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Authors: A.J. Downey,Jeffrey Cook

Tags: #Urban Fantasy

Airs & Graces

BOOK: Airs & Graces
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AN URBAN FANTASY

JEFFREY COOK

A.J. DOWNEY

Addy’s boss has been murdered. She’s next. She’s been folded into something that supernatural forces want, and it looks like she’ll have no choice in the matter.

 

Tab’s been through hell to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen - literally. The red-winged Angel of Free Will cares vehemently about individual agency in human destiny. How much he cares about Addy herself may be another thing entirely, but at any rate, she has a better chance with him than with the rest of the Angelic family, Fallen or otherwise.

 

In a run for her life and a race in which the involvement of the Devil himself is considered among the least of their worries, Addy must find enough moments of calm to unfold the Angel’s Grace inside her, learn from the visions it provides, and find the keys to Heaven and Hell.

Dedication

 

To Jeff, Jennifer and Kate. For making the dream of this one a reality. For keeping me sane and for the big push to get ‘er done. Thank you.
– AJ

 

To Jen, the love of my life, for all the support, and the frequent inspiration, as well as the pushes to keep at it. And to AJ Downey, for bringing me in on this world and sharing her inspirations
– Jeff

 

Chapter One

Adelaide

You know how random people always ask you things like “How’s your day?” or “How you doing?” and the natural response is always “It’s good,” or “I’m good, thanks,” no matter how bad their lives really are? No one is ever honest. No one ever says, “Oh, you know, my dog died yesterday,” or “My wife left me,” or “I got this wicked hangnail.” No one ever tells the truth, like the guy that cut in front of me in line at the coffee shop this morning as I stared into the window glass to put my long, dark hair, into a braid. Or the cashier that let him, only to turn around and pretend that nothing happened. Seriously annoying! I knew this particular cashier too. She shot me dirty looks every time I hit the counter, and I’d overheard her the week before saying I wouldn’t be working in the fancy antiques store if I didn’t look the way I did.

When she asked him how his day was, all saccharine-sweet, he replied with a grin and said, “It’s good; thanks for asking.” He got his coffee after a brief exchange with the barista and left as I stepped up to the counter.

“Hello and how is your day?” she asked when I got to the register, all pretense of sweetness gone from her expression.

I was all out of pretty little lies, so I told her, “It sucks; thanks for asking.”

“I’m sorry?” she stammered.

“Yeah, me too,” I said, ordering my coffee and a muffin. “And can I get that without you looking like I bought my job with my breasts this morning? Kay, thanks.”

She stood there, open-mouthed, with my money in her hand, and I smiled, said, “Keep the change,” and went for my waiting coffee and muffin. The barista’s eyes glittered with silent laughter as he handed me my order, and he winked at me when he said, “Have a nice day.”

I hauled ass out of the Starbucks and up the block, stopping outside the side door to my own job, then thought about it some more and sighed.
Things aren’t always good.
As I tipped my face up into the rare Seattle sunshine, it was never more apparent than right then, already late to work on a Monday morning thanks to the jackass that cut in line. My boss, Piorre, was going to be pissed as it was, so I stopped to take in a little extra moment of the good before subjecting myself to the old man’s scolding.

The inside of my eyelids glowed red as the sun warmed my face while I stood on the bustling sidewalk. I breathed deep the scent of Elliot Bay and the waterfront: that mixed smell of the Sound, frying fish, car exhaust, and old metal that the majority of people found offensive, but to me, always smelled like home. The steady thrum of traffic that passed overhead on the Alaska Way viaduct was at once familiar and soothing, almost like an echo of the city’s heartbeat as the tires of the cars and trucks thumped rhythmically over the aging structure’s expansion joints. I was actually one of the few people who was going to miss the monstrosity when it came down to make way for the tunnel to replace it.

The thick paper Starbucks cup warmed my left palm even as the juggled mix of gripping my keys and breakfast in the other hand threatened to squash my morning muffin. I took a few seconds to take a drink of my coffee until some suit, in his rush to get up the hill, bashed into me and knocked me off kilter. I dropped my keys but managed to save my muffin – yeah, point for me, but it still made me sigh. Thrust back into reality, my good moment over, I tucked my coffee into the crook of my elbow and stooped to retrieve the ring of keys, grabbing up the one I needed to enter the side door of the antique shop I worked at.

I stepped out of the warmth of the summer sunshine and into the gloom of the old building’s back office, hastily setting down my muffin and coffee on the old desk that had been fished out of some ‘70s surplus line. It was that institutional green of so many ugly desks of yesteryear, and all banged up. I sometimes wished Piorre would use one of the nice antique wooden desks we sometimes got in stock, but this one worked, and why keep something that could be sold? I checked the calendar on the desktop blotter for any notes. Finding none, I fished my phone out of my pocket and dropped it on the desk beside my keys as I called out to the older man.

“Piorre? I’m sorry I’m late! I know what you’re gonna say, but traffic was hell this morning, and then this jackass cut in line at the coffee place…” I stopped myself before I went down a lane of thought that would just put me in hotter water with him. I flipped on lights from the circuit breaker by the back door I had just entered. “Who am I kidding? You’re right, ‘excuses are just that… excuses, Adelaide,’ but I want to remind you, who stayed late two Fridays ago to take in that shipment of milk glass for you so you could play checkers or chess or whatever with your friend, eh? I have to have scored at least a few points I can cash in for that now.”

I started to take off my leather jacket and continue rambling while waiting for his response, but when the typical shuffle of his feet on the worn hardwood, followed by his creaky but steady voice with his typical responses to my ravings, never came, I got worried. Piorre was always here before me, and I do mean
always
. I fell silent, shrugging my jacket back onto my shoulders, and listened for several heartbeats.

“Piorre?” I called, a little softer and more uncertain now, standing very still, listening for anything. I heard a weak and strangled cough from out in the store and moved forward, more worried than ever. I passed the front wooden counter with its ancient register, stopping cold in my tracks at what lay before me.

“Piorre!” I shouted, scrambling forward to the old man’s side. He lay on his back, the white collar of his shirt turning a crimson that closely matched the burgundy of his wool sweater-vest. His throat was cut, and he was choking. As I collapsed to my knees, his gnarled hands reached for mine. I gripped his bloody hand with one of mine and pulled at the knot in his bloody bowtie with the other. He gasped, more of his blood bubbling up to coat his teeth and stain the corner of his mouth as he struggled to speak to me. My face was wet with tears, and my chest squeezed tight as I tried to do something, scrambling for my phone in my jacket pocket.

“No, my rosary, Addy girl… get me my rosary,” he choked at me, and I nodded, dashing to my feet and going for the register. I snatched up the cordless phone from beneath the counter and dialed 911 as I keyed the register and turned the old crank, the bell rang and the drawer popped open. There was no sound on the other end of the phone, no ringing, no dial tone, just empty air. I grabbed the rosary out of the far change pocket of the register and scrambled back to Piorre’s side, twining the mahogany beads in his fingers, holding his hand in mine.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just leave him like that, and so I told him, “Just hang on. I have to get help. My phone is just in the office; just hang on.”

I rose to get up, but his hand convulsed in mine. His eyes, so wide without his half-moon glasses on, and the old rosary beads, which dug into my flesh, made me still. “No,” he said. “No, don’t go yet, Addy Girl.” He struggled to breathe some more.

“Don’t try to talk, P. I have to call for help…” I tried to untangle my hand from the string of rosary beads, but his old hand, so gnarled with arthritis, suddenly convulsed around mine tighter, in an iron grip that made me gasp. I could almost feel the bones in my hand grind together with bruising force as the smooth wooden beads of his rosary dug harder into my skin.

“I’m sorry Addy Girl,” he said. “So sorry.” Clasping his other hand against my neck, he stroked his thumb along the curve of my jaw, it was hot and slick with his blood.

“No, I’m not going to let you die, not like this, not in your own store.” Nearby, on a stack of papers under an antique desk that we hadn’t been able to sell, I saw an old-style telephone, just sitting in a spot where I’d never noticed it before. When I pulled the receiver to my ear, I heard a loud noise on the other end, like a trumpet. The receiver fell from my hand as I was startled, and I lost my balance. Knocking over several things under the desk in my effort to get up, I must have triggered some kind of projector. I could see images flashing around the room and hear a man’s voice talking. I looked for the off switch but saw only papers and stacked boxes. In frustration at not making the extra distraction stop, I turned my attention to Piorre.

I heard someone say, “Okay, you called me. Come on out!” from the back of the store where I’d come in. My first thought was that the police had arrived, but before I could react, the lights went out, the talking stopped, and I just sat there stunned.

It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds until the lights came back on, and when they did, there was a guy there, tugging on my arm, babbling something. I looked down at Piorre, the tears slicking down my face, but he was gone, eyes staring sightless and still at the ceiling of his old-as-dirt antique shop. His fingertips slipped from mine, leaving his rosary to dangle nerveless in my grasp.

I sat there through the intensive tugging on my arm and just stared at the old man in shock, before finally turning to look up at the man that had come in after me. He stopped tugging on my arm and said something, and all I could do was blink at him. He was tall and clad in black, from his biker boots, with their silver buckles, to his faded black jeans to the leather coat, with what looked like a black tank-top peeking out low from under the collar. He was beautiful, which I know sounds weird when you are talking about a man, but I don’t know how else to explain him. He was slender and his skin pale, almost white, which was striking underneath the shock of short black hair, so dark that it had blueish highlights, like a crow’s wing, under the dim store lights. Still, the most noticeable feature of this beautiful man was his eyes; they were a pale silvery gray that was just absolutely surreal to look into. He said something to me again, and I blinked and thought hard, finally asking in a voice I barely recognized as my own, it sounded so far away…

“What?”

He stared at me for several heartbeats, a muscle along his jaw tense and almost twitching with his impatience. Or was it anger? I’m not sure what.

“Are the door I came in and the front door the only ways into this place?” he asked.

“I think so,” I answered and looked back down at Piorre. “I have to call the police,” I said finally and struggled to get up off the floor. The man jerked my arm roughly to help me to my feet, his long slim fingers locking around my forearm as unforgiving as steel.

“Do that, and you’ll be in a cage when they come to kill you too,” he said, his glance shifting around the room, darting from corner to corner.

BOOK: Airs & Graces
2.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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