It took the woman a long time to leave her house.
Across the street, Seb stood propped against a run-down grocery store, hidden in the dawn shadows as he watched the woman’s front door. His high-cheekboned face had a light stubble on its jaw; his lean body was as simultaneously relaxed and alert as a cat’s. He was sure this was the right place. It looked exactly like what he’d seen: a golden-yellow house on the main street, with a panelled wooden door, and a small wrought-iron balcony filled with flowering plants – a jumble of red and yellow. With his hands in his jeans pockets, Seb counted the front door’s panels: ten. Then he counted the flowerpots: seventeen.
Come on, chiquita, you’re going to be late for work, he thought.
The door opened at last and a small, round woman wearing a business suit came out. Fussily delving in her handbag for keys, she finally found them and locked the door behind her, then teetered to her car on plump feet that looked pinched in their high-heeled shoes. By the time she reached the car, she’d somehow lost her keys in her handbag again and had to stand on the sidewalk searching for almost a minute, shaking her head in irritation. Seb held back a smile. Yes, this all seemed very like her.
The moment the woman’s car disappeared around the corner, Seb grabbed a battered knapsack that sat at his feet and slung it over his shoulder. He’d already checked out how to get to the back of the house; now he took a quick second to send his other self flying, making sure the way was clear. It was. He crossed the road, strolling through the early-morning silence. A tall wooden fence bordered the house on one side; Seb jumped to grasp the top of it, vaulting over easily. The back of the house was just like he’d seen, too – a tidy concrete courtyard, again filled lushly with potted plants. A faded deckchair stood folded near the sliding patio door.
The window with the broken lock that had been worrying the woman was up on the second floor. It took only seconds for Seb to scale the trellis and slide it open. He dropped silently into her bedroom – pale green, lots of ruffles. There was a smell of perfume, as if dousing herself had been the last thing she’d done before leaving.
And now she’d be gone for hours. Her job was so far away that she didn’t have time to come home for lunch; it had been one of many niggling concerns on her mind the day before. The woman’s thoughts had been like leaves in a whirlwind: none weighty in themselves, but the overall effect had left Seb with a headache from trying to focus on them. Psychic readings weren’t always an easy way to pick up a few pesos, especially when all he wanted was to get them over with quickly, so he could buy something to eat and get back to the only thing that mattered to him. Even so, he hoped what he’d told the woman had helped. She definitely needed to relax more – though he was glad she hadn’t decided to start doing it today.
Leaving the scented bedroom, Seb started searching, his steps echoing on the tiled floors. Though he rarely broke into houses any more, there’d been a time when he’d done it all too often, with much worse motives than now. Gently, he pushed open doors, peered into rooms. His face creased into a frown. She would have one, wouldn’t she? He hadn’t seen for sure; he’d just assumed. Then on the ground floor, he found it: a computer sitting on a desk in the corner.
Perfect. Seb swung himself into the chair and hit the on button. The local school with its computers the public could use was closed today, and he hadn’t been able to get a bed at the hostel for the last few nights, where he might have borrowed someone’s laptop. He entered a few words into the search engine, typing slowly. A list of options came up; he found the one he was looking for and selected it.
Diaz Orphanage,said the website’s home page: A haven for children. Seb’s lip curled. He’d seen many orphanages over the years; few could be described as “havens”. But he’d only found out about this one yesterday, and he needed to check it – who knew, it might turn out to be the place where he’d finally find what he was looking for. His heart beat faster at the thought, though he was only all too aware by now how unlikely it was. Taking a piece of paper from the woman’s desk, he carefully wrote down the address and stuck it in his knapsack; it was around a hundred miles to the east, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre.
Then, on impulse, he brought up a map of Mexico, gazing at its familiar shape and mentally tracing the lines he’d travelled up and down it for years now. He’d started in Mexico City and since then had rarely spent more than a few weeks in one place. Currently he was in Presora, not far from Hermosillo, with its white beaches and throngs of tourists. Presora was quieter, though; a smaller town that had still taken him days to search, checking out every person he passed on the street, entering every building he was able to, sending his other self into the ones he couldn’t.
There’d been nothing. Nothing at all. It wasn’t really surprising – in his whole life, Seb had never seen even a hint of what he hoped so much to find. But he had to keep trying. It was all he could do.
Enough of this; he’d gotten what he came for. He turned off the computer and stood up, swinging his bag over his shoulder – and then his glance fell on the woman’s bookcase, and he was lost. He drifted over to it, squatting on his haunches as he gazed hungrily. A lot of the paperbacks didn’t even look as if they’d been opened, and for a heartbeat Seb was tempted – he’d almost finished his current book, and didn’t know when he’d next find a used bookstore to trade it for another one. He touched the cover of a thick historical novel. It would keep him going for a week.
But no. He hadn’t broken in here to steal, even if in the past he wouldn’t have thought twice. With a sigh, Seb straightened up.
As he started for the stairs he saw a hallway beside the kitchen, with a shower room visible. He hesitated, then went and looked inside. The white-tiled room was almost bare: just a hand towel and a bar of dusty-looking soap, as if the shower in here was rarely used. Which was probably true – the woman lived alone; the pristine pink bathroom he’d seen upstairs was the one with all her potions and powders in it. A mischievous smile began to tug at Seb’s face. Okay, this he couldn’t resist – he hadn’t been able to get really clean in days. His clothes were cleaner than he was; it had been easier to find a laundromat in this town than a bed at the hostel.
He entered the small room, locking the door behind him. There was a tube of shower gel in his knapsack; he dug it out, then stripped off and took a long shower, relishing both the hot water and the privacy. Even after so many years, it still felt as if he could never take either for granted. His body was firm and toned; as he bathed, scars he barely noticed any more gleamed from his wet skin – some white with age, others newer, puckering redly. He hated not feeling clean almost more than anything; it felt wonderful to wash away the grime of the last few days.
Afterwards, Seb dried off as best he could with the hand towel and glanced in the mirror, scraping his wet hair back. It curled when he wore it too short, irritating him, and so he kept it slightly long, shoved away from his face. A loose curl or two always fell over his forehead anyway, just to torment him.
His jeans and T-shirt clung to him when he got dressed again, but the heat of the day would soon finish drying him off. He glanced around the shower room to make sure he’d left it the way he’d found it; then he jogged back up the stairs, eager to get going towards the Sierra Madre and the address in his knapsack. In the green and frilly bedroom, Seb paused at the window, glancing around him.
“Gracias,” he murmured to the absent woman with a smile, and then nimbly swung himself out.
Hitch-hiking to the orphanage took a while; it sometimes did. Towards evening, a trucker was giving Seb a lift the final stretch of the way, talking non-stop about his girlfriend. Smoking a cigarette the man had given him, Seb sat leaning back against the vinyl seat of the cab with one sneakered foot resting on the dash, only half-listening as he savoured the familiar taste. He didn’t often have the money these days to waste on cigarettes.
“And so I told her, chiquita,I’m not having this – I told you twice already. You have to listen to me when I talk to you. Take in what I’m actually saying, you know what I mean?” The trucker glanced at Seb for confirmation; he had a broad face, with heavy eyebrows.
“Yeah,you’re right, man,”said Seb, blowing out a stream of smoke. “Good for you.” He’d far rather be reading than listening to this crap; unfortunately there was a sort of etiquette involved with hitch-hiking. Making conversation was the price of the ride.
“But she never listens to me, does she? No, off in her own world, that one. Hopeless. Beautiful, but…” The man went on, talking and talking.
Seb watched him idly, noting the angry red lines that had appeared in his aura, like lightning flashes. When he’d first gotten into the cab, he’d shifted the colours of his own aura so that they matched the trucker’s blue and yellow hues. He knew the man wouldn’t be able to see them or tell; it was just a habit left over from childhood, when blending his aura in with those around him had made him feel safer. More hidden.
But the more Seb listened to this jerk, the more he really didn’t want to share his aura. He shifted back to his natural colours as he got an image of the man standing in a kitchen shouting; a dark-haired woman looking frightened. Not exactly a surprise. The trucker didn’t feel like he’d be a danger to Seb, though; he seemed strictly the type to bully those who were weaker. Seb knew he’d probably have sensed it if he had anything to worry about – and there was always the switchblade he carried in his pocket in case there was trouble. You didn’t travel alone in Mexico without a weapon, unless you were terminally stupid.
“Now, take you for instance,” the truck driver went on. “How old are you – seventeen, eighteen?”
“Seventeen,” said Seb, blowing out another stream of smoke. He’d be eighteen in less than a month; he didn’t bother volunteering that.
“Yeah, and I bet you don’t have any trouble getting the girls, do you?” The man gave a guffawing laugh; his aura chuckled along with him, flickering orange. “You look like a rock star, with that face and stubble – like all the girls would have you up on their walls. But take my advice, amigo, never let them…”
Mentally rolling his eyes, Seb tuned out, wishing he could snap on the radio at least. People often commented on his looks, but looks couldn’t get him the one thing he wanted.
“So where are you from?” asked the man finally, stubbing out his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. “Sonora? Sinaloa?”
“El DF,” said Seb. The Distrito Federal; Mexico City. It was almost dark now; the traffic heading towards them was a series of lights swooping out of the gloom. “My mother was from Sonora.”
“Thought so,” said the man, glancing at him again. “French, I bet. Or Italian.”
Seb couldn’t resist. “Italian,” he said, keeping a straight face. “Venice, originally. My great-grandfather was a gondolier – then he immigrated here and there weren’t any canals, so he became a ranchero.”
The truck driver’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yeah, sure,” said Seb, leaning forward to tap the ash off his cigarette. “Over ten thousand head of cattle. But I think his heart was always with the canals, you know?” He could have gone on in this vein for some time, except the guy was such an idiot that it was too easy to be much fun.
The truck driver went back to the endless subject of his girlfriend, outlining her many failings and the ways in which she was going to have to improve. A few more flashes of the woman being bullied came to Seb as he droned on, so that by the time they reached Seb’s destination and pulled over to the side of the road, he could have happily choked the guy. Instead, he filched the pack of cigarettes and lighter from the trucker’s jacket pocket as they shook hands. He hadn’t picked a pocket since he was a kid on the Mexico City streets, but it gave him a certain satisfaction – though really, he should let the cabrón keep smoking, since it was bad for your health.
As the truck pulled away, Seb gave himself a quick shake, freeing himself of the unpleasant energy like a dog shaking itself dry of water. He was almost in the Sierra Madre now, standing on a hill in the gathering dark with the shadowy hulk of mountains rising up from the horizon. He focused briefly to make sure there weren’t any angels nearby, then sent his other self searching. As he soared he found the orphanage easily; it was about half a mile down the road, a sprawling building with a barren-looking playground. He pulled on a sweater from his knapsack and started walking, letting his other self keep flying as he did. The feeling of stretching his wings was nice; it had been a few days since he’d flown any distance.
Thinking of what he’d told the truck driver, Seb smiled slightly as he walked. Actually, where his mother had been from was almost the only thing Seb knew about her – she was dead now; the last time he’d seen her was when he was five years old. From the few memories he had, he knew that he looked a lot like her. Light chestnut-brown hair with a curl to it; high cheekbones and hazel eyes; a mouth that women sometimes called “beautiful”, which made him inwardly roll his eyes even more.It was a distinctly northern face; Sonora was a state where European immigrants had mixed for generations. On the streets, gringo tourists were always assuming Seb was one of them and asking for directions in English – clueless to the fact that millions of Mexicans didn’t look like the ones in westerns on TV.
As for his father, who knew? But Seb figured he couldn’t have been unattractive. None of them were.
As he crested the hill, the orphanage came into view, and he stood staring down at it for a moment, his grip tight on the strap of his knapsack. Now that he was here, he was almost afraid to look – the continuous hope, and then the inevitable let-down, was becoming so much harder to bear. Yet he had to go through with it. The last hour of his life stuck listening to that cabrón in the truck would have been completely wasted if he didn’t do what he’d come for. And besides, this might be the place. This really might be the place where he finally found her.
Despite himself, Seb felt a stab of anticipation so sharp it was almost painful – the hope that he couldn’t ever totally quench. He left the road and lay down flat in the grass on his stomach, with the orphanage in view below. Concentrating solely on his other self, he closed his eyes.
He glided down the valley towards the run-down building, his wide wings glinting in the dusk. With barely a ripple, he passed through a wall of the orphanage and flew inside. As usual, his muscles tensed to be entering one of these places. Unwanted, the memory of the room came, with its total darkness that had pressed down on his five-year-old self like a weight. But the room had turned out to be a blessing in disguise – because it was there that he’d first realized what he really was. It was the only thing that had kept him from going insane in that place.
No one saw Seb’s other self as he glided noiselessly from room to room. He saw immediately that this orphanage was one of the few that weren’t too bad – it was clean, if depressingly bare. And the auras of the children and teenagers looked healthy enough, once he found them all sitting in a dining room eating their dinners with the staff; they showed signs of boredom, rather than abuse. Circling overhead, Seb scanned them, noting all the colours. A dull blue, a flicker of lively pink, a gentle green. None had even a hint of silver, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything; he’d been shifting his own aura since he was a child. As he focused on each one, he opened his senses, checking out the feel of the energy – listening almost. His whole being craned with anticipation as he touched each person’s energy with his own. They were all completely human.
He checked again, just to make sure, but his heart had gone out of it. Then he forced himself to explore the other rooms, though he knew already that he wouldn’t find anyone else in them, and he didn’t.
She wasn’t here, either.
The disappointment tightened his throat like someone was standing on it. Opening his eyes, Seb brought his other self out of the orphanage and lay motionless, still gazing down at the stark building below.
She. He snorted slightly. He didn’t even know if there were any others of his kind, much less what sex they might be. Yet somehow he’d always known it was a girl around his own age he was looking for. He could feel her so strongly. Even though he had no idea of her name or what she looked like, he knew her. For as long as he could remember, Seb had had a sense of the girl’s spirit; who she was. He thought he could almost hear her laugh sometimes; catch glimpses of her smile. Not being able to actually see her, or touch her, was a constant ache inside of him.
Roughly, Seb pushed his hair back with both hands. Why wasn’t heused to the disappointment of not finding her by now? How many cities had he searched? How many orphanages and schools; how many miles spent walking how many streets? Suddenly he felt tired – so tired. Somehow this latest failure felt like the last straw.
It’s never going to happen, thought Seb. I’ve only imagined her all these years, because I wanted so much for it to be true.
Rolling over onto his back, he watched his angel self as it soared in the night sky, snowy wings outspread. For once, the sensation of flight didn’t soothe him. He’d been searching for his half-angel girl for so long – first, for years on the streets of Mexico City after he’d run away from the orphanage, checking out every aura he passed. Then, when he was eleven, he’d been thrown into a young offenders’ facility; he’d broken out at thirteen and soon after had started his quest in earnest, travelling up and down the country, searching every town, every city and village. Everywhere,for almost five years now, without encountering a single other aura like his own. Without once catching even a hint of her energy, except in his thoughts.
Above, Seb felt a cool wind whispering past his wings; the evening was quiet and peaceful. Enough, he told himself. The thought seemed to float into his mind of its own accord, but the moment it did he knew that it was true.
He couldn’t do this any more; couldn’t take the never-ending disappointment. If he’d never seen another like himself in all these years, in a country as populated as Mexico, then it was time he finally faced the truth – there were no others. No half-angel girl was going to miraculously appear to ease his loneliness, no matter how strongly he thought he sensed her. She didn’t exist. She’d only been a figment of his imagination all this time; a beautiful phantom. By some bitter joke of nature he was alone – the only one of his kind – and it was time to just accept that and try to get on with the rest of his life, whatever that might bring.
The decision felt right. It also felt like something had just been ripped out of his chest, leaving a jagged hole that would never be filled. Seb lay on the soft grass, gazing upwards as his angel self flew, so effortlessly agile against the stars. And he knew that what he’d been thinking wasn’t quite true – as long as he had this other part of himself, he would never be completely alone.
It only felt that way.
The scissors were cold against my neck.
I stood in the bathroom of our motel room with my eyes shut, trying not to notice how much I hated the sound of each metallic snip, or the odd, awful feeling of lightness that was slowly spreading its way across my head. Even though I knew how much we needed to do this – of course I did; it had been my idea in the first place – that didn’t mean I had to enjoy it. Alex wasn’t enjoying it much, either. In fact, he probably hated this part most of all. But when I’d brought up the idea earlier that afternoon, he admitted he’d been thinking the same thing – and now the scissors didn’t hesitate as he worked them. If I hadn’t suggested this, he would have.
It was weird, though…both of us so eager to do something that neither of us actually wanted.
I heard Alex put the scissors down on the bathroom counter. “Okay, I think I’m done.” He sounded uncertain. Dreading what I was about to see, I opened my eyes and stared at myself in the mirror.
My once-long hair was now short. Very short. I don’t even know how to describe it. Sort of a pixie cut, maybe, if the pixies had gone berserk with the scissors. And more than that, it was no longer blonde – it was a deep reddish-gold that made me think of autumn and bonfires. I’d thought it might go better with my skin tone than brown, but now… I swallowed. In the mirror, my green eyes were wide and unsure.
I looked nothing like myself.
Alex was staring, too. “Wow,” he said. “That…makes a big difference.”
I wanted to blurt out, You still think I’m beautiful, right? I bit the words back. “Still being beautiful” was not the point – not that I’d ever really thought I was, anyway; it was Alex who thought that. But the important thing now was just staying alive. In the bedroom, I could still hear the newscast that had been playing non-stop ever since we’d turned on the TV: “Police are searching urgently for the pair for questioning… Again, if you see them, do not approach them yourself, but call our special hotline… They are suspected to be armed and dangerous…”
I knew without looking that they were showing my sophomore school photo again – and that it was probably on every Church of Angels website in the world by now. So to be honest, changing my most noticeable feature hadn’t exactly been a tough decision. At least no one knew what Alex looked like. There was a police sketch, but it was laughably wrong: the security guard who’d been at the cathedral had remembered him as being about ten years older and fifty pounds heavier than he really was, bulging with muscle like a football player.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the girl in the mirror. It was like a stranger had stolen my face. I reached for the red eyebrow pencil I’d asked Alex to buy and traced it over my eyebrows. The effect was much more dramatic than I would have expected. Before, I barely even noticed my eyebrows when I looked at myself. Now they seemed to jump right out at me.
This was me, now.
Feeling oddly shaken, I put down the pencil and ran my fingers through what was left of my hair. Half of it spiked up, the other half flopped down. Someone, somewhere, might pay good money for a haircut like this – like the type of runway model who’d wear a garbage-bag dress held together with safety pins, maybe.
“I’m glad you don’t want to be a hairdresser,” I said to Alex. “Because I don’t think your work is very mainstream.”
He smiled and touched the back of my neck; it felt weirdly vulnerable to have the skin there so exposed. “No one will recognize you, that’s what’s important,” he said. “Christ, I almost wouldn’t recognize you.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t mean to sound quite so forlorn, but the thought of Alex not recognizing me was just…wrong.
Catching my look, he wrapped his arms around me from behind and drew me close against his chest. The top of my head came up just past his chin. “Hey,” he said, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror. “We’ll both get used to it. And you’re still gorgeous; you know that, right? It’s just different, that’s all.”
I let out a breath, relieved he hadn’t stopped thinking that. Maybe it was petty, with everything else that was happening in the world – but so much had changed already, without changing how Alex viewed me, too. I wanted that to stay the same, for ever. “Thanks,” I said.
He propped his chin on top of my head, looking amused. “Well, it’s sort of a no-brainer. You’d be gorgeous if you shaved all your hair off.”
I laughed. “Let’s not test that one, okay? I think this is radical enough for one day.” I rested back against his chest, taking in his tousled dark hair and blue-grey eyes in the mirror. “Gorgeous” was actually the word I’d use to describe Alex, not me. It still gave me a tingle like Christmas morning sometimes, to realize this boy I was so much in love with felt the same way about me.
Meanwhile, my hair had not stopped being very short. Or very red. I kept getting mini jolts of surprise every time I saw myself, like my mind hadn’t caught up with what had happened yet.
“I wish there was some kind of dye we could use on your aura, too,” said Alex after a pause.
I nodded, rubbing his toned forearms. “I know. We’ll just have to be really careful.”
My aura – the energy force that surrounds every living thing – was silver and lavender; a distinct mix of angel and human. Any angel who spotted it would know instantly who I was: the only half-angel in the world, the one who’d tried to destroy them all. It was a risk that couldn’t be avoided, though, unless we planned to go live in a cave somewhere.
“Anyway, hopefully people won’t be trying to shoot me quite as often now,” I said.
“That’s the idea,” he agreed. “Because, you know…I kind of want you to stick around for a while.” His eyes flickered with memory, and I knew what he was thinking without trying, because I was thinking about the same thing. The worst day of both our lives: when he’d held me in his arms, just a day ago, and thought I had died. My arms tightened over his. The truth was, I had died. If Alex hadn’t been there to bring me back, I wouldn’t be here now.
“That’s what I have in mind,” I said softly. The crystal teardrop pendant he’d given me sparkled in the light. “Sticking around with you for a very, very long while.”
“Deal,” said Alex.
His head lowered in the mirror, and I shivered as his warm lips brushed my neck. Then he glanced up, listening, as a new voice came from the TV: a woman caller with a Southern twang to her voice. “She must be sick, that’s all. But just because she’s mentally ill doesn’t mean she’s not dangerous. Why, you can tell from that photo – there’s just a deranged look in her eyes…”
Actually, my eyes looked more worried than anything else, just then. Alex and I went back into the bedroom, where the two news commentators on the screen were nodding gravely, agreeing that, yes, I must be deranged to have attempted an “act of terrorism” against the Church of Angels – which was what the media was calling my attempt to seal the gate between the angels’ world and our own.
I sank onto the bed. The Church claimed I’d been trying to set off a bomb in the cathedral; that I hated the angels so much I’d planned to blow the whole place up, regardless of the thousands of worshippers there to witness the arrival of the Second Wave. Me, a deranged bomber. It would have been funny if Alex and I weren’t in so much danger.
An image of the cathedral in Denver from the previous day appeared: its broad white dome and massive columns; its parking lot, choked with cars and people. And its high silver doors, standing open as countless angels streamed out. I’d seen the footage several times now; I still couldn’t take my eyes off it. I watched in morbid fascination as the angels’ wings flashed gold in the sunset, pouring out from the cathedral in an endless river of light and grace. In their ethereal form, angels weren’t normally visible except to the humans they were feeding from, but they’d made an exception as the Second Wave invaded our world. They’d wanted to hear people’s cheers, Nate had told us. The cattle, cheering their slaughterers.
The Second Wave and me were the big news of the day. Everyone on the planet seemed to be debating what this meant: whether the angel footage had been faked or not, what it meant for our world if it hadn’t been. The news programme showed the same clips over and over, with the headline Angelic Arrival scrolling past at the bottom of the screen. Then, when they got tired of that, the commentators took more phone calls, from all across the country: people who’d seen the angels arriving; people who wished they’d seen the angels arriving; people who thought they’d seen me;people who wished they could see me so they could give me what I “deserved”.
I sat watching tensely, still hardly able to believe that just six weeks ago, my life had been relatively normal – or at least as normal as possible, when you’re psychic and like to fix cars. And then I’d done a reading for Beth Hartley, a girl in my high school back in Pawntucket, New York. I’d seen her joining the Church, becoming sick and listless. I’d tried to stop her, but hadn’t been able to – and in the meantime, an angel named Paschar had foreseen that I was the one who’d destroy them all.
I sighed as I watched the angels flying across the screen. God, I wished he’d been right. I thought of my mother, sitting lost in her dreams, her mind forever destroyed by what Raziel – I hated calling the angel my father;he didn’t deserve the word – had done to her. She wasn’t the only one. Millions of people had been hurt just as badly by the angels. Millions more were probably being hurt by them right that second, while all the callers on TV exulted about angelic love.
Angelic love. The words left a bitter taste when you knew the angels were really here to feed off human energy, as if our world was their own private fish farm. And thanks to something called angel burn, they were seen as creatures of beauty and kindness, even as their victims’ life energy crumpled under their touch. The result might be a mental illness like my mother had, or MS, or cancer, or almost any other debilitating disease you could name. Because when an angel fed from you, there were only two certainties: one, you’d be damaged for ever in some terrible, irrevocable way…and two, you’d worship the angels until the day you died.
I glanced at Alex sitting beside me, taking in the firm lines of his face; the dark eyelashes that framed his eyes; the mouth that begged to have my finger on it, tracing its outline. By the time Alex was barely sixteen, his entire family had been destroyed by angels. Now dozens more of his friends had been killed by them too.
The black AK tattoo on his left bicep didn’t stand for “Alex Kylar” – it stood for Angel Killer.
Alex was the only AK left. The only person in the world who knew how to fight them. The thought of anything happening to him was like razors slicing my heart – and our plan to recruit and train new AKs wouldn’t exactly keep us out of the line of fire. Part of me really did want us to go live in a cave – or up on a Tibetan mountaintop, or out in the middle of a swamp somewhere – anyplace that was remote and safe, so we could just be together without worrying, for ever.
But we didn’t have a choice, and we both knew it. No matter how we felt about each other, we had to do something about what was happening.
I leaned against Alex; he put his arm around me and drew me close. His jaw had tensed – the special number to call if you’d seen me was flashing on the screen again. “God, I’m tempted to just stay here for a few more days,” he muttered. “No one would expect you to be holed up so close to Denver. We should wait until things have calmed down a little, so that—”
“Alex, wait,” I broke in. Urgency had swept through me; suddenly I felt sick with tension. The front desk, I thought.
I could see it in my mind: the slightly battered counter where Alex and I had checked in the night before, both of us so tired we were reeling. It had been covered by a sheet of glass, with a motel map on display underneath it. There’d been an old-fashioned bell too, the kind with a little button on top for guests to ring for attention. The inane details beat through my head, feeling dark and ominous. I had to go there. Now.
Concern came over Alex’s face. “Willow? What is it?”
“I’m fine, I just…need to go check something,” I got out.
I could see him start to protest at the thought of me leaving the motel room; then he realized what I meant. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “Be careful.”
I nodded. And taking a deep breath, I went within, reaching for my angel.
She was there, waiting – a radiant winged version of myself; the halo-less angel who was part of me. Her wings were folded gracefully behind her back, and I saw that her hair was short too now, framing her serene face. My shoulders relaxed a little. Just being near her was a caress.
With a mental flick, I shifted my consciousness to hers and lifted out of my human form. My angel wings stretched wide; I passed through the motel roof with a shimmer, soaring up into the Colorado late afternoon. Flying. Even at a time like this, it gave me a stir of pleasure. I was still getting to know my angel self; for most of my life, I hadn’t even known she was there.
The chill of November stroked my wings as I flew to the reception building. Another brief ripple as I glided through the wall – and then I saw the clerk from the night before, talking on the phone with one elbow propped on the front desk. He was staring at a TV that was on in the corner of the lobby.
On the screen, my school photo smiled back at him.
“Well, I couldn’t say for certain, but…yeah, I’m pretty damn sure,” he said. “They got in about ten last night, looking dead to the world; then this morning they asked the manager to have the room for another night. They’re still in there now. Been there all day, as far as I know.”
Fear clutched my throat. At least he didn’t realize Alex had left for a while, to go buy the hair dye and scissors. I swooped down and landed; under my ethereal feet the carpet felt strange, insubstantial. Back in the motel room my human form still sat on the bed, with Alex’s fingers linked tightly through mine.
“They’re supposed to come down and pay for the extra night soon; you want I should hold them for you? Oh, okay…yeah, I see…”
Behind the desk, another clerk stood waiting with wide eyes. When the man hung up the phone, she said, “Well?”
“She said not to go near them; they’re sending someone right out. There’s a squad car coming now – it’s just a few blocks away.” He shook his head. “Man, wouldn’t it be wild if it was them? Dangerous fugitives, holed up in a sleepy little place like Trinidad—”
I didn’t hear the rest; I was already speeding back to our room in a flurry of wings. I found my human self again; merged. My eyes flew open. “The desk clerk from last night – he’s recognized us,” I burst out. “The police are on their way.”
Alex swore as he lunged off the bed. “Okay, forget staying – we’ve got to get out of here, now.” He undid his jeans to strap on his holster and pistol under his waistband; when they were securely hidden, he ducked into the bathroom and grabbed up the eye pencil and hair dye stuff, shoving it all in the shopping bag it had come in, along with the long strands of my hair that had fallen to the floor. He swiped a motel washcloth over all the surfaces, removing any sign of the dye, and stuffed that in the bag too.
Trying to stay calm, I fumbled for the black pumps that were the only shoes I had now. Then I heard what was being said on TV, and glanced up. My hands slowed and stilled.
“…a dramatic new development which has just been released from law enforcement officials in Pawntucket, New York. This was the scene last night on Nesbit Street, at the former home of suspected terrorist Willow Fields...”
Aunt Jo’s house appeared on the screen. I heard a ragged gasp; realized from someplace far away it had come from me. I sat frozen, my mind unable to process what I was seeing.
The house where I had lived since I was nine years old was in flames.
There was no doubt, even with the trembling footage that looked like someone had taken it on their cellphone – it was Aunt Jo’s run-down Victorian home, crackling and crumbling to the ground. Even the garden ornaments in the front yard were ablaze. I could just make out one of the gnomes, standing enveloped in flames like a weird fire spirit.
The picture changed to blackened ruins, with firemen picking through them. The entire second storey of the house was gone, with only dark, skeletal fingers sticking up here and there. I stared at a smudged piece of lavender wall. My bedroom.
“…cause unknown, though local police suspect vigilantes from the Church of Angels might be behind the blaze. Early reports indicate there were no survivors. The bodies of two women have been found in the ruins, thought to be Miranda and Joanna Fields, the mother and aunt of Willow Fields…”
On the TV screen were two body bags on stretchers, being carried out from the house’s charred remains.
Only Willow has the power to defeat the malevolent Church of Angels, and they will stop at nothing to destroy her. Willow isn’t alone, though. She has Alex by her side – a trained Angel Killer and her one true love.
But nothing can change the fact that Willow’s a half-angel, and when Alex joins forces with a group of AKs, she’s treated with mistrust and suspicion. She’s never felt more alone…until she meets Seb. He’s been searching for Willow his whole life – because Seb is a half-angel too.
The thrilling second chapter in the electrifying Angel Trilogy. Angels will never be seen in the same way again.
Listen to an extract from the audiobook:
L. A. Weatherly is the author of the bestselling Angel series, as well as almost 50 other books for children and teenagers. She’s originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, and lives in Hampshire, England with her husband. Her books have been translated into many different languages.
Visit www.leeweatherly.com to find out more.
Romantic fiction is big news. Not only is it the most widely read genre but it provides more pleasure and escapism than any other. The Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards set the benchmark in romantic fiction and so it is great news that Angel Fire has been shortlisted in the Young Adult Romantic Novel category.
See more readers’ reviews at Goodreads.com.
Read the following reviews or write one of your own.
Many of my friends don't read but if they had to read something this would definitely be my top suggestion. I pre-ordered Angel Fire and can't stop reading (yet again) - if only homework didn't exist anymore! I can't wait for Angel Fever.
“Once again I opened the pages to Willow and Alex's world I fall in love with the story all over again. 708 pages of pure perfection...The plot is just as amazing as the first novel Angel. Better in fact. It was cutting edge, suspenseful and sometimes spine chilling...a fascinating memorable read that I will never forget.”
Dark Readers blog
“The writing, as usual was firmly and most definitely stunning, with vivid description, so crisp and sharp in my mind, and emotions so strong and rich I felt them myself...Overall the book cannot be summed up into any phrase, word or even amount of words because the novel is too fantastic to fully understand until you have read it but I will end this review with two words: Truly Wonderful.”
Excellent Reads blog
“There was so much action, romance and suspense and I loved every single page.”
Jess Hearts Books blog
“A stunning sequel to last years best-selling Angel...Angel Fire will mesmerize readers from start to finish with non-stop action, heart-stopping danger, and a steamy romance that practically sizzles on every page. If you loved Angel, you will adore Angel Fire. YA doesn’t get much hotter than this!”
Daisy Chain Book Reviews blog
“There was so much variety for me as a reader to take in and I really liked getting to explore different aspects of Willow and Alex’s adventure.”
Heaven, Hell and Purgatory Book Reviews blog
“There are no words in my head right now that Oh. My. God. Angel Fire is such an emotional book and you are taken on an emotional roller-coaster while reading this book...Nothing I ever say will do this book justice...go read this series now!”
“A hugely compelling, action-packed romantic thriller which I couldn’t put down...I loved it from start to finish.”
5 Minutes' Peace blog
“709 pages of absolute solid gold goodness...so easy to read and once you get started it’s incredibly difficult to put down and the pages whiz by and before you know it it’s ended and you’re desperate for the next!”
“Let me tell you, Angel Fire was mind-blowing, spine-tingling absolutely brilliant. L.A Weatherly blew me away with her first novel ‘Angel’ and she’s done it again and left my utterly speechless.”
Book Passion for Life blog
“...a completely compelling read that was impossible to put down! It had highs that would have me cheering with joy, and lows that would leave me heartbroken. I really can't recommend this series enough. You need to read these books now!”
Once Upon a Series blog
“A seductive, romantic, passionate, funny, dramatic novel, that's action packed with a lot of tension.”
Young, Wild and Read
“This trilogy is turning out to be a real breath of fresh air in the swamps of ten-goth-vamps-angel of recent years. A triumph.”
School Librarian Journal
“Full of romance and action, this is a trilogy that all angel fans must try out!”
“A fast-paced read, action-packed and full of twists and turns, as well as some lovely awww moments between Willow and Alex.”
Mad House Family Reviews blog