Authors: Heather Killough-Walden
Tags: #Paranormal, #Angel, #Romance
Frankly, she had no idea how to face them all. And even if she
know how, she couldn’t do it right now – not with Samael on her tail. Right now, she just needed to get as far away as possible, as quickly as possible.
So, though they didn’t know it, and
, the archangels and their amazing mates were her only hope. She was depending on them to work together to confront and deal with the Adarians that were loose in the crowd before they began ripping Valley of Shadow fans to shreds to get at their beating hearts.
She shivered at the thought, and her chest twinged with a sharp ache, as if someone was ripping out her own heart.
In front of her, Azrael watched her in more of his enigmatic silence.
And then, quite suddenly, that flash she’d seen earlier in his eyes was back, but it was brighter. It was redder. His entire countenance changed in a split second.
Angel felt a wave of promised death touch against her defensive walls… just before Az took a single step backward into the darkness behind him.
He didn’t want to do it. He’d made a mistake like this once before, long, long ago, and it had doomed him. Samael had been understanding enough to take him in… and he’d… he’d been loyal to….
Jason closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly for a moment as his memories flitted and faded, fighting his attempt at recall. Everything became blurry all of a sudden, and he felt fuzzy and numb. And for some reason, terrified. There was something in his head, like a buzzing bee. He ached everywhere, as if he’d been run over by a truck. He felt queasy, and his fingers tingled uncomfortably. Something banged at the door of his recollection, trying to get his attention, trying to warn him, but he couldn’t answer the door. He couldn’t even
It no longer matters.
Forget. And open your eyes.
He opened his eyes and lifted his head to meet the gaze of the man who was his new master, and who now forever would be. Irises like black dandelions stared back at him.
The man in white felt like an alabaster tower before him, omnipotent and terrible. “It’s time for you to do your job,” he told Jason. “Don’t disappoint me.”
Jason nodded, relaxing because the banging had stopped, and turned to make his way through the wild, roaring crowd.
She knew the moment he’d slipped away from the stage. She was linked to him now, and could easily sense something like that. An illusion took his place, singing with his voice, and peering at the crowd through his mesmerizing eyes, but she knew it wasn’t really him. Everyone else would be fooled. Not her.
Her gaze narrowed on the screens. She carefully started making her way back down from the backstage ladder she’d been sitting atop for the concert. She always sat up there when he played, whether it was during practice or a concert, like tonight. She enjoyed the way the drum beats shook the ladder. If she closed her eyes and tilted her head back, Az’s voice made her feel like she was flying. She only had to make sure her wings didn’t actually come out while she was drifting on his lyrics, or someone might see them.
“Sam is in the crowd,” said someone behind her. She lowered herself from the last step and turned around. Max was there, and Eleanore, Juliette, Gabriel, and Uriel were behind him. Rhiannon and Michael had been at the concert’s opening to cheer their brother on, but they’d left earlier because this was Saturday night, and crime never stopped in New York City. Michael was a cop, and Rhiannon was… well, a bad-ass. Both had their obligations.
“I know,” she said softly. She’d gathered as much by Az’s cryptic phrasing during one of the songs. It wasn’t how the lyrics were supposed to go; she would know, she’d heard him play enough times. But even if he hadn’t warned them, the way the weather was changing was enough.
A storm was moving in fast and furious. To a mortal, this would seem like unfortunate coincidence; it was about to rain on their parade. But to an archess, it was a sure sign of trouble. The ability to control the weather was inherent for an archess. Sophie could feel the thunder rolling closer, and as soon as she’d begun to sense the pressure drop and the air turn moist, she’d attempted to use her abilities to “clear the skies” for Az’s concert.
She’d failed. She had little doubt the other girls had also tried and failed.
That could only mean one thing. Storms were as linked to Samael as sugar was to candy. Lightning flashed in the man’s eyes. His countenance was like a thunderhead. He
a living, breathing tempest. And he was there, sure as the rain was about to fall.
“We’ll never find him in this mess,” Juliette said, as she stepped forward and peeked around the massive, black curtain that was the backdrop to the pyrotechnics and video screen behind Valley of Shadow. The crowd beyond was massive, undulating, and riotous, like the tide on a stormy sea. It was impossible to even tell men from women, the faces were so plentiful and blurred. It would be more than impossible to find an individual person, especially considering the individual didn’t want to be found.
“We’ll have to split up,” Max sighed.
Sophie turned to regard him. He looked pained making the suggestion. It was obvious he didn’t actually want them splitting up. But someone needed to confront Sam. He was putting the crowd in danger with this oncoming gale. The lightning was bad enough, but this amount of rain, the Four Corners area wasn’t used to absorbing. The ground was too solid, too dense. Sophie could imagine all sorts of things that could go wrong – flooding, trampling, mosh pits gone awry.
“Keep in contact with each other. Give a shout-out at the slightest sign of trouble.” He sighed, his gaze still fixed on the crowded area beyond the stage. “I grew up here, you know. On the reservation just over that hill.”
The lot of them stared at him. Then Gabriel rolled his eyes. This was no new thing with Max. He said as much about every place he visited. It was just the way he was.
“Come on, then,” Gabe instructed in his deep brogue. He stole a kiss from Juliette, who smiled, and then he winked, and ducked away into the crowd.
The others followed suit, leaving in separate directions until Sophie was left straggling a little behind. Her own mate was AWOL at the moment. Had he gone out to deal with Samael alone? To spare them all the trouble and danger?
She closed her eyes and waited for the answering words that were sure to follow. They always did. He would say her name in her head, and his inner voice would wrap around her like steel coils swathed in warm velvet, and she would feel utterly and completely exposed before him – and she loved it.
She waited. And waited.
Then she opened her eyes. There was no response. Only silence answered her mental call. She swallowed hard and tried again.
When Az’s warm, soothing voice failed to respond the second time, Sophie truly began to worry. She hurried down the back steps of the backstage area and out into the camp where the band and the crew had put up tents and parked RV’s and buses. She looked left and right, trying to catch sight of Eleanore or Juliette or even Max. But they’d already made their ways into the crowd.
This had never happened before. They were connected, she and Az, just as all four of the archesses were connected with their archangels. But for Sophie, it honestly felt as if it went deeper. Az wasn’t only an angel. He was a vampire. A very old one. And, well, he had ways of getting inside a person. When he got inside Sophie, their bond grew closer than she would have thought possible.
But at the moment….
Sophie ran a hand through her thick blonde hair and bit her lip. The bouncers in front of her glanced over their shoulders at her as she approached the hemline of the crowd they were holding back from the stage. They nodded at her, stepping aside so she could make her way in. As she nudged past them, she looked over her own shoulder at the stage, where Valley of Shadow continued to wow the masses with intense chords, fireworks only the Swallowtail Foundation could create, and, of course, lots and lots of vampire magic.
But now even more, she could tell her lost angel husband was not actually up there. She felt his absence like a very real empty space upon the stage.
Sophie rolled back her shoulders and took a deep breath. She needed to focus. Find Samael and convince him to leave. Or find Az and figure out why she couldn’t communicate with him. The last thing she needed to do was freak out.
She pushed her way through the crowd, using her telekinesis to help gently nudge taller or heavier people aside up ahead of her so she wouldn’t get squished in the writhing throng.
She’d just passed a woman with green spiky hair and a tall, skinny man in purple leather and massive earrings when she stopped in her tracks. There was an odd, uncomfortable sensation around her. It was like licking a battery or touching a TENS unit pad when it was on too high. The air felt a little thick, and she suddenly felt slightly dizzy. She looked down, not knowing why she was doing so, and found herself gazing at dozens of trampled black dandelions.
. Her pulse quickened at the sight of the familiar and impossible small black flowers. They spread from beneath where she was standing to several feet away, at the edge of a chain link fence. She was at the outer rim of the crowd. The darkness of a desert night stretched beyond the fence, deep and ominous.
“The easiest way to kill is to separate the smaller and weaker from the crowd.”
Sophie recognized the voice, but vaguely. Her heart began pounding, and she could hear it in her head. Slowly, and with a palatable sense of dread heavy on her tongue, she turned around to face the man who’d spoken to her.
But before she could so much as meet his blue gaze with her own, his hand was around her throat, cutting the air from her lungs and the voice from her lips. His strength was immense, and his speed unreasonable. He slammed her against the chain link fence behind them so hard that metal cut through her clothes and into her back. Her vision blurred as pain wracked through her.
The clouds above them began growing instantly darker, and lightning crashed into the ground less than a mile away.
As soon as Azrael vanished, Angel was running. She put one foot in front of the other, waving her hand to illuminate the tunnel before her. The sound of her footfalls echoed against the tight walls of her confined space. She counted the steps, counted her breaths, and the moment she felt she’d gone far enough, she stopped and cast a transport spell.
She reappeared in a hotel room in Boston, one she’d purchased out a few weeks before with the contingency that she would come and go over the coming days. She took a moment to look around, taking in the smell of cleaners and laundry detergent. There was also the scent of air fresheners no doubt meant to disguise the cigarette smoke that was coming from the adjoining bathroom. She listened to the sound of kids running down the hall in flip flops, probably headed to the pool, and the distant ding of an elevator as it reached her floor. The curtains were partly drawn, the sink sparkled, and the bed was made.
Her original plan had been to transport from one place to another in a quick hop-frog sort of fashion until she was at her home, a place she’d created long ago and shielded long in advance, knowing this time would one day come. But she was feeling drained and hungry, and this hotel had room service.
An hour wouldn’t hurt.
She made her way to the bed, changed her appearance to what it had been when she’d first made the reservation weeks ago, and flipped on the television. Then she grabbed the phone and ordered a soup and salad dish and a Dr. Pepper.
“Sam… what are you doing?”
Sam ignored the voice in the doorway. Just this once, it was rather unwelcome. Not only was she interrupting him while he was on the phone, he didn’t feel like explaining himself to Lilith, and he most definitely didn’t want to see the hints of disappointment he knew he’d find on her face.
Instead, he continued with his preparations. His phone was at his ear, and the man on the other end of the line was taking orders.
He asked Sam a question.
Sam replied, keeping his voice even and steady – nonchalant. “Five-thirty. Yes. That’s right, Adam. Have the stations ready. All of them.” He paused, waiting as the man asked another question. “What is it concerning?” He smiled. “You’ll just have to wait and see.” He hung up.
That would get them going. If he knew anything about humans and their love of dirty laundry, every news station he controlled would be waiting in the lobby of a building that sat on the corner of the busiest intersection in Kansas City, Missouri during the busiest time of the day on the busiest day of the week. The coverage would be immediate.
He hung up, and turned around, expecting Lilith to be gone.
But instead of leaving, she stood less than a foot away, startling him a little. Not that he showed it outwardly. He was quite good at keeping an outward calm.
He was wrong about her wearing a look of disappointment. This one was different. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was angry. Furious, even. There was a strange vibration coming from her, one he’d never felt before. For a split second, she didn’t feel like herself, but like something much bigger and more dangerous than she was, stuffed into a tiny, discreet, if beautiful body.
“I thought our discussion was over,” he stated casually, re-pocketing his phone and apparently turning his attention to documents on his desk. In reality, he was very tuned into the woman on the other side of the desk. She was unnerving him.
“Did it ever, even once,” she began slowly, “occur to you and your
head and your
selfish tendencies that Angel might have a very good reason for running from you?”