Authors: Allyson Lindt
Ronnie settled into work without taking any more breaks, terrified another journey from her desk would mean running into more people she wasn’t equipped to deal with. When she hunched over the keyboard, as long as she was scanning the queue, no one bothered her.
Her plan got her through the rest of the day. Fifteen minutes left on the clock, and she could call it a week.
she loved Fridays. Not that she wanted to head home. Home meant alone with her thoughts.
“We could go find Michael.”
“Not even tempted for a second. Not if that’s where
want to be.”
“So you’re going to stay awake for eternity, avoid anyone and everyone even though you adore people, and generally make yourself miserable just to spite me? I’m intrigued. And not at all wounded.”
Ronnie dropped her forehead into her hand. Stupid, logical, fucking voice. If she was so smart, why didn’t she just tell Ronnie what she was doing there? How to get rid of her? Obviously neither one of them wanted this.
“I know. I’m just not saying.”
“Right. Because you’re making yourself miserable just to spite me.”
Venom filled Metatron’s retort.
And things were back to predictable. That shouldn’t be a relief, but it was.
“Demon.” Raphael sounded far too cheerful for her sanity.
She paused her queue and whirled in the chair to face him. “What can I do for you?” She didn’t care that exhaustion and sarcasm leaked into her question. He never tried to hide his animosity for her.
His smile sent ribbons under her skin, making every one of her fingers itch. She tried to be subtle about wiggling them to work out the excess energy.
“You’re on your own, starting Monday,” he said. “You’ve learned enough. Ari needs to focus on her own work.”
That wasn’t so bad. So why didn’t the crawling inside cease? “Is that all?”
“She’s not going to be there to cover your ass anymore.” His tone was quiet and threatening, brimming with heavy smugness. “I give you a week before you crumble and have to beg someone else to pull some strings for you.”
Ronnie couldn’t rise to the taunt. There was no reason to fight back. He was a bitter, sad angel with bitter, sad dreams. The itching in her hands grew, calling to a recent memory she couldn’t quite make solid. “I appreciate your input.”
Her palms clenched, but not into fists.
They were curving around two grips about to appear in her hands. The sensation was identical to when Metatron pulled the swords on Michael this morning. Ronnie was seconds from letting it happen again, and this time she didn’t know if she could—or even wanted to—stop Metatron from striking.
The enthusiasm attached to the single word was enough for her to grasp the last threads of her exhausted reason and mute the urge to decapitate Raphael in the middle of the Ubiquity offices.
“We both know you fucked your way into this job. That’ll only take you so far.” He leaned closer, voice low.
She spoke through clenched teeth. “You’re probably right, but it ought to be enough to get me off work ten minutes early on a Friday. Have a good weekend.”
She phased back to her apartment before she could do anything rash.
She was too drained to argue. She sank onto her mattress, sitting on the edge, staring blankly at the floor. How much longer could she fight this battle before it destroyed her?
The visit to the chapel that morning was supposed to help Michael think. To clear his head and remind him of better days when churches and temples were more than just demonstrations of wealth and power. He leaned back in his office chair, rolling the morning over in his head. Work at Ubiquity continued outside his door, but he didn’t pay it any attention. Why the push for this job again? Middle management resented him for being on-site, the entire operation ran smoothly without interference, and he was getting more answers from Ronnie outside the office than he did while working.
The air shifted around him, pressing in on his thoughts. Instinct propelled him to his feet and toward the door before his mind processed why. The sensation matched what he experienced earlier when Metatron made her appearance. He focused on the sight a few rows of cubicles over. Ronnie stared down Raphael, a violent swirl of black, red, and yellow encasing her.
Even without hearing the conversation, her posture and aura hinted at its nature. He watched the scene with morbid fascination. He should step in, but the compulsion to rescue an innocent wasn’t there. Whatever Ronnie was doing, she radiated power. It didn’t bode well for Raphael.
As abruptly as Metatron’s presence surged through the office, Ronnie vanished. An instantaneous phase, as if a switch flipped. No agent could do that. Or rather, only four of them could.
With the disaster averted, Michael turned back to his office. The pieces were all there, but he didn’t know how to put them together. Logically, there was no way Ronnie could be Metatron or even be hosting her. Gabriel destroyed her. But instinct, familiarity, and a warped sense of hope made him believe Ronnie wasn’t off her rocker.
He dropped back into his chair and rubbed his face in frustration. Where did this fascinating demon come from? He glanced up when a shadow passed by his door. Maybe someone could give him a direction. “Raphael, do you have a minute?”
“Of course.” Raphael turned, sneer vanishing into a smile in an instant.
Michael nodded to the chair across from his desk and waited until it was occupied to continue. “What happened out there?”
Michael didn’t need any sort of empathy to feel Raphael’s animosity. “Listen, I’m not here to try to change the system or step on anyone’s toes. My job is not to tell you how to do your job.”
Raphael’s shoulders relaxed, and he sank more comfortably into the chair. “Okay?”
“But I am curious about Ronnie.” The name amped the tension in the room tenfold.
“What about her?” Raphael clenched one hand into a fist.
Not the reaction Michael hoped for. “Where did she come from before this? These are coveted positions. She must have done something impressive.”
“You’d think that. But if she did, it’s not the kind of thing angels in polite circles talk about.”
Michael raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
There was no joy in Raphael’s chuckle. “She just showed up one day. No one had heard of her. Lucifer demanded the next open job. She bumped a cherub out of line that I pushed for months to get named. On top of that, the moment Gabriel heard about her, he demanded Ariel mentor her. One of hell’s demons, and I have to surrender my best person to babysit.”
That explained the animosity. Michael tried to keep his tone sympathetic. “Whatever my colleagues are up to, it’s not Ronnie’s fault. We don’t hold anyone responsible for others’ actions.”
“I don’t know why you’re so sure she’s innocent. She’s spoiled, whiny, and doesn’t deserve to be here. Angels work hard for these jobs.”
“How do you know she didn’t?”
“I get it.” Raphael stood. “This isn’t an open discussion. You’ve made up your mind. I heard you were better than they were. I guess that’s not true.”
Michael wanted to be patient, but the conversation irritated him. Regardless of how open-ended the rules were, few things irked him more than a judgmental servant of heaven. Especially when it came to trivial things such as who did or didn’t have a desk to sit at. He tried to stash his aggravation. “Have you ever given her a chance?”
Raphael leaned forward, hands on the desk, face inches from Michael’s. “I don’t care how many guys she blew at the top to get here. I won’t be pushed around by someone’s slutty little pet.”
The assumption. The insult. The arrogance. Rage and righteousness unlike he’d experienced in centuries spilled through Michael. He rose and summoned his glory. When his wings sprouted from his shoulder blades, it sent a shock of agony through him. Had it really been that long? He ignored the pain. “Is this what we’ve been reduced to?” His voice rattled the blinds. “Petty office politics? Backstabbing? Bitching about the competition instead of excelling in our own way? You’re one of His servants. A being of glory and light. And you’ve allowed yourself to be reduced to this fleeting moment in time that won’t matter in five years, let alone halfway down the road to your eternity?”
Raphael’s eyes grew wide, and he stepped back. “I… I didn’t mean… I’m sorry.”
“Get. Out,” Michael roared.
The moment Raphael was gone, Michael waved a hand. His door swung shut and all his blinds flipped to closed. As his physical form rushed back to replace his angelic one, he sank back into his chair. Why did it take so much out of him? Even worse, he didn’t have any more answers now than before, just hell of a lot more questions.
“How much good is this doing you?”
Staring blankly at the floor? As much good as anything. Ronnie’s brain was oatmeal. The poor sleep the night before, combined with the onslaught of foreign emotions while talking to Michael, plus the murderous rage toward Raphael—which she tried to convince herself was Metatron’s—was all too much. Ronnie wanted to sleep for a week.
“No one’s stopping you.”
And at the root of it all was Metatron. Defiance wasn’t going to take Ronnie much further, but she would hold onto it for as long as possible. However Metatron landed a home inside her head, whatever she wanted, Ronnie refused to surrender her body and sanity just because.
. There are lots of good reasons. Me, for instance. I wouldn’t be sitting here moping, I’d be getting rid of you and then enjoying life.”
The words triggered something in the back of her thoughts, and she scrunched up her face, trying to force it into a solid concept. Getting rid of… Could she?
“You tried. You failed. Remember?”
No. A new surge of possibility nudged away some of her exhaustion. She’d tried to contain the voice the way she would a cherub. But with a cherub, she didn’t stop at containment.
“You’re too tired to think this through. Take a nap.”
If Metatron didn’t want Ronnie doing it, she was probably onto something. Once she drew a cherub from its host, she exorcised it. She sent it back to hell. If this thing—whether it was some remnant of an ancient angel or just a random hitchhiker—could be contained like a cherub, why couldn’t Ronnie use the remainder of the ritual to send it home? Michael didn’t want Metatron destroyed, but this would give her a chance at someplace less…occupied.
“Except that I’m not a cherub, and you’re the hitchhiker.”
Was that fear she heard in Metatron’s voice? Not that it mattered what she thought, Ronnie was doing it regardless. She closed her eyes and sank into the same meditation as early that morning. Although prepared for the excruciating pain this time, when she tugged the metaphysical threads interlacing with her soul, she teetered from the intensity. With the strands of Metatron wrapped into a tight ball in the back of her mind, she muttered the words to send a cherub back home.
Daggers rocked through her skull. That was new. The edges of her consciousness blurred with the impression of her head being wedged in half and pried apart. Control slipped away. She fought back. She wouldn’t surrender.
Somewhere in the background, a heavy pounding forced its way into her awareness. Her tentative grasp on excising Metatron scurried away, and the darkness rushed back through her.
She dropped her forehead into her hands, gasping around the splinters of pain. What interrupted her? Another knock echoed through the room. Door. Right.
“Nice try. Maybe next time.”
Ronnie stumbled to her feet and crossed the short distance to her apartment door. She took a few more deep breaths to compose herself, and yanked it open.
Ari’s cheer melted into a frown when her gaze met mine. “Are you all right?” she asked.
. Ronnie stepped aside to let her in. “Tired. Happy it’s Friday. What’s up?”
“Dancing. You still in?”
Some of Ronnie’s exhaustion seeped away. Surrounded by people, with a good beat coursing through her, and so much noise she wouldn’t have to hear herself think? “Absolutely. I probably need to change. I completely forgot. I’m sorry.”
“Pft.” Ari made a straight line for the closet. “After what you did this afternoon? You’re allowed to forget.”
“What did I…?” The memory of her less-than-subtle exit from work rushed back to her on a wave of inky black.
Ronnie forced a laugh. “It wasn’t a big deal, really.”
“It was awesome. Raphael’s a dickhead. I can’t believe he said that to you.” Ari tossed her a red top that tied at the waist and neck but would leave Ronnie’s back otherwise exposed.
Ronnie snagged the shirt out of the air. It was one of her favorites. She didn’t get to wear her wings often, and while they weren’t actually physical when summoned, she hated having her shoulder blades covered. It was a kind of stifling she couldn’t quite put into words. “I guess.”
“And I don’t know what happened after, but Michael said something to him, and the entire freaking office knew. Michael was in his full glory. Can you imagine? An original shedding all constraints and letting everything show? I wish I could have been in the room to see that. All that power. It must have been awe-inspiring.”
Ronnie saw Lucifer do it once. Summon his full power—wings, mace, the whole bit—when he bitched out a demon. She could go the rest of eternity without being on the receiving end of that kind of fury. “Sounds glorious. Really.”
Ari stuck her tongue. “Don’t sound so enthusiastic.”
“I can show you full angelic glory. A million times better than that pussy hitchhiker Miss Angelic there has.”
What was Metatron talking about? Great, the voice in Ronnie’s head—the thing making her doubt her sanity—was going crazy too.
Ronnie snatched a skirt from the air when it flew toward her. Another of her favorites, it stopped halfway down her thighs, and the black leather was a stunning contrast against her skin. For the first time, she really took note of what Ari was wearing. Off white all around, from the ruffled top, to the calf length skirt with a slit almost to her hip and four-inch heels. Even the scarf tying her hair back was pale.
Ronnie wanted to talk about anything but how powerful original angels were. She changed quickly and grabbed her purse off the nightstand. “Where to?”
“Wait.” Ari wrapped a loose hand around her wrist. “One more thing. Think of it as a finishing touch.” A pair of auburn wings the same color as her vibrant curls shimmered into sight. When she flexed them, they spanned wider than her arms. Lying flat against her back, they almost touched the ground. “Now you.”
“We can’t go out like this.” Who was Ronnie kidding? She totally wanted to go out like this. Even as she argued, she summoned her own. She didn’t need a mirror to know the black feathers appeared almost instantly. Not as large as Ari’s, but like the rest of Ronnie’s appearance, how she saw herself—not power—dictated wing size. Flat against her back, they reached just to the bottom of her ass. It was incredible, as if she was whole again. Had she done that a lot before she lost her memory? Kept her wings out?
“Not if you were a cherub. No body, no wings.”
“Go to hell.”
“I’d rather send you.”
“We can get away with it just this once.” Ari intertwined her fingers with Ronnie’s. “You’re going to love this place.”
Ronnie’s apartment vanished and was replaced with a city street, and a vibration thrummed through her feet. The line at the club wrapped around the building. Some of the people wore nothing but black, and glittery fabric swathed others from head to toe. As they drew closer, she caught sight of an awkward bulge on someone. Correction. That was a naked, flaccid penis. Heat flooded her. He wasn’t wearing anything but glitter and body paint.
She didn’t have a problem with nudity. She wouldn’t mind a little of it herself with the right individual. But how did anyone walk with something like that just hanging out there? She forced her gaze toward the people wearing wings. So many different kinds. She flexed hers as they approached. This place was awesome.
Music spilled from the open doors. She smiled at the sounds rocking her. As they took their place in line, whispers of light danced around some of the other patrons. Ronnie did a double take as a series of tingles tickled her skin. She and Ari weren’t the only angels there. There were even cherubs in the line.
Instinct and indoctrination pulsed through her. It was her job and duty to send cherubs back home. But even as she thought it, her discoveries of the past few days rushed back. These individuals wanted the same rush from life she did. Besides, Lucifer was keeping things from her, most of the management at Ubiquity was asinine, and she was off the clock.
“Way to justify your laziness.”
And the best reason of all—because she didn’t want another fucking voice in her head, even for a couple of seconds.
The line moved fast, and they were inside within a few minutes. Throngs of people filled the dance floor and rested at tables along the edges. Alcohol and sweat tickled her nostrils until she swore she could taste them—scents that should be revolting, but filled her with energy. The throbbing music spoke to her, calling her onto the dance floor. Flashing neon strobed, turning the room into a series of grotesque stills.
She inhaled, trying to take it all in. “This is amazing. There’s so much energy here.” The music swallowed her awe. Talking was going to be impossible, and that was fine with her.
Ari ducked her head close, fingers still intertwined with Ronnie’s. “Right? So worth it.”
They wove their way through gyrating bodies and the gorgeous rainbow of auras, which blended and competed with the dim lighting in the club. The energy was almost tangible. Somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to navigate the crowds and lost themselves to the rhythm. It was easy to dance to the frantic music.
Bodies brushed Ronnie’s, crushed against her, overwhelmed her senses. A whiff of perfume. A hand on her ass, sliding between her thighs before jolting away. Hot breath on her cheek from a random stranger. It invigorated and seduced her. Any number of these men or women, if she asked, would join her in a dark corner. Crush their mouth to hers. Melt into her as she wrapped a leg around their waist and pushed her skirt to her hips.
Ronnie drifted away from Ari as they slid from one song to the next. They’d meet up again later, or not. Exhaustion still lingered on the edge of Ronnie’s senses, but the ambient energy made it easy to ignore. She could drown in the sensory overload here and be happy.
A pair of hands rested on her hips, and a familiar rush pulsed through her, erasing the weariness. She knew that sensation but from where? It was the same intoxication she experienced in the coffee shop.
“I was hoping you’d be here tonight.” He brushed her ear with his lips.
A tiny whisper of logic—or was it that annoying voice—tried to remind Ronnie of Michael’s story. And that she barely knew this guy. And that…
She wasn’t listening. The almost erotic sensations of the room amplified his every touch. If a random hookup could get her off, in comparison, Gabe would show her heaven. He swayed with her, front against her back. His hard length pressed into her when she ground against him, and dampness grew between her legs.
She whirled and draped her arms around his neck. He looked good. Black T-shirt, jeans, and that same odd but alluring combination of a blond ponytail and black goatee. Every new caress sent another jolt through her. Liquid energy soothed the cracks in her fractured psyche. The heat from his body swept along her skin. She wanted to submerge herself in him.
Metatron quieted, vanishing in the noise of the night. Ronnie liked that. He drew her closer, hands gliding to the small of her back. His breath warmed her skin when he spoke, but she couldn’t make out the words.
“He’s not worth hearing anyway.”
The taunt was barely a whisper.
“What?” Ronnie asked.
He dipped his head closer, trailing his nose along her neck until her body pleaded for more. His words were distinct this time. “I need to talk to you.”
She nodded and followed him from the dance floor, letting the trancelike feeling surround her. With his fingers intertwined in hers, the pleasant hum of being near him filled her. She hoped he’d lead her to a remote slice of wall. As they gained more distance from the dancing crowd, reason seeped in. Cool air kissed the sweat from her skin and chased away some of her arousal.
She almost found the presence of mind to wonder what she was doing. They found a table, as removed from the crowds as possible, where conversation should only require a little yelling. Ronnie reluctantly tucked her wings away. Even though they were ethereal, she felt them when they did things like pass through chairs, and that made sitting awkward. But at least she’d enjoyed the freedom for a little while.
Before they could take their seats, Ari seemed to appear out of nowhere. Ronnie didn’t know if she was disappointed or relieved by the interruption. The longer they stayed separate from the crowd, the more her head cleared. Did she get some kind of emotional contact high from being on the dance floor?
Ari tossed her arms around Gabe’s neck with a squeal, burying her face in his chest. His hands rested at her hips, and squeezed before nudging her back. Ronnie should be jealous, shouldn’t she? For Ari or herself? She wasn’t sure.
“I’m so glad you made it.” Red flushed Ari’s face.
He nodded at the chairs and waited for both of them to sit before dropping into his own seat. “Wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Except maybe Armageddon.”
Awkwardness itched in Ronnie’s palms, making her want to fiddle with something as she watched the exchange. Gabe’s body language didn’t match Ari’s. His shoulders were drawn in and one ankle rested on the other knee. She leaned in, arms on the table, facing him, eyes wide and smile bright. Crap. She was infatuated with him. And Ronnie just shared a more intimate dance with him than she thought was possible in public without getting arrested.