was dead inside, Layla. That's the damn truth. I was dea inside."
Layla: "I have a really messed-up family."
Roth: "Shortie, that is one thing I can understand."
Layla: "I ended up in this bizarre, in-between place. I saw ... I saw my mother again."
Layla: "It really wasn't her. More like her spirit. All of us were connected - are connected. When the Lilin died and I was dying, she was able to come to me. She was kind of a bitch. Again."
Roth let out a surprised laugh
Roth: "I could've told you that."
Cayman: "Oh for the love of my innocent, virtuous eyes, could you guys not do that were I have to see it?"
Zayne: "You know, you can't doubt what you really are, anymore. Inside. You have to know. To make that kind of choice you made, you can no longer doubt your worth. I just ... I just wanted you to know that."
Layla: "Mr. Snotty."
I'd loved that thing.
As much as I loved Zayne.
I took the bear, clutching it close as Zayne cleared his throat.
Zayne: "I know you're not a little girl anymore. Heck, I know if push comesto shove, you could kick my ass now, but I thought ... well, you could always use Mr. Snotty. He belongs to you."
Tears burned my eyes as I buried my face in the top of Mr. Snotty's head and breathed in deeply. The scent of what used to be my home clung to the little bear, and I almost started sobbing right there. Hugging that bear, I wanted to go back in time just so I could get one more hug out of Abbot, before everything went downhill between us. Blinking back tears, I lifted my face to Zayne.
Layla: "Thank you. Thank you so much."
He closed his eyes briefly.
Zayne: "I miss you, Layla."
Layla: "You don't have to. I'm right here. I miss you, Zayne. I want to be friends."
Zayne: "I know. It's just ... I'm not ready for that. I like to think that one day I will be. Well, I know I will. One day."
Layla: "I will be waiting. I mean it. I'll be waiting for that day."
Layla: "I may not be able to defeat you, but I know I can go toe-to-toe with you. So if you harm one hair on Roth's head, I will bathe in your blood and make a necklace out of your entrails."
The Boss: "I like you. I really do. You are deserving of the Crown Prince."
The Boss: "And I can see that you and I ... Well, I think we'll get along famously. Visit whenever you like, but one last thing."
The Boss: "Threaten me again, and I don't care what your mother has promised, what friends you have in high places, or what it will do to Astaroth - you will be wearing entrails as a necklace, but they won't be mine."
Roth: "Why would the Boss say that?"
Layla: "I ... um, I kind of threatened her."
Roth: "You did?"
Biting down on my lower lip, I nodded.
Layla: "I sort of told her that I'd bathe in her blood and wear her entrails as a necklace if she harmed you."
One corner of his lips twitched
Roth: "You did what?"
Layla: "I wanted her to know that I did not take kindly to thinly veiled threats against you."
Roth's face softened
Roth: "Oh, Shortie ... you do me proud."
Blushing, I looked away as I rolled my eyes
Roth: "Later better come soon. Tomorrow we leave? Canada next?"
Layla: "Canada it is."
Roth: "Is it later yet?"
Layla: "Only if you can catch me."
Roth rose once, capturing my hand before I could even take off, threading his fingers through mine
Roth: "Already did, Layla."
Layla: "I love you."
Roth: "And I love you. With every breath I take, I will always love you."
Check out the rest of the Darkest Elements Series below
Also check out the spin-off series, Harbinger, below