Homicide detective Alexandra Jarvis is still reeling from the loss of her soulmate and her brush with death at the hands of a Fallen Angel. The last thing she wants is to get involved again in the ongoing tug-of-war between Heaven and Hell. But when she sees Seth Benjamin's face plastered across a nationwide police bulletin, she knows she has no choice.
As the only mortal aware of Seth's true nature, she needs to act fast if she's going to save Seth and give him a chance to stop Armageddon. And she’ll have to go up against her former soulmate to do it.
Can Alex gain Seth’s trust in time? Or will her fight to save him send the world over the edge into the very chaos she's so desperately trying to avoid?
The thrilling conclusion to the Grigori Legacy is available for preorder now... scroll down to read an excerpt!
Five thousand years ago
Emmanuelle stared at the Archangel steps away from her. Massive black wings rose above his head, half-extended against the riotous pink backdrop of the rose garden, their rigidity the only sign her words had had any impact on him. Because she sure as Hell wouldn’t have been able to tell from the granite of his face.
“That’s your decision, then,” Mika’el said, his voice as flat as the emerald eyes watching her. “You’re running away.”
Her chin shot up. “I’m choosing not to be a part of my parents’ game anymore,” she corrected. “We’ve been at war with my father ever since he left Heaven almost a thousand years ago, and a piece of parchment isn’t going to stop that. Neither will turning my brother into a pawn. As long as the One and Lucifer remain unchanged, their very nature makes peace impossible. My father won’t back down, and the One won’t do what’s necessary to stop him. Theirs is a struggle without end.”
“And so we should all stop trying?” His voice went cold. “Give up? Pretend we’re not part of it?”
She laughed at that. Harshly. “You really don’t get it, do you? I’m not part of it, Mika’el. From the day I was born and it turned out I wasn’t enough of a gift for my father after all, I haven’t been part of it. A handful of obscure Virtues raised me, and my mother pays more attention to this damned rose garden than she ever did to me. I’m not part of anything here, and I don’t want be.”
“You think she doesn’t love you, but she does. All of Heaven does.”
Hands in his pockets, Mika’el paced the perimeter of the little rose garden with long strides, his wings brushing the blooms. Pink petals drifted to the ground in his wake. His jaw grew harder with every step. When he finally stopped to face her, half the width of the garden stood between them.
“You are my soulmate, Emmanuelle,” he said heavily. “What you and I share has always been a gift. But it’s not a calling.”
Ice speared a corner of her heart and slowly spread to fill it. She swallowed against the universe of hurt waiting for her. A universe she would endure alone.
“That’s your decision, then?” She echoed his words, but as a question she wanted—needed—him to refute. “You’re staying?”
“You couldn’t seriously have imagined otherwise.”
“I had hoped you would choose...” She trailed off, unable to finish.
His lips tightened. “You hoped I would choose you?”
She flinched from the accusation in his voice. From the idea that he thought her selfish. “No, Mika’el. Us. I hoped you’d choose us.”
For a moment, he hesitated.
For a moment, she hoped.
And then the great black wings sagged, trailing against the gravel path.
“I am her warrior, Emmanuelle. She needs me.”
Anger surged in her, helpless, impotent, and agonizing. She wrapped her arms over her belly, anchoring them there, holding herself together. Oh, how she ached to go to him. To bury her head against his chest and feel his arms go around her. To be one with him again.
Mika’el sighed. “She needs you, too. More than you know. More than she knows. If you leave—”
“Whether I leave or stay makes no difference. Unless my mother grows a spine, my parents will continue gouging out bits of one another until they destroy themselves. And they’ll take all of Heaven with them, Mika’el. They’ll take you with them. I won’t stay to watch that happen.”
Fierce emerald eyes fastened on hers, their pain reaching inside her to wrap around her lungs, her heart.
“Choices have consequences, Emmanuelle,” Mika’el said. “Are you sure this one is how you wish to define yourself?”
“I’ve made my decision.”
For a long, silent moment, he stared over her head, the flint of his face edging its way into his eyes. Then his gaze returned to hers.
“So be it,” he said, and turning from her, he lifted from the rose garden on his great black wings.
Alexandra Jarvis jammed her hands into the pockets of her coat and leaned against the rough brick wall, hunching her shoulders against the bite of wind-driven snow. Steps away, a jumble of train tracks crisscrossed, stretching east and west under the thin glow of lights lining the narrow rail yard that ran through Toronto’s heart. A mesh of metal designed to carry things into and out of the city.
Things, maybe, like her niece, who had only six days to live.
“You holding up okay?”
Alex started at the voice. Damn, she was getting sloppy. She hadn’t heard a sound as Raymond Joly approached. She shrugged.
“As well as I can,” she replied. “Anything yet?”
The other homicide detective shook his head.
He turned his gaze toward the railway tracks. Together they watched the massive black German shepherd casting about for a scent halfway across the steel network. Its chances of finding one diminished with every passing minute, every snowflake that fell, every bitter gust of wind.
Alex burrowed deeper into her scarf.
Joly squeezed her shoulder. “Hey. We’ll find her.”
“You don’t believe that, and neither do I.” She looked sideways at her colleague, who had miniature icicles clinging to his handlebar mustache. “I’m running out of time, Ray. We’ve been chasing sightings all over the city for almost two weeks. This is the only place the dogs have caught a scent. If she managed to get onto one of the trains—”
The dog’s handler gave a shout and Alex’s head snapped around. Nose a few inches above the ground, the dog headed diagonally across the tracks toward the west, moving with new purpose. Alex straightened up from the wall. Everything in her screamed with the need to follow, but she made herself stay. Terrain like this didn’t hold a scent well to begin with, especially in this weather. Another person walking around out there would only confuse things.
She blinked snow from her lashes. The police dog stopped, lifted its head, tested the air with its nose, and swung left. In the concrete wall lining the yard, almost straight across from Alex and barely visible through the snow, stood the door to a utility access. It was mostly closed. But not entirely. The dog’s ruff stood up along its neck and shoulders, and a warning, deep, low, and guttural, rumbled from its throat. Alex’s heart smashed into her ribs.
The dog gave a sudden yip and bolted—not toward the door it had indicated but away, further down the snow-covered tracks, until it hit the end of the lead still held firm by its handler. Then it cowered, tail between its legs and the whites of its eyes visible in the beam of the flashlight Joly shone toward it.
“What the hell?” Joly muttered.
The dog handler barked a command, but the dog only sank lower. The hairs on the back of Alex’s neck prickled. No police-trained dog ever backed down from a threat. Ever. She’d seen them go up against people with knives, guns, baseball bats...
“It’s one of them,” she said harshly. “Call everyone off. Get them out of here.”
Joly looked blank. “What? One of who?”
“Them, Ray.” She had to make herself meet his gaze. To force the words past lips that were frozen but not from the cold. “The Fallen.”
Joly’s hand went to the gun at his side. Alex tugged her own hand from her pocket and grabbed his.
On the other side of the tracks, the utility door crashed open, slamming into the concrete wall beside it. The snow fell faster and thicker now, muffling the thud. A hulking figure emerged. It ducked under the door header and stepped into a pool of light.
Huge. Male. Winged.
And carrying a very pregnant Nina in his arms.
Alex inhaled sharply. Beneath her hand, Joly’s fingers closed over the handgrip of his weapon.
“Don’t,” she croaked. “You can’t.”
“Listen to her, mortal.” The Fallen One’s rumble rivaled the earlier one from the dog. His gaze swept their small assembly: the dog handler on his right, backing slowly away to join his cowering animal; the handful of uniformed officers down the track to his left, standing in an uncertain half circle, guns drawn but still at their sides; Joly and Alex across from him. His focus settled on Alex. Narrowed. His head tipped to the side.
Alex stood rigid beneath his scrutiny. Did he know? Could he tell what Seth had done to her, what he’d made her?
Would it matter?
“I have no bone to pick with any of your companions,” he said. “But you...you are persistent. Three times I’ve had to move the Naphil because of your efforts.”
They’d come close that many times? Alex shook off the agony in the thought. Tried not to stare at the fragile, unconscious bundle in the Fallen One’s arms or to see the pallor of Nina’s face.
Tried, desperately, to be a cop and not an aunt.
“She’s my niece,” she replied. Sheer determination kept her voice from reflecting the quiver in her gut. “I want her back.”
“She is the bearer of Lucifer’s unborn child,” he corrected, “and no longer your concern. Moving weakens her. You will stop seeking her.”
Joly’s fingers went rigid under hers. Her own gun hand itched to close over her weapon. Maybe if they shot enough lead into him...
She shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
“Then you invite death.”
Her chin lifted. She didn’t know how far Seth’s little gift would go in a confrontation with a Fallen One, but she wouldn’t back down from finding out. And she wouldn’t let Lucifer’s henchman take Nina again. She stepped away from Joly. “I’m not like the others. I’m—”
“Not you. Them.”
Without warning, the Fallen One swiveled to his left. His wings unfurled, spread wide, and swept forward in a mighty surge. Snow, gravel, and rail ties all lifted from the ground, driven by a gust of wind more powerful than a hurricane, and hurtled toward the cluster of uniforms. Men and projectiles alike slammed into the wall. Gravel and ties remained, embedded in the concrete. The cops dropped to the ground, silent, still. Four bright crimson splashes marked their places of impact, garish, hideous, undeniably fatal.
It was over in less than a second.
Beside Alex, Joly’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged. The Fallen One’s implacable gaze met Alex’s across the interlace of tracks.
“You will stop seeking her,” he repeated. And then, with another sweep of his wings, he lifted into the air and disappeared into the night above the lights, taking Nina with him.
From a long way off, Alex heard Joly’s frantic voice barking orders to the dispatcher he’d reached on his cell phone, the dog handler’s shouts for help as he ran to the fallen uniforms, the distant whistle of an approaching train that would now be delayed for hours. Joly shoved past her, bellowing her name and wrenching back the part of her that hovered on the brink of disappearing forever.
Breath returned, its shattered edges shredding her lungs. She responded to a second bellow from Joly with a nod, and then, stripping off her gloves, followed him toward the downed officers. But where he ran, she walked, knowing there was no rush because none of had them survived. None of them could have survived. Not against a Fallen One.
She tucked the gloves into her pocket, listening to the wail of sirens in the distance. Others would be here within minutes. Paramedics, police, her supervisor. And then there would be much to do and many questions to answer—all except the one that had already been answered.
The Fallen One had known about her, all right.
And others had paid the price.
Samael strolled into what had once been Lucifer’s office, his gaze taking in the changes to the room. The Light-bearer’s thousand-plus journals and their shelves were gone; the ever-present bowl of peppermints no longer sat on the desk; the rug stained with the blood of Raziel had been removed.
“I see you’ve made yourself at home,” he said. “Much better.”
Seth stood at the window behind his departed father’s desk, his back to the room, his grunt the only indication he’d heard. Samael’s eyes narrowed. It had been nearly a week since the Appointed had regained consciousness, and still he showed no sign of taking up the reins of Hell—or any interest in doing so, unless one counted minor redecorating.
Which Samael didn’t.
He cleared his throat. “I thought you might like to go over our current status now that—”
“You thought wrong.”
Samael snapped his teeth shut. His jaw flexed. He chose his next words carefully. “I understand you’re disappointed that the Naphil—”
Seth moved so fast that Samael had no time for more than a single step back before the Appointed’s fingers closed over his throat. A glittering, vicious black gaze bored into his.
“You understand nothing,” Seth spat. “Nothing. All your urgings, all your promises—I did everything you told me to, and I still lost her. I lost the one thing in the universe that I want more than life itself. That I need.” His grip tightened. “I should kill you now.”
The tremble in Seth’s fingers told Samael he could likely break the Appointed’s grasp—Seth was nowhere near recovered from the injury inflicted on him by the Archangel’s sword—but he clamped down on the urge to twist away. Instead, he studied the dark, hate-filled eyes inches from his own. Had he miscalculated? Had he made a mistake in recruiting the Light-bearer’s son to take Lucifer’s place as Hell’s leader? Perhaps Seth was too like his father. Perhaps it would be best if—
No. Even if he managed to kill Seth—and it was a big if, even in the other’s weakened state—it would only leave him with a greater problem. A rudderless Hell didn’t stand a chance against Heaven. Whether he liked it or not, the Fallen needed Seth to lead them. And it was up to Samael to get him to do so.
“You may have lost the battle for her, Appointed,” he rasped past the vise-like pressure on his larynx, “but not the war.”
Seth scowled. “Explain.”
Samael tapped the hand gripping his throat, and after a moment’s hesitation, Seth’s fingers loosened until he could draw air. But only just.
“Aramael is gone,” Samael said, “and Mika’el and the others are preoccupied with the war. The Naphil will be alone. Unguarded. If she really means that much to you—”
Seth’s hand tightened again. “More.”
“Then let me get her for you,” Samael croaked.
“And why would I need you to do that?” Seth growled. “Or trust you?”
“Because right now I can do this.” Samael reached up and prised the fingers from his throat. “You’re wise enough to know you’re in no shape to move between the worlds right now, Appointed. Just like I’m wise enough to know Hell needs a leader, and it’s not me. Each of us has what the other wants—or we can get it. It makes sense that we would help one another.”
Seth’s hand balled into a fist and dropped to his side. His expression turned stony but for the fire seething in the depths of his gaze. Samael coaxed himself to patience. The urgency that had driven his actions when Lucifer still lived no longer existed. Seth might not be the powerful leader Hell needed just yet, but with the right encouragement, he could grow into the role. And damaged though he might be, he was still more of a leader than Heaven had anymore. Samael’s lips curved at the thought of the Archangel Mika’el’s struggles to hold the angels together after the One’s loss. Oh, how he wished he could see Heaven’s mightiest warrior now.
Seth wheeled away and returned to his place by the window. “Talk,” he commanded.
Samael strolled forward and dropped into the chair facing the desk. “Without the One’s will driving them,” he said, “Heaven’s forces are scattered. Weak. They outnumber us, but their casualties are greater, and we don’t even have all the Fallen engaged in battle yet. Better than ten thousand of them remain with the Nephilim children.”
“The children are young. They need care and training.”
“I meant why do I care about the Nephilim at all?”
Samael swallowed his retort. Bloody Heaven. First Lucifer had been wholly focused on the creation of his Nephilim army, and now Seth saw no point to it? Was Hell to be forever burdened with leaders who couldn’t see past their own selfish desires? Was he to spend his entire existence drawing maps for them?
“Two things came between you and the Naphil woman,” he reminded Seth. “Aramael, and the Naphil’s concern for the human race. The former might no longer be a concern, but as long as humanity exists, the entire race will stand between you and the Naphil, just as it did between your father and the One. That was why Lucifer created the Nephilim in the first place.”
“I know why he created them.” Seth brushed off his words with an impatient wave of one hand. “But they’re only just born. It will take months for them to grow up; years before they’re able destroy humanity. We could wipe out every mortal on the planet in a fraction of the time.”
Really? Samael rubbed fingertips over one temple and the headache forming there. He’d heard this argument from Lucifer so many times that he’d lost count, and now Seth, too? Bloody, bloody Heaven. He unclenched his teeth.
“Actually, we couldn’t,” he said. “Heaven—”
“Heaven would come after us,” Seth interrupted, “and then we’d be fighting the war on Earth, where human casualties would be catastrophic. Isn’t that the whole point?”
“Yes, and no. With all due respect, Appointed, your approach has three flaws. First, not all mortals would be killed. Some would survive, and now that you’ve made her immortal, your Naphil will never stop fighting to save them. Second”—Samael ticked off another finger—“we might have the advantage over Heaven right now, but if we take the fight to Earth, I guarantee we’ll lose that edge. Nothing will unite and motivate the angelic forces like a direct assault on the One’s mortal children. Nothing. If that happens, humanity’s destruction becomes the least of our worries, because we’ll be fighting for our own survival.”
The Appointed’s jaw flexed. Relaxed. Flexed again. Thunder gathered on his brow. “You make it sound as if you expect me to wait for her.”
“I think it might be best.”
“And for exactly how long would you suggest I do that?”
“As long as it takes. You gave the Naphil immortality, remember. That means you have eternity on your side.”
Seth glowered, but didn’t argue.
“You said three flaws. What’s the third?”
“If the woman sees you strike directly at humanity, a thousand eternities won’t be enough to win her back.”
Back and shoulders rigid, Seth turned away. Samael gave him a few moments to process his words, then, satisfied he’d made his point, levered himself up from the chair.
“I have maps and strategies posted in war council chambers,” he said, crossing to the door. “If you’d like to have a—”
Samael stopped mid-stride. He looked back at Seth, who still faced the window. “No, what?”
“I won’t wait.”
“You can’t be serious!” Samael didn’t bother trying to hide the scowl this time. “Have you not heard a word I’ve said?”
“I heard.” Seth swung to face him. “And I don’t care. You want a leader for Hell? Then I want Alex. Now.”
Seth stayed on his feet until the door thudded shut behind Samael. Then, legs buckling, he dropped to his hands and knees before sprawling full length on the cold, hard flagstone, fire consuming him from ribcage to hip. Blackness encroached on his vision. He fought it off, gasping for air, gagging against the gorge that rose in his throat.
Fucking Heaven, that hurt. More now than it had yesterday, twice as much as the day before that. His attack on Samael had made it worse. Had the other sensed his weakness? Known how incapacitated he really was? Seth grunted, his fingers tingling at the memory of being prised from Samael’s throat. Who was he kidding? Of course the Archangel knew. With a dozen former Virtues dancing attendance on Seth, at least half the realm would know.
He curled his fingers against the stones, drawing his focus inward. He was the Appointed, son of Lucifer and the One. He could not—would not—be caught lying prone on the floor, should someone come in. Taking a slow, careful breath, he hardened his muscles. Then, in one swift motion, he pushed grimly, fiercely to his knees, grabbed the desk, and pulled himself upright. Nausea washed over him. Through him. Became him. He swallowed, retched, and only through sheer force of will stopped himself from spewing his earlier meal across the polished mahogany desktop. Lights sparked behind his eyelids. Sweat beaded his forehead and his upper lip.
When he could draw breath again, he stretched out a hand and tugged the bell rope to summon those tasked with his healing. Then he stumbled to the sofa and collapsed onto it, waiting for the fresh assault on his stomach to subside. It would be at least five minutes before one of the Virtues made his/her way to his side, if not more. The wait grew longer every time he called for help, as did a subtle but pervasive air of insolence.
He scowled. He may not have wanted to admit it to Samael, but the Archangel was right. Already Hell grew restless without an undisputed leader in place. Even in his weakened state, Seth could sense the shifts in energy outside the confines of the building, the rumblings of discontent. If he didn’t take up the reins soon, things would get ugly.
He rested his head against the cushions. So. Was that what he wanted to do? Step into his father’s shoes and take up the fight against Heaven? He snorted at the thought and immediately regretted even that slight movement of his diaphragm. Another moment of white-hot fire slid by.
His vision cleared again, and he stared into the cold, grimy fireplace. Now that Aramael was gone, he didn’t give a damn about Heaven. Couldn’t care less if the Fallen reclaimed a place there or not. Humanity, however, he did care about—for the exact reason Samael had voiced. The One’s mortal children would always stand between Seth and Alex. She’d proved that when she sent him away. Again, when she’d called on Aramael to protect her from Seth’s gift of immortality. And a third time, irrevocably, when she herself had taken up Aramael’s sword and inflicted this injury that refused to heal.
Eyes closed, Seth focused on the throb in his side. A mortal of Nephilim bloodlines, twice brought back from the very edge of death, made immortal by his own hand, wielding a sword given to her by the Archangel who was her soulmate. There was no doubt that the will of Heaven itself had somehow been behind that blow. The question wasn’t why the wound had been so severe, but how he had survived it at all. And the only answer he could come up with was—
A knock sounded at the door, signaling the arrival of a Virtue. Seth barked a command to enter. The door opened, and footsteps padded across the stone floor.
The answer was that Alex had hesitated. She’d held back. She hadn’t, despite everything, wanted to kill him. Somewhere inside her, she had still cared, and she would learn to care again. Perhaps not as soon as she was brought to him, but certainly once mortals no longer interfered.
And for that to happen, Seth needed the Fallen. He needed Samael. And he needed to heal so he could take his place on his father’s throne.
Efficient fingers lifted Seth’s shirt and began peeling back the bandage. The putrid scent of rot wafted upward. Seth gritted his teeth and braced for what followed. Scissors snipped, biting into flesh, cutting away the gangrene, slicing into nerves made raw by infection. He gagged, digging his fingers into the soft leather of the sofa. His last thought gathered strength. Settled into his soul. Became, in its truth, more powerful than the agony being inflicted on him.
He needed to heal.
For the first time since he had given Alex her immortality, he gathered the full force of his will to him. Focusing on the fire that began in his injury and wrapped around the very essence of his being, he held its tangle in his mind, stilled its violence. He saw how the loss of Alex had become inextricably ensnared with the physical pain, until he couldn’t tell where one began and the other left off. So much pain. So many threads.
Doubt slithered through him, gnawing with tiny, sharp teeth at the edges of his will. He shoved it away and studied the morass. One of the threads glowed brighter than the others. He took it up, disengaged it, and followed it to the wound in his side, to where the Virtue’s hands continued their work, snipping, cleansing, their every movement tugging at the thread he held. This, then, was the physical pain. He laid it aside and returned his attention to the tangle. Another thread, this one dark, fragile. He lifted it, extricated it from the rest, and followed it down, ever deeper, to the ache in his very core. The place where Alex’s loss resided—unending, all-consuming, threatening to swallow him in his entirety. He inhaled sharply, and the Virtue hesitated.
“Continue,” he ground out between his teeth.
He flinched from the press of gauze against raw flesh and forced his focus back to the tangle, continuing his own work, sifting, sorting, separating one pain from the other. Physical from emotional. Body from soul. While the Virtue taped the fresh bandage into place, he stared into his emptiness and faced the betrayal, trying to come to terms with it, hating the weakness it exposed within him. Then, as the other’s hands withdrew, the solution surfaced, whisper-soft. The one thing that would allow him to let go of what had passed.
The very thought brought a surge of peace. A wave of magnanimousness. Seth squeezed his eyes shut against the relief. Of course. Alex hadn’t meant to hurt him. She hadn’t known the depth of his love for her, or how to adjust to the enormity of the gift he had given her. She hadn’t understood, hadn’t been capable of understanding. But she would be. Once he explained, once she realized the depths of his connection to her, everything would change. She would change. Everything would be better.
It would be the way it was supposed to be.
Just like that, the tangle within him eased. He took a deep breath, the first he’d managed since regaining consciousness a week ago. His lungs filled, expanded, pressed against his ribs, and...nothing. The bandage tugged against tender flesh and blood throbbed through inflamed tissue, but the soul-deep agony that had plagued him was gone. His fingers probed the wound beneath its covering, but nothing more than the slightest sensitivity remained, entirely tolerable. His lips tugged into a smile. He’d done it. He’d begun healing. Finally. He seized the Virtue’s wrist, then opened his eyes.
“How long?” he asked.
The Fallen One shrugged narrow shoulders, her indifferent gaze sliding past his. “I’ve told you I can’t predict—”
Seth’s grip tightened, and surprise flitted across her expression.
“Assuming I’ve turned a corner,” he said, “how long?”
The Virtue placed her free hand over the bandage. One eyebrow rose, then dipped again to meet its mate. “You’re right. It seems better.”
“I asked you a question.”
“If you can maintain this? A week until you’re fully healed. Two at the most.”
“What about until I’m able to cross the realms?”
His hand left her wrist and fastened around her throat. “I said, how long until I’m able?”
Pale, blue-green eyes widened, and the Virtue swallowed, a ripple of skin and muscle against his hold.
“A few days. Four, maybe five. But—”
He shoved her away, and she stumbled against the fireplace, extending her wings for balance. He tugged his shirt into place.
“Get out,” he said. “And next time, send someone who knows better than to have an opinion.”
“Did you hear me, Detective?”
Alex jolted back to the present. She turned from the window to face her supervisor, Staff Inspector Roberts. “Sorry. I was...”
She didn’t finish. There didn’t seem much point in telling Doug Roberts that her mind was still in the rail yard, that she couldn’t get the image of the four murdered cops out of her brain and would never scrub their deaths from her conscience. He already knew. He just didn’t know how long never meant for her.
Her gaze returned to Toronto’s frigid mid-afternoon.
Roberts sighed. “You really should go home, Alex. Have a stiff drink or two, and call Henderson or Dr. Riley or someone. Talk it out.”
It was good advice. Required advice, under the circumstances, except maybe for the drinking part. For a moment, Alex considered the idea. Riley was out of the question, of course. While the Vancouver psychiatrist knew enough about what was going on that she no longer wanted to have Alex committed, she was too astute by far, and Alex couldn’t handle going the feelings route today. Not after last night’s events.
And talking to Hugh Henderson wouldn’t be much better. As the only other person on the planet who knew every impossible, messy detail of humanity’s current plight, the Vancouver detective had been an anchor for Alex on more than one occasion, but she wasn’t ready to reach out to him on this. Not yet. Hugh would have too many questions, want too many details. The whole scenario was still too fresh for Alex. Too sharp. She shook her head.
“I’m good,” she said. “Really. You need me here.”
Her supervisor scowled. “I need you in one piece, too. I can’t afford for you to have a breakdown.”
Alex snorted. “If I haven’t gone off the deep end by now, Staff, I’m not going to.”
Even though a part of her wished she could take exactly that escape route.
“Besides,” she added, “I need to keep looking for Nina.”
“The search has been called off, Alex. That’s what I was trying to tell you.”
Numbness crept over her, from the top of her head to her toenails. “I don’t understand.”
“I think you do.” Mouth tight and hands on hips, her supervisor met her gaze, his brown eyes sympathetic, sad, and unyielding. “Four cops died tonight, and one of our best tracking dogs is a quivering mass of jelly. Now that we know this—thing—has Nina, we can’t keep pursuing it. I can’t send more cops up against it. Not knowing what it’s capable of.”
He waved a hand at the window overlooking Homicide’s cramped, temporary quarters, where desks butted up against one another in haphazard disorganization, a stark reminder of the battle between angels and Fallen that had destroyed the top two floors of the building.
The battle between Seth and Aramael.
Her breath hitched.
Roberts didn’t seem to notice.
“We have no weapons against it, no way to stop it, and no way to take Nina from it, even if we do find her,” he continued. “I can’t risk more lives. I won’t risk them. Not when Nina is—”
His words dropped into silence. Where he’d stared her down a moment ago, now he wouldn’t meet her gaze. A muscle twitched along his jaw, an indicator of how much his words cost him. She didn’t care. Devastation licked through her, churned with denial, became white-hot fury.
“When Nina is going to die anyway?” she finished harshly.
Roberts’s jaw flexed again.
“Damn it, Alex—” He broke off and took a deep breath, making a visible effort at control. “Look, I’m sorry about Nina. You know that. But what the fuck am I supposed to do here? I have an entire city coming apart at the seams. Have you seen the boards out there?”
He jabbed a thumb at the window between his office and the rest of Homicide, where dry-erase boards flanked the office perimeter. Fifteen of them. She’d counted them on her way in to write her statement at four this morning. Then, as now, she’d cringed from the murders they catalogued and the chaos they represented—and from the burden she’d realized her colleagues had carried while she’d single-mindedly pursued her niece.
Roberts pushed up from his chair. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “Really I am. But the decision is made.”
“So now what?” She threw her hands wide. “I’m supposed to give up? Stop looking and leave Nina to die out there on her own? She’s seventeen, Staff. She’s just a kid!”
Roberts snatched up the phone and hurled it across the room. It shattered against the wall, scattering fragments of plastic and wired components across the carpeted floor. “Goddamn it, Alex, do you think I don’t know that? Do you think this is easy?”
The office door opened and Tim Abrams, another detective, poked his head in. His gaze swept over Alex and their staff inspector, settled on the destroyed phone, and flicked back to Alex. Without a word, he withdrew again.
Alex stood frozen in place. She sensed Roberts wasn’t finished yet, and she waited for his words even as her every muscle, her every cell, screamed denial. He had more to say, but she didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want him speaking the unspeakable things that had been slowly building in him—in all of them—over the last two weeks. Even in herself.
Especially in herself.
She closed her eyes.
“Nina is gone,” he said, his voice raw. “Even if you could find her again, even if you could get her away from whatever she’s with, even if you survived trying, you can’t save her.”
Alex’s head jerked from side to side, pulled by the invisible strings of repudiation. You’re wrong, she wanted to say. There’s a way. There has to be a way.
“She’s my niece,” she whispered instead. She’s Jennifer’s little girl, and she’s all I’ve got.
Hands settled onto her shoulders and squeezed. Gently, compassionately.
“I know,” her supervisor repeated. “And if she were mine, I’ve no idea what I’d do. But you have no choice, Alex. I can’t give you a choice, because we need you. Here. With your head in the game. Because you’re the only one who has any fucking idea what’s going on in the world right now. You’re all we’ve got.”
Alex bit down on the inside of her bottom lip, using the pain to distract herself. To keep from letting in the quiet panic that underscored Roberts’s words, or from giving in to the tears burning behind her eyes or the gathering rawness in her throat. He was wrong, of course. Not about her being needed, but about her not having a choice. She’d been making choices for weeks now, always for the greater good. Making them, living with them, suffering their consequences.
No, there was always a choice.
The question was whether she was strong enough to make this one.
“Call Henderson,” Roberts said wearily. “Talk to him. Please.”
Alex pulled away and walked out.
Resting his elbows on the desk, Mittron pressed fingertips to temples and massaged the ache forming there. On the far side of the office, Samael paced the length of the peeling, graffitied wall, muttering under his breath. The near-ceaseless din of thousands of children screaming for attention floated in through the broken panes of the room’s only window.
What a Hellhole. The noise, the stench of decay and unwashed bodies, the complete lack of any creature comforts. Conditions were nothing short of abominable, and they were beyond unsuitable for Heaven’s former executive administrator.
Mittron pressed harder against the thumping in his skull. Dear One in—
Right. He sighed. The One wasn’t in Heaven anymore. She wasn’t anywhere. Both she and Lucifer were gone, leaving him to deal with eighty thousand Nephilim brats and a handful of idiots who thought they could run the universe. Not to mention a crazed Principality that was, without doubt, stalking him even as he sat here. His heart gave an uncomfortable thud at the thought.
He’d been expecting Bethiel on his doorstep every moment of every day for the last two weeks. Ever since he’d told Samael how to open the gates of Limbo, knowing that the Principality he’d unjustly imprisoned there would be among the Fallen loosed upon the universe.
Mittron shuddered, his brain caught in the incessant loop that had him jumping at shadows, imagining the rustle of wings behind him, anticipating the bite of a sword through his flesh at every turn. Bethiel, free to come after him. Free to carry out the roared threat that had reached Mittron’s ears over and above the clang of Heavenly metal intended to imprison the Principality forever.
“By all that is holy and righteous, Seraph, I swear I will find you if it takes me all of eternity!”
Mahogany-dark hands slammed, open-palmed, onto the desktop before him. Mittron jolted in his chair, swallowing—just barely—an involuntary and undignified shriek of terror. He stared past his fingers at Samael, looming over him.
“Are you even listening to me?” the Archangel demanded.
Mittron linked his hands together and lowered them to the desk. He took a long, deep breath, gluing together his nerves. “Of course I’m listening. Seth refuses to take up the reins and now you want to dump him.”
Samael glared at him, his gaze narrowing. Seeming to decide Mittron wasn’t being entirely flippant, he stood tall and stalked the room’s perimeter again.
“Well, he’s of no bloody use to me if he’s going to moon over the Naphil the way his father did over the One. Hell needs a ruler, not a spineless, weak-kneed—” Samael shoved a chair out of his way. It hit a wall and splintered.
Mittron winced. He wished the Archangel had cooled off after his meeting with Seth before coming here. Too little existed in the way of usable furniture in this godforsaken place to begin with. He couldn’t afford to lose any of it to tantrums. Samael kicked aside a chair leg.
“Bloody Heaven,” he snarled, whirling to face Mittron. His outstretched wings smashed a new hole in the rotted ceiling. “It’s not like I’m asking him to actually fight in the war. I’m not even asking him to take over the strategy. All he has to do—”
“All he has to do,” Mittron interrupted, “is play by your rules.”
Glittering golden eyes pinned him.
“You would do well to remember who controls the drugs keeping your demons at bay, Seraph.”
The veiled threat took away Mittron’s breath, and he waited for a new surge of panic to abate. For the memory of Judgment to release its grip on his throat.
“I find you guilty of treason, Seraph...I therefore sentence you to witness the consequences of your actions. You will live among the mortals you have failed and feel the agony of each and every soul lost to the Fallen Ones as if that agony were your own.”
The words were branded forever on his soul. A sentence imposed on him by the One that meant the voices of millions of souls had followed him everywhere. Had become a part of him, crying out to him in their misery and unrelenting sorrow, until their suffering had driven him to the edge of insanity and beyond. Until Samael had plucked him from the human jail cell and provided him with the drugs that all but silenced them.
Mittron would do anything to prevent their return. He and Samael both knew that. But Mittron also knew his mind was clearer now, almost as clear as it had been when he still held the revered position of Highest Seraph, Heaven’s executive administrator.
It was sharp enough to see how Samael’s problem might cancel out his own. He lowered his hands to his lap and surreptitiously wiped sweat-slicked palms against his robe.
“I intended no offense, Samael,” he said, careful to keep his tone neutral, “but I don’t think you came here looking to have me soothe your wounded ego, either.”
The former Archangel’s scowl deepened. “I presume you have a plan of some kind to back up your lack of diplomacy?”
“I do. I think you should send someone to find the woman.”
“I don’t need you to tell me that. Seth made it patently clear I have no choice.”
“But not to bring her back.”
One of Samael’s eyebrows ascended. “The drugs have addled your brain, Seraph. Sending someone to kill the Naphil would be akin to signing my own death warrant. Or is that your intent?”
“My intent is to give you a ruler who isn’t distracted by things that have no place in your Hell. Without the Naphil—”
“Without the Naphil,” Samael growled, “Seth would become so immersed in misery he’d be even more useless than he already is.”
“Not if he thought one of Heaven had killed her. Revenge is a powerful motivator.” Mittron suppressed a shudder at the truth of his own words—and the accompanying image of the Principality he’d condemned in order to save himself.
Samael’s expression stilled. Frustration slowly turned to thoughtfulness, narrowed to speculation, and then, in a blink, shifted back again. He shook his head. “It won’t work. I’d never find a Fallen One I could trust not to run to Seth with the plan, and if I go after her myself, the entire war effort will disintegrate. Seth is in no shape to take control yet. I’m the only thing standing between him and utter chaos.”
Mittron took a deep breath. There. That was it. The invitation, the opportunity. The chance to put things right.
“There is one who might be trusted,” he said slowly. Carefully. “One with no connection to Hell.”
“You want me to ask one of Heaven?”
“He’s not of Heaven, either. At least, not anymore.” Mittron pushed back from the desk and began his own tour of the office, his steps measured. Controlled. Even if the tremble in the hands he locked behind his back was not.
“His name is Bethiel, of the Principalities. He uncovered evidence of my plan to trigger the Apocalypse, and I arranged his exile to Limbo. The evidence has since been destroyed, so he has no way to prove his innocence or return to Heaven, but he’ll want no part of Hell, either.”
“Then why would he help me?”
“He doesn’t know the evidence has been destroyed. Or that it’s not in your possession.”
“And when he finds out?”
Mittron met his gaze calmly. Samael tipped his head to one side and crossed his arms.
“I see. Bethiel solves my problem, and I solve yours, is that it?”
Samael leaned a shoulder against the frame of the window overlooking the square below. He jerked his chin toward the commotion. “Noisy, aren’t they?”
Mittron’s head throbbed agreement. “You have no idea.”
Samael unfolded his arms and passed a hand in front of a broken pane, healing the glass. The din from the children below became half. He stared out for another few seconds, then he chuckled.
“Do you know, I think your plan might actually work, Seraph. I’m beginning to see the value of having saved your ass. I’ll have a chat with your Bethiel and see what he says.”
Beginning to see the value? Mittron pressed his lips together as Samael strolled toward the door. Patience. You’re not quite done with him yet. Not if you’re to get what you deserve.
He cleared his throat. “Of course, there’s still the matter of the war itself to consider.”
Hand on the doorknob, Samael looked back at him. Irritation flashed across his features. “The war is my concern, not yours.”
“Then you’ve already taken measures with regard to finding her? Excellent,” Mittron said.
“Measures to find whom? The Naphil? The drugs really are addling your brain, aren’t they? We just had this conversation not two minutes ago, Seraph.”
“Not the Naphil. Emmanuelle.”
Shocked seconds slid by, punctuated by muffled shouts from beyond the window. Samael closed the door again. He leaned against it, wings sagging behind his back.
“Fuck it all to Heaven and back,” he said slowly. “I haven’t heard that name in so long, I’d forgotten her.”
“I suspect that was her intention.”
“She’s still alive?”
“I have no reason to think otherwise.”
“And you think they’ll go looking for her?”
“They have no choice. Without the One to hold them together or free will of their own to drive them, the angels will fracture. They cannot win a war on their own.”
“They still have Mika’el.”
“Mika’el knows as well as anyone he isn’t enough. Not to lead all of Heaven.”
Samael rubbed both hands over his face. “Wonderful,” he muttered. “Just fucking wonderful. I still have ten thousand troops tied up here on babysitting duty. What am I supposed to do, pull them out and let the Nephilim die? What if something goes wrong and we still need them?”
“What if I can give you back all but a handful of your Fallen?”
“You plan to look after eighty thousand infants on your own? I know you think you’re good, Mittron, but not even you can pull that off.”
“Not the Fallen. Mortals.”
The Archangel gaped at him. “You want to use mortals to care for the Nephilim?”
“All I need is a computer and access to the human internet.”
“And in exchange?”
“I want a place in the new order. Something suitable.”
More seconds. From outside came the roar of an angry Fallen One, pushed beyond the limits of patience, and the high-pitched response of dozens of children. Mittron offered silent thanks to Samael for repairing the window, but he didn’t interrupt the other’s thoughts.
“The combined realms of Heaven and Hell will need an executive administrator,” Samael said finally. “Someone to oversee things, make sure everyone follows the new rules. The position is yours if you want it.”
Mittron inclined his head. He wanted—and deserved—a great deal more, but it was a start. “I am in your debt.”
“I’m aware of that.” Samael’s smile held no warmth. “I’ll see that you get the human technology this afternoon. How long do you need?”
“You have one.”