Authors: Natalie Herzer
Megan didn’t even give them a chance to talk. One moment she was sneering at Abby and in the next she had her sword in hand. In an impossibly swift move born out of instinct, Abby scrambled away and got to her feet.
Scanning the room, she realized they were sitting ducks. There was no other exit than the one currently blocked by a group of Ivorys out for blood. Not good. They were unprepared, had let their guard down. One slip and it could very well be their last. Never without a fight, though.
Megan came at her and Abby was lucky that Linda threw her a dagger at the same time. Abby appreciated it, but knew she needed to get more space between herself and Megan. Daggers weren’t her forte. She wanted her crossbow.
Her friends joined the fight when the other Ivorys spilled through the door.
“You made it too easy for us to find you. When I noticed your Guard had split up, it was child’s play to add two and two together.”
Abby dodged the sword tip heading for her mid-section. “I’m surprised you can count that far.” She seriously needed more distance between them. Risking a glance at Sli, Abby knew she had to get the kid out of here. The girl had been ripped out of her sleep and was looking around like a confused baby owl.
“You’ve been following Linda like a freaking dog.”
Abby had to admit, Megan had a point. They had been too focused on winning over Linda and Ed to consider the tracks they might leave behind. Although Lillian had warned them, they had underestimated Megan’s tenacity. She would not make the same mistake twice, that was for sure.
Megan swiped, and Abby rolled back on the bed. Sli suddenly appeared with a dagger in hand, facing Megan with grim determination that was admirable.
“You have to try to get out of here, Sli.”
“No, I can help you.”
Abby didn’t have the time to argue with the child. Megan simply laughed at them and spread her wings. The tips gleamed. Abby’s eyes widened when dread filled her mind. Megan had dipped them in steel. In a flurry of motion and feathers she jumped and spun in the air, using the sharp edges of her wings as slicing blades.
Throwing herself over the girl, Abby unfurled her own ivory wings and tried to cocoon Sli as best as she could while gritting her teeth as her exposed back burned with pain. Damn it. That hurt. A moan escaped despite her efforts to be still.
Suddenly the onslaught stopped. Abby turned her head to see that Sam was fighting Megan off. His face was a cold, hard mask.
The battle raged on in every square inch of the room, had even spilled outside onto the balcony. How careless and reckless of Megan and her Guard.
Sli twisted and turned underneath her, curiosity getting the better of her. Abby gave her room to move but didn’t let her get away. The girl craned her head to get a look at her defender. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” Abby lied, before summoning her crossbow. Her faithful companion. She tried to get a clear shot, but there was too much hustle. Besides, could she really shoot a fellow Ivory? Yes, Megan was a pain in the butt, but Abby couldn’t kill her for simply doing what she knew. Damn it.
Linda’s hoarse voice drifted to her, accompanied by the sound of clashing swords, daggers and axes. “What are you hoping to gain, anyway?”
Megan sounded out of breath when she answered, “Y’all have been corrupted by Hell.”
“For Pete’s sake,” Linda groaned. “So what? You gonna try to see who dies of exhaustion first? You can’t kill us without a shade.” Technically true, Abby thought. However, if the wounds were bad enough they could very well bleed to death.
It seemed talking was Linda’s favorite past time during a fight after all. She went on, “This bullshit is just tiring us all out, and will turn us all into easy pickings for Ebonys. Even you, Megan. Smart move, kid, very smart.”
Abby couldn’t say whether Megan was simply ignoring the other Ivory’s truth or whether she was too focused on Sam, trying to avoid a near fatal blow. His ax was a blur in the air between them. Abby knew the twin blades were thin and razor sharp, almost forming a complete circle.
“Let me make this easy for you, girl. How about you piss off or help us follow our new orders?”
Megan snorted. “You following orders? Stop it, you gonna make me laugh.”
Linda danced across the little space and swapped places with Sam, a move so smooth it looked like they had done it a million times before. Facing Megan, the older Ivory shrugged. “Might not be such a bad idea. They say laughing is quite healthy, and you could use some happy hormones, if you ask me.” Although Linda was older by about twenty years, she was light on her feet, almost prancing, and made Megan look like a fool. “And yes, orders. The emphasis was on
, honey, in case you didn’t notice.”
“We have one job and…”
Linda’s grimace was priceless as she caught Abby’s gaze. “Don’t tell me I sounded like that?”
Apparently infuriated with her opponent’s lack of attention, Megan’s voice gained in volume. “One job, and that is to rid the earth of the scum you’re now trying to protect.”
“Yes, but we also have only one boss, and if He says the rules are changing, then we damn well stick to it.”
“I don’t care about your God. We kill demons and everyone who stands in our way.”
“Interesting. Very stupid and short-sighted, too.”
“Wings!” Megan shouted, and in the next instant her Guard jumped in the air, twisting and spinning their steel tipped wings lusting for blood. Her friends ducked and tried to run for cover. Dave’s voice billowed, but she couldn’t make out what happened to him.
Abby pushed the girl down and took a shot at Megan.
It hit the wing. Not good enough.
She reloaded and aimed again, but had to look on in horror at the moving chaos in front of her. Just a tiny window, she prayed.
There. Abby saw her chance.
The force of the hit plucked Megan right out of the air. She groaned as she fell to the floor, an arrow sticking out of her shoulder.
Abby fired two more in rapid succession, hitting the other attacking Ivorys. “Arrow cushions. How cute.”
Sneering with a promise of vengeance in her eyes, Megan got to her feet and fled the room, followed by her spineless team. Wes threw the door shut behind them, his face grim as everyone scrambled to get to a bleeding Dave. He was slipping off the couch, his wings a lifeless draping around him.
Time for inventory, Abby thought. Her back burned as she walked over to the others. Everyone was sporting cuts and bruises. Blood dribbled on clothes, but…shit. The steel-tipped wings had cut Dave deeply across his stomach. His shirt was in tethers and soaked with dark blood.
Linda looked at Ed and he ran out the door. No words were needed between the two. She applied pressure, trying to slow the bleeding.
Sam grabbed Abby’s arm and pulled her aside. His voice was low, “It looks bad. He won’t heal on his own. He lost too much blood already, and we can’t go to a hospital with him like that.”
Abby knew he meant the wings. Dave drifted in and out of consciousness, and it was highly unlikely that they could get him to make his wings disappear. Shit.
There was only one person who could help them. “We need to get him to Becca. She’s an hour away from here.” She hated the question, but needed to ask, “Do you think he will make it?”
He looked back at Dave, his friend and brother in arms. A muscle jumped in his tense jaw. His voice was swamped with emotion, “He freaking has to, Abby.”
After tossing and turning in bed for hours, Becca gave up on the idea of imminent sleep and got up. She slipped on her fluffy bath robe, loving the feel of it against her skin, and opened her bedroom door. Feeling alone and yet comforted by the quiet of the night, she smiled to herself and tiptoed on bare feet down the stairs.
She poked her head into the lounge. There he was, sleeping on her couch. He was still a bit of a mystery to her, but what mattered the most was the simple fact that he had stumbled into her life when she least expected it - and from the first night his presence had felt right. In the last weeks they had quickly adjusted and even developed routines much like a real family. The thought echoed in Becca’s mind and heart until she laughed at her silly thoughts. She took one last look at him before heading into the kitchen and closing the door softly behind her.
Deciding against the harsh kitchen light, Becca found her way by using the silvery moonlight. At the table, she leaned forward and blew out a gentle but strong breath that slowly lit the thick candle standing there. Its flickering light soon calmed her, a blanket of golden comfort and balm to her soul. Candles always had that effect on her, just like hot chocolate.
Her lips curved into a smile and Becca moved to the counter and poured milk into a little pot. After the familiar snap of the gas stove, she waited for it to ignite. She could feel her heart slowing down and her mind sighing in relief as the first sweet scent reached her nose. Still feeling the echoes of Stone’s kiss, this was exactly what she needed.
That kiss. She had never felt anything like it before. Now Becca knew what books and movies were talking about. Toe-curling, it warmed her heart better than a life in the sun ever could. Even though she suspected she was behaving like a teenager with a crush as confusing as the solar system, she cherished the giddy feeling. It was new to her. So much had changed, she thought while grinning and shaking her head in disbelief.
The door opened softly, and for a split second her heart beat like a drum hoping that it was Stone. It was Quinn.
Can I join you?
He padded into the kitchen and sat down. After a glance at his pajamas, she asked, “Can’t sleep?”
He shook his head in answer.
“And here I thought you’d be out like a light after all that training today.” Teasing, she added, “I guess I’ll have to talk to Stone about that? Ask him to take the gloves off.”
Quinn rolled his eyes.
Funny. My muscles are aching enough as it is.
After pointing at her hand stirring the milk, he asked,
Is there enough for another cup?
It was Becca’s turn to roll her eyes. “Duh.”
Taking the pot off the stove, she mixed in the chocolate and threw in a dash of cinnamon and chilies before letting it come to the boil again.
Quinn licked his lips and rubbed his hands together in anticipation when Becca poured the chocolate. She joined her brother at the table and they smiled over the rim of their cups before savoring the first sips in content silence.
“So, why can’t you sleep?”
Too much going on in here
, he signed, and then tapped at his temple.
“If something’s bothering you, you know you can always talk to me.”
He looked at his chocolate and shrugged, the motion making him look so much like a normal teenager.
I’ve been thinking…about Hell and all that.
Becca decided it was better not to interrupt and waited for him to go on.
I’m glad Stone is training me. I can’t stand seeing you carry all the responsibility on your own. I’m tired of being a liability. I’m tired of being weak.
No, let me finish. You’ve been taking care of me all your life. I think it’s time to share the load and look out for each other. So, I’m glad Stone wants to show me the ropes. I haven’t even thanked the guy yet for saving my life.
“It’s okay, Quinn. He knows.”
Still. I treated him like an ass, and I have to apologize for that.
Becca smiled in an effort to cheer him up. “I take it you changed your mind then?”
Yes. Back then I didn’t know why I was so angry. Actually, that’s not true. I knew why, but it was easier to take it out on Stone…instead of you.
Shocked, Becca stared at him. “Me? Why?”
His eyes were harsh but pleading at the same time.
The healing. Yes, Stone and Joshua needed it, but why go all the way instead of patching them up just enough to stop the bleeding and help them heal on their own? You didn’t have to exhaust yourself almost to death.
“Quinn…” Becca didn’t know what to say, and found herself struggling not only for words but also a valid explanation.
You’re using it as an excuse to punish yourself.
Quinn shook his head.
Look, I don’t know what exactly you had to do in hell so we could live, but I do know that everything you did was for me. To give us a better life. Look around, sis, you did it! However, I blame myself knowing that you can’t live with what you had to go through. You have to forgive yourself, for both of us, or otherwise this
…he made a motion that encompassed the whole house,…
Becca felt sucker-punched. An oncoming train blasting through her kitchen would have been less of a surprise than this. She hadn’t seen it coming at all. She hadn’t realized that Quinn wasn’t a kid anymore. He was right. Her ass had been handed over to her by her baby brother. At fifteen years old, he had figured out what she hadn’t been able to admit to herself. Her body and mind had different ways to deal with the whirlwind of turmoil inside of her. Caught between laughing and crying, she started to shake.
Seeing her shell-shocked and so out of sorts, Quinn touched her arm, his eyes full of sorry and regret.
. He moved to grab a paper roll from the kitchen counter and handed it to her.
His hands flew through the air, and his face was crest-fallen.
Please, don’t be angry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
“It’s okay. I guess I needed that.” She patted his arm to make him sit down again. With watery eyes, sniffing, she looked at him as if seeing him for the first time.
Becca couldn’t believe that their mother had wanted to kill him when he was only three years old. He was deaf, yes, but it was hardly a handicap. Quite the contrary, it seemed. “You’re an amazing…young man,” she said with a smile before pulling him close for a hug. Her baby brother was not a baby anymore.
The doorbell rang. Surprised, Becca pulled away from Quinn and looked around.
There’s someone at the door
, she signed, not wanting to make a sound.
After a glance at the clock on the wall, she got up. On her way to the front door, she met Stone, only his face lit by the moonlight. His eyes were awake and alert. “You expecting anyone?”
He took a closer look at her, probably noticing her red eyes. “Are you okay?”
She smiled in thanks and reassurance. “Yes, I’m better actually. Just had a brother and sister heart to heart.”
He stepped closer. “Sure?”
The fact that he cared tugged at something deep inside of her and flooded her with warmth. Without another word she rose on her toes and kissed his cheek before walking to the front door. Like a comforting blanket, she felt his heat at her back when she opened the door.
“Arthur? What are you doing here?” Worry crept into her voice, “Is everything alright?”
Arthur smiled back at her, rocking on his feet. “Oh yes, can’t complain. Just came by to give you a hand.”
Huh? “A hand with what?”
The moment she finished her question two cars came screaming up her driveway.