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Trusting an Angel
By Missy Jane, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Missy Jane
All rights reserved.
The Archangel Zerachial tapped his foot, steel toe striking brick with a solid click despite the sheen of rainwater beneath it. He hated waiting almost as much as he hated handling demons, but both were required of him tonight. For a fleeting moment he considered turning around, walking away. Who would know? The humans certainly wouldn't notice. With so much death and destruction around them on a daily basis, they barely noticed the small dent he and those of his kind put in the demon population. No, the humans wouldn't even sense it if he chose to turn his back.
His brothers would definitely notice, and they would all take him to task for it. All except Gabriel. He shook his head at that thought. This was not a night to think of his estranged brother. If his emotions became any more turbulent, his other five brothers would sense it and interfere with his evening. He didn't want to face their pestering either. Besides, even if he was sick of dealing with the demons, the physical exertion would ease some of the tension he'd been feeling all day. Ever since Isadora stormed into his office first thing that morning. Yet another thought to bury for the moment. Sweet little innocent Isadora. It would be best if he didn't think of her any more than necessary.
Movement seen out of the corner of his eye drew him back to the task at hand. He had a demon to dispatch and a human victim to heal. Whether he liked it or not, this duty had been handed down by the Source of All Creation at the beginning of time. He'd never once strayed from this responsibility, and there was no sense in doing so now. He waited for the right time to strike. Too soon and his quarry might escape to cause harm another day. Too late and there would be another human victim to add to the growing inner-city crime statistic. So he tempered his impatience as best he could.
The demon wore rags to match his victim, an old beggar often seen around these parts. Regardless of all the Houston city council did to revitalize downtown, there were still pockets of homeless population. This demon had become a pro at blending in with the vagrant community to gain a smidgen of trust, which it turned against its victims as it sucked their life out of them while they slept. Luckily, this time Zerach had felt the evil close to his downtown office and decided to take a closer look. This demon did nothing to hide itself from the archangel in its midst.
The demon dragged its victim toward one of many large Dumpsters behind the convention center. Now that the sun had set, no one paid it any mind. There were no events in the building tonight, and the security guard remained somewhere deep inside. No one on the nearby freeway would even glance their way.
Zerach stepped off the roof of the building, floating three stories to the parking lot below. He landed lightly on his feet with barely a sound. The demon didn't even notice.
The victim had finally realized the demon's intent and started to struggle as whatever he'd imbibed slowly left his system, although the drugs or alcohol still obviously weakened him. The man's aura was muddied, alternating between harsh reds and nearly-black blues and browns. The demon's strength proved too much for the man. It was like watching a grizzly bear play with a kitten.
Zerach pulled the shadows more tightly around them, using his angelic talents to hide them from human view. The lights on the building dimmed within a few feet of their position as the shadows lengthened.
"Aaaaangelllll," the demon hissed.
Ugly and smelling like a corpse covered in rotting fish, it resembled every other low-level demon he'd ever seen. Zerach shook his head and clenched his fists as he glared. "Time to go back to the hell you call home."
The demon hissed and stuck out a blood-red, forked tongue. Zerach rolled his eyes. "That the best you got? Drop the human."
At first he didn't think it would listen. Just as he prepared to lunge, the demon lifted the vagrant and threw him hard enough to hit Zerach full in the chest. He didn't even stumble as he caught the man and gently laid him on the ground, never taking his gaze from the demon. "You'll pay for that."
The demon's high-pitched screech shattered windows on a car parked nearby. Its alarm only added to the sounds of the night. Zerach ran at the demon and grabbed it by the throat. "What are you doing here? Who called you out of hell?"
The creature screeched again as it struggled against the angel's hold, but his strength was unmatched by any hell-tainted creature, especially a low-level demon. Spawn — nothing more than a foot soldier and minion — it might not know the human words to answer his questions. Despite his revulsion, Zerach set his free hand on its head and tried to read its chaotic thoughts. Images of fire and blood filled his mind but gave no clear picture except for a single name, Armaros. He dropped the demon onto the ground with a sound of disgust and gut-deep dread. Armoros was a higher-level demon and seriously bad news, but just thinking its name meant little. Since it could give no clue as to why or how it had breached the mortal plane, he pulled a dagger from his jacket and wasted no more time. The demon tried to run off but Zerach proved to be faster. He grabbed its slimy, leather-hard head and yanked it back to expose an almost humanoid neck. One slice of his dagger and whatever force gave the demon life drained out within heartbeats.
Zerach stepped back as the drained body immediately turned to ash. A wave of his hand caused a breeze to scatter the ashes. No blood dripped from his blade. No mark remained on the concrete, as if the demon had never been. Only the groaning of the human victim gave any indication of what had happened.
Zerach checked on him, happy to see he hadn't lost too much blood. A warm meal and a solid roof over his head for the night would erase any memory he might have of the demon.
Just over an hour later, Zerach stepped into the ballroom that had been his original destination for the evening, where he would anonymously pledge a ridiculous amount of money for a very good cause. He wouldn't have bothered showing up if his pretty little secretary hadn't goaded him into it. Isadora knew how to push his buttons unlike any other human he'd ever met.
At least there was an open bar. He rarely went without a drink in his hand at these events even though it did no good. His angelic state kept him from getting drunk no matter how hard he tried. Anything to break up the monotony of a centuries-long existence.
A glance around the ballroom and he found his secretary in the midst of dancing with another man. A low-burning anger tried to rise, but he fought it down. She wasn't for him, no matter the temptation. Dora was beautiful, smart, and wholly innocent on a level most humans shed long before adulthood. Her inner purity and goodness called to creatures like him, along with demons, as a reminder of what they'd left behind when entering the human realm. She was unique, an enigma he hadn't quite figured out yet. The mystery of her was one of the main reasons he'd kept her close the past two years, despite the overwhelming temptation she presented to him ... and any male.
The sound of his name caught his attention, and he turned away from the dance floor to find Bill Goodman watching him. Isadora's godfather remained one of the few men in their social circle who wasn't afraid to speak his mind, but unfortunately his opinion of Zerach wasn't very high. In the past, Zerach found his reputation as a womanizer and somewhat shady business owner amusing and it was an endless source of ribbing from his brothers. However, it could now threaten his standing among humans like Goodman, and he didn't like that one bit. It was an obstacle he hadn't considered when setting up his human persona as a nightclub owner.
Zerach arched a brow in greeting as Bill walked up, knowing the man wouldn't shake his hand if he offered. Bill considered businessmen like Zerach beneath him because of the type of businesses he ran. Apparently the service industry didn't stand up to the prestige of loftier businesses like manufacturing and the oil industry. Sometimes Zerach wanted to deck him. "Bill."
The human quickly wiped the annoyance from his face at Zerach's casual use of his first name, but Zerach still caught it and had to fight the urge to laugh.
"Mr. Maxwell, I wanted to personally thank you for your contribution, anonymous as it is. I am surprised to see you here. Last I heard you were in France."
Zerach took a sip of his scotch and chuckled before looking at Bill again. It was hard to keep the grin on his face when dealing with this particular human, but for Isadora he would try. She was close to her godparents. Alienating them would only make things awkward in the office, and that was no way to have a healthy working relationship.
"And presumably with a supermodel on each arm, eh? Don't believe everything you read in the gossip columns, Bill. They tend to over exaggerate my popularity with the ladies."
This time Bill arched a brow, presumably in disbelief. He looked around and Zerach noted his gaze settle on his wife, Alice.
"I don't read gossip columns, but I hear things and wonder about the ulterior motives behind your donations."
Zerach took a longer sip before responding, letting the alcohol burn away his annoyance. "Regardless of what you've heard, my contributions have nothing to do with me or my reputation and everything to do with the children in need of our assistance."
Satisfaction filled him at the look of surprise on Bill's face. Feeling he'd been properly chastised, Zerach turned to another topic of interest. "Speaking of which, how is the new children's hospital wing coming along? I've heard the best reconstructive surgeon in the country will be in residence."
Again Bill looked surprised, but this time it angered Zerach. As an angel, he was first and foremost a protector of children. None of the humans knew that of course, but it irked him that his reputation had become so tainted. Bill cleared his throat. "Yes, actually he will be. The outer construction is nearly done and soon we can begin to work on the interior. I toured it myself just yesterday. The architect is a friend of mine."
"Will tonight's contributions go to finishing that project?"
"No. Tonight is to help fund a program for when they get out of the hospital. There's a large gap in assistance for the older children who survive. Once they're released, they sometimes go home to nothing. All of their family's money was spent on treatment and care, but then they survive and have to struggle for every scrap of food, every piece of clothing."
Zerach's chest ached at the picture Bill's words formed in his mind. He knew of a few families in that exact situation. He did what he could for them, but remaining anonymous had become a lot harder than it used to be. He had just opened his mouth to respond when Alice walked up. "Bill, you're needed at the podium, dear. It's almost time for the announcement."
Zerach shut his mouth and finished his drink as she studiously ignored him. Bill gave him a tight smile, looking a bit embarrassed by his wife's obvious rebuke.
"Yes of course, darling. Mr. Maxwell, until next time."
Zerach gave a slight nod and watched the couple walk away. Befriending them took a lot more time and patience than he wanted to spare. He could simply forget trying to be on friendly terms with them, but that would hurt Dora. Or he could ignore them completely and alienate the woman he spent more time with than any other.
Annoyance burned through him that after almost two years of casual acquaintance, the Goodmans still thought so little of him. Luckily their opinions hadn't affected Dora.
* * *
Isadora laughed politely at Jake's awkward attempt at a joke. He was still tall, tanned, and very handsome, like she'd remembered him, the result of easy living and old money. Though how much remained was anyone's guess. He never let a strand of his short blond hair out of place, and his baby-blue eyes had lifted more skirts than Isadora could count. A lean athletic frame spoke of hours on the tennis court and golf course, but his smooth palms were proof he'd never worked a hard day in his life. She found him both arrogant and rude, but in honor of the friendship they'd once shared she was determined to mind her manners. She tried to get a bead on the man he'd become as he swept her into a waltz.
It wasn't easy reconciling old memories with the privileged man before her. They had once been inseparable. He had actually been her first girlhood crush and given her that first kiss. Now she almost felt as if he spoke a foreign language.
He grinned down at her and had begun another joke at the expense of a gaudily dressed older woman, when Isadora cleared her throat. "So, Jake, tell me how your father's company is doing lately."
Jake's confident smile slipped for a heartbeat before he regained his composure and flashed his straight white teeth. John's meddling was a sore spot for Jake, who had turned the company around and made it his own in just three years since the elder's retirement. "Izzy, you know it's my company now," he replied with a laugh.
She had all but forgotten the detested nickname from their youth. He obviously hadn't. "And you know, Jake, that my name is Isadora."
He laughed again just as the song ended. "Would you like a drink, Izzy? I can get you a glass of champagne."
She detested champagne, but Jake's standing in the long line at the bar would allow her an escape. "Thank you. That would be wonderful."
He flashed another heart-stopping grin, which had no effect on her at all, and sauntered away.
She breathed a sigh of relief and quickly turned in the opposite direction. The only way out from that side of the room was a set of glass doors leading to the hotel's extensive gardens. With Jake already in line speaking to another woman, Isadora hiked up her full skirt in both hands and hastened through the glass doors.
The gardens were dimly lit with lampposts every ten feet, and the full moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky. She hurried along the unfamiliar path without a single glance back. Exactly what she was running from she wasn't sure, she only knew the oppression she'd felt all evening had finally melted away. Her thoughts began to wander to possible excuses she could give her godparents for leaving early, when suddenly she found herself in a garden maze.
"I don't remember this ..." she whispered, hoping to dispel the eerie misgivings creeping up her spine. "Wonderful, now I'm lost," she muttered as she made her way through the eight foot hedges. Two turns later she found herself at a dead end and stomped her foot. "Ugh! This is ridiculous."
"Dora, are you all right?"
She spun to face the newcomer, and her breath caught in her throat.
The name slipped through her lips quietly, the sensation as hot and sensuous as the man standing a few feet away in the shadows. Though she couldn't see him clearly, she would never mistake his deep, sexy voice as belonging to anyone else. It stirred foreign longings within her that left her breathless. An ache formed low in her belly and her nipples tightened. Innocent as she remained about sex, she still knew the feelings Zerach Maxwell conjured were unique to his presence alone. Too bad he was her boss.
* * *
Zerach's gaze trailed down the elegant curve of her neck, across her exposed collarbone, to her creamy white shoulders bared for all to admire. Swathed in a full-length, peach-colored formal gown, she nearly glowed. He had never seen her dressed in something so revealing. Usually her godmother kept her in much more modest attire at their fundraising events. Even in the office he'd never even seen her in jeans.
She had worked for him for almost two years, and he still knew so little about her. He remembered hiring her as a quiet, part-time college student. Smart as a whip, she'd shocked him with her aura of pure goodness, and he'd known immediately she would be trustworthy.
Excerpted from Trusting an Angel by Missy Jane, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Missy Jane. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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