“Lucky?” I squashed my first impulse to bolt forward, dipping awkwardly. The dog I left with Delaney had been a sweet little terrier with wings. The dog standing in front of me was a snarling Rottweiler with steel-laced feathers swooping from his dark fur. Every muscle rippled as the wings arched behind him, tensed to strike at any moment.
White fangs bared in what I assumed was a grin. ”You know, I’ve been wanting to kill that serpent for years. Ever since he and Samantha”–
“What about Delaney and the mother?” Gabriel interrupted hastily. ”Are they ok?”
“They promised not to leave the house. Ariella called so fast there wasn’t any time”–
“You called him?” Gabriel’s porcelain jaw tightened. ”Why did you call him?”
“I didn’t.” I raised my hands, stumbling over a curved silver incisor. ”I just…”
“She prayed.” Lucky followed me out into the grey grass. He glanced at the dark sky, grimacing as a shadowy fringe laced across the horizon. ”How long ago did you make your deal?”
“No, the devil.” Lucky rolled his eyes. ”How much time do we have?”
“No set time. Just whoever gets there first…” Gabriel trailed off. ”What? Ariella had to see her dad.”
“You know, we’re totally off schedule. If this had been a hundred years ago”–
“Gentlemen.” I clapped my hands together. ”As fascinating as your bickering is, shouldn’t we get going?” The ground bubbled underneath my feet as inky tendrils crept onto the beach under the dead serpent’s chin. Lifeless yellow eyes gazed through me and I shuddered. ”No offense, but this place creeps me out.”
“It’s hell. It should creep you out.” Gabriel climbed over the edge of the serpent’s jaw, the silver fangs like a row of waiting swords. A weary smile stretched across his sagging cheeks. ”Lead the way, Lucky?”
Lucky lowered his head to the ground and sniffed. ”The easiest way is the Bridge of Temptation.”
“What’s the fastest way?” I matched Gabriel’s glare as his head swung my direction. ”You’re running out of time, Gabriel. You know that, and I know that.”
“She’s right.” Lucky’s ears flattened. ”You’ll be lucky enough to make it out of here…even if Samantha doesn’t steal your soul.”
“I wasn’t joking.” Lucky whimpered. ”If you stay down here another day, I don’t think”–
“The fastest way is flying.” Worry etched across his forehead as it furrowed. ”But you don’t have enough feathers for such a long distance.”
“I can do it.” I raised my chin. ”I’m tougher than you think.” I kept my eyes locked on his, careful to avoid looking at the serpent behind him. I’d seen way too many movies to know that thing could spring to life any moment.
“I’ve never doubted that,” he said wryly. He reached behind him, craning his arm over his shoulder.
He winced as a sickening crack rang across the colorless wasteland. Breathing hard, he dropped still-perfect feathers into my hand. His fingertips singed my palm like porcelain icicles, blue under the nails. He closed my fingers around the feathers and raised the back of my hand to his lips as the feathers imprinted into my skin. ”I told you. I’d do anything for you.”
Blood. All I saw was blood.
It stained my fingers, dripped from my hands. In the reflection of my sword, I saw my bruised and battered face staring out from a steel helmet. As much as I wanted to lie to myself, this wasn’t a movie either. Or even a bad Renaissance Faire.
The whisper cut me deeper than the Dark Angel’s swords had tried. Dropping to my knees, I crawled to the pile of pristine feathers. ”Gabriel. No, no.”
He cupped my cheek in his hand, brushing away the tear that raced down to greet him. “You’re safe. She’s gone.”
“You promised”– I choked on the words. ”You promised me you wouldn’t”–
“And I won’t. You’ll see me again.” He brushed my tear across my bottom lip, washing away the blood caked in the cracks.
“Not in this life.”
“But in the next.” He pulled my head closer to his. ”I promise you–we’ll be together. Always.”
“Always?’ I paused, gazing into the endless blue of his eyes.
“Always.” He pressed his lips to mine, erasing my protests.
“Ariella?” Gabriel cocked his head. ”Ready to fly?”
My nails pierced my skin, the feathers within them damp with sweat. ”Absolutely.”
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