Heaven and Hellsbane
A Hellsbane Novel
By Paige Cuccaro, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2013 Paige Cuccaro
All rights reserved.
"Maion's gone. Dead." It looked like Eli had popped out of thin air into the extra chair at our table.
He hadn't really. He'd simply moved at angelic speed, faster than any human could track. Same difference.
"Who's Maion?" I asked. After a year training under the angel Eli to be a kick-ass illorum, learning how to boot fallen angels and their brown-nosing demon slaves back to the abyss, I was used to Eli's sudden appearances.
"No," Dan Wysocki, my boyfriend, said to me. "We agreed no work tonight. We're off duty. For one night, one hour, I'm not a cop and you're not a half human, half angel, demon-hunting-nephilim ... woman. Whatever this is can wait. He can wait."
Eli didn't even spare Dan a glance. "Maion is ... was an angel. A magister, like me. The illorum training under him was nearly killed as well."
An icy warning crawled down my back. An illorum is a nephilim — the offspring of human and angel — who has been marked to hunt fallen angels and whose angelic power, normally dormant, has been activated. The illorum are faster, stronger, heal quicker, and are only slightly harder to kill than unmarked nephilim and vanilla humans.
"How?" I asked.
"I don't know." Worry darkened Eli's expression and chilled his voice. "There's a lot about the attack that has me concerned. We have to discover who's behind it quickly before the situation gets any worse."
"Worse?" A magister was dead. How could things get worse? Magisters are seraphim, angels still pure and without sin who had dedicated their existence to training and aiding illorum. Not all seraphim chose to take on the duties of a magister. It cost them a small amount of their power and tainted their spirit. Most weren't willing to pay such a price to help a breed of human, nephilim, they wished had never even been born. Still, nothing, as far as I knew, could kill a magister.
"So, what do you need Emma for?" Dan pushed to the edge of his seat, elbows braced on the table, shoulders tense. "Let me help you: here's what you do. Go figure out what happened and what — if anything — Emma can do about it, and then come back and interrupt our private dinner ... again."
"Dan. Careful." Sometimes I thought he forgot who and what Eli was. But he was angry, frustrated, and I got that. Dan and I had been seeing each other for months, but it'd been weeks since we'd gone on a real, uninterrupted date. Something — attacking demons, police calls, even Eli — always seemed to get in the way. Maybe it was fate, or destiny, keeping us apart. I don't know. I didn't like to think about it.
Dan glanced at me, then back to Eli, his round face reddening. I could feel his ire sizzling at the base of my neck. I clenched my fists, jaw tight, and closed my eyes. I had to fight to push his anger down as it rolled inside me and pull my true feelings to the surface.
I used to think feeling others' emotions was some sort of freakish gift. I'd even turned it into a pretty successful moneymaker as an Intuitive Consciousness Explorer — otherwise known as a psychic. I knew now it was just one of the many quirky side effects of being the bastard offspring of an angel. Yay me.
Dan turned his gaze back to Eli. He couldn't let it go. "This is a date, man. Private time. But you knew that, didn't you? You knew we'd been planning this for the past week. You knew the last time we tried this, too. And the time before that."
"Emma forfeited her private time when she picked up that sword," Eli said. "She's a warrior for our Father now. She's never off duty."
"Bullshit," Dan said, then glanced around and lowered his voice. "She'd have private time — time alone with me — if you'd stay away long enough for her to take a breath."
I followed Dan's gaze, scanning the faces at the nearby tables, worried we were drawing attention. No one looked our way. No one had even noticed Eli's sudden arrival. But humans weren't meant to notice the comings and goings of angels. As beautiful as they were, angels were like extras in a movie, part of the background and easily overlooked.
"C'mon, Dan," I said. "You know Eli's not doing it on purpose."
Dan glowered at me, frustration still tight across his face. "You sure about that?"
"Yes," I said, but I couldn't blame him for doubting it. Eli had been a near-constant presence in my life since the moment I'd met him a year ago. He'd been the magister of a dear friend, an illorum like me, Tommy Saint James. It was Tommy who'd brought me to him, introduced us. But even Tommy had been concerned about Eli and me working together.
And with good reason.
Eli was everything angels were supposed to be: tall, broad-shouldered, with a strong, athletic build. He had the looks that could steal a woman's breath, keep her speechless for seconds. His silky, black hair hung in soft waves over his forehead, enhancing his startlingly pale cloud-blue eyes.
But I'd gotten used to his looks a long time ago. It was the man inside the pretty wrapping that played havoc with my good sense. He was my friend and so much more. I trusted him with my life. But there was nothing romantic between us.
There couldn't be.
I reached across the table to touch Dan's arm. "This is my life. It sucks. Believe me, I know. But I don't have a choice, and neither does Eli. If it were up to me, nothing would get in the way of spending time with you. You believe that, right?" Dan's warm maple-brown eyes met mine, his anger softening at the corners. "Yeah. Of course I believe you. But him ...?"
Dan and I had known each other for a little less than a year, ever since he'd been the responding officer to Tommy's murder. The police, including Dan, had been fooled into believing Tommy had died of a stroke when, in reality, the angels had done some creative rewriting. The truth was Tommy's heart had been drilled through by a demon's sword and I'd barely escaped with my life.
Dan knew better, of course. He'd seen the truth when he helped me send an egotistical Fallen, Rifion, posing as a televangelist, to the abyss. Dan was aware now. He knew that angels walk the earth among us, that they fall, that they lust for human women, that they lie, manipulate, and kill. And he knew there wasn't anything he could do to stop them.
Eli leaned forward, matching Dan's tense pose, bracing on his forearms, shoulders stiff. "What are you insinuating, boy?"
"I'm not insinuating anything. I'm saying it outright. You're jealous of our relationship. You're jealous that I can be intimate with Emma and you can't. You're in love with her, and you're doing whatever you can to keep us from being together."
Awkward silence descended over our table as the two men in my life glared at each other. I cared about Dan — I did. He was brave and gentle. He genuinely cared about people and had an innate compulsion to stick up for the underdog. It's what made him such a great cop and an even better boyfriend. Plus he enjoyed smacking the cuffs on bad guys. Dan and I were a good fit, or we would be if we could ever get past all the crap that was keeping us apart.
"Dan, please," I said, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. "He's my magister. That's it. He only interrupts when he has to. Those are his brothers I'm hunting, his family. Remember? It's got nothing to do with you and me."
Dan finally blinked a half beat later. He glanced at me, then back to Eli and slowly relaxed in his chair. "I know. You're right. I'm sorry."
I had to give Dan credit. It was harder for him than most people. He was a nephilim, too — unmarked. Most nephilim go their whole lives never knowing their mothers were raped and memories erased by the Fallen. They lived normal lives just like any ordinary human: blissfully unaware.
Dan wasn't so lucky. He knew that inside him somewhere was the power to take action, to stop the Fallen from hurting anyone else, if only he could tap into it.
He toyed with the fork resting on the table. "It can't be easy for Eli and the others. And I get how this is hard for you, too, Emma. You're a sweetheart, a peacemaker. Fighting evil, chasing after the bad guys goes against the grain for you. But it's not like that for everybody. Some people are born fighters. Some people would want the chance you've been given."
I shook my head, tension filling my shoulders. We'd had this argument before. Dan wanted me to let him use my sword to trigger his illorum power — to make him one of us. But I wouldn't. I couldn't. It was a death sentence, and there was nothing he could say to change my mind. "You only want to be marked because you don't really know what it's like. As a cop, when you take off your uniform the bad guys don't know who you are. You're not a target. But I can't take off my mark — the bad guys, the demons, can feel me. They can smell me. I'm never just a normal person."
I was protecting him whether he understood or not. It was Tommy's illorum sword that had marked me a year ago when I'd picked it up to save him from a cloven-hoofed demon. It had burned a symbol on the inside of my wrist — a sword with crossed keys below the hilt on the blade. It had made me an illorum, triggered my power.
Being marked put me on the demon and fallen-angel hit list. I was under constant attack, fighting for my life until I could figure out who my angelic father was and send him to the abyss where he belonged. It didn't matter that Dan thought he could handle it. He had two kids, a boy and a girl, from a previous marriage. He was someone's dad. I wasn't going to help him paint a holy target on his back.
Dan tipped his chin, his gaze staring through the table as though he could see the sheath at the small of my back. "Put your sword on the table and let me make the choice."
"No," I said. I'd been given my own sword after picking up Tommy's. Part heavenly fire, part willpower — the illorum sword was the only thing in creation that could take down a Fallen and send him to the abyss. When it's not needed, the sword's just a hilt, the blade manifesting only by the will of an illorum.
I wore it everywhere. Had to.
"It's not really up to you, y'know?" Dan said. "If it's meant to be ..."
Maybe he was right. Maybe in the end if Dan was meant to become an illorum, it would happen no matter how much I tried to avoid it. But last year, at twenty-three, my life had stopped — literally — and turned into a kind of twisted biblical war-games reenactment. I didn't want that for Dan, for some kids' father.
"We have to go, Emma Jane," Eli said.
Dan straightened. "What? No. You don't even know if there's anything she can do."
"I have good reason to believe this incident will be of particular interest to Emma Jane," he said, though he kept his eyes on me.
"Why?" I asked.
Eli didn't answer. He didn't have to. Without warning a warm rush tickled through my mind, the press of Eli's thoughts weighing against my own. Like a memory that I hadn't earned or experienced, images flashed through my thoughts. Night darkened the edges of my vision. A streetlamp overhead cast a dim light on the brick wall before me. Graffiti glistened across the gray blocks — the words unclear at first, the paint running in long, shiny drips.
In my mind I blinked, narrowed my eyes trying to focus, to make sense of what I was seeing and why.
It's not paint, Eli said inside my head. And suddenly I knew what was written on the wall, and with what. My breath caught and the alley vanished.
"What?" Dan said.
"It was blood."
"What was?" Dan stiffened, gaze darting between Eli and me. "Whose blood?"
"The attackers used the illorum's blood to write on the alley wall where the illorum and magister were attacked," Eli said.
"What'd they write?" Dan asked.
"The coming. Where have I heard that before?" I looked at Eli.
"Last summer. David Lawrence Conference Center," Eli said.
"Richard Hubert." I remembered the battle I'd fought with Rifion, the Fallen angel, to banish him back to the abyss.
"Not possible," Dan said. "You mean the Fallen who was posing as that televangelist last year? He's dead, or whatever — locked in the abyss. I saw you slice off his head, and then he burst into a big ball of light about as bright as the sun. How's he attacking some magister and his illorum months later?"
Eli's gaze slid to Dan, his expression blank. "I don't know." He turned back to me. "We need to find out. Now."
"Right." I pushed to my feet and Dan followed a half second later. "I'm coming, too."
"No," Eli and I said together.
I sighed. "If Rifion is behind this, there's nothing the police can do. It's up to us, the illorum, to stop him. It's too dangerous for you to get involved."
"As far as the police are concerned there's been a murder. They won't know the guy's an illorum. To them he looks as human as you and me," Dan said. "They'll be on this anyway."
"Then it's best that you investigate the incident through human channels," Eli said. "Leave the angelic end to those with the power to handle it."
Dan's anger spiked through my chest, making my heart race and my fists clench just like his. But it was his humiliation that sunk like a lead weight and turned my stomach sour. I pushed the foreign emotions away, keeping my voice calm. "It would really help us out to know what the police know. That way, we can make sure people don't stumble across something, or someone, that might get them hurt."
"You mean the cops. The weak, human police," Dan said, resentment simmering.
"No. Not you, but ..."
He shook his head. "Forget it. I know what you meant. I'm just ... I'm being stupid."
"We should go," Eli said. He held out his hand to me.
"Whatever." Dan shook his head, pulling his wallet from his back pocket. "I'll go down to the station and see where they are on the murder investigation."
I stepped around the table to Dan, ignoring Eli's hand. "I'll call you. Okay? We'll try again. We'll keep trying until we've had a whole date."
He tossed a couple twenties on the table to cover the bill. "Sure."
I shifted, forcing him to meet my eyes. "I mean it. A whole date ...and everything that comes later."
"Okay." His smile was slow in coming but when it finally crinkled the corners of his eyes, my heart hiccupped. He waggled his brows. "But next time, I say we skip dinner and go straight to dessert."
My face warmed and my smile stretched wider. His sexy suggestion fluttered through my belly and made parts low in my body go hot and slick.
The guy was awesome — and built like a hard-packed pro wrestler. His bright smile, short brown-sugar hair, round cheeks, and cute button nose could make me forget all about demons, fallen angels, and holy missions.
"It's a date." I balanced with my hand on his hard chest and stretched up to kiss his lips.
Lust slammed through me, not just mine but his, too, and my whole body hummed with the rush of blood beneath my skin. Dan clamped an arm around my waist, the hand of the other cupping the side of my face. He pulled me to him, taking my mouth with his, stealing my breath.
My brain fuzzed; the feel of his muscled body pressed to mine made it hard to think of anything else. The stroke of his tongue teased the desire for him I'd been putting off for nearly a year.
Our lips parted and I blinked up to stare into his eyes. Those eyes had become safety to me — home. "We might be drawing too much attention," he said.
I stiffened, remembering Eli was watching, remembering we were standing in the middle of Houlihan's restaurant. I put a slice of space between us. "I'll, uh, call you."
He pinched my chin, smiling. "Be careful."
I nodded and shifted to step away, but he held me and I met his eyes. "I mean it, Em. Be careful. If anything happens to you, I will start shadowing you. No one's gonna be able to stop me from watching your back. Got it?"
"Got it. But I'll be fine," I said, loving his protective nature.
I walked back to Eli, took the hand he'd offered before, and let him pull me against him. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Heaven and Hellsbane by Paige Cuccaro, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Paige Cuccaro. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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