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I COULD FEEL IT WASHING OVER ME, and I lay motionless, frozen with dread. Not now. Not again. I began to fight it, struggling, the entangling sheets trapping my body, and I ended up on the hard stone floor as pale mist filled the small confines, my heart clenching in dread. Could it be Thomas? Dear Thomas, dead for seven long years, now come back to give me another unwanted warning? He’d always watched me a little too closely—was he still doing so?
I could hear soft whimpering, and knew it came from me. No, it wasn’t my dead husband. This was nothing more than the mist that always shrouded Sheol, keeping it safe from the ordinary world. Like Thomas, there was no malice in it, but it brought the visions that plagued me. I curled up in a corner on the floor, wrapping my arms around my legs, burying my face against my knees.
Not that it would stop the visions. Nothing would. I couldn’t control them, couldn’t understand them—months could go by without anything, and then they would hit, and I’d be on my knees, sobbing, hiding my weakness away from the others.
I never said anything. Life in a world of fallen angels was never easy for a mortal, particularly one who’d lost her mate. If they had any idea of the pain my visions caused me they would want to help, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. Whether I embraced them or not, the visions came, and the best way to get through them was to keep them private. Otherwise there were too many questions, too many demands for a clarity that was maddeningly out of reach. I needed quiet to make sense of the bits and pieces that came to me like shards of glass, piercing my battered heart.
I huddled in the darkness like a miserable coward, despising myself, trying to calm my thundering heart. I was covered with a cold sweat, even though the room was warm, and I forced myself to take slow, steadying breaths. Letting the vision take form.
He was coming. The dark man, who brought disruption and destruction. The name had been clear in my mind for months now, but I had said nothing to the others. I knew nothing. Only his name.
And he was coming for me.
I should get up. I had no idea whether it was this day, or the next, but soon. Soon he would come, and everything would be chaos. It was little wonder I hadn’t told Raziel. As leader of the Fallen, he had more than enough to deal with, and now, with the astounding miracle of his wife’s pregnancy, he had no time to worry about obscure visions that might mean nothing. No one trusted my dreams, unreliable as they were, and I hadn’t wanted to make another mistake, giving everyone half-formed fears that could simply distract them. I’d chosen to wait until later, until I knew more about the prophecy that hovered around me like an angry bird of prey.
Later was now.
My fears were absurd, of course. I knew it, but my heart still pounded. What disaster awaited the Fallen? What disaster awaited me?
In the hierarchy of the Fallen I was a vestigial organ, neither angel nor mate. Thomas had plucked me from the chaos of my human life. He’d been watching over me, he’d said. I’d once told him he had been a pretty ineffective guardian angel, considering the first seventeen years of my life, and he’d been offended. Thomas hadn’t had much of a sense of humor. I’d been so young when he’d brought me here, but he had given me love and safety and a peace I had craved and never known, and for five years I had been happy.
And then the monstrous Nephilim had broken through, and he had died, and the visions had begun.
At first I’d welcomed those visions. They gave me a purpose, a role in the world of the Fallen. While the angels had varying abilities to see the future, none were nearly as good as my own imperfect dreams. As incomplete and frustrating as they were, they gave me a reason to stay in Sheol, one I welcomed despite the pain.
So why should the dark man be coming for me?
The next vision hit me like a knife, and I jerked, moaning, horrified by it. It was raw, embarrassing, a vision of sexual intimacy that made me close my eyes, trying to shut it out, but it wouldn’t stop. I didn’t want to see this, didn’t want the sensual reaction that spread beneath my skin like the fire that poisoned the Fallen.
But the visions never listened. Closing my eyes only brought the pictures into clearer focus; running didn’t help. I curled in on myself and endured as the couple moved on the bed, and I could see the man’s face, angelically beautiful, devilishly wicked, as he slowly thrust into the woman beneath him. She was looking up into his face, and it was my body he was pleasuring. The dream Martha tried to move, but her hands were tied above her head. There was no coercion—this was sex play—and I watched it in fascination. I wanted to say something, to weaken the power of the dream, but all I could hear was a moan coming from my throat. The sound I made as the visions sliced through me, the pain ripping at me. A pain that was mixed with deep, forbidden pleasure.
It vanished. One moment I was reaching for sexual ecstasy beneath the dark angel; the next I was alone in my room, huddled and shaking on the hard floor, the early-morning sunlight streaking into the room from the garden beyond.
I took a deep breath. The mist was gone with the vision, leaving me incomplete, my body still tingling with arousal. I had learned nothing new, nothing helpful. Only that the dark angel was coming.
Which was absurd. I was the least important of the inhabitants of Sheol—I was no use to anyone. I pushed to my feet, using the wall to steady myself, and straightened my bedding before heading into the small, utilitarian bathroom. The hot shower helped, easing some of the tension from my muscles, beating against my oddly sensitized skin. I shook my head, wiping the moisture from the mirror, and looked at myself dispassionately.
The bonded mates of the Fallen aged differently than they would have in the human world they’d left. I was thirty, and because of Sheol’s strange laws I looked ten years younger. I would live to the century mark and well beyond, if the violence inherent in the lives of the Fallen didn’t kill me first. I looked normal, calm, my annoyingly curly brown hair around my narrow face, my changeable hazel eyes a cool sea green today. Others said I looked slightly fey, called me gamine. Meant kindly, but I hated it. I wanted to look calm and solid, not naughty. I had bit my lip during the vision, though I couldn’t remember when, and my mouth looked bee-stung. As if I’d been thoroughly, relentlessly kissed. If anyone looked at me, they would never know I’d spent the last hour wrapped in pain. Wrapped in sex.
Then again, no one tended to look at me too closely. In Sheol, as in the human world, widows were invisible. My dubious gifts were valued, if not trusted, and I was welcomed and cared for. But in the end I was allied to no one.
The ominous rumble of thunder broke through my thoughts, a welcome distraction. I shoved my fingers through my hair, then went to dress, as the thunder grew louder.
I heard the sizzle of lightning, followed by a crash that seemed to shake the earth, and an eerie blue light speared into my room. I froze, sudden panic filling me. I had waited too long. He was coming now, and I had to warn them.
I didn’t bother with shoes, racing along the corridor, dodging the sleepy inhabitants who’d emerged from their rooms to observe the storm. I had to get to Raziel as fast as I could.
I rushed around a corner, almost slamming into the archangel Michael; one look from his dark eyes and I slowed to a brisk walk. Panic wouldn’t help anyone.
“Where is Raziel?” I resisted the impulse to grab his shirt and force an answer as another bolt of lightning slammed down, followed by a roar of thunder.
“On the beach,” he said shortly. “It’s dangerous out there—you should wait until it’s safer. Unless . . . do you know anything about this?”
Suspicion and annoyance tinged his voice, and I couldn’t blame him. He had already been a victim of my half-assed visions, and though they had brought him his wife, Tory, he still held a grudge.
“I don’t,” I said, semitruthfully. Because I didn’t know. I could only guess.
People were heading out onto the beach now, in the midst of the lightning storm—an act of utter insanity. Few things could kill fallen angels, usually only other unearthly creatures or the open flames that poisoned them. But what about the fierce power of lightning? And what would it do to the human wives who moved out into the storm with them?
“It can’t wait,” I said. If it brought an end to my existence, then so be it. I pushed past him, moving through the open doors and down the slope onto the beach, searching for Raziel’s tall form among so many tall, beautiful creatures.
The moment I set foot on the sand all hell broke loose, as if the storm had been waiting for me to unleash its final restraint. The sky turned black, roiling with angry clouds, the only light the almost constant bolts of lightning slamming into the ground, into the sea, shaking the very pillars of the earth. The roar of the wind battled with the constant, deafening thunder, and the gale plastered my loose clothes against my body. It felt like the end of the world.
Raziel loomed up out of the chaos, vibrating with fury. “Do you know anything about this?” he demanded, somehow being heard over the noise.
Time to face the music, I thought uneasily. Raziel needed any information I had, as insubstantial as it was. “Someone’s coming.”
The wind caught my voice and whipped it away, but he heard anyway. “Who?” he shouted.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
“Who?” he repeated.
I heard the sizzle; my ears popped and my face burned with sudden heat, and in the midst of the beach something burst into flames. Flames that could consume the Fallen, destroy them.
People scattered in panic, some plunging into the healing safety of the furious sea, some running toward the house. I stood transfixed, staring at the column of flame, Raziel motionless by my side as the form of a man appeared in the midst of the blaze.
Not a man. An angel—I could see the wings outlined against the orange-red glow, and I stifled my horrified cry. I had seen the agonizing devastation fire could wreak on the angels, even a spark, and this angel was consumed by it.
I watched, unable to turn away, expecting him to disintegrate into ash. No one moved to help him—no one could. They all stared at the culmination of their worst nightmares come to fruition.
He didn’t scream. Didn’t thrash or struggle. Instead he stepped forward, out of the flame, and it dissolved behind him, leaving him standing still, untouched, his deep-hued wings spread out behind him as he surveyed the people around him.
And then the angel smiled, the most devilish, charming, diabolical smile, as he snapped his fingers. The fire vanished. The sky cleared; instantly the wind dropped, the thunder and lightning gone as if they had never consumed the universe. He looked around at the shocked faces almost benevolently.
“I always did know how to make an entrance,” he said.
I could feel hatred pierce Raziel, so fierce and powerful it reached into me as well. “Cain,” he said in tones of utter loathing. “I should have known it was you.”