The very first thing I was aware of when I awoke was Shane’s body against mine. His hands were snuggled around my stomach and his face was buried in my hair. His breath came out in smooth even puffs along my shoulder.
I nudged him and tried to escape from his grasp, but he only smiled and held me tighter. I tried to roll over and fling my legs onto the floor, but that only got him to roll on top of me and start a full-fledged wrestling match. I finally pinned him down and freed myself from him and the bed, only to have him tackle me to the floor; both of us laughing.
There was a knock at the door and both of us bolted off the floor as if we were just caught by our parents, which only made us laugh even more.
Ethan came in holding a steaming cup of coffee, “Hey, I got coffee and bagels inside!” His eyes looked back and forth between Shane and me, his face reddened and he looked down at the floor. “Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”
It was my turn for the heat to rise to my face. “Ethan, you didn’t interrupt anything. We were just wrestling to get to the door first. There is absolutely nothing going on between Shane and me.”
Ethan shrugged and nodded his head. “Well, breakfast is inside anyway. Everybody is packing up now, so we should be heading out soon.” He didn’t even wait for another response. He just turned his back to us and left the room, closing the door behind him.
I felt Shane’s glare as if it was a burning laser on the back of my head. I turned to face him. “What’s that look for?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I just damaged his ego.
“Why do you do shit like that?” He was pointing to the door.
“Pretend that you don’t give a shit about me. You’re the one that asked me to sleep in here last night. I get a lot of mixed signals from you, Grace.”
It killed me that he was right. Shane wasn’t one to beat around the bush, he said things straight. I needed to tell him something to make sure his attention would go on to the next girl and I wouldn’t feel so tempted by him. I wrapped my arms around myself, because telling him just a small part of my truth made me feel like my insides would burst and I’d be nothing more than dust. “Look, I was with someone for a long time. We had to go our separate ways, but I’m still in love with him. I don’t...want anybody else. So...this is weird for me. I’m sorry, if I’m giving you any signals. I really don’t want to be with anyone but him.”
Shane’s expression didn’t change.
“Ever. Especially with anyone who would think I was only worth one night of their existence,” I whispered. I looked down humiliated. I could feel the blush on my face heat my cheeks and spread down my neck. I wasn’t special, was I? Maybe Azazel was right, maybe he wouldn’t want me anymore. I looked back up to Shane; his lips were turned down and his eyebrows pulled together as if I had hurt him. Like I could ever hurt someone like Shane. I needed to get away from this life. It confused me and bothered me and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed with this man and pretend that I was really Grace. Grace would probably hate herself in the morning when she left the Bone Room, but I bet he would have made her feel loved for a few hours.
I walked out of Shane’s room and exhaled. I walked into the bathroom and ran the cold water over my hands until I was numb. I shouldn’t care what Shane thinks or what Shane feels, but that was the problem; I did. This life was too confusing and I was losing sight of what I set out to do, and Azazel was trying to kill me.
Lea’s muffled calls through the door snapped me out of my thoughts. She knocked once and came in. “How did I know you’d be doing this?” Grabbing my hands from under the icy stream, she wrapped a towel around them and held them to her chest. “Is this really the only way you can let off steam? Or whatever it is you’re trying to do?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I called my boss and told her everything that happened last night and she gave me the next two weeks off, can you believe that? I hope it doesn’t take two weeks to find that lunatic. I’m so freaking scared.”
“I think maybe I shouldn’t go with you guys today. Maybe I should go someplace else and...”
“Shut up! Shut up! I don’t want to hear about want you want,” she snapped. “There is somebody out there who has tried to kill you. Twice! I know you think you have some sort of in with whatever supreme beings there are out there, but this is the real world and I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit! You can’t go off the deep end with me here. Don’t do stupid things because Jacob and your parents are gone and now you think you’re alone. I’m still here, Grace! You promised me that you’d never do anything to hurt yourself again, you promised me!”
I did. I did promise when we were sixteen and she found me after I tried to end my life. She not only found me, but she also saved me. She had said she dreamt about a beautiful angel with giant golden wings that told her where to find me. I couldn’t doubt her dream, and I couldn’t doubt it was an angel, because that would have been the only way anyone would have known how or where to find me.
I had left early for school that snowy morning, before Lea had even woken up. I had been involved in an early morning music program, so she should have never doubted me being there. Instead of taking the bus to school, I hopped on the train and got off in a remote area that was surrounded by the Jamaica Bay wildlife refuge. I walked at least two miles into the thick forest. There was about three to four inches of snow covering the ground. I brushed my footprints over with a large pine needle branch that I yanked off a tree. Leaning up against a cold tree, I took a razor to my wrists; no tears, no regrets. I didn’t want Grace Taylor’s life; the life of a teenage girl who had just lost her parents, and needed to learn to walk again after her body was mangled in a car wreck. No more damage was evident on the outside of her body, but the inside was messed up and I didn’t want to be in there any longer. I couldn’t be inside the body of a teenager; all the heartache, all the need and hunger was constant. The worst part was her memories, so vivid and so real, I hated the fact that Grace was gone and I was there. She would have been something amazing one day. Instead, I was there, searching for someone.
I knew that Grace’s soul was gone, I knew, as always, that day when I got shoved in her body that there was no way I could save her, but I tried. For the first time, I tried to fight the pull of my spirit. I wanted her to live. My God, she was only fourteen years old. Her parents were driving her to buy a dress for her very first dance. She even had a date with the cutest boy in school, Lucas Fraser.
I fought against her body, but it consumed me; devoured me. I fought while her body laid in a coma in a hospital bed for a little over six months. It was then that Gabriel had come to me, the first time in lifetimes. I had thought I was forgotten, but he held my soul in his arms until I woke up as Grace, calming my spirit.
Gabriel had told Lea where to find me that day. He woke her up five minutes after I had left, so I wouldn’t have too much time alone. She followed his instructions exactly, bringing along a first aid kit complete with Steri-strips and surgical dressings.
Lea stared those terrified brown eyes at me in the bathroom, repeating her mantra, “You promised me.”
“I know I did, and I’m not doing anything to put myself in Carl Sumpton’s path. I don’t even know who he is, but I’m sort of thinking that he’s really not Carl Sumpton. Like maybe he’s something...else.”
Her eyes widened and she immediately started to hyperventilate. “What?” she panted, grabbing at my shoulders.
“Come on, Lea. Carl Sumpton was dying in a hospital last week, and now he’s running around trying to kill me?” I didn’t want to scare her with the story of my little talk with the dying body of Carl Sumpton. Lea was too good, too innocent to be involved in this. “I just think that there’s something else going on and I don’t want you and Conner involved. I just want to get you guys far away from me and whatever or whoever is after me.”
“No. No, no, no,” she was shaking her head so hard I thought she might snap it right off. “You are coming with us and Conner, Shane, Ethan and even Tucker. They are going to protect us.” Grasping my shoulders tighter, she pleaded, “Promise me.”
Hesitating for only a second, I sighed heavily, “Sure, I promise.”
Her shoulders relaxed and she exhaled long and slow. Grabbing me in her arms, she hugged me tight. “Gabriel would never let anything happen to you. He always gets someone to save your sorry butt anyway.”
I wondered where her strong faith had come from. “Why do you think that?”
She stepped back and gave me a curious look. “Every time you come close to kicking the bucket, someone is always there. Me, Shane. I wonder if Shane had a dream about the fire. We were all asleep; he was on the couch, so how could he have known?”
I stepped away from her and opened the bathroom door. Turning back, I looked at her from the doorway. “What you don’t seem to understand is that I will go on, and I don’t want you guys to get hurt. This is your life, Lea. Mine was over centuries ago, but you have the future, things to hope for and look forward to. I’m just here for one thing. I don’t want anything to happen to you or Conner, even Shane or Tucker, because you’re all trying to save me.” I walked into the hallway.
“But you did promise me, so you’re coming with us,” she called from the bathroom.
The living room had a mountain of duffel bags piled on the middle of the floor. Hushed voices were coming out of the kitchen, along with the sounds of plates hitting against each other; everyone was eating.
I lingered a bit in the hallway before entering the kitchen. I hated that everyone thought they needed to save me when it wasn’t their problem, or their fight. The truth was that I needed to find Azazel; I needed to figure out why he wanted me gone. I needed to find Gabriel and see if he could tell me anything, and I could do neither with everyone around me trying to watch out for mad men.
“Hey, there she is! Good afternoon, Beautiful! It’s about time you got up!” Tucker sang. He was sitting at our small kitchen table shoving a bagel in his mouth. Ethan and Conner sat around the table doing the same thing. Shane sat quietly on the countertop and didn’t even lift his head when I walked in. Another guy leaned against the counter closest to me, holding a bagel and coffee in his hands, I didn’t even look up at him, I guessed it was Tucker’s cousin Blake. Lea walked in behind me.
I nodded in Tucker’s direction and walked straight to the Box of Joe that Ethan had bought and poured myself some coffee.
Tucker cleared his throat and started barking out commands, “So, Grace, we are going to be taking your Jeep and Blake’s truck. As soon as you are ready, we can leave. I’ll drive your Jeep and you can just sit and enjoy the ride.”
I looked up from stirring the sweetener into my coffee. “I’m driving my Jeep, Tucker. And I have no clothes, since my bedroom somehow caught fire last night, so before I go on your little trip, I’d like to stop at a store and buy some clothes, so I don’t have to stay in Shane’s tee-shirt and boxers the whole time I’m there. When you guys are ready, you can leave, and I’ll be about an hour behind you. Just give me the address. I have a GPS, so I’ll be fine.”
Lea started to argue, but a voice I’d not heard before interrupted her, “Well, that sounds like a plan then. If you’d like, I can stay behind and keep you company, and make sure nothing else happens.”
I snapped my head to the direction of the new voice. It was soft velvet and sweet; reminding me of melted caramel.
Blake stood there casually leaning his back against the cabinets. His skin was so pale it was almost white, until my eyes met his and a splash of crimson shot across his cheeks. He was very handsome, with a lean muscular build. Light brown hair hung messy and sexy over his head, but I barely saw any of it. I fixated on his eyes, his ancient pale blue eyes, which were looking profoundly back into mine.
“Hi,” he said with his cheeks turning brighter. “I’m Blake, Tucker’s cousin.”
I froze, unable to speak. I held his gaze. It was all I could do to keep myself composed and not throw myself at him. I hoped no one noticed how fast my heart was pounding against my chest or how my hands clammed up and balled into fists, trying to hold myself back from reaching out to touch him.
Tucker shot up and leaned into the space between Blake and me, folding his arms. His face was tight and possessive. “Thanks cuz, but I don’t want to be responsible for your brand new truck,” he said eyeing Blake. “Besides, Grace doesn’t even know you, so I don’t think she’d be that comfortable driving with you, since her feelings for her safety have been questioned lately.” Crap, I hated lawyers. It would look completely horrible for me to drive with someone I just met, but I needed to be alone with him somehow. I needed him to know who I really was. Finally. He had to be Shamsiel!
Blake pushed himself off the counter and looked down at Tucker as if he was trying to scare him. I could smell the testosterone in the air. Everyone in the kitchen had stopped talking and watched the exchange between them.
Shane jumped off the counter and strolled passed us as if nothing was going on. When he reached where I stood, he turned to Tucker and Blake, who were standing toe to toe with each other fists clenched. “Wow, this is like mating season at the zoo. Why don’t I go with Grace later after she picks up what she needs? After all, everyone knows there will never be anything between Grace and me. Ever.” He emphasized the word ever and looked at me through his icy blue eyes.
Shane’s words seemed to do something to Blake, because he seemed even angrier, but he backed off Tucker all the same.
Blake stepped towards Shane, but Shane sidestepped him and ignored the advance. Shane just walked closer to me and gently escorted me out of the kitchen and back down the hallway to his room, “You have a strong effect on people, don’t you?”
I could still barely speak. I just stood in the center of his room and stared at the door. My mind tried to formulate coherent thoughts, but I was just grasping for straws. I couldn’t think logically, because all I could see in my mind were those ancient blue eyes.
Lea walked in Shane’s room and jolted me back to reality. She shot me a wide-eyed look that expressed her concern about what had just happened. “What in the world was that about?”
Forgetting Shane was in the room with us, I grabbed at her hands, my heart beating wildly. “Did you see the color of his eyes?”
She gave me a perplexed look. I heard Shane behind us stop what he was doing and he turned to listen. I glanced at him and just shrugged my shoulders like nothing mattered. I leaned in close to Lea and whispered softly, hoping Shane couldn’t hear, “He has the exact color that I’ve been looking for.”
Lea’s eyes danced with understanding, “Are you effing serious? Are you positive?” She started pacing and dancing around.
“What are you two whispering about? What have you been looking for?” Conner asked walking in. He nodded to Shane after, “Someone has got to talk to Tucker, he’s obsessed. And did you see him and Blake? Dude, I thought it was going to come to blows.”
Shane said nothing; he just stared at me, waiting for me to say something. I let go of Lea and tried to act calm and restrained. “I just think that everyone is a bit nervous and out of sorts because of what’s going on, that’s all. Everyone’s on edge, so we definitely should get out of the city and up to Tucker’s as soon as we can. It’ll make everyone relax and we won’t have to look over our shoulders for a while.” I watched Shane for a reaction.
“Do you want me to stay here and drive up with you? It’s up to you, nobody should make the call for you,” Shane said.
“That’s fine,” I answered. Turning my head to Lea, I continued, “I’ll just run to the store quickly, I promise I’ll be right behind you guys.”
My choice seemed to settle everybody down, even Tucker and Blake. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him as they packed his truck with the duffel bags in the falling snow. He couldn’t keep his eyes off me either and before he left, he walked past me and looked right into my eyes. “Be as quick as...humanly possible,” he grinned. I almost fainted. I toyed with the idea of just grabbing a handful of Shane’s clothing, or sharing Lea’s, but none of it made sense. Just a few more hours, it wasn’t as if it would be a few more lifetimes. My heart catapulted through the air.
I took exactly thirty minutes in the department store, grabbing whatever I could, not even trying anything on. Shane just walked beside me wherever I went, holding bags and cracking jokes that made me laugh out loud, literally.
We rushed home and I tossed everything I bought into the huge backpack I had purchased along with my clothes. My phone ringing its sirens, alarming me of a text message, was the only thing that slowed me down.
New Text Message
Lea: 2:45 pm
Are you sure this is him? He’s an a$$hole.
Me: 2:45 pm
IDK! Not like anyone gave me a chance to talk 2 him!
Lea: 2:47 pm
Bad feeling. Rethink ur options
Me: 2:49 pm
WTF are you taking about?
Lea: 2:51 pm
The next message was a multimedia one sent from Lea’s phone. I left Shane in the living room watching the news about the slow moving snowstorm, while packing his belongings as slowly as he could. I locked myself in the bathroom and clicked on the message.
She had recorded some of their conversation in Blake’s truck. The conversation was between Tucker and Blake placing bets on who would bag me first, and they were up to one thousand dollars. Lea’s caption read: Isn’t Acting Like Much of an Angel.
The second multimedia message was from Conner’s phone. I pressed the icon and immediately heard myself playing my guitar. Conner’s camera phone scanned across the studio to Shane’s expression. It was an awestruck Shane. I had brought him to his knees. Conner focused in on Shane’s face, tears welled in his eyes; desire and love shining over his face. It made me breathless, watching his perfect features watch me with such intensity and longing.
Shane banged on the bathroom door bringing me to my senses. I needed to get to Blake to see if he was whom I’d been searching for. Yes, God yes, I loved the way I had just seen Shane look at me, but we all knew that look would only last one night. Even if Blake wasn’t my angel, I couldn’t settle for someone like Shane. Grace was worth more, I was worth more.