It wasn’t the fact that she was here that surprised me the most. It was the fact that she was dressed so...drab. It was unlike her. The Natalia I knew dressed to impress no matter where she went. This version wearing all black was almost unrecognizable.
I moved to take a step forward when a hand touched my arm.
“Hey girl, ready to go?”
I turned back to Soraya and nodded. “Uh-yeah. One second. I just-” I’d turned back to find Natalia, but she was gone, vanished as if she’d never been there to begin with.
Had I hallucinated her?
“What? Are Gabriel and Lailah still inside?”
“No. Um...I just thought I saw something.” I turned to Soraya again. “Let’s go.”
The drive to the next club was silent, as was the rest of the night. There seemed to be some sort of unspoken tension between Gabriel and Lailah, perhaps due to an argument they’d had while waiting for us. Whatever it was, I wanted no part in it.
When we returned to the penthouse, Lailah and Gabriel went separate directions. Soraya raised a brow at me as we headed for the rooftop, armed with a bottle of red wine.
“I wonder what that was about.”
I shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t want to.”
“You do. You’re just pretending you don’t. It’s alright. You don’t have to say it out loud.”
Soraya’s commentary was harmless so the urge to roll my eyes hardly hit me. I really just didn’t want to talk about Gabriel...like ever.
An elevator at the end of the hall (yes, the penthouse had multiple elevators) took us to the rooftop terrace which turned out to not be as empty as we’d hoped.
The rooftop itself was gorgeous. The ground was checkered stone with grass running through each crack, a black metal fence surrounding the perimeter. Various plants circled the area and toward the far end was a circle of white wicker couches around a fire pit. On those couches sat four other Elioud in deep discussion.
“This should be interesting,” I mumbled.
“Relax. They won’t say anything they shouldn’t around me.”
“I know...it’s just frustrating that that’s the only reason why.”
Soraya nudged me. “The hazing won’t last forever. Don’t worry.”
We crossed the distance to the couches and approached the others, Soraya leading the way and sitting down on the free couch. I sat beside her and met the disapproving gaze of the others one by one. The only one that didn’t throw me a look of contempt was Malek. Instead, he smiled very lightly, choosing a subtle greeting that wouldn’t anger his comrades.
“Hey, how did your hunt go tonight?” Soraya asked the group, setting the wine on the outer rim of the stone fire pit and taking the two glasses I held.
One of the girls spoke, her straight raven hair and chocolate eyes reminding me of Olivia, Carter’s ex and my former enemy. Her voice was deep and commanding as was her demeanor. “It went well. We found sixteen. Yours?”
Soraya poured the red liquid into the first glass. “Good work. We hit twenty-two. An average night it looks like.”
“Yes...” The girl was looking at me. “Average indeed...”
Soraya handed me the first glass before beginning to pour the second. “So, who’s the first person training with Ava tomorrow?”
“I am.” Malek said it softly, causing my gratitude toward him to grow.
From day one he’d shown me nothing but kindness which I partially attributed to his upbringing. He’d moved to New York from Nigeria only a few years prior, so his accent was as strong as his moral compass. He was humble and intelligent with a gift for art. He was the second person, Soraya being the first, to speak to me without judgement.
“Good luck with that,” the other guy said, rolling his eyes.
Soraya narrowed her eyes into slits at him. ”Michael.”
He sighed, standing. “I’m sorry, Soraya. You may have accepted this charity case but the rest of us haven’t.” With that said, he walked off.
The other two girls were quick to follow but Malek stayed seated. As soon as the door slammed behind them, he spoke. “I’m sorry Ava. Don’t listen to them. They’ve just had hard lives.”
I would have had a snarky comeback for anyone else but since it was Malek I only nodded. “I know. I’m glad you’re the first person I’m training.”
He smiled. “I’m honored to train with you.”
The feeling was certainly mutual.
“I’ll grab you a glass, Malek. You deserve to toast with us.”
“Thank you, Soraya.”
She stood and left us to enjoy the cool night, sitting in comfortable silence for a moment.
Malek was the first to break it, his tone calm. “So, what made you decide to bond with your stone? I’ve heard plenty of rumors but I’m interested to know the real truth from you.”
I sat up on the cushion, my wine untouched. “It was the only way to save the people I loved. I knew I didn’t stand a chance without it.”
“Was it painful?”
“It was. But...I had a fellow there to guide me. I couldn’t have done it without him.” Cassiel. I hadn’t thought about him in a while and I wondered how he was.
“I fear that I may not be strong enough. You had something strong to motivate you. I haven’t faced danger like that.”
“Hopefully you never will in this lifetime. You’ll know when the time is right. Soraya can attest to that.”
“I admire your bravery. You came to us knowing no one and left your old life behind.”
I shrugged. “I had no other choice.”
“Don’t doubt your strength, Ava. It is what has gotten you to where you are today.”
I knew he was right, but my mind wouldn’t allow me to take credit for anything. Especially not when everyone I loved and cared for I had to stay away from in order to keep them safe.
“Alright, I’ve got a third glass. Let’s do that toast.” Soraya had re-joined us and sat down beside me. She poured wine into the new glass she’d brought and handed it to Malek. Picking up her own, she held it out, waiting for us to do the same. “I know we’ve only had you for a month but I’m grateful I’ve gotten to know you.” She smiled at me, an action that warmed me to my core. “No matter what, you have a friend in me. The group needs you and they will soon realize how lucky they are to have you to learn from. We’ve each had difficult journeys but together we are stronger than anything that may come our way. So, here’s to new friends and our weird damaged family.”
Malek and I laughed, clinking our glass against Soraya’s.
Moments like this were reminders that I wasn’t alone. Reminders that I needed to keep going even when everything felt hopeless. Even when I couldn’t escape thoughts of Gavin...
I hoped he was happy. Wherever he was.
It had been exactly a month since I’d had a dream. One I could remember anyway. This was the first dream I knew I would remember and it was also the first contact I’d had with Lucifer since the closing of the gates. I knew he wasn’t going to leave me alone forever but I’d begun to grow used to a normal sleeping pattern.
Tonight would be the beginning of many restless nights, ending my mental peace as I knew it.
“It’s been a while, Ava. Almost too long. I hope you haven’t forgotten me.”
Unlike previous dreams, Lucifer didn’t appear as Carter. Instead he appeared as a shadowy figure. The backdrop for this particular dream was the rooftop I’d been on earlier with Soraya and Malek. Only the sky was black, desolate of stars. There was only the moon to reveal what hid in the shadows.
I stood a few feet from Lucifer, a figure shrouded in darkness, debating what to do. Get out of the dream or stay and see what he wanted? “How could I? You’ve tried to kill me and hurt everyone I love.”
“For the greater purpose. They would not have to suffer if you would just come to me. End all of this and save your friends. Your family. Gavin...”
Hearing the last name come from his lips filled me with a fear I couldn’t control. A rage emerged from within me, taking over all rational thoughts. “Do not ever say his name. I will destroy you if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“Oh I intend to keep it.”
The shadows shifted as he seemed to laugh. “I cannot wait to see you in person. The subconscious is but a tease.”
A shiver crawled up my back at his words. “Stay out of my head.”
“I’ll go for now. But you’ll see me every night until I have what I want, Ava.”
I was sweating when I woke up but grateful I was no longer in the dream. I hated my dreams with Lucifer and I’d almost begun to forget how awful they were. I had a feeling it would be a while before I was rid of him.
If I was ever rid of him.
The sun was rising which meant I had about three hours to kill before my lesson with Malek. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep again so I got up, stretching out my tense muscles before making my way to the bathroom I shared with Soraya that sat between our two rooms.
My room was generous considering I was the newest person to arrive. It was average in size and simple, as well as in a fairly private section of the penthouse. All white, beige, and silver, with fresh live flowers and a window that gave me a view of the city. Staying with the fellows in the mansion had been nice but I loved the city landscape. Seeing the skyscrapers and lights at night was soothing.
I dressed casually for the day in black leggings, a black sports bra, a sheer maroon top, and black sneakers. My brown ringlets were pulled back into a chignon bun and my face was bare. I wanted to be taken seriously today and the way I dressed would be the first impression.
I passed a few other Elioud on the way to the combat room, a remodeled gym, and wasn’t surprised when none of them acknowledged me. It was beginning to bother me less each day and I hoped eventually it wouldn’t at all.
The combat room was located on the first floor, just down the hall from the library and office. I entered it with slight hesitation, not used to being there during regular hours. I usually trained late at night when everyone was asleep. I didn’t much like having people watch or shame me into leaving early.
The room was heavily influenced by Japanese culture with its black wood paneling, black wood floors, and grey straw mats. Glass windows spread across the left wall allowing the sun to light up the room and the city to peek in.
I padded over to the center of the room, contemplating what things I was going to review with Malek. He was certainly an above average fighter but his tendency to hesitate and second guess himself was going to get him killed one day.
“You’re up early.”
Cue entrance of dark cloud.
I turned around as Lailah entered the room, her walk cocky. Taking a moment to answer, I debated a snarky or unbothered response. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Hmph.” She walked to the corner of the room, moving one of the wooden chairs forward. “Probably best not to be tired when you have to train someone.”
“I’m used to operating on little sleep. I doubt Gabriel will let me fall asleep during our training later anyway.”
She had just seated herself in the chair and froze as she did so. “You’re training with Gabriel today...?”
I wanted to smile but didn’t, keeping my face as expressionless as possible. “Not training exactly. More like sparring. He figured we could both learn from each other. I’m sure you two do the same.”
The look on her face suggested they didn’t. “Probably for the best considering no one else will spar with you.”
Damn, I thought I had won that one. “I’m not here to befriend anyone, Lailah.”
“Good, because you’re not doing a very good job of it.”
I was preparing my next sting when Malek entered, interrupting our battle of wits. I immediately switched my focus to him, smiling. “Morning Malek.”
He nodded at me and then Lailah. “Good morning.”
“Go ahead and take five minutes to stretch. We’ll warm up after that.”
This first lesson I figured I’d focus on basic hand combat and try to figure out at what point Malek was hesitating. That way I would be able to cater certain exercises to that and help him overcome his hesitation. I wasn’t too thrilled to have Lailah supervising us but I wasn’t going to let her distract me. If anything, this motivated me more to do well. Lailah’s hateful gaze clearly wasn’t going away so I had to use it to my advantage.
Thirty minutes later, we’d gotten halfway through the lesson and everything was going well. That was until mid-roundhouse kick when my pupil lost his balance and fell to the floor, twisting his ankle in an odd direction. There was no awful crack but it was clear he’d yanked a muscle in a way it wasn’t supposed to go. He left the room using Lailah as support, limping away with what confidence I’d built up that morning.
Lailah hadn’t commented but it was obvious what she was thinking: I knew you couldn’t do it.
I spent the next hour releasing my frustration through yoga. Prior to my new life, I’d been an avid practicer and used yoga as a way to center myself and avoid the unhealthy harboring of emotions. I was angry at Lailah but more than anything I was angry with myself. I knew I’d pushed Malek too far in an attempt to prove myself and now it was my fault he was injured.
I was deep in a natarajasana pose, a standing back bending pose, when a voice interrupted me.
“I told you to train people, not injure them.”
I wanted to roll my eyes but didn’t, slowly coming out of the pose and standing. “It was an accident.”
“I know. I think you’re forgetting that the un-bonded are weaker than us. You have to treat them differently.”
I wanted to snap “I know” but held back, merely nodding.
“Feel free to not hold back with me though.”
“You won’t have to worry about that,” I responded, approaching him.
Gabriel didn’t smile but the corner of his mouth did twitch. He’d come with a black gym bag and placed it on the chair Lailah had previously occupied. From it he pulled two pairs of black fingerless gloves and handed me one. “We’ll start with Muay Thai.”
Good. My strongest area in martial arts.
I pulled on the gloves and walked back to the center of the room, watching from the corner of my eye as he moved to connect his phone to the sound system. Moments later a deep house track was filling the room and I didn’t want to admit it but I liked his taste in music.
“Don’t be afraid to hit me,” he said, walking over to meet me in the center of the floor.
I locked eyes with his grey ones, grinning. “I’m not.”
This time he did smirk a little, coming to stand across from me. He checked the Velcro straps on his gloves before broadening his stance. “Alright. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
We intended to spar for only ten minutes then switch to another technique but after a while I lost track of time, determined to beat him every which way I could. We were tied four to four. Sweat was dripping down the side of my face but I wasn’t tired. An energy was coursing through me, pushing me forward. We were circling each other now, waiting for the first person to pounce.
“I never thought you were the type of woman to wait for a man.”
We also were talking a lot of shit, the best way to distract your opponent.
“I figured you could use an advantage.”
He smiled, shifting his weight. He’d discarded his shirt, now only in a pair of joggers. The sweat was making its way down his rock-hard chest and I had a sneaking suspicion he’d done it to distract me.
I merely wiped the sweat from my brow. “Your move.”
He didn’t wait for another invitation, swinging his leg upward which I blocked with my arm. The distraction allowed him to grab that wrist and swing me around, grabbing my other wrist. He held me with my back against his chest, my arms crossed over my chest and restricted by his grip.
His breath was touching my neck and it was distracting but I wasn’t going to give up just yet. I twisted my wrists and dropped, hooking my foot around his ankle and pulling. He fell to his knees and I swung to hit him but he blocked it, grappling me to the floor. We struggled, rolling until he was on top, grabbing my wrists and pinning them to the floor at each side of my head. I didn’t want to give in, so I struggled against his grip, but he’d chosen too good of a position. Suddenly, I became aware of his body pressed against mine and how close his lips were to my own. I began to slow my struggling, our labored breathing in sync.
He didn’t speak, relaxing his grip on my wrists, but he didn’t move to stand. His grey eyes were boring deep into my hazel ones and for a moment I forgot why I even hated him in the first place.
My heart was racing and if my face hadn’t already been red it would have turned. My racing heart continued to speed up as his eyes flickered to my lips. Was he going to kiss me?
Unfortunately, I would never know the answer to that question because footsteps had just entered the room, pulling us out of our haze. We both turned to look toward the door and saw Lailah. Her expression was lethal.
Gabriel moved to get off me and stood in one fluid motion. He adjusted his gloves, staring down our uninvited guest. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem guilty, his body language relaxed. “What is it.”
I stood quickly and calmly, glancing at Gabriel. He was much calmer than I was.
Lailah narrowed her gaze but didn’t comment on the uncompromising position she’d caught us in. “Your lesson was supposed to end an hour ago. Makeda is here. She wants to meet with you.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” he said, walking over to the sound system.
“Her too.” Lailah glared at me for a moment before turning and leaving.
What was that saying? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? I was pretty sure Lailah was going to murder me in my sleep tonight.
The music cut off abruptly, Gabriel pocketing his phone before going to his bag and pulling out a fresh shirt. I retrieved a hand towel from the wood basket in the corner and wiped my forehead, shaking off my nerves and regaining my confidence. “I need to change real quick. I’ll meet you there.”
He nodded, pulling on his shirt. “I’ll see you there.”
I began to walk out of the room but hesitated when he spoke.
“You know this means I broke the tie...”
I smirked, continuing to walk as I responded. “Not for long.”
Gabriel’s change in attitude toward me was unexpected but welcome. I was hated by so many so it was nice, even if only temporary, that he hated me less. I would take sarcasm over disdain any day.
Rushing to my room, I showered and dressed in jeans and a white blouse before heading to the office where we usually met with Makeda. She checked in once a week to see how I was doing and report back to Gavin. She preferred to live on her own, rather than with a rebel group, but used her club for many Elioud events and meetings. There were seven Elioud rebel groups in the city however ours was the largest. Makeda had lived at the penthouse years ago before branching off on her own once her club became successful. There were many Elioud living on their own with careers or businesses who preferred a more private lifestyle. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have that choice again...
The office was very modern and bright with white couches, a silver and white desk, and beige bookcases. A large window at the far side of the wall allowed the sun to peek in, removing the need for artificial lighting. Makeda was seated on a couch and Gabriel was pacing slowly as they spoke, never one for relaxing. He’d changed and freshened up, now wearing a crisp black t-shirt and jeans and I briefly envied how quick he was able to transform and look brand new.
“Ava.” Makeda stood as I entered, looking just as stylish as ever. The tight olive knee length dress she wore complimented her bronze skin, a leather jacket and black boots finishing the look. Her pixie cut black curls were now a dark red, almost stealing the thunder from her mesmerizing bright grey eyes. She held out her arms and hugged me before seating herself again.
I sat down on the opposite end of the couch, smiling lightly at her. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Ava. So Gabriel tells me you’ve become a teacher. How is that going?”
Horrible. Injured my first student and embarrassed myself in front of my mortal enemy. “It’s a learning curve.”
She nodded. “It takes time. You’re the best chance they’ve got though. Second to this one of course.” She nodded at Gabriel, who’d finally stopped pacing. “I also heard you went after Carter...”
I sighed. “I know I’m not supposed to be in contact with Cambions but he’s one of my closest friends and is only with those people because of me. I can’t just leave him be.”
“I know.” She paused. “Which is why I’ve told Gabriel to allow you certain privileges. It’s clear you’re not going to leave this alone so I’d rather you have back up. Gavin would also kill me if he knew you were in a malevolent den on your own.”
My brow raised, hesitant to believe her. “Really?”
Gabriel spoke, his tone low and clearly unapproving. “I disagree of course but Makeda thinks its best. I’ll accompany you next time. You still are not to leave without telling me though.”
I wanted to smile at his begrudging attitude but didn’t, keeping my composure. “Thank you...How is he by the way?”
Makeda threw me an understanding look. “He’s good. I haven’t spoken to him in a while because he left Amos and Natalia and is hiding out elsewhere.”
“It’s safer if they separate and keep alternating locations. Nakir has a lot of scouts out searching for them. A few have been to my place but conveniently I’m always on vacation when they stop by.”
I wanted to smile at her comment but I was worried. What if Gavin was caught? Natalia and Amos I wasn’t worried about because Amos had been on the run for years now, but Gavin was new to this.
“I know. I’ll relay the message.”
Gabriel had been watching us in silence but spoke up now. “We also need to discuss a malevolent spirit I encountered last night. He didn’t seem to know Ava was with us but he did mention Lucifer’s next plans.”
I looked at him, wondering why I was just now hearing about this.
“What did he say?,” Makeda asked.
“Lucifer is planning to come for her. For now he’s focused on maximizing the amount of possessed but soon he’s going to focus on finding her and we need a backup plan if he discovers where she is.”
Hearing Lucifer’s name sent shivers down my spine. I’d temporarily defeated him but he wanted something from me. “He was in my dream last night.”
Both pairs of eyes snapped to me. “Does this happen often?” Makeda asked.
“It hasn’t since I came here. Last night was the first time. When I was with the fellows it happened almost every night.”
Gabriel stepped forward, his arms crossed. “And what did he say?”
I looked at him, hoping the fear wasn’t visible in my eyes. “He wants me to join him. I don’t know exactly what that means but he seems very determined to make it happen.”
Makeda looked at Gabriel and an unspoken thing passed between them. “You need to tell Gabriel every time you have one of those dreams. There may be hints to his plans in what he says so we have to know everything.”
The conversation became more casual after that until Makeda said her goodbyes and left. I went straight to my room to grab my black pea coat before heading out.
I needed some fresh air and space from this place to think.
Soraya caught me halfway down the hallway and insisted she join. I wasn’t sure whether she’d been told by Gabriel to keep an eye on me but I was happy for the company.
We stepped out into the cool autumn day and were hit with a gust of wind, leaves swirling around our feet.
“Where to?” she asked, pushing her hands into the pockets of her navy coat.
“The park? I could really use a latte and a walk.”
“I like your way of thinking. The lattes are on me.” We strolled down the street and stopped at a coffee shop on the way to Central Park. The day was cool, possibly forty degrees, and cloudy. My favorite sort of weather. I enjoyed sun just as much as the next guy but there was just something special about autumn weather. It was magical and cozy, filled with holiday spirit. My favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, a day where you came together with your loved ones to appreciate and be grateful for one another. I hadn’t seen my family or friends in months now and it was beginning to dig at me. I missed them.
But more than anything I missed Gavin.
My heart hurt every time I thought about him, a restriction in my chest that slowed my breathing. I missed him so much it was painful to think about him but it was more painful not to. He was the love of my life. I’d never felt so strongly connected to someone as I did to him and that feeling was never going to go away. I knew now what people meant when they said it was like missing a part of yourself. Gavin had filled that empty space in my heart and no one would compare to him as long as I lived.
“Hey, you okay?”
I didn’t realize it but I’d begun to tear up. We’d just entered the park and were nearing the Bethshesda fountain which sat in the middle of a plaza just beside the lake. I’d blacked out for most of our walk there, lost in my thoughts. I wasn’t sure how to respond but I knew I could be honest with Soraya. “Not really. I can’t stop thinking about Gavin. And what a mess everything is and the fact that it’s my fault.”
We sat on the outer rim of the fountain and watched the people walk by. Birds were chirping and the wind was dancing around us, rustling our hair.
“Listen...” She turned to me, cupping her latte in one hand, the other hand on the fountain space between us. “Wanting to keep your memories is not a crime and you are not the first to avoid a memory wipe. A lot of Elioud and fellows disagree with the committee rules but the committee are too stubborn to consider changing them. The best you can do now is keep yourself safe and hidden until things die down. You may not be able to see Gavin but I’m sure he would sell his soul to see you happy. Don’t waste this opportunity holding onto the past.”
I nodded, sighing. “You’re right. I just miss him. I don’t want to complain because I’m grateful for what Makeda is doing for me but sometimes I just need a break from everything. I feel overwhelmed and its exhausting.”
Soraya threw me a sympathetic look. “If you didn’t feel overwhelmed, I’d be concerned. I wish I could tell you it was all going to work out in the end but I can’t. You just can’t give up. And if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for Gavin. He would want you to be strong.”
She was right. He wouldn’t want me wallowing in misery. He’d sacrificed so much to get me here, including being a guardian. I owed him. “You’re right...”
It was then that I felt it, someone watching me. I scanned the minimal crowd, searching for the source. A moment later I found it, over Soraya’s shoulder.
She was standing up at the top of the stairs, dressed in a black pea coat with her hood up. She was looking directly at me, standing stock-still. As soon as our eyes connected she nodded and then turned to walk away.
I returned my attention to what Soraya was saying, having completely tuned her out. “Hey, I have to use the restroom real quick. I’ll be right back.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll wait here.”
I tried not to rush after Natalia, taking long casual strides. Taking the stairs two at a time, I came to the top and looked around, searching for Natalia. I spotted her waiting for me near a tree and wasted no time in walking over to her. She smiled as I approached, her eyes scanning to ensure no one was watching us.
I couldn’t believe it. She was here.
Rather than wait for the right moment, I wrapped my arms around her, squeezing tightly. “What are you doing here?”
She returned the hug just as fiercely and then stepped back, still smiling. “I had to see you. You look really great. How are things going with the rebels?”
“They’re alright. For the most part they’ve been welcoming.” Sort of. “How are you? How’s Amos?”
“He’s fine. We’re both fine and hidden well.”
“Then why the visit? I’m so happy to see you but this is dangerous. You could be seen.”
Her eyes changed. “I know, which is why I can’t stay long. Gavin is in trouble.”
My heart dropped. The words I feared the most had just been spoken. “What do you mean? What’s happened?”
“He was caught and is being taken to the committee to be tried for insubordination and treason.”
“Treason? What? He’s never done anything but protect me.”
“They don’t see it that way. He could be sent to purgatory. Or worse. The only way to help him is if we find Elyon and end this. Then we can all come out of hiding.”
The déjà vu hit me. It was my brother all over again, but this time the good guys had taken someone I cared about. Lucifer wasn’t the guilty party although I wouldn’t have been surprised if he were involved. He was at the center of every awful event and that would never change.
“How do we help him? I have to come with you, right?”
“No, it’s safer if we stay separated. Right now we need information. The best place to get it is from the possessed. We have to find out where Elyon is hiding so we can track him down. I know you’re going hunting with the rebels so find out what you can when you do? Do not tell any of the rebels. They cannot know that we are in contact because at this point we can’t trust anyone.”
“Alright, I won’t. How do I get in contact with you if I find something?”
“Here...” She casually slipped me a piece of paper. “This is the address to where I’m staying. We’re not far from you. If you find anything, go there. Make sure you come alone.”
“Okay, I will.”
“I have to go now. Be safe Ava. We’ll be in contact.”
I hugged her again and nodded. “I’ll see you.”
It hurt to walk away from my one tie to Gavin, but when I turned to glance back she had already vanished.
I didn’t want to arouse suspicion, so I took a moment to collect myself before returning to Soraya. My mind was swimming erratically but I had to stay calm. If we had any hope in helping Gavin, I had to keep a level head.
I approached Soraya slowly, taking a few deep breaths before stopping just beside her. “Sorry, long line. Want to keep walking?”
She stood. “Let’s do it.”
We spent the next couple hours walking around the park and watching the street performers. By the time we were back at the penthouse it was early evening and the sun was beginning to set. The penthouse was bustling as usual, Elioud moving about the halls and rooms. It was much busier than the fellow mansion had ever been, and the rules were certainly much looser.
Save for the never go out alone rule.
“You okay?” Soraya asked as we made our way to one of the common rooms to kill time before our hunt this evening.
I’d been a bit quieter than usual due to the inner turmoil I was dealing with. I had to push down my panic rather than deal with it and that was killing me. It was hard enough not seeing Gavin but now he was in danger? If anything happened to him I was going to lose any shred of sanity I had left.
“I’m fine. Just tired.” Which was true. I’d been up since the crack of dawn due to my horrific dream and my energy was beginning to deplete.
“Why don’t you go rest? I can wake you in a bit.”
I wanted to say no but really a nap was just what I needed. I also was okay with avoiding hanging out in the common room with so many Elioud who hated me. “Okay, thanks girl. Wake me in two hours?”
“You got it.” She squeezed my arm and walked off.
Sighing, I turned and started for the stairs that would take me to the second floor where the bedrooms were located. I’d just reached the top of the stairs and was starting down the hallway when I spotted Gabriel. His room was three doors down from mine which made sense as to why he was coming from the opposite direction however I had been hoping to avoid him. I wasn’t sure how good he was with reading energy, i.e. me not wanting to talk to him energy, and I was so close to my room.
“Hey, I wanted to talk to you.”
I stopped walking and waited, tapping my foot. “Yes?”
He was silent as his eyes looked me over, reading something in my face that gave him reason to pause. “Are you alright?”
“Just tired. I was actually headed for a nap.”
He seemed not to believe my answer but accepted it. “Alright, I’ll be quick. You’re not going on the hunt tonight.”
My chest constricted as the panic bubbled up again. “What? Why?”
“We know that Lucifer is focusing on finding you and your dream means he could be getting closer. It’s safer for you and everyone else if you stay here. The penthouse is secure and the best protection against the malevolents. We can’t risk it.”
Um. No. I was not going to miss out on an opportunity to help Gavin.
“With all due respect, I’m going. Lucifer has always been hunting for me and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I refuse to hide out here in fear.”
A vein in his neck protruded, the only tell-tale sign of his frustration. “Ava, this isn’t about being brave. It’s about being smart. I know I don’t control what you do but I’m responsible for the safety of everyone here, that includes you. Now I’ve made this decision and you need to follow it.”
Damn it. As much as I wanted to be stubborn and argue with him further, I needed to swallow my pride and find a way to convince him to let me come. I couldn’t exactly stow away in the trunk and get away with it.
“I can’t stay here tonight Gabe. I have to be out there. The dreams are exactly why I should be out there. I’m the most qualified to help and if I’m being honest, the hunts are the only thing keeping me sane. They’re the only thing distracting me from the fact that my life is falling apart so I need this...Please.”
I’d intended to tell a white lie and guilt him into letting me go but instead I’d word vomited the truth. My face began to warm up as I did my best to fight back the tears. I was a mess but the last person I wanted to be vulnerable around was him.
Gabriel hesitated, his expression softening. “Ava...Look, I’ll make you a deal. If you come tonight you have to stay by my side at all times. And I won’t budge on this. We’ll take out the possessed together.”
“Done.” My eyes at lit up at his offer, tears still at bay. “Thank you.”
He didn’t respond, nodding and beginning to walk past me.
I was rooted to the floor, trying to pull it together when his footsteps turned back. I turned around to meet him and felt a dip in my chest when our eyes met.
Gabriel wasn’t one for being soft so the sympathetic expression he was throwing me was almost unsettling. “One more thing. If you want, after the hunt tonight, we can try to go see your friend. Just keep it to yourself. Everyone will think I’ve gone mad if they find out I’ve decided to help you.”
I nodded, eternally grateful for his change of heart. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Get some rest.”
His gaze was unnerving and feelings I didn’t welcome were scratching at the surface, fighting for acknowledgement. I was in love with Gavin and though I might not ever see him again, entertaining feelings for another man felt like a betrayal. I missed Gavin so much it hurt and the hole in my chest grew with each passing day.
I turned and started for my room, listening as his footsteps went down the stairs. I was in a haze as I reached my room, unsure of whether to cry or just sleep. Gavin was in danger and focusing any time on anything but plans to save him filled me with enormous guilt. What could I do though? I felt helpless and useless. Maybe the nap would help me refresh and come up with a plan B if we couldn’t find Elyon.
Dressing down in sweats and a t-shirt, I crawled into bed and allowed sleep to take control, deciding I would cry later. It took only moments for me to fall asleep and it seemed as though I was dreaming almost immediately, all worrisome thoughts of the future dissipating with my consciousnes.