To read about how my guardian angel fell in love with me (and it wasn’t my fault) go here
I knew before I turned around it wasn’t good. But not even Delaney’s terror-stricken face could have prepared me for what hell lay behind me.
Shadows writhed and moaned in the leaves inches from our feet, grey hands grasping from the earth. Every tree blazed; the autumn leaves now a blow torch with no switch. Sweat ran down my face as the ground cracked in front of us. Hissing, twisted beings crawled out. Swallowed by the darkness, only their red eyes glowed as the trees behind them crackled and popped. Limbs crashed to the ground. Mesquite smoke choked the air and I waved my hand, coughing. Delaney screamed, clawing at her eyes.
“Ariella, what is going on?” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, squinting.
“This was not a good day to wear contacts,” I pointed out as Gabriel shoved me behind him. ”In fact, today isn’t a good day in general.”
“How did you guess?” Gabriel muttered, pushing me back as I tried to sidle around the side. ”Is this before or after you irritated a fallen angel?”
“And your ex-girlfriend,” I sniffed, succombing to a coughing fit. ”Uh, no offense but I’m hot. What are we going to do?”
“Give me a minute.” Gabriel’s skin remained smooth and dry, while I looked like I’d spent a week in a steam room. ”This is too soon. Too fast.”
“You know, I’m really tired of”– He whirled around, knocking to me to the side with one gigantic wing. Out of pure reflex, my arms shot out, grabbing a handful of feathers.
Samantha stood in the center of a charred ring in the clearing. Trees smoldered around her as limbs crashed to the ground. A fog of smoke and ash rolled through, drawing a curtain over the darkness waiting to devour us.
The creek burbled behind me, blissfully unaware of the destruction to come. I glanced at Gabriel. He swallowed hard. His eyes were the color of the Colorado sky I’d seen on my fifth grade trip to the mountains. The one and only reason I became a girl scout.
“Whatever you do, don’t open your eyes.” He wrapped a hard arm around my waist and jerked me to him, his lips on mine. Not even the corset around me could cease the surge of blood rushing through my veins, pounding in my head. Just as I entwined my arms around him, he swept me up. In three swift steps, he carried me to the creek and dumped me in.
“Gabriel!” I screamed, floundering in layers of soaked lace and silk. Petticoats sucked as a swim suit. “Gabriel, don’t! Don’t do this!”
He smiled. ”For you, I would do anything.”
As the cold water swept me downstream, the last thing I saw was his shadow melt into the flames.
Samantha’s laughter would haunt me until the day I died.
“Ariella!” Hands gripped my shoulders, rattling every thought in my head. ”Ariella! Can you breathe? Are you faint?”
“The creek.” Wretching from Gabriel’s grasp, I grabbed Delaney’s hand. ”Come on!”
“Running away, are we?” Samantha cackled as we stumbled down the hill, sliding through slick leaves. ”You’ve never done that one before. Maybe this will be interesting, after all. I was tired of the same thing year after year.” I gritted my teeth, wading into the water as her taunting rose over the raging fire. ”Or maybe you’ll simply give me what I want. Spare your friend. Spare your mother. Spare Gabriel.”
Shivering, I met Gabriel’s gaze. I held up a hand and shook my head as he opened his mouth. ”We’re not leaving you. And if you try to kiss me, I’ll dunk you.”
His brow furrowed. ”How much did you see?”
“Enough to know there’s something safe about this creek. I just don’t know what’s safe about it.”
“Holy water.” Lucky shifted in Delaney’s arms. ”This is sacred ground. They can’t reach us here.”
Delaney shivered, clutching Lucky tighter as her teeth chattered. ”We can’t stay here long. It’s December. We’ll freeze to death. Or get hypothermia. Or frostbite.”
“Don’t worry, Delaney. I won’t go all Voyage of the Mimi on you,” I teased. Her blue lips curved into a smile. Turning to Gabriel, I tried to ignore the numbness slowly creeping up my shins. ”What’s your plan?”
“My plan?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow. ”I thought you were running the show, Old Soul.”
“Well, Guardian Angel, I think this is the part where you come in.”
“So you’re going to screw things up and then expect me to swoop in and save the day?” He scowled. ”I’m not Superman!”
“You’re better than Superman!” Lucky piped up.
“You better do something.” I raised one foot and winced. ”I can’t feel my toes.”
“I can’t feel anything.” Delaney trembled so hard I knew a single leaf might knock her over.
“Oh Gabriel!” Samantha’s sing-song voice rose to a piercing shriek. ”Come out and play!” From the top of the hill, a dark figure stood against the flames. “It’s no fun if you don’t play. Or shall I come to you?”
“You can’t come here and you know it!” Gabriel shouted back.
“I can’t go in the water.” Black wings shot out behind the shadow. Cackling, Samantha floated into the air. ”But I never said I couldn’t fly over.” Snapping her fingers, she launched towards us, an army of hissing shadows trailing her.
I didn’t have to wait for Gabriel. Grabbing Delaney’s hand, I covered my head with my left arm and dropped to my knees, submerging under the black iciness. Gabriel’s wings rose, his arms rising over his head as a string of Latin spewed from his mouth. The water jerked away like a cold blanket, curling into a large wave. Gabriel screamed, pointing as his wings opened and shut, gales of wind blasting across the empty creek bed.
The wave swallowed Samantha’s screams just as she flew overhead, sweeping them downstream.
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