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Michael: Path of Angels: Book One


Patricia Josephine






Michael

Path of Angels

Book One


Patricia Josephine



Copyright 2015 by Patricia Josephine (Patricia Lynne)

http://www.patricialynne.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places of incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by: Alexandria N. Thompson; GothicFate.com









Acknowledgement

I want to say thank you to all my cheerleaders. The writing friends I’ve made, who pushed me and never let me slack off. Family and friends who bugged me about the next book. My hubby for putting up with me when all I wanted to do was write and not worry about dinner.

Thanks to Alexandria for the beautiful cover. We sure had a tricky time getting it right, but once we did, everything else fell into place. Thanks to my beta readers and critique partners, Melissa, Elsie, MaryBeth, Erin, and Daniel. Your feedback was invaluable. Also, thanks to J.T., my editor. You helped me polish this story so it shined.

Lastly, thanks to everyone who has read my stories, whether it be this new series or my young adult novels. I’ll eat a cookie in your honor.









Other Books in the Path of Angels Series


Zadekiel, Book Two

Jophiel, Book Three

Gabriel, Book Four






Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

About the Author






Chapter One

Cars drove past the alley’s mouth, their headlights briefly illuminating the dark like flashes of lightning. Rats scurried along brick walls, noses and ears twitching as they foraged for food among the filth littering the ground. At the end of the dead-end street was a metal door so rusted it was barely distinguishable from the brick.

Michael summoned his strength before calling his sword. The carved hilt filled his hand a heartbeat later, molding perfectly to his grip. Yellow and orange flames burst from the blade and flooded the alley with light. He turned to his brothers. Zadekiel stood closest to him, ax in hand. Shadows danced across his brown skin. Jophiel and Gabriel were behind him, Joe’s spear drawn. A muscle twitched in Gabe’s jaw; his sapphire eyes were hard, fists clenched. They were ready for what lay behind the door.

A strange phenomenon bound the four of them. Born minutes apart, their births had overwhelmed the small hospital in Monroe. Michael had always figured the odds of that happening in their town was a billion to one. Inseparable from the first day of Sunday school, the four boys had become best friends who looked out for each other as the biological brothers they were denied.

“Ready when you are,” Zade whispered.

Despite its decrepit state and broken handle, the door opened without a sound. The brothers rushed into the apartment, surprising the dozen occupants. Their shock was short lived. The men and women sprang to their feet, emanating a wave of cold so strong it knocked over chairs. Their faces twisted into snarls as they lunged forward. Michael’s sword sang as it cut through flesh and bone with ease. He was already turning to face his next opponent before the first body hit the floor.

Across the room, Joe struggled with his own foe. The man’s nails sharpened to talons and he slashed Joe’s chest. Joe cried out in pain, even as he threw the man against the wall and slammed his spear into the man’s neck. With a grunt, Joe yanked his weapon free. Fire crackled as he whirled around, Michael slicing a woman in half as she flew at Joe.

The last enemy hit the floor with a heavy thud. Michael moved to the center and raised his sword. Heat erupted from the blade and encircled the room, incinerating the bodies until nothing but ash remained. Its job completed, Michael released the weapon and it vanished. Silence fell over the apartment.

Would this path ever end?

Michael had always been devout. Most of his childhood, he served as an altar boy at his hometown church. Joe had often teased that Michael’s blond hair and sky-blue eyes primed him for the part. He continued the role into his teenage years––no other boy had seemed up to the task. It was at mass, the Sunday before his sixteenth birthday, when a light, so bright it hurt his eyes, had whisked him away from the congregation. Michael discovered that there was something more important than his driver’s permit. God spoke to him for the first time, revealing he and his brothers were archangels and must fulfill their duty. Born as mortals, they were tasked with finding escaped fallen angels and sending them back to Hell. Their lives, so ordinary, were left behind.

Shaking off the memory, Michael held out his hand and helped Joe to his feet.

“Thanks,” Joe grunted, pressing a hand to his wounds. His tanned skin had become pale, and pain shimmered in his brown eyes.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael said.

Gabe and Zade slung Joe’s arms over their shoulders and they followed Michael back into the alley. Their feet dragged as they walked. The city eagerly accepted them, swallowing them into the flow of late-night inhabitants. Not a single pair of eyes glanced in their direction or took note of their bloodied and ash-covered clothing. Michael hated the feeling of being invisible, but until they could heal Joe’s injuries and get cleaned up, they had to remain unseen.

They took the back stairwell to their room on the fifth floor of the massive hotel. Crisp, cold air from the air conditioner dried the sweat covering them. Zade collapsed into the nearest chair with a groan, while Gabe laid Joe on the bed and stripped away his blood-soaked shirt.

“Got you good this time,” Gabe chuckled.

Joe laughed, then winced. “No shit, Sherlock.”

“Wonder why so many were gathered in one place,” Zade mused.

“Who cares?” Joe scoffed. “Makes killing them and sending them back to Hell easier.”

“You shouldn’t be happy about destroying a life,” Michael said softly. He handed Gabe a cloth and bowl of warm water.

Joe’s snort turned into a hiss of pain as Gabe cleaned his wounds. “You’re such a goody two-shoes, Mike. They’re fallen angels. They deserve to die. If they didn’t want to be hunted down, then they should have stayed in Hell where they belong. Or not have listened to Lucifer in the first place.”

“Jophiel,” Zade scolded. “You know better than to speak his name.”

Joe’s face softened. “Sorry, Mike.”

“It’s okay,” Michael said, even though it wasn’t. Out of the four of them, he was the only one to regain their memories of their lives in Heaven. He remembered every beautiful moment with clarity. Often, he wished for the bliss of ignorance his brothers had.

Someone has to know.

The voice was the same whisper he had heard four years ago. Back then he had assumed it was God speaking, but now he knew better. It was Metatron, the angel tasked with delivering God’s word.

Michael hung his head. I know, but it’s painful to remember the beauty and peace. Being with our siblings… His betrayal.

Morning Star hurt us all when he rebelled, Metatron replied. But it cannot be undone. We must move forward.

Where do we go next?

Not far. Many Fallen hide within this city’s bowels. They seek the corrupt, twisting them to their needs. They hide in the darkness, waiting.

Okay, no need to get poetic on me.

Michael sensed Metatron’s annoyance before he spoke. If you head to the water, along the docks, you will find a lair of corruption. Hidden among the humans are the ones you seek. Destroy them.

We will. Michael focused back on the hotel room. “Get some sleep, guys. This city needs a lot of cleansing.”

With Joe’s wounds bandaged, he and Gabe settled onto the bed. Zade and Michael stretched out on the floor. As he drifted away, he remembered that cold winter day four years ago. The biggest moment of his life had been around the corner as he had counted down the days until his driver’s permit would be in his hands. His heart squeezed in longing for the past. No worries about fallen angels or a divine duty. The only thing that had mattered was the permit and the world it would have opened for him.

***

An empty pizza box sat on top of the small TV, where a sitcom played on mute. Clothing was piled on a faded brown couch along with magazines and mail. More littered the living room floor; only enough space for a slim person to walk to the kitchen was clear. A woman was slouched in the chair next to the couch. Her chin was tipped to her chest, her eyes closed, and an empty bottle hung loosely in her hand.

Lake Divine crept past the woman as he crossed the cluttered living room. For good measure, he held his breath as he moved through the kitchen. A round table and chairs partially obscured the narrow hallway leading to the bedrooms. There, he glanced back to ensure she was still asleep. Yes. Good. He turned back to the hallway, kneeing one of the chairs. The metal leg scraped loudly on the tiled floor. Lake froze.

Please don’t wake up. Please don’t wake up.

“Huh? Wut’s goin’ on?” The bottle thudded to the floor as the woman’s head jerked up.

Lake grimaced and moved to her side and picked up the bottle. “It’s only me, Mom.”

Disgust darkened Melody Divine’s eyes. “What are you doing? Don’t you have your whore boyfriend to take care of you? Why are you always bothering me? Go away.”

A lump lodged in Lake’s throat, but he ignored it. “Sorry I bugged your sleep. I was grabbing something from my room.”

“Be quiet next time,” Melody grumbled. “And don’t forget to bring me a forty when you come back. Be useful for once in your life.”

“I’m only seventeen. What do you want me to do? Steal it?” Lake muttered, too low for her to hear. Arguing with his mom would do no good. She’d just yell louder until he agreed to get her the alcohol she wanted even though he’d never get away with shoplifting it. Then he’d be in more trouble.

He shut the door to his room and pushed a broken folding chair under the knob. He gave his mom a few minutes to pass out again before retrieving the cigar box from under his bed. Inside were a roll of bills held together by a rubber band, a lighter, and a few coins. He picked up one of the coins and placed it in the palm of his hand. It had been a find, shining on the ground and drawing his attention. The strange symbols had filled him with excitement. If only he knew what country it had originated from.

Putting the coin back, he pulled some bills out of the wad. He stuffed the cash in his pocket and hid the box. His mom didn’t stir as he passed her this time. He let out a sigh when he made it outside. She was moody when she got drunk.

And she was always drunk.

Lake didn’t blame his mother for her constant drunken stupor. He’d want to drown the memories too if he were in her shoes. His father left her—despite claims of true love—while she was pregnant with him, never to be heard from again.

That didn’t mean it didn’t hurt every time Melody looked at him with hatred, a sneer twisting her lips. He was a reminder of his father and nothing more. Sometimes he mused about running away and living on the streets, but he didn’t have the courage to leave his home. It was far from perfect, but he had a roof over his head and three meals a day.

It took him about ten minutes to reach the docks. A bouncer guarded the entrance to the warehouse-turned-club, sunglasses hiding his eyes as he allowed people inside. Colorful lights flashed along the high row of windows, and music blasted whenever the door opened. A line stretched along the building to the packed parking lot. He joined the end, gripping the bills tightly. If he was lucky, a bribe would get him inside. If not…

“Be confident. You can do this,” he muttered.

The bouncer scowled when Lake stood before him a half hour later. Muscles flexed as he folded his arms across his broad chest. “I told you to split.”

“No, you told me to run home and grab a few extra Washingtons.” Lake flashed the money.

“No, I said split, punk.”

Damn. Bribery wasn’t working, but he wasn’t too surprised. He only had a few measly dollars to offer. Time for tactic two: seduction. Fear surged up Lake’s throat as he stepped closer to the bouncer but he swallowed it. He trailed his hands over the bouncer’s tight shirt and coarse denim. The bouncer frowned, but didn’t back away. Lake pressed a little harder, making no effort to hide his groping from the waiting patrons. No one would be shocked. Dozens of others had offered sex as opposed to money in order to gain access to the club. This particular bouncer showed no preference of gender.

The bouncer unclipped his walkie-talkie from his belt. “Hey, Ricky.”

“Yeah, what’s up, Axel?” a crackling voice replied.

“Cover me. I need a break.”

It didn’t take long for Ricky, another testosterone-fueled bouncer, to appear. Axel, the one Lake was attempting to seduce, hauled him inside the club and into a small office. The door clicking shut sent chills down his spine. His panic almost exploded when huge hands circled his neck.

Axel’s breath was hot against his ear. “Let’s make this quick, punk.”

Lake worked some moisture into his mouth. By some miracle his voice didn’t betray the terror he felt. “Like I’d let you touch me.”

Spots exploded before his eyes when Axel slammed him against the wall. His arms were pinned behind his back with one hand while the other pawed at his jeans, ripping the button and tearing the zipper. He struggled to contain his fear and focus. He could do this.

Tuning out the rough groping, Lake dug deep inside himself. Cold spread through him like calming water when he found what he searched for. It reached to his fingers and toes, pooling around his shoulder blades.

“What the fu—” Axel took a step back, his hands dropping to his sides.

Lake cut him off with a word. “Sleep.” He pressed his palm against Axel’s forehead, letting the cold seep into the large man. Images of violent sex flickered through Lake’s thoughts. Once he was certain the bouncer was lost in dreams of sadistic dominance, he stepped back. His tension whooshed out of his lungs and he leaned against the desk to take some weight off his shaking legs. That had been too close for comfort. But it worked, just like other times he had used seduction to get what he wanted. Once he released the coldness, he could put his victim into a slumber and give them dreams about what they desired. And the most important part: they never laid a finger on him.

A glimpse of his reflection in the glass of a photo frame made Lake pause. Eyes that were normally brown glowed red. Black, leathery wings sprouted from his back. The wings reminded him of bats. He hated bats. They scared the crap out of him, but he had no idea why. Long, black talons protruded from his fingertips. His skin, usually pale, looked sunburnt, and the veins under his skin appeared black. If he cut himself, what color would his blood be? He was too afraid to try. He’d rather pretend his blood was red.

The only thing about his appearance that didn’t change was his hair. It was still an unruly mass of black curls that refused to be tamed. He ran his clawed hands through it, focusing on the messy locks. The cold receded back inside him, where he caged it.

Lake sighed when he confirmed he was back to normal—or as normal as he could be. He worried about being unable to contain the cold. Yet each time, he was able to change back and knew the fear was irrational.

At the door, he paused and looked at the sleeping bouncer. A wicked grin filled Axel’s face. Limbs twitched and a soft moan escaped. Lake shuddered at the sound. If he hadn’t been able to do what he could with the cold, Axel’s dream would have been real and his nightmare. He slipped out the door, leaving the disturbing thought and Axel behind, and headed into the club.

Smoke hung heavy in the air, patrons moving through it like ghosts. A bar stretched across one wall and tables surrounded small stages decorated with poles where scantily clad men and woman slid up and down in simulated acts of sex. More people clothed in next to nothing strutted between the tables to serve drinks.

In the far corner, a group of men ogled a dancer. They wore business suits, but their ties were pulled loose. Did their wives know they were here, stuffing money into a man’s thong? The men cheered as the dancer unraveled himself from a hot pink boa that clashed with his dark brown skin. The dancer looped it around a man’s neck and pulled him to the stage. He ground against the eager man before pushing him back. His friends caught him, giving him congratulatory thumps. Eventually, they stumbled off, out of money, and left Lake alone with the dancer.

“Tyler, when is your shift over?”

“Lake!” The dancer whirled around, his eyes widening. “What are you doing here?”

“I…I thought I’d drop by for a surprise visit. Haven’t seen you in a few days. I’ve missed you, Ty.”

“I told you when I’m working call me by my stage name, Hawt Chocolate.”

“I hate that name,” Lake grumbled. “It’s too cliché.” He pulled a few bills free. Tyler—Hawt Chocolate—strutted over and let Lake stuff them into his garter belt. “Are you going to be done soon?”

Hawt Chocolate plucked his boa up. “Yeah, but I can’t see you, honey. I—”

“Don’t call me that,” Lake interrupted. “I know you dig the flamboyant, prancing-around gay persona, especially on the job, but I don’t. Just call me Lake.”

“I’m not repressing my inner gay,” Hawt Chocolate retorted. He winked at a man passing. The glitter caked on his eyelids sparkled under the low lighting. “And neither should you.”

“I’m not gay, I’m bisexual, remember? I like girls too,” Lake lied.

“Why not find a girlfriend then?” Hawt Chocolate bent backwards and lifted a leg. Lake was surprised nothing popped out of his thong.

“Haven’t met a girl I wanted to date,” Lake lied again. He hated how Tyler threw the fact that he’d never had a normal relationship in his face.

All his life, Lake had been a loner. From kindergarten through middle school and into high school, his classmates had avoided him. Only bullies interacted with him, and that was to shove him into lockers or his head into toilets. The isolation stung, but he refused to admit it. Instead, he pretended it was his choice to turn to prostitutes and strippers for contact. It was how he had met Tyler. He had snuck into the club and saw him dancing. Afterward, he asked Tyler if he could go home with him. They headed to Tyler’s plush apartment where Lake gave him a blowjob, and then Tyler passed out from drinking too much. The next night, Lake returned to the club. He twisted Tyler’s pity for him into something that could pass for a weak excuse of a relationship.

But his time with Tyler was ticking down. Already Tyler was finding ways to avoid him, screening calls, and taking other men home for sex. It wouldn’t be long before Lake was alone again.

“Why can’t I see you tonight?” Desperation had him asking the question he already knew the answer to. Maybe if he played tonight right he could prolong the inevitable. Have a little more time with another person and not feel like a waste of space.

Hawt Chocolate dipped down to Lake’s level. Alcohol and weed were thick on his breath. “I’m going to a… party.”

“You mean you’re going to an orgy? Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Hawt Chocolate shrugged. “You have a problem with that?”

“It seems unsafe. You don’t know where those men’s dicks have been.”

“You’re too uptight.” Hawt Chocolate snorted. “If you’re worried about me, come.”

“No, I’ll pass.” Lake shuddered involuntarily.

“Suit yourself.” A satisfied smirk tugged at Hawt Chocolate’s lips. “Watch out. Here comes the boss lady.”

The owner of the club, Mistress Valerie, stalked toward them. Lake jumped onto the stage and darted behind the curtain, dodging dancers preparing to perform. He was almost to the emergency exit when someone yanked him back.

Mistress Valerie scowled at Lake as Ricky dragged him to her. Tight black leather pushed her breasts up until they almost spilled out. A whip hung at her bony hip—a constant companion. Being close to her sent shivers racing down his spine and turned his stomach. There was something evil about her; he felt it deep down where the cold lay inside him.

“I told you never to come back here.” Her red lips pulled back as if to snarl at him. He could imagine her ripping someone’s throat out like a rabid dog. “I don’t need you distracting my workers.”

“I just came to watch Ty…er, Hawt Chocolate. He’s my favorite.”

“Of course, you did.”

Lake held out his money. “I’m a paying customer.”

Mistress Valerie snatched the bills from Lake and tucked them into her cleavage. Ricky held Lake back when he protested, keeping him out of reach. She gave him a stiff smile that was more like a grimace, and nodded to Ricky. “Escort this unruly customer to the door.”

Lake didn’t fight as Ricky picked him up and proceeded to throw him outside. He landed on his shoulder with a painful thud. Wincing, he climbed to his feet and brushed the gravel off himself. The people in the line gawked at his ungraceful exit. Only a small group of young men reacted with concern. One guy reminded him of the star football player in his grade. Tall, broad shouldered, baby blue eyes, and styled blond hair. Lake had no doubt the guy had a perfect smile and dimples.

Lake plastered a cocky grin on his face and met the blond man’s gaze. “Have a great time tonight.”






Chapter Two

Gabe appeared like a phantom through the smoke, swatting at it and coughing. “Aren’t cigarettes banned from public buildings?”

Michael smirked. “I think breaking the law is the least of this club’s worries.” He turned back to the thin women standing at the end of his sword. “Where are the others?”

The wide-eyed look lasted only a second. Her lips peeled back from her teeth, canines elongating as her skin darkened to a deep shade of red. She shifted into a crouch, taloned hands curling into fists. Her answer was a hiss.

She recoiled when Michael pressed the flaming blade to her chin, making her skin sizzle. “Where are your siblings and offspring hiding? Tell me now.”

Fallen angels weren’t the only beings Michael and his brothers hunted. They were also tasked with finding their half-breed offspring as well. The children lived among humanity, unaware of the darkness flowing through their veins until their Fallen parent found them and showed them the evil power they possessed.

The one before Michael was a Fallen. The telltale sign was her true appearance. Her carefully constructed mask now gone, she was nothing more than a walking skeleton that hinted at a beauty now lost to darkness. Tattered and dirty feathers clung to the bony protrusions on her back—the remains of once magnificent wings. Her sunken eyes churned with malice.

“She’s not cooperating,” Joe said.

“Guess we have to do it the hard way,” Gabe added.

“Damn. I was hoping for an easy night,” Zade said, and sighed dramatically.

“Guess so,” Michael agreed. “Tear this place apart, find the rest and destroy them.”

“What about you?” Zade asked.

Michael turned to the Fallen before him. “I’ll take care of her.”

She snarled. “You can’t win. We’ll find a way to break free. I will come back!”

Michael closed his eyes briefly. “This is my duty. I will send you back to where you belong.” He separated her head from her body with one clean stroke. A touch of his sword reduced the corpse to nothing. “Every time.”

Stifling silence filled the room as Michael moved among the overturned tables and chairs. Most of the patrons had fled when the fight broke out. Every now and then, he stopped to incinerate a Fallen body with his sword. He found his brothers gathered in a small office at the front of the club. A huge bouncer slumbered on the floor, his face twisted into a sinister smile. A human, Michael sensed. Fallen possessed a coldness that gave him chills when he was near them. He knelt next to the body and pressed his fingers to the man’s forehead. Goose bumps crawled up his arm and violent images flashed through his mind. He yanked his hand away as if shocked.

“What is it, Mikey?” Zade asked.

“It’s like he is stuck in a dream,” Michael replied.

“Can you wake him?”

“Not sure.” Michael touched the bouncer’s face and the images flooded his thoughts again: men and women tied up, their faces contorted in pain. He pulled away, blowing out a shaky breath. “I don’t know how to wake him, and she’s back in Hell now.”

“It’s okay, you didn’t know,” Zade said softly.

A lump rose up Michael’s throat. “We should have searched for victims first. We know how ruthless the Fallen are. They use people as pawns all the time. We could have saved him.”

“There’s a chance he’ll wake before—” Joe started.

“Before he starves to death? He is stuck. Helpless,” Michael snapped. He sucked in a breath. “Sorry.”

“We understand,” Zade assured him. “We’ll put him somewhere safe and call 911. Maybe with time, whatever she did to him will wear off and he’ll wake. There’s still hope.”

Joe and Gabe nodded in agreement. Michael smiled, grateful for his brothers. They not only fought together, but also cried and mourned together. They helped each other carry the burden of their duty. Without his brothers, he’d never be able to do the job God had assigned to him. He needed the indestructible bond that had been forged the day they were born.

They carried the sleeping bouncer outside. Michael arranged the man’s hands over his chest while Zade called 911.

“I’ll pray for you,” Michael said before rising and facing his brothers. “Let’s finish and get out of here before the police arrive.”

***

Laughter boomed across the small café. People turned to look at the four young men in the corner booth. Zade banged his fist against the table while Michael clutched his sides. Joe wiped tears from his eyes. Gabe was the only one keeping himself under control. He smirked at the other three.

“You guys are idiots,” he said.

Michael stopped laughing but couldn’t repress his smile. There wasn’t enough joy in his life. Their duty dominated every waking moment. He took a swig of coffee. “We need to do this more.”

“What? Have coffee? I’m game.” Joe cackled.

“No. Laugh,” Michael replied. “We don’t get to do it much.”

They fell silent. Michael watched his brothers, knowing their thoughts were on the path their lives had taken. Their waitress, Anna, stopped to refill their coffees. She offered them a kind smile before turning her attention to other customers. Joe broke the solemn moment.

“I wouldn’t change a Goddamn thing.”

“Jophiel,” Gabe sighed.

“Hopeless,” Zade added.

Michael smiled. “I wouldn’t change a thing either.”

Zade shook his shoulders. “The wings could be a little smaller. Can’t unfurl them without hitting something and knocking it over.”

Michael chuckled. That was true. The wings were bulky, the cause of many broken items, and, naturally, a few accidents when they attempted to fly. Joe had broken a leg jumping off their hometown church’s steeple. Their departure was delayed a couple of months as a result. Michael hadn’t minded. He used the time to prepare for their journey and learn what he could about the Fallen they were tasked with hunting.

They paid for their coffees and left Anna a generous tip. Money was never an issue. On their journey, they always found someone who would give shelter or money. He was certain those people were chosen by God to aid them.

Spring was in the air as they left the Sunshine Café. The day was cloudless and warm, pigeons cooed and waddled to avoid pedestrians, and cars glided down the streets at a leisurely pace. It reminded Michael of another thing absent in their lives: peace. Like the laughter, they rarely got to enjoy happiness, too busy immersing themselves in violence and chaos. Michael sighed, taking the chance to relish the moment. At nightfall, it would end.

“That kid looks familiar.”

Gabe’s voice drew Michael’s attention. He quickly spotted the person in question. The boy looked seventeen or eighteen. His skin was pale, almost to the point that it didn’t look healthy. A mass of black curls offset his white skin and hung in his eyes. A faded black shirt hung loosely over his thin frame. His arms were folded tightly across his chest. Holes punctured his jeans, and his shoes were scuffed and worn.

“He was being kicked out of the club last night. Must have got caught trying to sneak in,” Zade replied. “Looks like a prime target for a Fallen.”

“Yeah,” Michael murmured. His breath stopped when the teen looked up and directly at him. Bitterness filled the teen’s chocolate-brown eyes, flashing like lightning. Anger and resentment whispered to Michael and made him shudder as if suddenly cold.

“Mike?” Joe’s voice shattered the connection and released Michael.

He shook his head. “Yeah, let’s get going. Long night ahead.”

“Metatron say something?” Gabe asked.

“No,” Michael sighed. “He hasn’t said anything since the other night. We’re gonna be here awhile, though. Lots of Fallen.”

Joe stretched. “On to the hunt!”

Gabe slapped Joe on the back. “Bring it on, baby. That’s half the fun.”

Michael glanced over his shoulder as they headed down the sidewalk. The spot the teen had occupied was empty. His heart constricted as he remembered his hate-filled eyes. I’ll pray for you.

***

A roar filled the night, echoing through the trailer park and intruding on Lake’s small bedroom. He clutched his pillow to his ears, but that did nothing to drown out the sound of the car’s engine. Did it ever occur to his neighbors that some people might actually be trying to sleep? The engine roared again and a dog added its bark to the noise. A voice hollered in victory.

Of course not. Why sleep when you can rebuild a car and give it a whirl?

The engine continued to rev, competing with the cheering. Lake forced his eyes shut, hoping fatigue would drag him back to sleep despite the noise. But he stayed awake. Finally, he climbed out of bed and headed down the hallway. A late-night infomercial was playing on the TV as he crept into the living room. Melody was passed out in her recliner, a half-empty glass sitting next to her on the floor.

Or half full, Lake told himself as he grabbed it. The alcohol tingled as it slid down his throat. He set the glass back down and went in search of more. Melody kept her alcohol hidden. Many of her drunken rages had been about him stealing her booze. Most of the time, her accusations were false. Not that he would admit when she was right. He knew where she stashed her booze and used the knowledge sparingly.

He picked the one with the highest proof. The golden liquid burned his tongue, causing tears to spring to his eyes. He stifled a cough and forced another gulp down. A few more drinks and the world wobbled when he stood. Perfect. He staggered back to his room and collapsed on the bed. Soon, the alcohol dragged him into blissful sleep.

***

Someone screeching forced Lake into consciousness. His eyes throbbed when he opened them. He hadn’t drunk that much, had he?

Melody towered over him, scowling at him like he was a puppy that had peed on a new rug. “Get up.”

Lake rolled over, pain shooting across his back. Using alcohol to sleep always caused him to change. He’d pass out looking normal and wake up with wings. Carefully maneuvering himself so as not to bend the leathery appendages, he turned to his mother. “What?”

“Don’t give me lip.” Melody eyed him with contempt. “You’re just like your father. No sense of responsibility while I slave away.”

“You’re on disability.”

Melody raised her hand as if to strike, but didn’t. “Ungrateful brat! Who feeds you? Keeps a roof over your head? Gives you money so you can buy clothes?”

“You.”

“Me,” Melody snapped. “If I had my way, I would have gotten rid of you a long time ago.”

“Too bad you didn’t throw me into a dumpster when I was born and save yourself the trouble of raising me,” Lake shot back. “But then you wouldn’t be getting those nice checks you use to buy more booze, would ya?”

Melody trembled with anger, but didn’t dispute him. How could she? It was the truth. She spun unsteadily on her heels, tripping as she stalked to the door. “Get rid of those things on your back and get ready for school.” The door slammed shut, causing a book to tumble off the dresser.

Running his talons through his curls, Lake focused on getting rid of those things on his back. Normal looking, he gathered semi-clean clothing and found his backpack. Slinging it over one shoulder, he trudged through the trailer. “Bye, Mom, see you after school.”

Melody grunted in reply. A drink was already in her hand. Lake bit back a comment that would have gotten him into more trouble, and headed out the door. A group was gathered at the trailer park entrance, waiting for the school bus. They glanced at him and then shuffled away.

Why did his father abandon him before he was born? Why leave him in this dump?

Maybe you’re not worth it, a voice whispered. He wanted nothing to do with his freak-of-nature son.

Lake scoffed. A girl eyed him suspiciously and scooted closer to the others. He didn’t need some internal voice telling him he was unwanted. The looks he received from everyone told him that.

Loser. Dork. Worthless. The list of insults thrown at him was never ending and the words cut deep. He struggled to keep his head up, reminding himself of the truth people didn’t know. One day, while scouring the Internet for answers as to why he sprouted bat-like wings, he stumbled upon the answer. The information had been sparse, but he pieced it together.

He was a Nephilim—the son of an angel. Hardly a freak of nature. If anything, Lake was divine.

The bus pulled up to the stop with a groan, and everyone climbed up the dirty steps. A foot caught his as he headed down the narrow aisle, and he flew forward. Laughter mocked him as he righted himself. He ducked his head to hide the red crawling up his cheeks and the tears in his eyes. Finding an empty seat, he slid as close to the window as possible, clutching his bag and reminding himself, Their laughter doesn’t matter. I’m part angel.

As the trailer park disappeared from sight, replaced by run-down city streets, the humiliation faded from Lake’s mind. His thoughts turned to the blond man he had seen outside the club and again yesterday. Tyler had blown him off, and he had been attempting to nurse his hurt feelings. He had also been avoiding going home and dealing with Melody. For a moment, when his gaze had met the blond man’s, the world stopped. Everything about Lake was laid out like dirty laundry. He felt shamed by the amount of anger he had displayed. Never in his life had he felt so exposed. When the man’s friends distracted him, Lake took the chance to flee.

Lake stared at his reflection in the bus window. He was part angel. That meant he was better than the blond. He mustn’t forget.

The bus arrived at the school, the breaks squeaking. Lake followed his classmates into the one-story building. Laughter and chatter filled the hallway, but he felt like a bubble surrounded him, stopping the cheer from reaching him. At his locker, he opened the door carefully. A few times, there had been surprises that blew up in his face. He wasn’t eager to spend the day covered in paint.

“Hey, River.”

Lake braced for impact, but no matter how prepared he was or how many times it happened, being slammed into a locker hurt. He picked himself up, rubbing his shoulder, and turned to the two bullies, Jason and Vincent Hawthorn. From kindergarten to present day, the brothers had made it their mission in life to torment him.

“Hey, Dumb and Dumber.”

It took a second for either of them to react to the insult. Jason shoved Lake against the locker again. Extra care was taken to make sure his face was pressed against the metal. The students passing walked faster.

“You need to learn some respect, River,” Jason growled.

“I’m working on it, but it’s hard when you two make it so easy,” Lake retorted.

His backpack torn from him and tossed aside. The brothers grinned as they crammed Lake into his locker. His teeth vibrated as the door banged shut.

Jason looked through the slots. “That ought to teach ya.”

“Have fun,” Vincent laughed.

Lake didn’t move as the two bullies left him. He didn’t call out to the passing students. Not even to plead for someone to get a teacher. He learned long ago help wouldn’t come. Either the teachers didn’t care or the classmate he asked never relayed the message. He wondered if deep down the people around him knew he wasn’t like them. Not that it made the shunning easier to endure.

The bell rang for class. Lake entertained the thought of staying in the locker. What if he died? How long before someone would notice the smell and open the door to investigate? Everyone would probably be happy he was dead. They’d throw a party.

I’m part angel, better than them.

He banished the bitterness and focused on the thought. The space in the locker shrank as he released the cold and his wings sprouted. He laid his hand against the metal and concentrated on lifting the handle with his power. The door popped open and he stumbled out. A quick glance around reassured him no one was present to witness him in his current state.

They would see your power and be afraid, the voice whispered.

Shut up, Lake replied. He caged the cold and headed for the exit. The doors banged against the walls as he shoved through them. I don’t need them to be afraid of me, and I don’t need school.

He made his way through the city. A knot had formed in his side by the time he reached Tyler’s apartment. Tyler would be home, since he was out of a job. A fire had destroyed Mistress Valerie’s club. It had been all over the news yesterday. The only survivor of the blaze was the bouncer who assaulted Lake, and he was in the hospital in a coma.

Unsurprisingly, Tyler didn’t answer Lake’s knock. He knocked for five minutes straight before giving up. He would have to find a different place to hide if he didn’t want the cops to catch him for truancy.

Only a few more months and that won’t matter. Lake struggled to smile at the thought.

His high school graduation was marred by his birthday the same week. He would turn eighteen, and then what? His mother would no longer get welfare checks for him. He didn’t know if she would kick him out. The streets he spent so much time on might be his new home soon.

Eventually, he found himself in the park. The trees and green always instilled the small area with peace and soothed any fears bothering Lake. The sounds of the city seemed far away, his problems someone else’s. He walked on the grass as opposed to the sidewalk. Why walk on hard cement that hurt his feet? A golden retriever bounded up to him, its tail whipping back and forth. It jumped up to hand him a Frisbee. When he scratched the dog’s ears, it leaned against him and almost knocked him over with its weight.

“Ginger!” The owner, an athletic woman in too-tight shorts hurried over. She eyed Lake suspiciously as she reached for the Frisbee, as if he planned to steal the chewed-up disk. He handed the toy over. She took it and left without saying thanks. A bitter memory forced its way to the front of his mind as she led the dog away.

In seventh grade, Lake’s teacher assigned the class to write about a happy moment and give an oral presentation. He had sat in his bedroom, staring at the blank piece of paper. There wasn’t a single happy moment he could recall. The closest was the foreign coin he found, but he felt stupid writing about it. His classmates would laugh at him. In the end, he refused to write it and took the F. As he listened to his classmates talk about happy moments, anger shook his body, and a seed of resentment planted itself in his mind, filling his thoughts and trying to rule his emotions. That day, the small voice was ruthless in its mocking.

“Stop thinking,” he muttered.

He found a bench to sit on and stared at the ground. People passed, no one paying him any attention. He counted the number of different sneakers, if only to distract him from the acidic thoughts eating him. A warm breeze ruffled his hair when a pair of feet stopped. The shoes were well-kept, lightweight running shoes. They looked expensive.

He could only imagine owning clothing that cost more than ten dollars and was less than five years old. Even though he didn’t want to, he looked up. The blond man stood before him, his blue eyes digging into him. Lake dropped his gaze before any emotions could be laid bare this time. “Can I help you?”

“I think you’re the one who needs help,” the man replied.






Chapter Three

Michael’s words propelled the teen to his feet. His hands turned into fists, the skin over his knuckles going bone white. Cold rage slammed against Michael like waves and made goose bumps race up his spine.

“Fuck off!”

The teen turned to storm away, but Michael stopped him. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

The teen looked at the hand clutching his arm. An emotion flitted across his face, but it passed too quickly for Michael to catch what it was. “Well, you did a shit job of it.”

“Let me make it up to you. I’ll buy you something to eat.”

“I’m not a charity case. Go find someone else to make yourself feel good about helping.” He yanked free of Michael’s grip and stalked across the grass.

Michael followed, easily keeping pace once he caught up. He gave a kind smile that was returned with a glare. Hate swirled around the teen, darkening the air. No one that young should be so full of anger. It oozed from his pores.

“My name is Michael.”

A grunt was the reply.

Michael didn’t let it deter him. “But my friends call me Mike. Sometimes Mikey, but I’m not fond of those nicknames. I like Michael the best. It sounds mature, don’t you agree?”

“I don’t care what your name is or why you like it or any of that stupid shit. Leave me alone.” The teen broke into a jog.

Michael kept up. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a police officer take notice of them. He picked up his pace and grabbed the teen’s arm again.

“Hey! Lemme go!”

Michael steered him toward the park’s exit. “Do you want to get busted for skipping school?”

The teen looked around, spotting the cop. His resistance vanished and he let Michael lead him out of the park. Only when Michael pulled him into the café where he and his brothers spent their free time drinking coffee did the teen hesitate. Michael urged him to keep moving, guiding him to a booth.

Anna appeared as if on cue. “Hey, Mikey. Surprised to see you here alone. Where are your brothers?”

“They’re busy, and I’m not completely alone.” Michael motioned to his companion.

Anna turned to the teen and the kindness disappeared from her expression. She turned back to Michael. “The usual?”

“And a menu for my friend.” Confusion crossed the teen’s face.

Anna pulled a menu from her apron and set it on the table before rushing off. Michael had never seen her treat a customer coldly. She usually had a smile and a hello for everyone.

Dismissing her unusual behavior, he settled back. “Order anything you want.”

The teen raised an eyebrow. “Anything?”

“Anything.”

Anna returned with Michael’s coffee. She hesitated before addressing the teen. Her smile was forced and her voice lacked her usual cheer. If anything, she sounded annoyed. “What do you want?”

“Grand Slam breakfast with pancakes and French toast. A side of bacon and ham. Cheeseburger with bacon, jalapenos, and the works, side of fries, and a large pop.” The teen’s expression dared Michael to go back on his word.

“Anything else?” Anna asked, her tone condescending.

Anger flashed across the teen’s face, but his voice was pleasant. “Can I get breakfast first, please?”

“Sure,” Anna replied acidly, then hurried off.

Michael didn’t speak. He sipped at his coffee. A grin tried to lift his lips but he fought it. In five, four, three, two…

“My name is Lake Divine.”

“Pleased to meet you, Lake Divine.”

Lake gawked at Michael as if a third eye had sprouted on his forehead. His reaction indicated that no one ever had said those words to Lake. No one was pleased to meet him. After Anna’s hostile reaction, Michael found it easy to believe. Anna was the kindest, most welcoming waitress he had ever met.

Anna returned, expertly balancing the first part of Lake’s order. Two plates of pancakes and French toast, another small plate with bacon and ham. She set the soda down last. Lake muttered thanks, but Anna ignored him.

“Tell me about yourself,” Michael suggested as he watched Lake shovel food into his mouth. When was the last time he had eaten? Definitely a while, judging by how thin he looked.

“What’s there to tell?” Lake replied. He took a long drink from the soda before going back to the food.

“Are you homeless?”

Lake froze with the fork halfway in his mouth. A glare darkened his features. “Why does it matter?”

Michael shrugged. “It doesn’t. How about this: how old are you?”

The glare deepened. “Twenty-one.”

“Bull,” Michael replied. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have freaked at the cop.”

“Maybe I didn’t want to get caught because I’m a criminal with a warrant out for my arrest. Maybe I was planning on robbing you.”

“I wouldn’t mind. You look like you could use some cash. All I’d ask is you get yourself a good meal,” Michael replied coolly.

The answer wiped the anger off Lake’s face. “I’ll be eighteen in a couple of months.”

The words held an underlying fear, as if Lake didn’t know what his fate would be when he reached that mark. Michael had no idea how to respond. He didn’t know Lake well enough to offer words of support. Lake returned to his food, cleaning all three plates in time for the burger and fries to arrive. He pulled the top off the burger and removed the tomato. Generous amounts of ketchup and mustard were added before the top was replaced. He froze with the burger poised before his mouth. Timidly pushing the fries towards Michael, he muttered, “You can have some if you want. I don’t think I can eat it all.”

***

The empty plates were piled on the table. Michael’s coffee had been refilled for a fifth time. Caffeine buzzed through his system, causing one foot to tap a frantic beat. The crash was going to be hell. Across from him, Lake was slumped back in the booth, his hands folded over his stomach. He had eaten all but five French fries. He looked better now. Pink flushed into his cheeks and gave him color. His drink was half full, and he downed it in one gulp.

“I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much.”

“You look like it,” Michael observed.

Lake shrugged, avoiding Michael’s eyes. “I get three meals a day. They just aren’t always the greatest.”

“And a bed to sleep in?”

Lake stared at the table, absently toying with a fork. “I have a home…kinda. My mom’s a drunk, so I have to look after myself.”

“What about your father?”

“What father?”

The two words held the majority of the anger and hate Michael glimpsed in Lake. He reached across the table and took Lake’s hand. Lake stilled, his eyes locked on their hands. Tears formed and Lake’s breath shook. He tried to speak, opening and closing his mouth several times.

“I better go,” he whispered finally.

He rushed out of the café, his head down and fists clenched at his sides. Michael threw enough money to cover the bill and tip on the table, then followed. He didn’t let Lake get far. “Lake, wait—”

“Everyone leaves me,” Lake blurted out. “They all look at me like I’m a freak. Why should you be any different?”

He pushed Michael into the shadows of an alley, the distance between them vanishing. The ability to function left Michael, and his thoughts ground to a halt at the feel of Lake’s mouth on his. He still couldn’t move when Lake stepped back.

“Thank you.” Lake whispered, turning away.

Desire exploded in Michael’s chest like a bomb. He grabbed Lake, pulling his thin frame against him and crushing their lips together. The taste of Lake on his tongue sent shivers down his spine. He moaned, hungry for more.

Michael.

He stumbled back, chest heaving and heart racing. His fingers brushed his lips and the lingering warmth. Without a word, he raced back to the hotel.

His heart continued to pound as he paced the empty room. What had happened back there? Why did he kiss Lake? Another man!

Michael bolted to the bathroom, throwing the water on and splashing it against his skin, but the cold water couldn’t douse the heat burning in him. The kiss had ignited a fire within him, desire racing through his veins, coursing to his groin. His eyes screwed shut, he leaned against the sink, taking deep, calming breaths, but his thoughts continued to rage.

What had come over him? Why would he commit such a sin? A man should not lie with another man. It was written in the Bible. There had to be an explanation. He must have tripped…Yeah, it was an accident. He had fallen forward and unintentionally kissed Lake.

Nothing happened.

Struggling to maintain the thought, Michael straightened. His jeans rubbed against the erection throbbing beneath his zipper. The friction caused a wave of pleasure to roll through him.

He should touch it.

Michael banished the idea. He had never pleasured himself, never given in to the temptation.

But the thought kept whispering to him, urging him to surrender. He dug his nails into his palms to still his twitching fingers. Sweat beaded across his brow and his hands ached from clenching them. The muscles in his legs and shoulders cramped as he forced himself to remain still and wait out the storm.

One touch wouldn’t hurt, would it?

The question meant he was giving in. He couldn’t stop himself as he squeezed the bulge beneath the tight denim. A groan vibrated in his throat. He fumbled with the button and zipper, clumsily pushing his jeans down. Excitement filled his stomach as he reached into his boxers and wrapped his fingers around himself. Moans filled the bathroom as he stroked faster and harder. He didn’t stop even when he felt moisture spurt from the tip.

Finally, he released himself, gasping for breath. Semen coated his skin like slime. He turned to the still-running water to clean himself.

What would it feel like to have another do that? What would it feel like to have Lake touch him?

Arousal roared through him again at the image of Lake running his long fingers over him. He grabbed himself, yelling in ecstasy as the emotion washed over him a second time. For a long time, he didn’t move, gripping his fading erection.

Pulling himself up on shaky legs, Michael repeated the process of cleaning up. He kept his mind carefully blank this time as he stripped off his soiled clothing. Wrapping them in a towel, he shoved them behind the toilet.

Guilt and humiliation weighed heavily on him as he dressed. He trudged to the bed and sat. He was supposed to be the strong one. The leader above all temptations. How could he face his brothers after this? Resting his elbows on his knees, he waited for them to return. It didn’t take long. Their smiles died when they saw his mournful face.

Zade knelt before him. “Dude, what happened?”

Michael took a deep breath. Keeping secrets wasn’t an option. Not when it was his brothers. He faced them. “I sinned.”






Chapter Four

Devotion.

Discipline.

They were essential for Michael and his brothers to succeed in their duty. He stressed the fact time and time again as he effortlessly filled the roll of leader. Because of him, they never strayed, their focus razor sharp. Now he felt destroyed, unable to find the path he had stumbled from.

Father, help. I need strength.

Silence answered; Metatron’s voice was absent from his mind. The lack of communication made his nerves chatter. Ever since that moment in the alley with Lake and the resulting lack of morals in the bathroom, he had been lost. Doubt made him question everything he knew to be true. Now more than ever he needed guidance. Why wouldn’t his Father answer?

“Mike?” Joe whispered.

Michael forced his fear back and focused on his brothers. Worry for him creased their faces. He confided in them about what he had done. Even the kiss was mentioned, albeit briefly, and he left out Lake’s name and gender. His spirits were lifted when they rallied around him and reminded him of their own lapses into sin. Joe reminded him of how he helped each of them back onto the path when they fell off. Zade had the most comforting words.

“Everyone strays, but is always forgiven.”

Repeating the comforting phrase, Michael summoned his sword. “Follow my lead.”

They rushed into the small apartment. The five Fallen were easy work, destroyed in a matter of minutes. Michael felt his mind focus as he fought. His worries disintegrated with the bodies. The burst of confidence was a welcomed feeling, a sign he was going to be okay. He was on the path again.

“Hey, Mike,” Gabe called from the bedroom.

Zade and Joe followed Michael. Symbols were drawn on the walls and candles covered the floor. In the corner was a small shrine. A plastic red devil toy with a pitchfork sat inside.

Michael tossed the toy aside. “This is an insult to our brother.”

“They were up to something.” Zade picked up a slim journal. He flipped through it, frowning. “What I can read doesn’t say much.”

Michael took the journal. Mixed among the ramblings in English were phrases in another language. Memories of Heaven allowed him to translate. “There’s a few paragraphs I can’t read because the writing is too sloppy, but it sounds like they are searching for a book.” He flipped the page, his voice weak as he read. “A book that will unleash Hell on Earth.”

Joe burst out laughing. “For real?”

Michael ignored Joe’s reaction, reciting, “The book will tell how to unshackle Satan and allow him free reign of the mortal world and all its souls.”

Joe’s smile faded. “That’s not good.”

“No,” Michael murmured.

The memory was as fresh as the day it happened. The rebellion had been quashed and Michael was tasked with imprisoning his brother and the angels who rebelled in Hell. Morning Star fought the whole way, screaming that Michael was a mindless slave. He promised revenge.

You can’t keep me chained! I will be free and ruin Heaven and Earth! His voice was cut off as Michael sealed him in his prison. While the lesser angels weren’t confined, resulting in their eventual escape, Morning Star was forever bound. He was only allowed to dream of freedom.

“What do we do, Mike?” Gabe asked. “Is there a book that would free Lucifer?”

Uncertainty rose in Michael’s chest. He swallowed it down. If this was where the path took them... “I don’t know, but I need to speak with our Father and find out.”

***

“Lake? Lake, are you in there?” Melody pounded on Lake’s bedroom door before shoving it open. She planted her hands on her hips, slightly swaying. “What is wrong with you? I’ve been calling you for the past five minutes.”

Lake didn’t move from his perch on his bed. His arms were wrapped around his legs and he stared vacantly at the tattered blue blanket pooled around him.

Melody sighed at his lack of response. She yanked the blanket from under him. “Get up. I need you to run down to the store and pick up dinner. I don’t feel like cooking.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere.”

“I don’t care.”


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