Authors: Cate Dean
THE CLAIRE WICHE CHRONICLES BOOK 4
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission of the author, except for use in any review. This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, locales, and events are either pure invention or used fictitiously, and all incidents come from the author’s imagination alone.
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After an eventful few months, Annie Sullivan wants some quiet time, and some face time with her fiancé, Eric. She finds both in a small town in England.
Until a life-changing discovery throws her into a sideways spin.
Just as she begins to wrap her head around it, the trouble she thought she left behind follows her. Now she has to find the courage to use her power against an impossible enemy, and believe in herself enough to save the people who have become her family.
Zach froze, steps away from freedom. He knew better than to try and escape now. That was his mom’s “I know what you did and you aren’t getting away with it” voice. He searched frantically through the last few days, trying to figure out just what he’d done—and his memory snagged on one incident.
Small, really—Mom didn’t need to go off because he found something. Again. Something he shouldn’t have been able to find . . .
Okay—maybe she does have a right to be mad.
Turning toward the approaching footsteps, he let out his breath and braced himself. Mom didn’t disappoint.
Claire Wiche may have been only a little over five feet tall, but she could knock down his ten inch height advantage with a single look.
“Not yet.” She paced in front of him—not easy in the small entry of their house. With a sigh, she stopped, touched his cheek. “How did you see the watch, Zach?”
Shrugging, he stared down at his feet. “I just did. When Mr. Reed mentioned it at the shop, I just—knew. I’m sorry, Mom, but it was so important to him. And not finding it leaves me—feeling weird.”
Doubled over in pain was more like it, but he didn’t want to give her something else to worry about. He was scared enough for both of them.
“What aren’t you telling me, Zach.”
Jeez, she was spooky sometimes. He swallowed, fought to keep his voice from cracking.
She shook her head. “You are more transparent than Annie.” Moving to him, she brushed hair off his forehead, and he knew she felt the sweat at his hairline. “Talk to me, sweetheart. I know you’re scared. I don’t want you to ever think you have to deal with this alone.”
“Mom . . .” Zach focused on the amethyst heart she wore. The heart he gave her for Christmas. It glowed, like it did the first time she put it on. He traced the simple line of it with his gaze, and gradually, the stinging behind his eyes faded. “Have I always been like this?”
She let out a gasp, tried to cover it. Hunching his shoulders, he forced himself to meet her eyes, knowing she’d have the look again. The concerned but not going to tell him what he desperately needed to know look.
He didn’t remember anything—not even a stray memory, not since he woke up on the cold, damp grass behind a huge house, Mom leaning over him. He didn’t even recognize her. But she said yes when he asked, and he felt—connected.
A connection that seemed to grow stronger every day.
He knew she was mad—it was the reason he’d been trying to sneak out in the first place. Now fear tickled the back of his throat. Her fear. For him. “Mom?”
“Zach.” She took his hand. He stared at it, to keep from seeing the fear in her eyes. Stared at the raw scar across her left wrist, cutting the gold triquetra tattoo in half. “What happened to you—it changed you, in ways I don’t know yet. We’re both learning as we go, and you have to trust me, to tell me what is going on with you—”
“Why doesn’t anyone here know me?” The question burst out before he could stop it. But he had to know, had to understand why people who’d known her for years looked at him like they’d never seen him before—
“Because you weren’t with me long. I chose you, Zach, to be part of my life.” She brushed hair off his forehead. “Please be patient with me; I’m new at this.” With a smile she let him go. “Now run away to wherever you were headed before I stopped you. Dinner’s at seven.”
He slipped out the door, and leaned against the outside wall, shaking. Mom had lied to him. He couldn’t figure out what part of her story was lie and what wasn’t, but he knew, as sure as the dread fisting in his gut, she was hiding something from him.
laire watched her son leave, then sagged against the door, her hands trembling.
Maybe not the truth, but he knew something was wrong—about him, about how long he had been part of her life. She hoped she would have more time to figure out what to tell him, how much to tell him about who he was, what he had been.
How could she explain he was a fallen angel? That she gave him her grace in order to allow him to become mortal?
“Oh, Annie—I could really use your straight up way of thinking right now.”
But Annie was gone, on a well-deserved holiday with Eric, hopefully relaxing, recovering from the last few months. They would be joining her in a few days, but she really needed to talk now.
She pushed the thought out of her mind, her heart already aching at just his name. Nothing she could say would erase the simple fact that she was a fallen angel turned demon. No matter how far she had come from demon to human, or that she now was the proud owner of a soul, he would never forgive her origins.
And Marcus—Marcus would listen, quiet and thoughtful, then tell her what he always told her. She would know what to do.
The problem was she had no idea.
nnie Sullivan leaned against the windowsill, staring at the view their hotel room offered of the town’s waterfront stores. Rain dumped on the usual bustle of lively locals and bug-eyed day trippers. Buckets of rain. She let out a sigh. “Okay—whose idea was it to come to England in March?”
Her fiancé, Eric Malone, moved behind her and wrapped both arms around her waist. “That would be you, blondie. Wanting to get away from everything familiar, seeing another country, new scenery, blah blah—”
“Keep going, handsome, and see who doesn’t get any tonight.” He leaned in, kissed the scar where her right earlobe used to be, knowing how sensitive it was. Annie sucked in her breath, and turned around to face him. “That is not fair play.”
“And neither is this.” With a smile he leaned in and kissed her until her knees refused to hold her up. Eric just tightened his grip on her, whispered against her lips. “Surrendering already?”
“I’m just getting started.” She twisted her hands into the front of his sweater, then slowly kissed her way down his throat, tasting him at every stop. The low moan he let out had her smiling.
“God—Annie, you’re killing me here.”
“Then I guess I should stop.” He hauled her back when she started to move away. She let out a burst of laughter. “Or not.”
Eric kept moving until the big bed caught them. They fell, sinking into the thick feather duvet, and rolled until Eric was on top of her. With a tenderness that caught in her throat, he framed her face.
“I love you, Annie. I never thought, or hoped I would feel like this, about anyone.” He laid his forehead against hers. “You saved me, when I didn’t deserve it. Have I ever thanked you?”
“Every time you smile, handsome.” She brushed his lips with her fingers, traced the lines of his face. That beautiful face. “Marry me, Eric.”
He smiled. “I asked you first.”
“I mean here. Here, in this place, where magic is so alive I feel like I can touch it.”
He leaned back, studying her. “You never mention magic to me. In fact, you avoid it, like you’re ashamed.”
“I know it’s something you’d rather not—”
“You’re wrong.” She blinked at him, startled by the intensity of his voice. “It’s a big part of the reason I’m attracted to you. I thought you were uncomfortable talking about it, especially after Claire gave hers up to Zach.” Eric rolled off her and sat, taking her with him. “I will be happy to listen to every detail, whenever you need an ear.”
She let out her breath, the weight on her heart she’d ignored for so long falling away. “Okay.”
“Good.” His smile told her he knew she was shell shocked by his announcement. “Now—where were we?”
“The wedding. Here.”
“Right.” She shook her head. “You really threw me with the whole magic thing. So, what do you think? Claire and Zach will already be here. I talked her into coming, and that was not an easy argument to win, especially by email. Marcus can come, if he makes an issue of it.” She pushed wild blonde curls off her face, a horrible thought flaring in her mind. “If you think I’m the big wedding, poufy dress kind of girl, get that image out of your head. Immediately. Please.”
That produced a smile. “I never—well, the wedding part, yes. I figured you would want friends—”
“Claire’s my best friend, my family. They’re all I need. Except you—I’ll need you there. For the whole groom thing.” She jumped off the bed, energized by the idea. “I need to talk to Claire—what time is it in California—”
“Annie.” Eric caught her as she ran past the bed again, pulled her down. “Take a minute.”
“I want to—”
“This is a big day, for both of us.” He touched her sapphire engagement ring, and blue light coiled around his finger. “That never gets old.” Annie studied him as he watched her power dance over his skin, still surprised by his easy acceptance. “Now, back to our regularly scheduled attempt at a conversation. I don’t want you to rush this, Annie. I know how you get when an idea jumps you. This time, sit, take a minute, talk to me.”
She took a deep breath, never thinking about how he would feel—or if he’d even want to marry her here. Hell, anywhere, the way she had been running over his life, demanding it be all about her. “I never asked what you want. It’s your day as much as mine.” Taking his hand, she twined their fingers together. “Tell me what you want.”
“You, sweetheart.” Tears burned her eyes. Eric tugged at her hand and she climbed into his lap, pressing her face against his shoulder. He rubbed her back, his hand warm through the thin cotton of her shirt. “And what I want is for you to have amazing memories of our wedding day. If that’s here, with a handful of people—then I’m good with it.” His fingers slid into her hair. “Make up that flexible mind of yours, blondie, and I’m with you.”
She took a shaky breath, gave herself a few seconds to pull it together before she met his eyes. “The best memories I’ve made since my parents died have been here, with you. I want this place to be part of our next big step.”
“Okay, then.” He touched her lips, smiling. “Now, go email Claire, before you burst.”
Annie gave him a noisy kiss, and danced across the hotel room, already writing the email in her head. She couldn’t wait for the reply.
arcus knocked on the back door, not surprised when Claire jerked it open almost before he finished. He had felt her turmoil across town; it drew him here, even when he knew the cause. The boy.
“Need a shoulder, sweet?”
“Marcus.” She let out a sigh, then opened the door wide. “Come in. I was reading an email from Annie. I just need to send her a reply.” He followed her into the living room. Her laptop sat on the coffee table. Lowering herself to the sofa, she started typing, her fingers nimble on the keyboard. Marcus always admired the contradictions—former demon, fallen angel, successful business woman. “How do you feel about England?”
“A bit damp for my taste,” he said. A smile tugged at her lips, easing some of the strain. “What is Annie up to now?”
“Making plans.” The smile appeared, lighting up her face. “Sounds like they’re having a good time.”
“And you are pleased for them.”
“It’s been a rough few months. Most of it due to me.” Claire looked down, red laced brown hair swinging forward to hide her face from him. “She deserves some peace. Both of them do.”
“Claire.” Marcus sat beside her, wanting to touch her, to comfort her. He had not earned the right. Not yet. Maybe not ever, if the boy had anything to say about the matter. “Annie loves you. And she would be the first to jump down your throat for taking the blame on yourself.” She lifted her head, such raw pain in those blue eyes he could not stop himself. He slipped one arm around her waist, pulled her into his side. “And I would be cheering her on.”