Excerpt From Book 2
IT WAS LATE afternoon as I sat on the couch in the boathouse, staring at my bags beside the door. I should just leave, I thought to myself. And why not? I had plenty of reasons to. The fact that Riley was a demon set on my destruction. That Sheriff Reed was assisting him in his mission. That Riley was responsible for Bill’s death. And not to mention the small detail that my life could’ve ended last night, as well, had it not been for Blake, my heavenly-appointed guardian, coming to my rescue when Riley attacked me by the river. I could take my pick on any of these valid excuses and no one could blame me.
But even though I had gone through the motions to prepare to leave this place and all its dark secrets behind, something anchored me here. Part of it was that I knew if I left, Blake’s scope of angelic protection may not included my sister Hazel, which could possibly leave her vulnerable to Riley’s wickedness. Another part was that, unlike when I left home a few weeks back, I didn’t have a new place to go. Yet with these excuses swimming around my gut like an overpopulated fishbowl, I knew the biggest reason I was still sitting with my keys in hand and not speeding away, was that if I left, Riley won.
That was not going to happen. I had to find a way to stop him. I had to find a way to rid Lost Creek of its demonic population before Riley harmed anyone else.
I took a deep breath, instantly regretting the move when my ribs and back ached. Deep purple bruises ran up both my arms, hiding beneath the sleeves of my white T-shirt, all attesting to the wretched attack. But in spite of all the discolorations and lacerations across my skin, I found myself staring at one spot in particular on my upper right arm. Carefully, I pulled the sleeve up, still expecting to see the seeping wounds left by Riley’s claws piercing my skin instead of the silvery scars left after his dad had somehow healed me.
I blinked at them, moving my arm slightly in the light that filtered through the shear curtains on the front window. I still couldn’t understand why Dr. Shelton had even bothered to try to make me whole again. Maybe it was because Jenny, the closest thing I had to a friend in this town, had called him and he couldn’t very well just let me bleed out in front of her. Maybe it was that he wanted to prolong my torture. Maybe it was that he knew how much it would mean to his son, Riley, to watch me die and Dr. Shelton wanted to give him that opportunity again.
Another wave of pain washed through my body when the thought of Riley circled to the front of my brain again. I hated him for what he’d done to me…to Bill. He had everyone in Lost Creek fooled into the thinking he was just the town jerk, but I knew the truth. And the scars on my upper arm were not the only evidence I had. I grabbed the leather cord around my neck and pulled Riley’s necklace from its hiding place beneath my shirt. The three silver rings gleamed and I knew finding his necklace at the place of my attack was not something he or Sheriff Reed could explain away, no matter how hard they tried.
And although the idea of having this trinket around my neck made my skin crawl, I had no other option but to wear it. I had let my guard down once before when I snapped a picture of Riley in demon-form in the forest. Foolishly I had left the camera in the boathouse, giving Riley the opportunity he needed to steal the film before I had the chance to develop it and expose him for what he was. This time, I wasn’t going to be so irresponsible. This time, I was going to keep the evidence as close to me as possible.
My heart jumped to my throat when a knock fell on the door and a shadow filled the paned glass. I tucked the necklace back beneath my shirt and pulled the door open, surprised to see my sister, Hazel, standing there with her ginormous belly and a tray of pink, diaper shaped cookies. Her attention was focused at the wooden deck as she nudged the grains of salt through the little cracks. I thought about trying to explain the salt that covered the deck and stairs, but its materialization the past couple of weeks, along with its constant reappearance even after I swept it away, was just as big of a mystery to me.
“We have this same stuff all around our house,” she said when she realized I had opened the door. “Where’s it coming from?”
I shrugged and stepped back, giving her room to come in out of the heat.
“Thought you might want some of these,” she said, handing me the tray while she mindlessly rubbed her pregnant belly with her other hand. “No one seemed to eat any at my shower.”
I grimaced at the tray of edible diapers. “Can’t imagine why.”
“What’s this?” she said, picking up the dreamcatcher from the table.
I had planned to give her that at her baby shower, but had missed the entire thing due to the events of last night that left me in my current state of pain and discomfort. The dreamcatcher held all the same items as the one she had made me years ago when I was little: a few pink Legos, an orange ribbon from one of Mom’s shirts, a Hello Kitty head, and a bow made from a striped tie Dad had once owned. The only things different about this one were the little, silver cross that now adorned it was not the original, all the items were glued to a grapevine wreath instead a Christmas wreath, and the plastic, green dragonfly that decorated the first was missing.
“I made that for you,” I said, still balancing the tray of cookies. “Well, for the baby…for Anna.”
A warm smile spread across Hazel’s face. “I can’t believe you still had this.”
“The Christmas wreath broke and I lost the dragonfly,” I said, leaving out the part about finding the entire thing torn apart and littering the floor the night the film went missing.
“I love it,” Hazel said, wrapping me in a hug that pushed her belly against mine.
I awkwardly hugged her back, trying not to dump the cookies on the floor. She released me and I started toward the kitchen, setting the tray on the counter. When I turned back, Hazel’s light expression had darkened as she focused on my bags.
“I…I…,” I stumbled, trying to think of some logical reason other than the truth on why my bags were packed.
“Are you leaving?” she whispered with a strange mixture of sadness and anger lacing her words.
I picked up the bags, biting back the soreness in my arms and legs, and carried them back to the bedroom, setting them on the bed.
“Then why are you packed?”
I kept my back to her, letting the fact that I was lying grow so large that I couldn’t deny it. “Fine,” I said, spinning around to face her. “I was thinking about, okay?”
Her eyes widened like I’d just slapped her across the face, but then she quickly composed herself. “I knew it.”
“That you’d leave the first chance you got.”
I blink at her. “I haven’t left,” I explained. “I said I was thinking about it. And besides, it’s no big secret that this whole situation of me living here was temporary anyway.”
“I just thought,” she paused and pushed the anger the away, “I had more time with you.”
I let out a long sigh, feeling like a world-class idiot. “I’m not leaving,” I said, solidifying my wavering choice on whether to fight or flee. “I was just – when I found out about Bill, I freaked. That’s all.”
“I know,” Hazel said. “But Lost Creek’s a safe place. Accidents can happen wherever you go.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well,” Hazel said and I could feel her eyes had settled on the horrendous bruise on the top of my cheek, “you hit a deer with my car and Bill-” Hazel quickly moved her attention to my eyes and cocked her head as her confused expression deepened. “Why did you take my car?”
I sucked in a lungful of air through my nose, trying to remain calm while gritting my teeth. It didn’t work. “Because I can’t go anywhere in this town without Riley knowing about it, without anyone knowing.” But as I finished explaining why I borrowed her car, what she had said hit me. “Wait. An accident? You think what happened to me last night was an accident?” I said, my voice louder than I intended. “And what happened to Bill was an accident?”
“Did you mean to hit the deer?” Hazel asked slowly.
“No, I mean, I didn’t-” I stopped and pulled my hands over my face.
“Then it was an accident, Scarlett. It’s fine, that’s why we have insurance.”
I exhaled slowly to control the quiver I knew would be there. “What about Bill?”
“They said he had a heart attack and drove into the lake.”
A skeptic laugh jumped from my mouth. “Don’t you think that’s very coincidental?”
“That’s what I’ve just said.” Hazel stepped toward me. “It was just a fluke.”
“It wasn’t a fluke,” I said. “Not when they knew we both had-” I stopped and Blake’s ruled screamed in my head:
Rule number one: No one can know what I’ve seen. It puts them in unnecessary danger.
Rule number two: I can’t tell others about Blake. It puts Blake in danger.
Rule number three: I can’t go looking for the demon. It puts me in danger.
“When you both what?” Hazel asked.
“Never mind,” I said, suddenly feeling the weight of everything crash around me. “Who’s saying I had an accident?”
“Dr. Shelton and Sheriff Reed.”
I turned to face the front window and pushed a disbelieving snort through my nose. The tall pines that lined the lake seemed to close in tighter, suffocating me with every new truth I discovered. “That’s what I thought,” I mumbled. “They can just say anything they want and everyone’s gonna believe them.”
“Come on, Scarlett,” Hazel said, lightly touching my arm. “There’s no conspiracy here, if that’s what you’re thinking. The people in this town are harmless. They’re just doing their jobs.”
My fingers fiddled with the edge of the leather strap around my neck. “Sure,” I said. “Just doing their jobs.”
I sat in a chair in the middle of the Hazel’s backyard, my back to the lake and my eyes on Blake’s house next door as the sun melted into the trees. A slight breeze rose from the lake, bringing with it the scent of muggy fishy water that only summer lakes seemed to have.
Deputy Watson watched me carefully from his cruiser still parked at the curb in front of Hazel’s yellow house. Sheriff Reed had put him on this duty the day he and Riley learned of Blake’s existence. Since then, he was on ‘neighborhood watch’, and now that Deputy Watson knew I had snuck past him last night when I stole away to meet Blake by the river, he’s focus on me was intense.
In the fading light of day, the air took on a purple haze. He climbed from his vehicle and adjusted his utility belt before heading over. He cut directly through the lawn without any thought to the cobblestone path that led alongside the yellow house.
“What are you doing?” he asked when he was close enough that he wouldn’t have to yell.
Instead of answering, I just let out a long breath and stared past him at Blake’s house.
He stepped into my line of sight, bending down to gain my attention. “Did you hear me, young lady?”
I blinked at him. “Yeah, I heard you. Am I committing some kind of crime by sitting out here?”
“No,” he said, “there’s no crime.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I’ll ask the questions,” he said as he straightened up and squared his shoulders. I could almost hear the little pep talk Sheriff Reed must have given him on standing firm when dealing with me. “Are you waiting on someone in particular?”
He meant Blake. I was beyond aware that Sheriff Reed and Riley knew Blake was around in this area, and I was almost certain Mark, Hazel’s husband and my brother-in-law, had told them about him living next door. But as I caught another sight of the dark windows that covered the back of Blake’s grand home, I seriously doubted he spent much time there, if he really dwelled there at all. Sheriff Reed and Riley had probably come to that same conclusion. Even still, Blake had some kind of connection to that property, and that connection was the reason I sat there watching it, waiting. But that was also the reason Deputy Watson was here now.
“Well?” Deputy Watson said after a long second.
I huffed and started to tell him no, that I wasn’t waiting for anyone in particular, but stopped when I saw movement in the shadows around Blake’s house. I clenched the arms of the chair as the tether in my gut, this otherworldly connection I felt when Blake was around, tightened. Blake was here. But so was Deputy Watson.
My mind began to muddle with questions about the consequences if Deputy Watson somehow managed to capture Blake. What would Sheriff Reed and Riley do to him? The idea of the horrid possibilities almost overpowered the constant pang in my stomach.
“I was just getting some air,” I finally said, standing and surprising Deputy Watson. “You know, after that accident with the deer and all.” The lie felt thick and wrong on my lips, but I pushed forward. “I’ve just been feeling a little -”
Another movement killed my sentence and pulled my attention to a cluster of trees. This time, Deputy Watson noticed and started to turn back. Every fear welled up in me, so I did the only thing I could think to do: I grabbed his arm and sobbed like a little girl.
It was almost as if the mixture of my weeping along with my touch transformed Deputy Watson into stone. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. I wasn’t even sure if he was still breathing as I buried my face in my free hand and wailed away.
“It’ll be…okay,” he said slowly.
I shook my head and cried even louder. “I just…I just…”
Deputy Watson slowly withdrew his arm from my grip and from between my fingers, I watched him take two steps back, putting space between us. He fiddled with his radio, making it squeal before quickly turning it off.
“I’m gonna take a quick survey of the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said, taking another careful step before turning around and hurrying back to his cruiser. Within a minute, the engine came to life and he abandoned his post, leaving me standing there with nothing to stop me from finding Blake now.
I raced across the property line, stepping up on the foot-high stone retaining wall that separated his lawn from ours. My heart raced and my hands sweat with the anxiety that my meeting with Blake would have to be short, if I saw him at all, since Deputy Watson could return any minute.
The air seemed cooler the closer I came to the house like the heat that radiated from the lake didn’t reach this far inland. My image, all beaten and bruised, stared back at me in the large windows that covered the back of his house, giving me pause. Then in the next breath, Blake’s reflection came into view directly behind me as if he had just materialized out of the shadows.
I turned and only an inch stood between us. His golden hair glimmered in the fading sun and his steel blue eyes held my gaze. He was perfect. He was flawless. I, on the other hand, was broken and barely holding myself together.
“I wasn’t sure if I would ever see you again.” I felt everything bubble up inside me and race to the top of my throat. “He killed Bill,” I said, choking on the last word.
I stood there, hating the way my voice had quivered and hating the way the tears raced down my cheek before I had time to registered that I was really crying. Then before I realized what I was doing, I fell into Blake’s arms, resting my head on his solid chest. I had somewhat expected his embrace to be comforting, like falling into a soft bed after a long day, but as I wrapped my arms around him, it felt like hugging a marble statue, cold and sturdy. I found myself listening for a heartbeat, searching for warmth, but finding neither. Yet even without these consolations, I couldn’t find the strength to let him go. I wanted to fall into the abyss of nothingness that only his touch could provide. I wanted to forget all that I had learned in these last few weeks and he, alone, could give me that.
Before I fell too deep, his hands carefully grasped my upper arms and he pulled me from his chest, gazing down at me. Something in the way he looked at me made my stomach flutter, and I had to remind myself that Blake didn’t think of me in those terms. I was simply a ward, a duty, a responsibility. He was here to protect me. Nothing more.
But still he lingered there, letting the small distance between us feel like it was suddenly the size of a crack in the sidewalk that I could easily cross. My chest rose when I sucked in air the moment Blake took my face in his hands. “You’re safe with me, Scarlett,” he said and that same something that lingered in his eyes before now intensified with every heartbeat in my aching torso.
My cheeks flared with heat and the world grew fuzzy with the dizzying lull that washed over me with just the touch of his palms, and as I sank deeper into the chasm, all the worry about Bill, all the hate and anger I felt toward Riley melted away, leaving only a longing I wasn’t expecting. I stared at Blake’s supple lips, wondering what effect a kiss would have on me. Would it kill me? Put me in a coma? Ruin me for mere mortals forever?
Yet as he stayed there, freezing me in the suspended state of wonderful uncertainty of what was allowed between humans and angels, I found myself welcoming whatever consequences awaited me.
“You saved me,” I whispered.
Blake’s expression had always been difficult for me to read. There was always something just beyond the surface, like some strategic plan he was working through or some grand design he had to abide by. But now as his gaze shifted from my eyes to my lips, there was no misreading. There was no misunderstanding.
Then in the next breath, Blake closed the distance and pressed his lips to mine. I don’t know what I expected kissing an angel would be like. Maybe that it would be soft and sweet…angelic. But there was a fierceness in the way his lips moved across mine, there was an intensity in the way his hands gripped my face, bringing it closer to his as if even the smallest amount of distance between us was too great.
Riley’s necklace sparked against my chest, feeling like a bolt of electricity, but I refused to let that spark pull me away from Blake. I sank deeper in the bottomless pit of apathy, swiftly falling beneath the veil of protection from all the awful things of this world and into the oblivion that only Blake could grant me. I wanted to stay there forever, floating in the world of unfeeling and uncaring. But soon, a pressure washed over me, squeezing my body from every angle like a drench washcloth being rung out. The necklace sparked again, this time, the jolt raced down my body to the soles of my feet and back again.
Something was wrong. My brain was telling me to break the connection with Blake as my lungs burned. I had stopped breathing and the ringing in my ears worried me that maybe my heart had stopped too. My body took over and I felt my hands wrap around Blake’s grip on me and try to pry myself free, but his hold was too strong.
My legs grew weak, my arms dropped to my side, and I knew I only had seconds left before my body completely shut down. This heavenly kiss was going to kill me.
But just when I was certain of death, Blake pulled away and my eyes fluttered open, finding the only reason I was standing was that Blake still had my face in his hands. The reaction from the necklace had ceased, but left the skin tender beneath where it lay. Blake slowly lowered me into a metal chair just to my left, before stepping back and putting distance between us.
As the world came back into view, I blinked at Blake, pushing back the sudden throbbing in my head. Then before I could ask him anything, his eyes darted next door. I turned and mortification set in when Mark, my brother-in-law, stood just on the other side of the property line, his hands in his pockets and his gaze skipping from us to the ground. In that moment, I wished Blake’s kiss would’ve just finished me off when I realized Mark had seen everything.
“I was just coming to check on you, Scarlett,” he said, doing everything he could not to look directly at me. “Everything all right?”
“Yes,” I said, stumbling forward when I tried to stand up. Blake seemed indifferent now and just stepped back and let me fumble before I regained my footing.
“It’s getting late,” Blake said, looking at me and then at Mark. “You should get your rest.”
His words felt as cold and discomforting as his chest had felt moments before. Had that kiss meant nothing? Was it just a perk of the job? I felt every emotion collide inside me and it took all I had to not embrace them and let them flood out in a ranting mess. Instead, I squared my shoulders and straightened myself up, feeling like Deputy Watson from earlier. When I met Blake’s gaze, that same cryptic expression had returned. He was back on schedule. Back on duty. Back as my guardian.
SEEING SCARLETT coming Summer 2014