-Et ne traite pas les serviteurs comme des égaux, ajouta Nathaniel.
-Et n'accepte rien de ce qui te sera servi à boire ou à manger, mais refuse poliment, me rappela Beezle.
-Et puis..., commença J.B.
-Je n'ai pas besoin de trois baby-sitters, dis-je. Je sais que je dois être prudente.
-Mais tu ne sais pas la mettre en veilleuse, me fit remarquer Beezle.
-Il suffit de voir qui m'a élevée pour comprendre pourquoi, assénai-je d'un air qui en disait long.
-Qu'est-ce que tu insinues ? demanda Beezle, offensé.
— Il faut que je trouve un moyen de me rétablir, ou je ne pourrai ni retrouver Gabriel, ni négocier avec les faes, ni rien d’autre, dis-je sur un ton patient. Nathaniel est le seul ange que je peux appeler à l’aide.
— Mais tu ne peux pas te fier à lui, souligna Beezle. Il ne veut t’épouser que parce que tu es la fille d’Azazel. Il n’est pas vraiment un fiancé.
— En réalité, je crois que c’est plutôt parce que je suis la petite-fille de Lucifer. (Je secouai la tête.) Mais peut-être qu’il faut que je commence à le traiter comme mon promis.
Beezle en resta bouche bée.
— Es-tu en train de me dire que tu vas te plier à la volonté d’Azazel et consentir au mariage ?
Présenté comme ça, ça me restait en travers de la gorge.
— Non. Certainement pas. Mais peut-être que si je traite Nathaniel correctement, il me rendra la pareille.
Beezle leva les yeux au ciel.
— Tu te souviens de ce que je te disais hier au sujet de la naïveté ?
— Je dois essayer, Beezle. Et cesse de bouger les coussins. Je suis bien comme ça.
— Soit, répliqua Beezle d’un air sombre. Tu ne pourras pas dire que je ne t’ai pas prévenue.
- En fait, tu es mon petit frère. Je suis la première-née d'Azazel, tu sais, dis-je sur un ton détaché.
L'odeur du soufre m'emplit les narines, et je luttai contre l'envie de vomir.
Comme je m'y attendais, il réagit au quart de tour.
Son statut inexistant au sein de la cour d'Azazel était un sujet très sensible, d'autant plus qu'Azazel avait délivré l'ordre d'exécuter Antares pour avoir essayé de me tuer. En temps normal, les Grigori avaient défense de s'en prendre aux membres de la cour des uns et des autres, mais Antares avait tué beaucoup d'innocents en attaquant l'Agence, et même Lucifer ne pouvait pas fermer les yeux sur cette infraction.
- Première-née et première à mourir ! siffla-t-il.
Sa salive m'éclaboussa tout le visage et me brûla la peau.
- Si tu le dis, déclarai-je, feignant l'ennui.
Tous les morceaux brisés au fond de moi ne firent de nouveau qu'un.
-Ce n'est pas arrivé, dis-je.
Je me tenais devant le Dédale avec le cœur et le corps en un seul morceau. S'il restait une trace de ténèbres ou de peur au fond de moi, jamais le Dédale ne la trouverait.
-Essaie un peu de me briser. Jamais tu ne me vaincras.
Le Dédale me jeta un regard interrogateur par les yeux de Ramuell.
-Jamais je n'aurai pensé être vaincu par une créature inférieure comme toi.
-Disons que j'ai depuis longtemps l'habitude de décevoir les attentes des gens.
“OH,” J.B. SAID.
“Yeah, oh,” I replied. “You think he’s pissed at me for melting his daddy?”
“Did Samiel do this to the werewolf?” Gabriel asked.
Baraqiel shook his head, surveying the carnage. “I do not know what caused this.”
“What are you doing here, then?” I asked.
“I was to deliver a message to you from Lord Lucifer. I heard the cries of the wolf and came to investigate. Before I reached this place, I was attacked by Samiel.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “I’m confused. How did you recognize Samiel? Nobody even knew of his existence until a month ago. I was under the impression that nobody had seen him but me, and then only for a moment.”
Was it my imagination, or did something crafty flicker across Baraqiel’s face?
“Samiel named himself when he attacked. I also have been informed of his existence by Lord Lucifer, who has been anticipating an attempt on your life.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Really. You’d think he could have informed me of that little piece of news.”
Baraqiel bowed his head. “It is not for me to know the ways of Lord Lucifer.”
“Nor me, apparently,” I said dryly.
To say that Lucifer kept things close to the chest was an understatement. I’d deliberately concealed the knowledge of Samiel’s existence from Lucifer in order to protect Gabriel. Gabriel’s life was pretty much always in jeopardy because of his parentage. Ramuell was Gabriel’s father also, a fact that should have been his death sentence at birth. I hadn’t wanted to draw any attention to Samiel lest the eyes of the Grigori fell on Gabriel, too. How had Lucifer found out?
“I hate to interrupt,” said Beezle loudly, “but I don’t think that this is a place we should be hanging around. It would probably look suspicious to the human authorities.”
“You’re right,” I said reluctantly.
I didn’t like the idea of leaving the wolf’s remains like this. I knew that the police would have no idea what could have been done to the wolf, or even what they were looking at. The average human didn’t know anything about vampires, or werewolves, or angels and demons. And if, in the course of investigating this murder, the police did stumble upon something supernatural, it was highly unlikely that said supernatural thing would just quietly answer questions and then send the nice officers on their way.
At the same time, it wasn’t as though I had any clue as to the perpetrator’s identity. Baraqiel claimed that Samiel had not killed the wolf, but he hadn’t actually seen the wolf’s attacker. And something about the power signature from the pulse had reminded me of Ramuell, which meant only Samiel could be the source. Could the pulse have been created when he attacked Baraqiel?
I wanted to stay and check around the crime scene a little more, see if I could ferret anything out. I don’t claim to be any kind of great investigator, but there was something not right here.
“The gargoyle is correct. I believe I hear the sounds of sirens,” Gabriel said.
He extinguished the ball of nightfire, plunging the alley into darkness.
“Gabriel, I need to have a private word with you, from Lord Lucifer,” Baraqiel said. His pale eyes glowed in the faint light that trickled into the alley.
I could feel Gabriel’s reluctance. “I am charged with staying with Madeline. Can this not wait until we have safely returned her home?”
“My lord was most insistent that these words be for your ears alone,” Baraqiel said.
“It’s okay, Gabriel,” I said. “Maybe you can check around the area for some more clues.”
Gabriel shook his head. “I must stay with you. Azazel has entrusted me with your safety.”
“I think I can manage to watch her for a few minutes,” J.B. said, and he scooped me up and took to the sky before Gabriel could protest. He grinned down at me as we zipped upward, cleared the roofs and headed toward my house.
I felt a little flutter in the vicinity of my heart. J.B. could charm when he was so inclined. “You do know that you’re asking for it, right?”
He shrugged. “I’ve dealt with your Rottweiler before.”
“He’s supposed to keep me safe. He’s been ordered to do so by my father and by Lucifer. He takes that responsibility seriously.”
“If you think that’s all he’s interested in, I’ve got a Skyway to sell you,” J.B. said.
I worried in silence about my powers as we flew home. I’d really only just started to get a handle on them in the last month or so. Before I’d discovered that I was a fallen angel’s daughter I hadn’t even realized that I had powers beyond that of an Agent. Then I’d gained all those talents plus more—a little boost from Lucifer’s lost lover Evangeline, my many-greats grandmother, who had possessed me briefly during the Ramuell incident.
Once I’d cleared Evangeline out of my system, I’d discovered I wasn’t quite as powerful as I’d thought. Evangeline had given me some pretty nifty—albeit totally destructive—abilities that had disappeared when she had. I was learning what I could do, very slowly. I could sense that there was untapped magic inside me but I wasn’t yet capable of drawing it out.
We approached my house in the deepest part of the night, that time about an hour before the sun rises. I live in a rundown brick two-flat in the west Lakeview neighborhood. I had inherited the house from my mother when she died. The red paint on the front porch was peeling, the chimney was crumbling, and the heating system was in desperate need of an update. I was always broke or on the verge of it, so it seemed that repairs were something that were deferred to a day when food wasn’t a priority, or possibly that magical day when I won the lottery.
I was thinking idly about dinner as we descended in silence toward the house. We landed in the backyard and J.B. set me on my feet with a grin. That was when the blast hit him.
There was a bolt of blue lightning accompanied by the smell of ozone and sage. J.B. cried out and flew across the yard. I turned to face my attacker but before I could think, before I could breathe, his arms were around me.
Claws bit cruelly into my flesh as I was drawn close. I looked up into the red face of a half demon that I knew well.
I STOOD IN THE ALLEY BETWEEN DAMEN AND WOLCOTT in the recently trendy neighborhood of Wicker Park. There was a parking lot filled with cars directly across the alley from my position. It was bordered on the other three sides by four-story apartment buildings. Behind the wall that I leaned on, the clubs, bars and restaurants of Division Street did a brisk trade in liquor and lust for the upscale singles who had purchased all the new condos in the area. The cold November night was no deterrent to business. After all, if you lived in Chicago, then you understood that there are only two seasons—winter and construction. If you let a little cold slow you down, then you should probably move somewhere else.
I shifted a little, flexing my toes inside my boots in a vain effort to keep them warm. When I had died and been reborn a month ago, my human heart had been replaced by an angel’s heartstone. As a result, I was usually a little warmer than ordinary human beings, since angels’ hearts are made of the sun. But a half angel’s body is still no match for the Windy City.
My gargoyle, Beezle, poked his head out of the lapel of my wool peacoat. He’s the color of stone, about the size of an overweight guinea pig, and he’s got little wings, the better to flap around my head and annoy me with.
Before we had left the house he had trimmed a childsized scarf for his own use. He had a small strip of rainbowcolored wool wrapped around each horn and a longer piece wound several times around his lower face. The edge of his beak poked through the material. He mumbled something through the cloth and I glared at him.
“I can’t understand you when your mouth is buried like that,” I said.
Beezle narrowed his cat eyes at me and commenced unwinding his muffler. He huffed melodramatically before speaking. “I said, have you got anything to eat?”
“How can you possibly be hungry? You ate a whole bowl of popcorn before we left the house.”
“But I am. And I’m cold. And I want a doughnut,” he whined.
“Stop wriggling. We’re supposed to be undercover here. In point of fact, you’re not supposed to be here at all. You’re supposed to be at home, being a home guardian, like all the other gargoyles.”
“Do you think I would trust your life to him?” Beezle snapped.
“He can hear you, gargoyle,” Gabriel said dryly.
My tenant and bodyguard, Gabriel, had been so quiet I’d almost forgotten he was there. Almost. He’s a little difficult to overlook—six foot plus, dark hair, dark eyes, the face of an angel. I mean that literally. Gabriel was half-angel.
Have I mentioned that I am in love with him and he with me, and that our love is doomed, in a really melodramatic we-will-both-be-killed-if-we-ever-act-on-our-feelings sort of way?
I’m a half angel, too. My father is Azazel, a fallen angel and a chief of the Grigori, a right-hand man of Lucifer himself. I’d discovered this tidbit only recently, having spent most of my life believing my father to be an ordinary deadbeat (or possibly dead) human dad.
Beezle had been a little unreasonable about my safety ever since I’d had my human heart torn out by a nephilim—long story—and now refused to let me leave the house without him. You’d think the fact that I’d managed to come back from the dead would count in my favor.
Azazel’s orders stated that Gabriel was not supposed to leave my side when I was out of the house. I had spent the last month with a beautiful bodyguard at my elbow and an overweight gargoyle hanging off me like a baby orangutan. It was making my job a little difficult—very difficult, in fact. It’s not easy being unobtrusive with those two around.
When I’m not Azazel’s daughter and Beezle’s doughnut enabler, I’m an Agent of death. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Every week I get a list of names, places and times. I go to the appointed place at the appointed time, pick up the soul and bring it to the Door. At the Door the soul chooses whether to pass on to whatever is behind the Door (don’t ask me; I’m not allowed to know) or to stay and haunt the earth forever.
Most of the time my job is as straightforward as it sounds. I’m kind of like a UPS delivery guy. I don’t know what’s in the boxes and I don’t care. It’s just my job to deliver them on time and to the correct location. I also have to file paperwork—lots and lots of paperwork, and the forms are annoying and redundant. Being an Agent of death isn’t such a great gig, really, but it’s an inherited job (I got mine when my mom died) and one that doesn’t go away until you take the trip to the Door yourself.
So there I was, a week before Thanksgiving, shivering in thirty-degree weather and thinking longingly of my crocheted blankets and a cup of hot chocolate, waiting to pick up a soul who was scheduled to die at 1:27 A.M. somewhere in this alley.
Beezle carefully rewrapped his scarf around his chubby neck. It draped over his wings in the back.
“I hope that this isn’t one of those disgusting alley murders,” he said conversationally. “The last one put me off my feed.”
“Is that even possible?” Gabriel murmured for my ears only, and I smiled. Then I straightened a little, pushing away from the wall. Gabriel came to attention beside me. “What is it?”
“I don’t think you have to worry about hacked-up body parts this time, Beezle,” I said.
“Because I can see the vampire.” I nodded at the innocuous-looking man making his way across the parking lot.
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