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An Angel Academy Novel
By Cecily White, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Cecily White
All rights reserved.
Heaven and All Below
There's an old Muslim proverb Dad used to quote, "Don't trip over that which is behind you." I never understood it. I mean, how could you trip on something you'd already passed? Of course, that was before my life got hijacked by demonbloods and flushed down the Immortal toilet. Now, I understood it perfectly.
Arianna Fassnight Montaigne formally requests the honor of your presence at the Immortal Sovereign Trial of her beloved son Luc Alexandre Montaigne standing with his chosen Amelie Lane Bennett Saturday, the twenty-first of December eight o'clock in the evening (Cocktail reception to follow.)
My favorite part was the cocktail party. Like, obviously there would be cocktails. Death, lies, and cocktails — the backbone of any respectable Southern family. Besides, since 90 percent of the guests wouldn't require solid food, and the ones who did (aka, Jack and my dad) would probably need a tequila shot or two, the open bar made a twisted sort of sense.
"Can I get a little help here, princess? Or don't you want to get demon goo on your precious outfit?" Lyle's voice rasped over the distant city hubbub and the shriek of demon agony.
I sidestepped a flailing, rubbery tentacle and dropped a glance at the lime-green Fendi minidress Luc's mom, Arianna, had sent me for public appearances, coupled with the favorite old bunny slippers Dad had dropped off last month. Admittedly, not the most practical demon-slaying garb.
"It was laundry day," I said. "Sue me."
Grunting, Lyle wriggled his body around on the ground, reaching for his broadsword while at the same time keeping the growly black demon immobilized. "Not to criticize, Amelie, but your heart doesn't seem in this."
He wasn't wrong.
Sighing, I ran my fingers over the stiff, rectangular invite from hell and the pink Post-it (also from hell) stuck to it. Although the Post-it wasn't signed, I knew exactly who'd put it in my locker. The handwriting was unmistakable.
Don't wear white. It's murder on your complexion. 911411 Civitas terrena
Get it? Murder? Ha-freaking-ha.
To make matters worse, I had no idea what the Latin-number combo meant. Code, definitely, but for what, I couldn't tell you.
With a loud sniff, I pocketed the invite and kicked an empty beer bottle across Jackson Square to the gutter. "I need coffee. And I'm cold."
Lyle grunted as an errant demon claw smacked his chin. "Of course, you're cold. Where's your coat? Just because you're undead doesn't mean you can't catch a virus."
"Actually, it does," I pointed out. "Besides, this is just allergies."
"I don't care if it's the plague," he grumbled, hacking at another tentacle. "Quit crying, channel me some of that kick-ass angel power, and let's kill this thing."
I swiped at my nose, resisting the urge to kick his sword even farther away.
My allergies were killing me, that part was true. And yeah, maybe I'd been crying. But so what? It's not like it was any of his business. Besides, Lyle knew perfectly well how sensitive I was about the whole undead issue. Who wouldn't be, given the disaster I fondly referred to as my life?
I watched as my friend flipped the demon over and deftly pinned its arms behind its back. Arms? Tentacles? Whatever. Not a bad performance, given he'd only ranked near the middle of our senior class on midsemester exams last month. Granted, Lyle had more experience with actual demon combat than most newbie Watchers. My fault, probably.
"Fine, I'll help."
Feeling charitable, I flexed my hands open until they charged with Crossworld power, a crackle of heat simmering up my fingers. It wasn't the same as when I fought alongside Jack. Nothing compared to that rush — fire and thunder and just pure, raw electricity. So yeah, Lyle could serve as my Watcher if I needed to vanquish something. He could keep the power taint from killing me when I channeled and protect me during a fight if I needed to draw energy off the Crossworlds — all the things a Watcher did for his Channeler in battle. But it would never be the same as fighting with my bondmate.
I was about to blow the demon into a smoldering pile of ash when I felt a buzzing in my skirt pocket and Luc's personalized ringtone — currently "London Calling" — blared into the night.
"Just a sec."
"Are you kidding me?" Lyle said. "Now?"
I pulled out my phone and swiped the talk icon. "Amelie's not in right now, but if you leave a message at the beep, she'll be glad to continue ignoring you. Beep."
"Where are you?" Luc demanded. "Tyrannus says you're somewhere near the wharf."
"Why bother asking if you already knew that?"
Luc hesitated. "Just come home. The European consulate wants to conference via webcast in ten minutes. They'll expect you by my side."
"Expectation breeds disappointment, Luc. You should know that."
I could practically hear him roll his eyes. "What would you have me tell them?"
"Tell them I've run away. Say I'm too busy killing demons to give a crap about Immortal politics."
"Nobody's asking you to give a crap. Just come home."
"What's the magic word?"
"That's two words. And still no."
Luc growled. Like, an actual growl, almost as evil sounding as the noises Lyle's little charcoal-skinned demon buddy was making.
"I'm sorry, you're breaking up. Bad cell signal."
"Look here," he snapped, "I'm already tracking you. I'll find you eventually. Just do us both a favor and —"
I shut off the phone.
It's not that I couldn't have kept arguing with him. I could. He knew that. And I knew he knew that. So it didn't take a genius to figure out he probably had a team of minions tracking my cell signal. And the longer I kept the line open, the more chance I gave them to find me.
By the time I shoved it back in my pocket and looked up, both Lyle and the demon were staring at me.
"Oh, right, sorry," I said. "Incendia."
And the demon's face burst into flame.
Without missing a beat, Lyle flung a hand sideways, grabbed his sword, and plunged it into its chest. The thing had already started twitching and now released an inhuman squeal that reminded me of a train braking hard. If it hadn't been a demon hellspawn, bent on destroying the entire Guardian population, I might have felt sorry for it.
"Thanks, babe." Lyle hefted it to the side and gave it a swift kick in what might have been its ear. Or possibly its nostril. I couldn't tell since it was all pretty much engulfed in fire. "Sorry about before. And you're welcome to borrow my jacket."
"Thanks, but what I really need is caffeine and a new social life."
Lyle watched skeptically as I wrapped my shivering arms around myself. "Well, I can't help with the social life or the coffee fix. But if you're cold, we could totally cuddle. I hear skin-on-skin contact is the quickest way to warm up."
"It's also the quickest way to get a blade through your spleen," I pointed out, warming my hands over the flaming demon carcass. Not as romantic as a bonfire, but certainly helpful ...in a smelly, polluted kind of way.
My friend sighed as he unwound his scarf and wrapped it around my neck. "Do you even know where my spleen is?"
"Hand me your knife. I'm sure I can find it."
"Or you could save those homicidal impulses for our next demon," he suggested. "We still haven't killed anything beyond level two."
"I can't believe I'm saying this," I said, "but I'm not really in the mood for demon slaying."
Lyle drew a deep breath and nodded. "Lisa and Alec?"
"Lisa, for sure," I confirmed. "Apparently, my sister likes to torture me."
On the street ahead, snow drifted in lazy clumps to the ground and melted on contact with the still-warm pavement, giving it an otherworldly sheen. The flickering gas lamps reflected like fireflies beneath a frozen black lake, and little droplets of ice cascaded off the wrought-iron galleries. This was the coldest winter New Orleans had seen in over a decade — possibly ever. It might actually have been beautiful if I weren't so distracted.
"I found this in my locker at school," I said, handing him the note and invite. "No clue how she got it."
"So she knows you're with Luc."
"I'm not with Luc."
"You know what I mean," he said. "How'd she get into school, anyway? Doesn't Henry still have us warded out the wazoo?"
I gave Lyle a tight smile. "You know what my favorite thing is? When you ask me dumb-ass questions I can't answer. I just adore that."
Lyle grabbed my hand and hauled me away from the flaming demon carcass into the parking lot of the Toulouse Street wharf. In a few more minutes, the demon's remains would be nothing but ash. Still, it might have been nice to warm up a bit longer.
"And my favorite thing is your amicable demeanor and polite effervescence. Have you considered switching to decaf, by the way?" He flicked a glance back at my outfit. "Or maybe high heels?"
"I don't need high heels to fight demons. What I need is weapons. Luc's people took all of mine."
Frowning, Lyle reached into his jacket pocket and drew out a silver knife with a ten-inch, double-sided blade. It looked like the kind our trainers kept in the armory at school.
"Not to sound like a broken record," he said, "but the Immortals might trust you more if you worked harder on your relationship with their sovereign leader. Thigh holster?"
"Thanks." I took the knife and wad of leather straps he offered and commenced fastening them around my leg. "And no, I will not work harder, because it's not a real relationship. It's a sadistic, hideous, highly publicized joke. Ow."
My chilled fingers fumbled with the holster straps, inspiring Lyle to drop to his knees.
"Let me." He swatted my clumsy hands away and hiked my ridiculous skirt a few inches. "Not that this is any of my business, but Luc's a guy, right?"
"And you're a girl. He saved your life, and you share a bathroom. How is that not a relationship?"
"Because it's not," I said. Then, realizing how stupid that sounded, I added, "Because it's Luc."
Lyle tightened the holster strap against my leg. "So the plan is to ignore the whole Immortal species, cross your fingers, and hope for the best?"
"Correct," I confirmed as he slid the knife in. "Now, can we please quit talking about this and go make ourselves useful?"
"Says the girl who took a phone call during a fight."
As he rose, I shut my eyes and focused on the sound of an overfed catfish splashing at the pier's edge. A few months ago — before I had Luc's demonblood in me — I couldn't have heard that. Now I couldn't not hear it.
I opened my eyes.
Lyle made a decent point. I hadn't been terribly focused lately. The idea of Lisa Anselmo — my ex–best friend and recently revealed twin sister — lurking around, planning my species' destruction with her demon-infected boyfriend, Alec Charbonnet, had left me a little off balance. I genuinely didn't know whether to help the Elders hunt Lisa down or try to save her myself.
Lyle had barely gotten vertical when I felt something shift in the Crossworld ether. The tips of my fingers warmed and little zings of electricity shot through my body.
"Lyle, wait. Something's happening."
"Mmm." He looped an arm around my waist. "Girls tell me that a lot."
I dug an elbow into his ribs; my ears perked to high alert. Waves from a passing tugboat slapped against the shore, and the faint sounds of music and car engines drifted out of the Quarter. Other than that, the outside world seemed to be hibernating.
Inside was a whole different story. My heart beat faster. My breath quickened. Energy buzzed through my torso, leaving bright gold traces across my skin. It certainly felt familiar. Almost like —
"Lyle, you need to get out of here. Like, now."
"What? Why —"
The question barely made it past his lips when a gust of breeze swooped in from nowhere and picked him up by the collar. Literally. And dangled him in the air about two feet above the ground.
Yup. One good thing I'll say about having a life that uniformly stinks ... at least it's predictable.CHAPTER 2
"Guardian Purcell. Guardian Bennett." Jackson Smith-Hailey's baritone voice rang out over the shink of his blade being unsheathed. "Why am I not surprised?"
I took a step back as Lyle sputtered above us. "Love of my life. Heart of my heart. Howzitgoin'?"
"How's it goin'?" Jack repeated. "Ami, you've violated seven, possibly eight levels of Guardian trainee protocols tonight, and you want to know how it's goin'?"
"I was being conversational."
Jack looked annoyed. "Are you aware of the punishment for this?"
"Death by coffee?" I said optimistically.
He frowned but didn't reply. Normally, a six-foot-plus, sword-wielding dude wearing black Kevlar body armor would have terrified me. Tonight, not so much.
"Put him down," I said wearily. "He didn't do anything."
"Nothing a normal person wouldn't do for a friend."
"Define normal." Jack eyed my demon-charred hair and rumpled skirt. "Then define friend."
I had just opened my mouth to admit it was all my idea when Jack drew back Lyle's jacket to reveal the shoulder holster loaded with a sword and a variety of metal throwing knives.
"School property," he said, then ran a hand through the air near my fingers. "And you're warm. Have you been channeling?"
"I am not warm," I objected through the shivers. "I'm arctic. And for your information, this is a perfectly legitimate school exercise. We're hunting demons."
"Grrgggllpbfff," Lyle choked out from the end of Jack's fist. Which I'm pretty sure translated to "shut up" in nonstrangulation language.
"You think hunting demons in a public venue is legitimate?"
"Yes, I do. And necessary, since no one else at St. Michael's bothers to do it lately."
At that, Jack's eyes took on a stormy look, like those icy gray stones Meeks kept in the lab sometimes. Hematite, I think they're called.
Very, very slowly, he set Lyle down. "If you don't mind, Mr. Purcell, I need a word with Guardian Bennett."
Lyle choked out something that sounded like yessir.
"And next time you want to borrow school property" — Jack reached a hand into Lyle's jacket pocket and drew out a pair of serrated throwing knives — "please fill out the proper requisition forms."
Then he took three steps back and, as casually as swatting a butterfly, flicked his wrist and sent one of the knives in a glittering arc toward Lyle's face. Lyle ducked about a nanosecond before it made contact.
"You," Jack said, pointing at me. "Come."
I swallowed hard.
It's a discomfiting thing to have the person you love more than anything in the world toss a knife at your friend's head and walk away. Don't get me wrong, it's not that Jack never gets angry. He does. Often. But that's usually when he'll start building a house for the homeless or crocheting like some insane elderly person. Happily so, because let's face it, when Jack lost his temper, the infirmary got a lot busier.
"Coming," I muttered and hurried after him.
By the time I caught up, he was already slouched against a concrete piling beneath the wharf, one hand in his jeans pocket, the other anxiously twirling Lyle's knife by the hook in its hilt. I slowed to a stop about two feet away, just out of sight of Lyle.
"So," I said.
"So," he replied. "So."
And suddenly things were awkward.
Mega awkward. Like last fall never happened. Like we'd never practically died for each other. Like we weren't part bonded and crazy in love with each other. My stomach churned. My heart fluttered. I didn't know what to do with my hands. It made me want to vomit, run away, and ask him to prom, all at once.
"Omelet," he said, after a quiet minute, "what are you doing?"
I lifted the knife out of his hand and ran my finger along the metal hilt. Omelet was a nickname Jack had given me while he and I were hiding from the Guardian Elders. It brought back a thousand warm memories with him — none of which made me feel like an obedient Guardian trainee. "Why? Are you asking as my trainer?"
"I'm not your trainer."
"Why are you here, then? Dad put you on babysitting duty again?"
Jack frowned. "Do you really think Bud would call me if he thought you were in trouble?"
Honestly, I had no idea who my father would call if he thought I was in trouble. Since I'd been in trouble more often than not over the past decade, one would think he'd be used to it.
In the distance, a purple haze shimmered over the city, signaling the coming dawn. Or maybe a ton of smog, I couldn't tell.
Jack frowned. "It's Lisa, isn't it?"
All I could do was sigh. It bugged me that he could read me so well, especially when I didn't want to be read.
Excerpted from Conspiracy Boy by Cecily White, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Cecily White. 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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