A Gathering of Angels

BOOK: A Gathering of Angels
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A Gathering of Angels

The Claire Wiche Chronicles, Book 2

 

Cate Dean

© Copyright, 2012

All Rights Reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission of the author, except for use in any review. This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, locales, and events are either pure invention or used fictitiously. No character is based on or inspired by any known or unknown persons, and all incidents come from the author’s imagination alone.

 

Cover art by
Nadica  Boskovska

Cover design by
Christine Pope

http://indieauthorservices.com

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Reader’s Guide to the Claire Wiche Mythology

Back in Black
Preview

Author’s Note

About the Author

Other Books by Cate Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gathering of angels can enlighten the whole world.

 

~Unknown

 

ONE

 

S
itting on the edge of the bed, Annie Sullivan tapped three sleeping pills out of the bottle and into her palm. After a short debate, she added another one. She set the bottle on the side table, dropped the pills in her mouth and chased them down with a long swig of beer.

It didn’t help any more than water, but it did make her head fuzzy a little faster. At least, that was the excuse she would give to Marcus if he ever found out.

He watched her like an overprotective brother. She wanted to slap him down for it, but she knew he was worried. Going into the fourth month after losing Claire, Annie looked like she was the one who fell into Hell.

She scrubbed at her face, then climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting for the pills to take effect. For the dreams to yank her in.

It didn’t take long before she was pulled under, slipping into smoke and shadow. Into a dream where she wasn’t alone.

 

*

 

C
laire knelt on the rocky ground, both hands wrapped around the hilt of the knife buried between her ribs. There was blood on her hands, blood on her shirt, but she looked painfully, joyfully alive, firelight flickering over her uplifted face.

That light came from the torches set into an impossibly tall black gate. A gate that never stayed in focus long enough for Annie to see what was carved into the arched insets. Part of her knew she didn’t want to see.

Natasha stood over Claire—cousin, demon, murderer, and the reason Claire revealed who she really was. What she really was. To save the people she loved, Claire broke the wards that had protected her from herself, and let the demon inside free.

To Annie, she still looked the same. Bloody, ash pale, hair a tangled mess down her back, but still Claire.

Natasha leaned over and gripped Claire’s chin. “You may have dragged me down here before I was ready, but I still have all the souls I sent ahead of me. So I win, and you are the door prize.”

“We will see,” Claire whispered. Annie’s heart flinched at the pain in her voice. “And sooner than you expected.”

Claire just finished talking when the gate shifted. A figure appeared—and horror crawled over every inch of Annie’s skin. One second his face was so beautiful it hurt to look at. The next it morphed into a hideous goat’s head. Back and forth, like he couldn’t control the transformation. She wanted to run—her heart pounded so hard from the need her ribs hurt. But she was trapped by the pill-induced walls of her nightmare.

The figure stepped to Claire. Natasha let her go and dropped to her knees, bowing so low her forehead brushed the ground. He ignored her and laid one hand on Claire’s cheek.

“My beautiful servant.” His voice gouged at Annie’s soul. “Your presence by my side has been sorely missed.”

“Master.” Pain edged Claire’s voice—and a longing that made Annie realize this had been home first. Long before she became the loving, compassionate woman Annie knew, she had been here. Like him. “I have—”

She doubled over her hands with a sharp gasp. He knelt in front of her, and rage smacked Annie when he spotted the knife. “Who dares harm—”

“I brought her to you, my Lord Azazel.” Natasha lifted her head, a smile twisting her badly burned face. That damage must have been Claire’s doing; when Annie left Claire alone to fight her, Natasha had been stunningly gorgeous. “As a gift, a token. You have received the other souls I sent to—”

“I do not take the souls of innocents, demon filth.” Natasha cowered as that rage sliced across his voice. “As for your gift,” he turned back to Claire, and the constantly morphing face stabilized, leaving the terrifying, beautiful man in place. “It is one I am unable to accept.” With a gentleness that made Annie’s throat ache, he removed Claire’s hands from the knife hilt. “I would have you by my side for eternity, beloved.”

In one swift move he pulled the blade out and laid his hand over the wound. Claire clutched his wrist, blood trickling out of her mouth as she collapsed. His free arm caught her and lowered her to the ground.

Searing red light poured from his hand. Claire arched off the ground as the light engulfed her. A scream pounded the inside of Annie’s head while she watched her friend suffer at the hand of a monster even her imagination couldn’t create. The small part of her not frozen in terror knew that this was no dream.

An eternity passed before the light let Claire go. She gripped the rocky ground, her fingers shaking so badly Annie could hear her fingernails tapping against the rock. Azazel helped her sit, wiped at the blood staining her chin. Every injury was gone—even through the blood Annie could see healthy skin, the thin line of a new scar. Her terror shifted, and turned into an even more devastating emotion. Hope.

“You still care for these wounded, ugly souls,” he said. Swallowing, Claire nodded. “What is worse—somehow, you have acquired a soul of your own.”

She stared at him, shock clear on her face. “I can’t—I have no explanation, Master.”

“I am not asking for one. You cannot stay, beloved. The care I could, perhaps, overcome in time. The soul, however—it is pure, and not mine to take. It will never be mine to take.” Grief edged his voice. Annie stared, not expecting that emotion from—well, one of the lords of Hell. “You may have found your way home.”

“Azazel—”

“Hush. Take your rest, while I deal with your tormentor.”

He moved so fast Annie didn’t see it until he had both hands wrapped around Natasha’s throat. From her reaction, she didn’t either.

“My Lord—” He cut off her strangled whisper.

“You killed without leave, took the souls of the innocent.” One hand released her, picked up an object that glinted in the torchlight. Horror shot through Annie, primal and icy. All she saw was black-edged gold before long fingers closed over it. That was more than she ever wanted to see again. “And used what should never have been taken beyond these gates to do so. It is fortunate you have chosen the body of one already well down the path to Hell. I will not have to separate you.”

He threw her at the gate. Annie flinched, waiting for the smack of impact. Instead, the gate shifted—and a hole appeared, like a greedy mouth. Screaming, Natasha grabbed for the side of the hole. Her fingers slipped through the gate like it was black water, and she disappeared.

Claire stood on her own, tears sliding down her face. “There was no way to save her?”

Annie frowned at the humble tone in Claire’s voice. Then she looked at Azazel, and decided that humble was the safe course.

“Above all, you would know the darkness of her soul. She was always meant to come to me, to us, from the moment she understood her power.” Claire stilled when he moved to her. His body changed from one step to the next—Annie sucked in her breath when the hideous, hunched figure towered over Claire, clawed fingers reaching for her. “You must go. Already, our brother screams for your blood.”

Claire went white. “You can’t tell—”

“Lucifer will know nothing of this. But you must go now, while I can still protect you.”

“Azazel—”

The gate behind them shivered, then bulged outward. Two giant hands formed in the surface of the gate—and thrust out, headed straight for Claire.

“Go!” Azazel pushed her out of the way and caught the oversized wrists. Claws gouged his chest. “I free you, beloved. Now
go
!”

His scream of pain as the claws punctured him tore through Annie. Claire darted forward. Azazel thrust out one hand and she flew backward, landing in the shrouded darkness, beyond the reach of the torchlight. Somehow, Annie could still see her, clear as day.

She pushed herself up, tears staining her face, and ran forward again. Azazel dropped to his knees as she reached for him, gripping the hands tearing into his chest.

“Master—”

“He will always lust for what he cannot touch—you know him, my sister.” Annie fought to move, to cover her ears and drown out the agony, the anguish in that voice. She might as well have been a statue. “Keep yourself safe, and do not think of me, even in dreams—”

“I won’t leave you here—”

“You will.” Azazel, took in a ragged breath. “You must.” One bloody hand brushed her cheek. “Live your life, Claire.” She jerked when he spoke her name. “With your soul comes mortality. You will live much longer than the humans surrounding you—but there will be an end. Now go—it is time to finish this argument on equal ground.”

With a furious roar he stood and rushed the gate. It seemed to swallow him, the surface liquid as he leapt through it. Then the gate became solid, and finally showed Annie the horrors carved into that surface.

Claire backed away, hands clenched into fists. When she turned around, Annie saw the grief that carved new lines on her face, that filled the blue eyes. Eyes no longer laced by the silver Annie now knew marked her as a demon. Those eyes widened, startled, and she halted.

“Heaven above—no, please no—” Despair laid over the grief. She stumbled forward, then froze, her voice a tortured whisper. “Annie?”

With a panicked gasp, Annie bolted awake.

She fell out of bed, sweat slicking every inch of her. Grabbing her cell off the side table, she crawled over to the corner of the bedroom. She needed something solid at her back. Something real. Her hands shook so badly it took several tries to punch in his number. Relief started to leak in past the panic when he answered.

“Annie? What has happened—”

“Can you come, Marcus?” Tears thickened her whisper. She cleared her throat, felt them slide down her face. “Please—I can’t be alone.”

“I am on my way.”

The phone slipped out of her hand. She pulled her legs up, wrapped her arms around them, and rocked back and forth, praying that the words running through her head were true.

It was just a dream—just a dream—

 

*

 

M
arcus found her huddled in the corner of the bedroom, ashen and shaking.

“Annie.” He scooped her up and carried her to the bed. His worry edged to fear when she didn’t fight him. “Annie—look at me. You are safe, now. Look at me, sweet.”

The endearment snapped her head up.

“Don’t sweet me.”

“There’s my girl.” He brushed sweat soaked blonde curls off her forehead, shocked by the clammy skin under his fingers. Her thin cotton nightgown clung to her, just as cold, just as wet. “Tell me.”

She did, hands clenched around each other by the time she finished. “I know it was a dream—but it felt so real. And she saw me, Marcus. Just before I woke up, she looked right at me.”

Heart pounding, he pushed down the hope that threatened to surface, gently pried apart Annie’s hands. “I know how you miss her. I do as well. She is dead, Annie; whatever you saw in the dream, you have to reconcile yourself to—”

BOOK: A Gathering of Angels
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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