Authors: Carol Oates
|Omnific Publishing (2011)|
Ember, Copyright © 2011 by Carol Oates
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted
in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system,
without prior written permission of the publisher.
P.O. Box 793871, Dallas, TX 75379
First Omnific eBook edition, July 2011
First Omnific trade paperback edition, July 2011
The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead,
is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Ember / Oates, Carol – 1st ed.
1. Angel — Fiction. 2. Nephilim — Fiction. 3. Romance — Fiction. 4. College —Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Stephanie Swartz
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
For my dad, Thomas Oates
Candra thought it was a coincidence, at first, that they were going the same way.
She noticed the woman right away, because she looked like a supermodel: statuesque and beautiful, moving so gracefully she could have been floating on a cushion of air. The woman’s hair was flame red—not carrot red or strawberry blond—flame red, scarlet with a touch of gold and dancing around her face as if it were alive. It was early evening, and the September weather hadn’t turned the air cool, yet the woman was clad completely in black leather, looking like she was on her way to a nightclub. It occurred to Candra that she could have been; they were in Acheron, after all, and the city never sleeps.
Candra turned another corner. The woman was still behind her, and she knew then it was no coincidence. The fact that the woman didn’t outwardly seem to care if Candra knew worried her even more.
Candra thought she had lost her when she ducked into a multi-story parking garage and made her way to one of the upper floors to double check. There was a spot where a car had hit the wall and the concrete had caved and been replaced by steel bars.
Not a good advertisement for the owner’s concern about structural integrity
, she thought to herself. There was no sign of the woman on the bustling street below. All Candra could see were people going about their business amid the gleaming mirrored skyscrapers and the older gothic buildings that formed the city.
Finally, she began to relax. Being followed was strange, but then, strange things happened to people every day, and Candra couldn’t think of any reason why she would be worth following. She took a deep breath of the stale air, laced thickly with the scent of car fumes and gas, before she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirrored window directly opposite her. With her heart pounding in her chest, she took another long, deep breath and turned slowly, bringing her face to face with Flame-hair.
“She’s going into shock.”
“I am not,” Candra insisted, swatting her stepmother’s hand away yet again. “Can’t you do something with her? Throw her out, sedate her or something?” she asked the nurse who was checking a drip leaking clear fluid into her arm.
The nurse smiled indulgently, presuming wrongly that Candra was joking, and then went to the end of the bed to mark something on a chart.
“At least some gas and air,” Candra pleaded.
The nurse pursed her lips and sighed. “Ms. Ember, are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable waiting in the visitors’ room?”
“I’m fine right here, thanks,” Brie answered, barely able to contain the break in her voice.
Candra pushed her head back against the pillow and rolled her eyes. When Brie took her hand again, Candra didn’t try to pull away. The words
floated through her mind.
“Ear plugs?” she muttered in desperation, and heard the nurse muffle a giggle as she left.
“Candra Ember, how can you be so hurtful after what I’ve been through?”
Candra glared at her stepmother incredulously. Brie’s big brown eyes looked huge and anxious, traced with jagged crisscross lines of red.
“I’m the one lying here with tubes and monitors everywhere,” Candra pointed out. “I’m the one with my butt on display every time they move me for another one of the tests
keep insisting on.”
“I know, sweetheart, but you fell five stories.”
“I didn’t fall—” Candra started, and then thought better of it. She knew Brie wasn’t interested in the woman at the parking garage—she had already said as much. “When can I go home?”
Brie had started stroking her arm again. “Soon, sweetheart, soon.”
Candra glanced around the double hospital room, which Brie had managed to get her all to herself, and across the empty bed, over to the window. It was a bright, clear day outside, and Candra thought about sitting and reading in any number of the parks dotted around the city, or sitting on the small balcony outside her bedroom with her iPhone, listening to music and studying. It was Brie who had insisted she stay on in Acheron another year to study at Saint Francis College after graduation. Candra wanted to go away to school, but since even staying a year meant she would be barely nineteen going to university, she agreed.
, she promised herself, leaning back and closing her eyes, resigning herself to the comforting strokes on her skin.
Within seconds, streaks of gold glinted across the back of her eyelids. She hadn’t been able to erase the image of him from her mind since she had seen him standing across the street while the paramedics were getting ready to cart her off to hospital. It had taken her all of the previous night and most of the morning, but finally she could place him—she knew where she had seen him before. Candra blinked and opened her eyes to see Brie looking down intently to where her fingers caressed Candra’s skin.
When Candra closed her eyes again the image of him was still there, this time arguing with a girl who was maybe a year or two older than her.
To Candra, they looked out of place in the small crowd that had gathered to see what the fuss was about, and too pretty to be anything other than a dream. The girl tugged nervously on his arm, trying to move him away with her, but the boy was steadfast, and even as his lips moved in conversation with the girl, he never once took his eyes off Candra.
She felt her eyes roll around a little in her head; there was something sharp in her arm. The paramedics had given her something to help her relax despite her protests that she was fine and just needed to go home. Candra wondered if maybe they gave her something because of her protests. She wasn’t sure about anything anymore, not when he was staring at her in that way, as if she was the sun and it was the last day he would ever watch a sunrise.
Somewhere in the distance, a siren wailed, and the paramedic strapped her down gently. She knew she must have been out of it, high. She couldn’t come up with any other explanation for what she saw through the open door of the ambulance.
A giant hand reached out from behind the boy and brushed the girl away from him. She was hopping up and down in obvious frustration and being held away by the cream-colored hand. Candra gulped, her mouth was arid.
Yeah, I am high, all right,
she thought to herself and probably about to pass out; her eyelids were so heavy it was a battle to keep them open.
Then Candra saw another hand reach out behind the boy at his other shoulder. She was sure she couldn’t believe her own eyes; the hands were far too big and the fingers too long, twice as long as he was tall, and they stretched out from his back.
“Not possible,” she whispered to herself over and over. “Not possible, not possible.” The boy had wings.
Before the door closed, she watched his wings pulling in; they creased in on themselves behind his back, disappeared in a cloud of golden mist, and suddenly he was just a boy again. The girl by his side, who had been fluttering her own tawny wings and held away from him by his, tugged on his arm again. This time he conceded with a bow to the girl, a simple lowering of his head to give her permission to lead him away.
Candra turned her attention to the roof of the ambulance, still murmuring to herself about the impossibility of what she had just witnessed. The last thing she heard before she passed out was the paramedics talking to each other.
“Do you think she’s really one of them? She doesn’t look much like a Neph.”
“I don’t know, she looks pretty normal to me, but Sebastian sure seems to think so.”
Candra’s eyes flashed open. The needle in her arm stung when her arm jerked and somewhere nearby an alarm was beeping.
“It’s okay, honey, and calm down—it was just a dream,” Brie said, pressing down lightly on her arms. Candra presumed it was to stop her from tugging out her line, since that was what she seemed to be doing.
After a few deep breaths, she realized it wasn’t an alarm sounding at all, it was the heart monitor attached to her finger with a clip, and it was beating erratically, but slowing as she calmed. Brie wiped her fingers gently across Candra’s brow, and without thinking Candra brushed her hand away.
“I’m fine, stop it.” There was no conviction in her tone.
One of the doctors circling for the last twenty-four hours came into the room holding a manila folder in one hand and clicking a pen in the other. He nodded an acknowledgment to Brie, who moved aside to let him check the monitor.
“It was just a dream,” Candra preempted before he could comment.
“To be expected, you’ve had a shock.” He smiled kindly. “I think we can take this off now.”
To her relief, he switched off the monitor, removed the clip attached to her finger, and gently unhooked the oxygen tube from around her ears. The needle pinched under her skin for an instant when he pulled it out, then it was over. She was convinced she didn’t need any of that stuff in the first place anyway, but conceded she probably was lucky to be alive considering she fell head first from the fifth floor of a parking garage and didn’t have so much as a scratch on her. No amount of tests could explain it or the suspicion Candra was harboring that Brie knew more than she was letting on.
“How is she?” Brie asked anxiously.
“Fine, just fine,” he replied calmly; everything about him was calming. This doctor was around more often than any of the others and carried an air of authority that somehow didn’t match his boyish face and too long blond hair curling in fine tendrils around the front of his ears.
Candra blinked when he directed his smile to her again. She was staring. Her cheeks flushed, and she was relieved when he turned his attention away from her and toward Brie.
“We’ve run every test we have, and she’s fine, better than fine, in fact. She’s very healthy.” He looked back to Candra. “You’re the luckiest person I’ve met in almost forever.”
To her, it seemed an odd comment coming from someone who didn’t look much past twenty-five.
“I think we can let you go now. I’ll send a nurse in shortly,” he said.
The doctor grinned again, and in that moment, Candra was glad to be free of the monitor. Her heart thudded one hard beat when she could have sworn she saw a gold glint in his eyes. He nodded to Brie again, but there was something bizarrely formal about the gesture; it was more of a bow than a nod. Just like the boy with the—
Candra pushed the thought from her mind as ridiculous; people didn’t just go around bowing to other people…people didn’t have wings.
When he turned back to her, the gold was gone; he looked like any of the other tired and overworked medical personnel she had seen since she was admitted.
When he left, she barely had time to flex her recently freed fingers before Brie was back by her side clutching her hand again. Candra noted that some of the anxiety that had been etched on Brie’s face was gone at last, and a bit of color was returning to her cheeks. She looked better for it—her coal black hair was too dark to carry off the pale and interesting look. With her full pink pout and high cheekbones, she was more suited to look like a fairy-tale princess.
“See, I told you I was fine,” she assured Brie, trying to keep the
“I told you so”
out of her voice. “Why don’t you go and take a break now? You must be exhausted.”
“I’ll wait until you’re safe at home to rest.”
“At least go and get some coffee or something. I could use some myself.”
Brie paused to consider. Sometimes Candra was convinced she could actually see on her face the decisions forming in Brie’s mind.
“All right then, I won’t be long,” Brie said, before leaning in to kiss Candra’s forehead quickly, something she hadn’t done in a long time.
After Candra’s father, Payne, died in a traffic accident, she had been left in the care of his young bride, even though Brie wasn’t much more than a child herself at the time. Candra thought they did okay together. She had a good life, and she didn’t want for anything. They had a nice home and enough money. Brie worked hard as an art dealer, and Candra did well in school. Candra knew Brie didn’t deserve the attitude she had been giving her over the last few hours. She knew it was only because Brie loved her that she hovered. It had always been like that whenever Candra was hurt, almost like Brie was counting the seconds until she healed.
Alone at last, Candra laid her head back against the pillows propping her up and closed her eyes. Except it felt to her more like she blinked or maybe fell asleep, because there couldn’t have been more than seconds between the swish of the curtain as Brie closed it around her and the screech of the metal rail when it was dragged back again. Candra opened her eyes expecting Brie with the promised coffee, but it was
It was the guy from the parking garage, the one dressed all in black who appeared in her dream with gold-tipped, white wings opened out wide behind him. It was the same guy who had been standing under street lights, sitting on park benches, and waiting outside school every day. The strangest feeling flooded Candra’s body, because as sure as she was it was him all those times, it was as if she could never truly remember before now. Her mind overflowed with two memories: in the first, he was there, and in the second, he wasn’t.
“What do you want?” she demanded, eyeing the door over his shoulder and ready to bolt from the room.
He smiled smugly, his fingers still lightly holding the blue curtain. His expression was a world away from the pained one she remembered the last time he looked at her.
“Hmm, I expected a warmer greeting,” he said, pulling the curtain back the remainder of the way. He walked purposefully to the window sill and sat down sideways, raising one booted foot to rest his elbow casually on his knee.
Candra watched him gazing out across the city in a protracted silence, not sure what reaction she should be having to this almost-stranger. Looking away wasn’t an option. He was beautiful in a masculine way. His features were angular yet still fine, and he had the long, lean body of an athlete, broad shoulders and back that tapered to narrow hips. The fabric of his long-sleeved T-shirt hugged the shape of his sculpted upper arms. His ruffled hair was the color of sand on a Caribbean beach, reflecting golden strands where the sun streamed in through the window.
Finally, he turned and cocked an eyebrow over one of his brown eyes, as if challenging her to say something.
“Why have you been following me?”
“You think I’ve been following you?” His voice was sure and rang of surprise, but hardly answered the question.
Candra scowled. The longer she studied him the more she was sure she wasn’t imagining that she had seen him on several occasions previously. She could feel her heart beating in her stomach where frustration was building. Her memories of him were clearing, becoming more substantial, but it was still like trying to grope through a fog. “I’ve seen you, at my home, at school. I know you’ve been following me. Don’t lie to me.”