Authors: Christina Ashcroft
Christina Ashcroft and
Archangel of Mercy
“I was completely drawn into Christina Ashcroft’s novel and couldn’t put it down. With its sizzlingly hot archangels, richly imagined world and truly despicable villains,
Archangel of Mercy
will appeal to readers who enjoy Nalini Singh and J. R. Ward. Dark, gritty and erotic. I loved it!”
—Laurie London, author of the Sweetblood series
Archangel of Mercy
, Ashcroft’s unique world-building blends several familiar mythologies and draws the reader in with a creative and intriguing plot involving archangels, demons, gods, demi-gods and other extraordinary races. Her characters are fascinating, the story line compelling, the romance scorching—don’t be surprised if you find yourself reading this book late into the night! Paranormal romance fans could very well discover a new angel addiction in Ashcroft’s series!”
—Kylie Griffin, national bestselling author of the Light Blade series
ARCHANGEL OF MERCY
HEAT | NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2012 by Christina Phillips.
Cover art by Cliff Nielsen.
Cover design by George Long.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
HEAT and the HEAT design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Heat trade paperback edition / December 2012
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Archangel of mercy / Christina Ashcroft. — Berkley trade paperback ed.
ISBN 978-0-425-25349-6 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-1-101-61357-3 (eBook)
1. Angels—Fiction. I. Title.
PR9619.4.A846A89 2012 2012007750
For Iris and Derek, with love
First of all I’d like to thank my fabulous CPs, Amanda Ashby and Sara Hantz—you both earned gold stars with this one! Also to my awesome agent, Emmanuelle Morgen, who is always a voice of reason in my world of chaos.
I would also like to give a big thank-you to my fabulous editor, Kate Seaver. Thanks also to Katherine Pelz and the wonderful team at Berkley. In particular I want to say a huge thank-you to George Long and Cliff Nielsen for creating such a breathtaking and perfect cover. I love it.
Big thanks to Fiona Lowe for your medical expertise—any mistakes are entirely my own! I also want to give a huge thanks to my good friend Eleni Konstantine—you know why, and I hope you enjoy!
Finally, thank you to my husband Mark and our children—I love you guys.
Robinson counted seventeen steps east of the ancient oak, three steps north, and then narrowed her eyes at the woodland that bordered her family’s property ten feet in front of her.
This was the right place.
She sank to the ground and placed the silver-framed picture on the grass in front of her. The delicate, ethereal flower that had been lovingly pressed and preserved so many years ago never failed to send trickles of awe along her spine.
Her mother had worn this exotic bloom in her hair the night she and her father had finally met for real, instead of in their shared dreams.
Aurora traced her finger over the glass. This flower was the only link her mum had to her homeland in a parallel dimension. A homeland she had never been able to return to, since that night she’d stepped from her dimension into Aurora’s dad’s embrace.
She pressed her palm against her butterfly necklace for good luck. Even though she knew she was doing the right thing, if her dad had any idea what she was hoping to achieve he’d be horrified. He still worried about her as if she were a child, and that was why she hadn’t confided in him about her plans. About all the research she’d undertaken over the last eight years. The courses she’d studied on various psychic phenomena. She’d hated keeping it a secret from him, but he just wasn’t logical when it came to some things. Ever since she could remember, his greatest fear was that Aurora might one day vanish into her mother’s world, with no way of ever returning home. He’d never understand how
confident she was of success.
It was much better that he didn’t know. And afterward he wouldn’t care that she’d put herself at what he considered an unnecessary risk.
The summer sun warmed her shoulders and the faint rustlings of the woodland and the indistinct humming of the bees sank into the beat of her heart, the fabric of her being. Without too much effort—after all, she’d had out-of-body experiences for all of her life—she slid into the astral planes.
For a lingering moment she soaked in the exquisite sense of tranquility before focusing on her physical body, immobile in the back meadow of her family’s estate.
She could do this.
For the sake of her mother, whose fragile sanity faded with every passing year, she needed to bring back proof that her treasured flower did exist. Because then, Aurora was convinced, her mum would remember the world where she had grown up really existed, and wasn’t just some confused dream. She’d return to the fun-loving, irrepressible mum Aurora remembered from her childhood. The laughing, vibrant girl her dad had told her about. The one he had fallen in love with.
It would work. It had to.
Awe shivered through her as the vibrant landscape of the astral planes shimmered, as if a gossamer veil had fallen across the realm. She focused her psychic energy on the flower and embraced her own transdimensional heritage. Her instincts were right. It would be enough to allow her to open a gateway from the dimension of her birth into the dimension where her mother had been born.
A spiderweb of glittering raindrops materialized in front of her, rapidly encompassing her entire field of vision. It pulsed, as if it was a living entity, and Aurora could feel herself being gently cocooned as the breathtaking web closed in around her.
It was happening.
She’d not imagined it would be this easy. But there was no doubt, because the intricate latticework of raindrops was parting, and beyond would be her
Excitement tingled, enhanced by a subtle vibration in the energy streams. But that was outside her glittering sphere. It had nothing to do with her. But before the thought had even fully formed her astral projection shuddered as the equivalent of a 747 jet thundered through the higher planes, shattering the glittering serenity.
Something was horribly wrong.
Terror hummed through her as countless levels within the astral planes tumbled. Desperately she clawed her way back toward the physical world, staggered by the realization that even there the soul-wrenching shudders rocked the earth.
Was it an earthquake? In
From a great distance she heard the frantic barking of her dogs, locked in their enclosure up by the house. Then her thoughts fractured, and the silent roar threatened to split her being irrevocably. She had the petrifying notion that the tenuous link between her spirit and body would unravel—that she’d be forever trapped in a shadowy purgatory of her own making.
She had to return.
With one last desperate thrust of energy she propelled herself forward—and in that instance a blast of power so primal, so raw, smashed into her and sent her spiritually reeling.
Holy shit, what was that?
The source didn’t slice straight through her. It enveloped her, an exhilarating fusion of the most fundamental elements of creation.
Diamond rainbows sparkled, obliterating everything. It was impossible while she remained separated from her physical body and yet she gasped, and something pounded in erratic disarray as if, incomprehensibly, she could feel her heartbeat.
Sensation ignited, and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t in her body because this wasn’t in her body. It was
inside her consciousness
. Touching and claiming, and primitive lust erupted, enslaved,
Exquisite ribbons of rapture embraced her, igniting a fiery maelstrom of need and desire. She writhed in uninhibited ecstasy, mindless, convulsing . . .
Falling . . .
She slammed back into her body with such force her ribs hurt, her head pounded and her limbs went numb. Shock hammered through her brain, clouding reason, distorting reality.
Oh god. Her astral projection had just come.
And if the frustration thundering through her blood was anything to go by, she wasn’t finished yet.
Everything hurt. She could hardly drag oxygen into her lungs. It was as if she was being crushed.
She was being crushed.
Reality smashed through her stunned euphoric haze and terror returned, weaving through the lingering tendrils of unfulfilled lust. A heavy weight pinned her to the ground, from her ankles to her shoulders. A weight that was shaped like a hard, muscled body.
For a second she froze, her thoughts colliding in panic. Had someone attacked her while she’d been in trance? But that was impossible. She would have seen the intruder. She’d been looking at her body, and nobody else had been around.
And whoever it was, wasn’t making any move on her. In fact . . .
was he dead?
She wanted to keep her eyes closed forever in the hope she was having a horribly lucid dream, but the thought of cushioning a dead body was too much. Her eyelids opened in anxious fascination.
A muscled bronzed shoulder greeted her. Definitely male. His face was buried in the curve of her shoulder and neck, and a mass of tangled golden hair teased her cheek.
She hitched in a ragged breath, but not enough to clear the stupor that once again crawled through her brain. He wasn’t dead. She could feel his heartbeat, and it was strong. Gingerly she raised her right arm, the one that wasn’t pinned beneath him, and attempted to push him off her.
It was like trying to push against a mountain. A warm, living mountain, and with horrified disbelief she realized that her fingers were clinging to the taut flesh as if they were magnetized.
He didn’t move, but something stirred. Fingers still glued to his shoulder, Aurora felt her face burn as the unmistakable length of his cock thickened and nudged against her tender core.
The insane urge to part her legs whispered through her mind and if it hadn’t been for the fact it was physically impossible for her to move at all, she had the awful feeling she would have done just that.
Of course she wouldn’t.
What was she thinking?
Clearly she was oxygen deprived. Her dry spell was catching up with her, and her unexpected thrills on the astral planes were still creating havoc with her libido. There was
she wanted to shag this stranger. She didn’t even know what he was doing there.
But she knew exactly what he was doing.
His erection, even through his jeans or whatever he was wearing, was hard and demanding and angled across her swollen clit. A strangled groan escaped even as she dug her teeth into her lower lip and tried to block the spiraling need that claimed her womb.
She was being turned on by an unconscious man. It was sad and also, if she thought about it, slightly depraved, but she couldn’t help it. He might be out cold, but his cock was the hottest thing she’d felt in years.
His naked chest crushed her and even though she was still wearing her tank top and shorts, her fevered mind imagined them away. Her fingers trailed across his exposed shoulder and hovered over the tempting tangle of golden hair.
This was madness.
She needed to pull herself together. Perhaps she could wriggle free? But even as disjointed escape plans hammered through her mind, she wound a silken strand of his hair around her finger.
This couldn’t be happening. Maybe she’d catapulted back into her body too quickly and this was all a hallucination? Did that mean that in reality she was lying unconscious on the ground? Was she seriously trying to convince herself that this was
all in her mind?
His weight shifted; a slow realignment of heavy limbs as if, in the depths of his unconsciousness, he was slowly becoming aware of his surroundings. She froze, his hair still twisted around her finger in damning evidence, as his knees languidly eased her thighs apart.
Her heart thudded against her ribs and she tried to ignore the erotic tremors that claimed her sensitized clit. He wasn’t doing anything on purpose. There was no need to get so excited.
But there was a great need for her to drag back control, to squash this crazy lust distorting reality and—
He lifted his head from her shoulder and looked down at her. And her tangled thoughts vanished. For one eternal moment an overwhelming sensation of déjà vu quivered through her. As if his perfectly sculpted face, enhanced by a sexy five o’clock shadow, was as familiar as her own reflection. Mesmerized she gazed into his astonishing eyes, a swirling kaleidoscope of blues, greens and silvers. She had never seen anything so captivatingly beautiful and yet threaded through the awe was a faint echo of haunting recognition.
She might have continued to stare into his eyes forever if he hadn’t once again kneed her thighs farther apart. She gasped and deliberately broke the mesmeric contact as he settled himself more securely against her vulnerable pussy.
“What—?” Her voice was husky, a humiliating reminder of how horny she was for this complete stranger. Why wasn’t she petrified? He could be a crazy ax murderer for all she knew. And yet fear was the last emotion scalding her blood. She glared at his jaw, but his jaw was a thing of masculine perfection and it didn’t calm her skittering pulses in the least.
“Hmm?” The questioning rumble vibrated over her skin as he lowered his head and grazed his jaw along the curve of her cheek. Her mouth dried, throat closed and mind jellified.
For the life of her she couldn’t remember what she’d wanted to ask him.
His warm breath caressed her face and the tip of his tongue flicked against her earlobe. An undignified squeak of protest—
more like mindless desire
—scorched her throat, and she felt his mouth curve into a smile of male satisfaction.
. She clung desperately to that thought, the first sane one she’d had in ages. Sure, they were both aroused, but didn’t this guy wonder what he was doing on top of her? Or how he’d even got there?
“What,” she said again, “are you doing?”
His big body shook in silent laughter. Oh god. He was big all right. Her mind wandered south and mentally salivated over the hard length rammed securely against her damp channel.
Damp? She was more than damp. She was
And she was still clinging to his hair. Mortified, she tugged her finger free and held her arm in the air, above their heads, in case she accidentally touched him and gave him . . . the wrong idea.
“What”—his whisper in her ear was seductively wicked—“would you like me to do?”
Decadent thoughts of dirty, uninhibited sex pounded through her mind. She didn’t have the slightest doubt he could fulfill every fantasy she’d ever had, and then some.
Her body softened, opened, begged for more. She screwed her eyes shut, gritted her teeth and clawed desperately for a shred of sanity. What the hell had happened to her on the astral planes? Had she completely lost her mind?
“I meant,” she said, realizing it was easier to articulate her thoughts when she wasn’t actually looking at him. “What are you doing
His teeth grazed her throat as if he thought she was joking. And then his fingers slowly raked through her hair until he held her in an unmistakable grip of possession.
“Look at me.” It was a sexy command, his throaty whisper as erotic as if he’d accompanied his demand by stripping her naked. Instead of shocking her rigid, the thought entranced. She battled, in vain, to scrub the image from her mind.
But somehow she couldn’t stop herself from looking at him.
He was breathtaking. Just as she’d always imagined a fallen angel must look like, radiating sex and sin from every pore. She wanted to bask in his radiance.
What she really needed was to get a grip.
His gaze scorched her. The half-smile on his kissable lips conveyed he liked what he saw. Despite her good resolve her blood raced at that knowledge.
It was highly likely he was suffering from a concussion. Since when did guys like him ever want a girl like her?
Desperately, she dragged her scattered senses together. There had to be a perfectly logical explanation as to why he had suddenly appeared in her garden. Obviously, he had been astral projecting as well, and had got caught up in that weird disruption. Although that still didn’t explain how he’d ended up
and not back from wherever he—