Authors: Sara York
The poor girl probably had no idea what the hell had happened to her, but it would be worse if she figured out her real predicament. He couldn’t believe God had gone to these depths to make His point. Okay, so Lash shouldn’t have meddled in Alexandria’s life, but love had made him desperate. Her soul had called to him for a long time but he guessed he’d waited too long. Then she’d almost died, and the thought of her slipping from his life without knowing how much he loved her had made his heart hurt.
Rage filled Lash and he cried out, slamming the chains down hard on the floor. He pulled them up again, banging and knocking them to the floor over and over again, until exhaustion left him spent.
No one heard his fit. It would be weeks before anyone found him, and then only if Rafe didn’t pay his rent. By that time, this body he’d been forced into would be dead. Without his powers to transform into another being, he would die.
” Lash refused to allow Rafe to win this battle.
The sound of someone bashing through the front door startled Lash. He called out, praying that whoever came could find the key to unlock the chains he was shackled with.
Mac burst through the closet door. “Lash, what happened?”
The guy stepped forward and began pulling on the chains, the way Lash had been doing for the last few hours. Mac yanked hard on the chain, trying to break the clamp secured to the floor.
“The damn thing won’t budge. I’ve been trying for hours to get free.”
“I’ll go get a hacksaw.” Mac raced towards the door.
“No, the metal is a special alloy. Hacksaw won’t cut it.”
“Shit, what can I do to get you out?”
“There’s a key. It’s the only thing that will open the lock.”
“Any idea where the key is?”
“Damn.” Mac paced out of the closet, then back in. “I’m going to look for that key, then you’re going to tell me what happened.”
Lash slumped down on the floor. How could he explain what had happened with Alexandria and Rafe? The truth was too unbelievable, and he wouldn’t lie. Mac would have to deal with Lash running out as soon as the chains were unlocked.
Mac banged around in the rest of the apartment, opening and shutting the drawers and cabinets, making a hell of a lot of noise. It seemed like forever before Mac came back, the smile on his face huge as he held up a gold key.
“This is the only key I found in the place. Let’s hope this works.” Mac leaned over, about to slide the key into the keyhole.
Mac hesitated. “What’s wrong?”
“I have to be the one to open the lock.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Trust me. This is the way it needs to be.”
Mac dropped the key into Lash’s open hand. He brought the key to his mouth, casting up a prayer before kissing the cold metal. Aiming the key to hit the lock took all of his dexterity. After the third attempt, and after Mac had grumbled more than any man should, Lash lined up the key with the lock and turned it. The shackles sprang off, dropping to the floor.
Lash jumped up, not wasting any time explaining the lock or Rafe to Mac. He had little time to fix this situation, and Mac couldn’t help. Most likely, Rafe had taken Alexandria back to his old haunt. Taking a mortal to the underworld was tricky at best. She wouldn’t be able to return to this world easily, and that scared the shit out of Lash. What if he showed up too late and Rafe had done something stupid?
Mac raced after him, but couldn’t match Lash’s speed. Lash was nowhere near as fast as he’d been in his old body, but it was enough to lose Mac in minutes. The path to the tree where Michael had left his marker sat one mile out of town, straight into the foothills. Lash’s breath came in great, heaving gasps as he rounded the bend in the path and slammed into the tree.
The wind rushed and ominous clouds gathered around the trees. To the town below, the inky clouds would look like a terrible storm brewing, but Lash knew different. Michael would be angry at being summoned so unceremoniously.
Thunder crackled as Michael swooped down, landing only inches from Lash. The force of his descent knocked Lash on his ass. He didn’t even try to stand up, knowing that going face to face with Michael when he was angry would only result in a punch to the kisser.
“Why did you summon me?”
“Rafe has Alexandria.”
“You were warned to watch out for her.”
“I need to go to the underworld and get her. I want to make this right. I’ll work on getting her with Scott.”
Michael raised his eyebrows. The old angel was impressed with his ability to figure out who Alexandria was supposed to be with. He pulled a scroll out of his satchel. “This pass should get you in and out. You cause any trouble down there and your ass gets cooked.”
“Fine, I’ll be a good boy, but I have to get to her now.”
Michael held the pass away from Lash. “Need I remind you time is running out? You must have her fall in love with Scott. If you mess this up, you’re never going to get back what you lost.”
“My life and comfort are of no use to me if Alexandria is lost forever down there. If I fail, at least I will have kept her from an eternity with that sorry-ass demon.”
“This is the last time I’m helping you on this mission.”
“Thanks, Michael, you’re the best.”
Lash took the pass and chanted the incantation to travel from this world to the underworld. Immediately, his stomach turned and his skin crawled. He hated being here. The evil in this place made him sick to his stomach. The few times he’d actually had to do business in the underworld, he’d spent weeks getting the stink out of his hair and feathers.
Alexandria had already forgiven her brother. Next he needed to get her to see Scott differently, and then he would take back his own body.
Broken glass and trash covered the path. Four hundred years had passed since his last trip to hell. The place had gone downhill.
Lash sensed Alexandria’s presence nearby. Few demons were bold enough to bring a mortal being to this realm. The goodness she exuded had left a residue behind, allowing him to track her easily.
Her essence trail ended at a run-down building with grimy glass and a broken door. He burst through the door, taking Rafe by surprise. The bastard had Alexandria naked and shackled to the wall, her arms and legs spread far apart, leaving her vulnerable to the demon’s attacks.
Lash’s blood boiled as he took in the scene. Red welts bubbled on Alexandria’s previously flawless skin. Bruises crossed her belly. Were her ribs broken? Blood seeped from one of the wounds on her thigh. A trickle of blood ran from her nose, and one eye had swollen shut.
Eternity wouldn’t be long enough for him to forgive this bastard demon for hurting Alexandria. Lash charged at Rafe, his head smacking into the beast, and pushed him up against the wall. Rafe’s borrowed body might be bigger and it might have more muscle, but Lash’s fury had ignited an anger that burned hot.
Rafe tried to fight back with quick punches and fast kicks, but Lash was on a mission to save Alexandria. Any weakness he showed would be exploited by the demon and turned into something ugly, then used to smash Lash into little pieces.
Lash kept the fight away from Alexandria, praying a stray piece of furniture wouldn’t hit her as the contents of the room were destroyed. Rafe was tired—Lash could see it on his face.
“You are done,” Lash shouted.
Rafe threw a punch that landed on Lash’s right cheek, which spurted blood as pain made his vision go blurry.
“Not by a long shot.” Rafe threw another punch that struck true.
Lash saw his chance. He leant down, pretending to be hurt. Rafe tried to take advantage of the situation and dived for him, but Lash came up with a chair leg in his right hand and bashed the hard wood across Rafe’s face, knocking him to the ground.
Rafe’s eyes rolled up in the back of his head as he groaned. Lash didn’t waste any time. He found a rope and secured Rafe’s legs and arms together, using some hog-tying techniques that made movement impossible for the big guy.
After securing the last of the knots, Lash turned to Alexandria, and his heart lurched in his chest. She’d been beaten but not broken. Fixing her wounds would be easy once he was fully restored to his angel body, but, more importantly, he needed to fix her soul.
“Alexandria, I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
She tried to talk, but her lips were swollen and her jaw hung at an odd angle. When Lash saw the extent of her injuries, he turned to Rafe and kicked him squarely in the ribs, his anger getting the better of him.
Lash found the key and opened the shackles. He dropped to the floor and pulled her down into his lap. Tears fell from his eyes onto her face. When he’d had his full powers one of his tears could have healed the dying, but in this borrowed body he didn’t know if his power would work.
His tears covered Alexandria’s face, and yet her bruises were growing darker by the minute. Her internal organs were injured—how badly, he didn’t know.
Lash threw back his head and cried out, begging God to restore his powers of healing. “Please don’t let this end this way. I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t interfere again. I’ll find a way to get her with Scott. I’ll do whatever you want, just fix her.”
Alexandria moaned and he turned his attention back to her. She looked close to death.
“Alexandria, listen to me. You won’t remember this, but I’m planting it in your subconscious. You need to fall in love with Scott. He’s good for you. I can’t be with you on Earth. Scott needs to be with you now.”
Lash didn’t know if he was getting through to her. Her eyes flashed open, but he couldn’t tell if she’d regained consciousness enough to make a decision about her future. Tears fell freely from his eyes. The grief of not knowing her fate tore at his heart. The hollow pit consuming his soul drained him, leaving him wondering if he’d have the strength to leave this hellish place.
Alexandria stirred in his arms. How much time had passed, he didn’t know. She moaned, but this time her groans sounded less painful. It might have only been the light but he could have sworn her bruises were healing. A tear dropped from his eye and splashed onto the cut on her mouth. The skin began to heal, and the blood stopped flowing freely. Two tears fell into her mouth, and she swallowed.
He held his breath for five long seconds, waiting for his healing powers to take effect. After a long moment she gulped in air, then sputtered and coughed.
She would live, but she needed emergency care. And he needed to adjust her memory. Remembering the events down here would be devastating to her. He should probably erase all her memories of him, but that would be too extensive and he couldn’t survive knowing she would never remember him for the rest of eternity.
The muscles in Lash’s arms bubbled and bulged. They rolled under his skin, almost as if he had something crawling through him. Pain ripped through his face as his jaw expanded and his eyes bugged out.
What the hell?
His body shuddered and shook as the pain intensified. He couldn’t breathe or move as his soul stayed in place as his body was reformed and restored back to his original form.
Alexandria woke as light shot from his body. She blinked and then scooted away. When the light around him dimmed, he had his old body back. He closed his eyes and revelled in the feeling of coming home. Everything felt right again with his soul and his body.
He opened his eyes and looked for his love. The fear in Alexandria’s face brought tears to his eyes. She would forget everything that had happened down here, so he might as well let her know the truth.
“Peace.” Raphael’s voice was calm but powerful.
Alexandria scooted away, searching for an escape route.
“Please hear me out. Alexandria, I’m not who you think I am.”
“You bastard. You hit me, tortured me. You would have raped me if Lash hadn’t shown up.”
“Stop.” His face heated with anger.
Her body shook as her face turned red. “Leave me alone.”
“Alexandria, I want you to listen to me.”
“You lie. You’re evil.”
His face fell and he looked pained. “Please, I’m begging you.”
There was nowhere for her to go. Lahash lay on the floor, as still as the dead. She would listen. He just had to be patient.
“I’ve changed places. Soul swapped.”
Alexandria stared at him, her face screwed into a frown. She shook her head and closed her eyes. “How did you do it?”
“Change places, or whatever you did.”
“I’m an angel, and I was sent to Earth in a different form as a punishment.”
“I saved your life four months ago when you were supposed to die. God forced me to change places with
to do penance for my sins.”
Alexandria’s eyes popped open, her gaze on him. “You are lying.”
“No, I’m not.”
Raphael spread his wings wide, and a beautiful light filled the room. “I never lie. I’m Raphael, or Rafe, as you know him. You’ll forget everything that happened down here and only remember what I allow you to remember about me.”
Alexandria shook her head. “No, I don’t believe you.”
Raphael closed the distance between them. “Touch me and you’ll understand.”
She hesitated and fear filled her eyes.
“I’m not him. I won’t hurt you. Touch my hand.”
She reached out and brushed her hand against his. Her face turned white, the bruises from the beating she’d taken grew darker. He needed to get her to the mortal world, and to a hospital. The switch much have diminished his tears’ healing powers enough that he couldn’t heal her body while she was down here in Hell.
“Oh, God, you are Lash.”
“Call me Raphael, please.”
She moved around him, limping as she went. His breath stalled as her hand hovered over the feathers. He glanced back over his shoulder, and their gazes connected. Excitement zinged through him. His wings flinched and brushed against her hand. Alexandria jumped back, then reached out with more confidence.
“They are so soft, almost silky,” she said. After stroking his wings she finished walking around him, stopping in front of him.