Read an excerpt
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.”