But then she meets gorgeous loner, Jared Lorn, and falls madly in love. There is only one problem. Jared is not exactly human. He's a Nephilim, an angel/human hybrid, descended from a cursed line of fallen angels known as the Watchers.
Having a half-demon boyfriend who's under a curse from God can be tough enough. But then Grace decides that she wants to help free Jared from the curse by killing his angel father, Azazel, who is bound up in the Abyss, where he will be judged at the End of Days.
She has a powerful ally in her guardian angel Ariel, who has given her a weapon: a Song that can tame demons. With a crew of loyal friends, Grace and Jared will travel to the ends of the earth, battling the forces of heaven and hell that seek to defeat them. Yet as their love grows stronger, they will find themselves in danger of succumbing to the very corruption that caused the Watchers' downfall.
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BEHIND YOUR EYES
I don't know what I was expecting for my sixteenth birthday.
Anna Kennedy got a candy-red Ford Fiesta. My best friend, Ethan Ellerman, got a MacBook Pro. My other best friend, Brianna Reynolds, went to New York to see a Broadway show. I was hoping for an iPhone.
What I got was something I never would have asked for.
It started out pretty normal. We were in the cafeteria, Bree, Ethan, and me, eating lunch like always. The Buffalo Arts Academy was built in what I would call Early Hogwarts style, but the cafeteria — or "Atrium" as we were supposed to refer to it — was converted from a former courtyard connecting two buildings. It was open and airy, criss-crossed by catwalks above, with giant windows on one side that let in as much sunlight as you can possibly get in January in Buffalo.
Bree stuck a pencil in my chicken nuggets and started singing "Happy Birthday" in a loud voice, making the other kids look our way and smirk. Even that wasn't so unusual. Bree had a habit of singing in public places at random times.
"Make a wish and blow out the candle," she ordered so I made a wish and blew so hard the pencil fell over. She clapped. Ethan glared at us from behind his laptop.
"It's a pencil," he grouched. "You'll get lead poisoning if you eat those nuggets now."
"Don't eat them anyway," said Bree, who was a vegetarian. "They're gross."
Bree only ate salad. I hated salad. It was like eating nothing. Besides, chicken nuggets were my absolute favorite food in the entire world, and the fact that they were served on my birthday made my life practically complete.
"I have a gift for you, too." Bree had long, straight hair and big brown eyes, the kind of pretty, wholesome face you'd see on a teen sitcom. I don't know why I didn't hate her. "Check your SniperSnap."
I pulled out my old, crummy non-iPhone and looked at the screen. There, for six seconds only, was a picture of him.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the school, wearing a black leather jacket, swirling snow frosting his tousled blond hair. He had just turned, his riveting blue eyes focused on the camera — he looked sort of surprised and a little weirded out. I couldn't blame him.
"Are you kidding me?" I said.
"I pretended to be taking a selfie. He had no clue."
"Kind of creepy. But thoughtful, nonetheless." The picture disappeared.
"Don't tell me. You're stalking Blond Boy now?" Ethan gave us The Look over the top of his black-rimmed glasses. He wasn't really artsy like the rest of us; his main interest was designing video games. But he'd gotten a full scholarship, since there weren't many boys at BAA — it was hard to convince boys to go to a formerly all-girls school.
So boys were kind of conspicuous, but none of them were quite as breathtakingly conspicuous as Jared Lorn. All of us girls took turns stalking him. Maybe it was because he was taller than any boy in the school or that his hair was nearly pure white and his eyes so intensely blue they went right through you like a radiation blast. Not that he had ever looked at me, of course.
"You know he's a felon; that's why he's here," Ethan said.
"Liar," said Bree.
"I'm not kidding. He got kicked out of his old school for fighting. Stabbed some kid with a fork."
"So you're stalking him, too?" Bree lobbed a cherry tomato at his head.
"Hey, cut it out. I just heard rumors. I checked them out. His dad is really rich or something. So they sent him here as punishment. A school full of girls. Go figure."
Just then, Jared Lorn appeared in the cafet ... I mean Atrium. I dropped my chicken nuggets and stared. It was kind of hard not to. He drifted through the sea of tables and sat at the one closest to the windows, which was usually empty because it was always cold there. He pulled out a phone and started scrolling through it.
A couple of girls soon joined him, sitting on either side.
Janelle Miller and Rebecca Rosario, laughing and giggling, offering him food from their own lunches since he never brought his own.
"Sickening," I said.
"Can you blame them?" Bree said with a suggestive hair flip.
I was glad he wasn't in any of my classes. I would have failed for sure. As it was I was barely passing. ADD, my former school counselor called it. I had trouble concentrating. I tried to listen to the teacher or do the schoolwork, but my mind always drifted, filled with songs I made up, with music that took up too much space in my brain.
The counselor suggested my aunt send me to the Buffalo Arts Academy, because I could play the piano really well without lessons or even sheet music. I was "gifted." It was better here — the songs in my head had a place to breathe, to live. But I never played them — or sang them — when anyone was around to hear.
"Yeah, he's pretty perfect," I murmured.
"Does he remind you of your angel?" Ethan asked with a mocking sneer. He liked to tease me about that story.
The accident, the man who rescued me. It was all over the news back then: little Grace Fortune, saved by an angel.
"Cut it out." Bree fired another tomato at Ethan, who ducked behind his laptop screen just in time. "She doesn't like to talk about that."
"Why ever not, Little Mis-Fortune?" Ethan said in a sing-song voice, inciting the gruesome nickname bestowed on me by People Magazine.
I stuck my tongue out at him. "You're a jerk," I said. "I hate you."
"I hate you, too." He grinned.
I rubbed my knees, which always hurt. Memories of the accident, of my parents' death, seemed to make them ache even more. Even after three surgeries my legs didn't work right. Walking was hard; running was out of the question. I couldn't bowl either.
I sighed, glanced up at Jared Lorn. He was looking right at me, his eyes like lasers. I think I stopped breathing. There was something behind those eyes, something unnerving, as if he knew things about me that he shouldn't know or didn't want to know.
Then he looked away. Bree saw me and laughed. I blushed, sticking my fork in my mac and cheese so she couldn't see my face, which was probably as red as my hair.
"I think he moved here from Ohio or Oregon, something with an O anyway," Bree whispered so Jared wouldn't hear us. "He plays guitar — I heard Mr. Hitchcock say he was amazing, but he refuses to play in any of the ensembles.
Pathologically shy, apparently."
"TMI," said Ethan under his breath.
"Janelle said she saw him come in with his dad to register. The dad's this old hippie guy with a ponytail —"
"So you are stalking him," said Ethan, shutting his laptop and getting up like he was going to leave. "I think I'm going to have to find someplace else to eat lunch ..." That was when the shooting began.
THE WAR INSIDE
— Michael! Why did you not prepare us?
We are taken completely by surprise by this — an eighteen-year-old boy with a high-capacity, semi-automatic rifle.
He comes in through the glass exit doors, doors locked from the outside.
The boy is tall and rail thin with long, stringy hair, a pale face pitted by acne scars. His eyes are dark, wide, unblinking. A few students turn to look at him, some of them with laughter still in their throats. He has often been laughed at.
But not today. Today he will rule.
He raises the weapon. A girl screams.
There are times, despite our best efforts, when Darkness reigns. The boy moves through the room, sweeping the weapon in a broad, lethal arc, bullets splintering tables, exploding milk cartons. Students dive under tables or try to run, trampling each other in a chaotic scramble for the exit.
The air is punctured with discordant sound — screaming, human and not human, Dark Ones shrieking in delight, the staccato tripping of the gun. Students crying, covering their ears. Moans of the wounded. Someone pulls the fire alarm.
Grace is still seated at the table. The boy with the glasses has fallen onto her; she holds him, unable to move. He moans, doubled over, blood oozing from his abdomen. The other girl, her friend, is under the table, whimpering.
The shooter stops to reload. Grace shouts at him.
"Derrick! Please stop! Stop shooting!"
He turns and looks at her, his eyes manic, pulsing. The Dark Ones crawl over him, caressing, whispering. He hears nothing else. He aims his gun at Grace.
I cry out to Grace in a voice I hope will break through to her world.
— Grace! Sing! Sing, Grace!
There is a song I sing to her, in the nights when the bad dreams come, the Dark Ones seeking a way in. It is a special song, an AngelSong, a song only we can hear. But she hears it, too, for I often hear her singing it to herself, when she is afraid. She is often afraid.
SCARE AWAY THE DARK
I knew I was going to die.
Derrick Holder ... I thought he had left school. Why was he doing this?
The fire alarm spilled into my brain, like an electric shock. Ethan slumped against me, his blood spilling onto me, his weight holding me in my seat. He was still alive, I could hear his soft moans, his rasping breath. Bree was crying under the table, her voice like a lament: nopleaseno-pleaseno ...
Little Mis-Fortune ...
I waited for the gun to go off again, for the bullets to rip through my body.
Then there was a voice. But it wasn't a real voice, it was like a thought in my head, but it was clear and strong, louder than even the alarm and the screams and gunshots splitting my ears.
Are you crazy? I thought. No. My mind was playing tricks on me.
But there it was again. Sing!
So I sang. Ethan dying in my lap, kids all around me crying, Bree under the table, pleading for mercy. I sang the song that is always in my head. A song with words I didn't understand, words that weren't really words at all.
Derrick shook his head, like his ears were full of water.
The gun trembled in his hands, his face contorting like a fun house mirror, bloated and bug-eyed.
I kept singing, my voice echoing through the space above, pinging off the windows. The alarm became more distant; all other sounds died away. Was I only imagining this? Derrick's mouth opened, like he was yelling at me, but I couldn't hear any words. I sang. He struggled to steady the gun, to pull the trigger.
Then I saw — something. A blur of motion at the edge of my vision. Jared Lorn was standing there, right in front of Derrick. Where did he come from? Derrick, as startled as I was, turned the gun on Jared, who snatched it away and threw it so hard that it clattered against the far wall. Derrick yelled, lunging at Jared, who caught him by the throat.
For a moment, the two of them were frozen, their eyes burning into each other. Then Jared pushed Derrick away. But Derrick didn't fall. He flew ... flew! Through the air, like he was made of wings. His body slammed into the full-length window next to the exit door in a deafening explosion of shattering glass, a shower of tiny shards falling with him, burying him like a savage winter storm.
The alarm stopped. I shivered in the sudden rush of arctic air, gasping for breath. Jared, in that moment, looked like something un-human; he glowed, his skin lit up from within, his eyes golden and fiery, like ... like the angel. Was this the angel? I shook the thought away. No. This was a boy from school.
The whine of sirens bloomed distantly, piercing my numbed brain. It seemed like a million years had passed in a heartbeat.
I heard a voice, sounding very far away.
"Are you all right?"
I turned to find Jared looking at me. He looked normal again, almost normal, though his eyes still burned. I nodded, breathing.
Ethan let out a guttural moan.
"Ethan!" I tried to raise him up, my arm still wrapped around his stomach to staunch the blood. But then Jared was beside me, picking Ethan up off my lap and laying him on the table, pushing away the lunch trays. Jared put his hand on Ethan's forehead and held it there, his other hand pressed against his bloody stomach. Ethan stopped moaning, relaxing, like he'd fallen asleep.
I looked at Jared. "Who are you?"
He didn't answer. I heard Bree whimpering.
"Bree?" I leaned over, peering at her under the table. "Bree?"
"Nopleasenopleasenoplease ..." She sobbed and sobbed. She rocked slowly, her arms locked around her knees. I reached for her; she shook me away.
Kids began to move, coming up from under tables. More crying.
I looked around at the shocking carnage, feeling strangely numb. Had that really just happened? I couldn't tell; everything around me looked different, too sharp, too colorful. It hurt my eyes. My hands, my clothes were covered in blood. Was I dead? Could I be dead and not know it?
People were suddenly pouring in from everywhere. Teachers, policemen, rescue workers, all shouting at once. Paramedics rushed in with cases of equipment. How did they get here so fast? I had lost track of time. Two of them got to work on Ethan, checking his vitals, shouting to each other about his condition. It was like they were speaking another language; I couldn't understand a word. They loaded Ethan on a stretcher and rolled him out the main doors, still working on him as they ran.
All around me there were kids crying, holding each other, some quite hysterical, some just staring into space. Kids a moment ago enjoying their lunches, their friends, making plans, telling jokes. All that wiped out forever in a few minutes of sheer terror.
For some strange reason, I thought of the man I had seen that day of the car crash. He had spoken to me, one sentence only, yet a collection of sounds I heard over and over, in my dreams, in my waking, a voice that was new every moment — I've got you, Grace.
It was that same voice today I heard today, telling me to sing. Was he really an angel? And then Jared ... Jared. So much like him. All beauty and fire.
My head felt light, spangled with tiny needles. I couldn't breathe anymore. My vision clouded, the room dissolved ...
— Did you see that boy? Did you see what he did?
The killer boy is dead. Two students are dead. Many are wounded. But Grace is alive.
We are badly fractioned, our Light shattered. The Dark can do that, to weaken us. Strip us of our power. Our power is enormous but not infinite. It is always at the mercy of its source.
— I saw, Michael says.
The boy catches Grace as she faints. In the madness that surrounds them, it is as if they are alone. He looks like an ordinary boy. But I had seen the mask fall. I know what he is. I am perplexed. He did a very dangerous thing in revealing himself to us. Michael should have killed him instantly.
Yet Michael had not done that.
— You gave her the Song, he says.
He does not scold me for this. We sing all the time to our humans, though it is rare that they actually hear it as song.
Or that they can sing it themselves. Yet Grace can.
— He saved her, I say.
22 Gina Detwiler
— What does Elohim say?
— He says to wait. The boy is more than he seems.
— We know what he is. He showed himself. He must be —
— Elohim says to wait.
I could not do it myself. I am only a Guardian. I can protect, but I cannot destroy.
Especially not one of them.
Grace awakens, staring up at the boy who holds her. Her green eyes are wide with wonder, as if she is in the midst of a beautiful dream. He sets her on a nearby table, lets her lean against him, holding her upright.
"Were you hit?" he asks.
She looks down at her bloody sweater, breathing, feeling for some sign of pain. "No ..." She shakes her head, wondering how that was possible.
A rescue worker takes hold of the sobbing girl under the table, wrapping her in a blanket and leading her out. People continue to stream into the room, stepping over mounds of broken glass, their eyes swelling with horror at the sight that greets them.
A paramedic comes to look at Grace, still huddled against the boy. He sees the blood all over her clothes.
"I'm fine," she says. She speaks like an automaton, without really seeing him.
Excerpted from "Forlorn"
Copyright © 2017 Gina Detwiler.
Excerpted by permission of Vinspire Publishing, LLC.
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