Lucifer put his arm around me. It felt comforting, like the act of a parent, a parent I’d always wanted—a father. The air filled with the scent of cinnamon. It reminded me so strongly of Gabriel that the tears that always hovered beneath the surface spilled over.
Lucifer said nothing, only held me as I wept. After a long while, it felt like there were no more tears to be cried. I lifted my head and saw Lucifer watching me with great compassion in his eyes.
“If there is one human emotion I truly comprehend, it is grief,” Lucifer said. “I lost Evangeline and my children so long ago, and I never stopped grieving for them.”
“So it doesn’t stop hurting, then,” I said dully.
“The pain becomes, perhaps, not quite so sharp. In the future, you may find that days may pass when you do not think of him at all, but when you do there will be a tenderness there, like a bruise that has never healed.”
I didn’t need Lucifer to tell me that. A piece of me had been taken forever when Gabriel died. You can’t replace the missing parts of your heart.
Lucifer released me. I felt lost again, empty, except for the flame that burned bright with anger at the thought of Azazel. He would not be able to run far enough.
“Still, all is not lost. Gabriel lives on inside you,” Lucifer said.
“Yes, I’ve heard all the clichés,” I sighed. Beezle and Samiel had been repeating them ad nauseam .
“No, I mean Gabriel really does live on inside you,” Lucifer said. “Here.”
He put his hand on my abdomen, and I looked up in shock.
Far below, deep inside, I felt it.
The beating of tiny wings.
A child. Gabriel’s child. Wonder smothered the grief, just for a moment.
“My grandchild,” Lucifer said.
There was such possessiveness in his voice, in his face, that I pulled away from his touch, covering my stomach with my hands.
“So that’s why you wanted me to marry Gabriel,” I said angrily. “So I can be a part of your supernatural breeding program?”
“That sounds so . . . indelicate,” Lucifer said.
“And yet still true,” I said.
Lucifer didn’t bother to acknowledge this. Instead, he said, “You and Gabriel are powerful beings born of my line. Your child, no doubt, will be magnificent.”
“You can’t have him,” I said fiercely. “He’s mine.”
Mine and Gabriel’s.
Lucifer took me by the shoulders and kissed me on the forehead. I stayed perfectly still, my hands fisted at my sides, until he released me.
“Careful, my dear. Every time you try to cross me you just get pulled further into my orbit.”
He climbed down the steps of my front porch and walked away down the snow-covered sidewalk. I watched him until he was out of sight, his words echoing inside my head.
Every time you try to cross me you just get pulled further into my orbit.
It was true that I hadn’t managed to beat Lucifer at his game yet. It was also true that when I tried, something horrible would happen, like my being named the Hound of the Hunt.
But I was not going to let Lucifer use my child as part of his plan for total world domination. I was not going to let Lucifer take my last piece of Gabriel away.
I felt my shoulders sagging, the familiar weariness settling on me. I wanted to go to sleep, which was pretty much all I’d wanted to do since Azazel had killed Gabriel right in front of me.
I went back inside, locked the front door and climbed the steps up to my apartment. Beezle and Samiel were nowhere to be seen, which meant that they were probably in Samiel’s apartment downstairs watching a movie.
I took off the coat that Lucifer had given me. For half a second I contemplated folding it up and tossing it in the trash, but practicality won. Both of my coats had been ruined in various battles with monsters, and I was too broke to afford a new one. On my best day I couldn’t have bought a coat as nice as this.
I hung the coat up carefully by the back door and wandered down the hall to the kitchen. The idea of a nap suddenly had less appeal. I didn’t want to climb in bed and find myself lying awake thinking about Gabriel or about ways to keep Lucifer from taking my baby.
How was I supposed to raise a baby? I was surrounded by enemies who tried to kill me on a regular basis. The only reason I was still alive and hadn’t died of my injuries yet was because Gabriel had been around to heal me.
And now he wasn’t. And I was back to where I’d started, the place I was always trying to escape but found that I circled back to, endlessly.
Azazel’s sword in Gabriel’s chest. Gabriel falling to the ground.
I was on my knees, my arms wrapped around my body, trying to stop the pain that never left me, the grief that hung over me like a cloud.
I put my cheek on the cold tile floor and closed my eyes, hoping I would not dream of Gabriel’s blood in the snow.
I woke to the insistent tapping of a little gargoyle hand on my cheek.
“Maddy, wake up,” Beezle said.
My eyes felt glued shut. My chest hurt, like I’d run a long way taking gasping breaths of air.
I didn’t open my eyes or sit up. “Go away, Beezle.”
“You need to eat something,” Beezle said.
“It won’t hurt me to lose a few pounds,” I mumbled.
“No, but it will hurt your baby.”
I opened my eyes. It was dark in the kitchen. Light streamed in the back window from the streetlamp in the alley behind my building. Beezle sat frowning on the floor in front of my face.
“How do you know about the baby?” I asked. My voice sounded rusty and unused.
“Gargoyles can see the true nature of things,” he said gently. “I’ve known since the morning after your wedding night.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I said, sitting up slowly. I was tired right into my bones.
Beezle shrugged. “You had enough on your plate. Besides, I figured you’d find out soon enough from . . .”
He trailed off.
“Gabriel,” I finished. “Yes, I suppose he would have known.”
It was hard to know how to feel about that. Gabriel had probably figured out immediately that I was pregnant, just as Lucifer had. But he hadn’t told me.
“Will all the fallen know as soon as they see me?” I asked.
Beezle shook his head. “They can sense children of their own line. Lucifer, especially, is sensitive to the presence of children of his blood. Evangeline would never have been able to disguise Lucifer’s children from him without Michael’s help.”
Evangeline, my crazy ancestor who’d started everything by falling in love with Lucifer millennia ago. She’d been kidnapped by Lucifer’s enemies while pregnant with his children. The archangel Michael had found Evangeline and convinced her that he could keep the twins safe from her lover’s enemies. Michael had covered Lucifer’s presence so thoroughly that the Morningstar never found the children of Evangeline, or the descendants of those children. Until he found me, daughter of Katherine Black, last direct descendant of Evangeline’s line.
He had other offspring, of course. I didn’t know how many. Two of his sons had been insane monsters, and they’d both tried to kill me. I wasn’t in a big hurry to meet any more of Lucifer’s progeny.
“Wouldn’t Azazel have known I was pregnant?” I asked. “I am of his line, too.”
“If he knew, it would only have made him angrier than he already was about your marriage,” Beezle said. “He was never happy with your inability to fall in line.”
“I wasn’t very interested in being a good little soldier for a father who never acted like one,” I snapped.
“And you don’t need to get angry with me about it,” Beezle said mildly. “I’m on your side.”
I rubbed my forehead in the place where a headache was starting to form. “I’m sorry, Beezle. I just . . . I don’t know what to do.”
“About anything,” I said. “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. I don’t want to face the day. I don’t want to get up in the morning knowing that Gabriel’s not here.”
I was crying again. I couldn’t seem to stop.
“And the baby?” Beezle looked very grave.
“There is a part of me that’s happy,” I said, wiping my face. “A small part. But the bigger part of me is scared, because I know that if I live long enough to deliver this child, he will have a target on his back for the rest of his life. Every enemy that Lucifer has will be after this baby.”
When I thought about it that way, my future looked overwhelming. Was I ever to have a normal relationship with this child, or would I always be on the run, always fending off new threats?
“You’ve got to secure a future for the baby now,” Beezle said. “You can’t wait until the demons are at your door. You have to find a way to make sure he is protected.”
I stared at him. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”
“Make a pact with Lucifer,” he said. “Now, while you can still dictate your own terms.”
“I can’t believe you’re telling me this,” I said. “You know that I don’t want to be another one of Lucifer’s pawns. Besides, he wants the baby for himself. I can’t trust him.”
“No, you can’t trust him,” Beezle said. “But if you wait until you have no other option for the child’s safety, then Lucifer will make you pay more dearly than you can imagine.”
“Did you have to tell me this today?” I said tiredly. “Don’t I have enough to worry about already?”
“Your problems won’t go away just because you want to put a pillow over your head and pretend they’re not there,” Beezle said.
“You don’t have to tell me that,” I said grimly. “My problems never seem to go away no matter what I do. They just grow and multiply like gremlins.”
We both sat in silence for a few moments, contemplating the sad truth of this statement. Every time I attempted to extricate myself from the fallen, I found that I’d gained more enemies and more entanglements than I had before.
Subtlety is not my best thing. Politics requires a delicate hand. Those qualities are stock-in-trade for the fallen. I’m more of a hack-and-slash-and-then-burn-it-all-to-the-ground kind of girl.
I pushed to my feet, and Beezle fluttered up to the kitchen counter. I stood there for a moment, feeling lost.
“Food,” Beezle reminded me.
“Yes, food,” I said.
I opened the refrigerator door and looked in. There was absolutely nothing in it—not even a jar of mayonnaise.
“When was the last time I went shopping?” I wondered.
“The day that you and Gabriel followed Amarantha’s ghost to the park,” Beezle said.
“Well, that was . . . a while ago,” I thought, trying to count backward and failing. “I guess I have to go to the store.”
“And I’ll come with you,” Beezle said.
“Okay,” I mumbled.
“What? No protest? No smart remark about my being a home guardian?” Beezle asked.
“You can come if you want,” I said tiredly. I couldn’t think of any smart remarks. I just wanted to get through this task so that I could eat something and go back to sleep.
I shuffled down the hall, pulled on my boots and coat, stuffed some cash in my pocket.
“Are you coming?” I asked, turning to Beezle.
He hovered in the hallway, watching me with an indefinable expression on his face.
“You can’t wander around in a fog like this forever,” he said.
“I know,” I said softly.
I did know. Sooner or later, the world would come knocking at my door. Sooner or later, some enemy would appear, some new threat would manifest, and I’d have to wake the hell up and deal with it. But not now. Not yet.
“Let’s go,” I said.
Beezle landed on my shoulder, and we went out the door without another word.
Beezle took advantage of my total lack of energy and convinced me that we needed a lot of junk food that neither one of us should be eating. I was too tired to argue so I just bought whatever he pointed at, paid for it and trudged home.
I had my head down, watching my boots pushing through the snow, and wasn’t thinking of anything in particular except more sleep.
We were almost to the front porch when Beezle tapped me on the shoulder.
“Maddy,” he said. His voice was urgent.
I looked up. There was a figure standing in the shadows on the front porch. Someone tall, wearing an overcoat . . .
“Gabriel?” I said, my heart thundering in my chest.
“No,” the person said, and stepped into the light.
It was Nathaniel.
“You,” I snarled.
I dropped the grocery bags in the snow and charged up the steps. Nathaniel put his arms up in the air, stepped backward, but he was too slow and I was too angry.
I put my shoulder into his stomach, heard his hard exhalation as the breath went out of him. I tackled him down to the porch, kneeling with my legs on either side of his chest, and punched him in the face.
“You,” I repeated. All I could see was Nathaniel’s face under a haze of red.
I felt him struggle, try to push me off, but his arms were locked tight against the side of his body. He should have been able to move me. He was an angel, and I was only a half-blood. But I had a strength I’d never had before, a strength fueled by rage and betrayal.
My hands closed around his throat, squeezing tight. I pushed at the fragile accordion of his trachea, wanting to crush it to a pulp, wanting to kill him once and for all.
“Maddy!” Beezle shouted, but his voice sounded far away.
“Maddy, you’re going to kill him!”
“Yes,” I whispered, and when I looked at Nathaniel’s purpling face I saw Azazel’s malicious grin as he pushed his sword into Gabriel’s heart.
Nathaniel bucked hard, trying to throw me off again, his eyes wide and desperate.
Another pair of hands covered mine, peeled my fingers off Nathaniel’s throat with unnatural strength.
“No!” I said, clawing at Nathaniel’s neck, drawing blood, trying to renew my grip.
Those same arms surrounded me, pulled me from Nathaniel, carried me backward as I kicked and screamed like a madwoman.
“Samiel, no!” I shouted. “Put me down! Let me be!”
I felt Samiel shaking his head behind me. His arms tightened. Beezle fluttered in front of me. Nathaniel coughed, gasping for air.
“Maddy, you have to calm down,” Beezle said.
“I will not calm down!” I screamed. “I want him dead!”
“He didn’t kill Gabriel,” Beezle said. “He’s not Azazel.”
“No,” I spat. “He’s Azazel’s lackey. He sold people’s memories to vampires. He sold children’s memories. He knew Azazel was planning to rebel against Lucifer. And he tried to kill me the last time we saw him; do you remember?”
“He’s a cockroach, I agree. But if you kill him like this, you’ll never forgive yourself,” he said.
“I’ve killed plenty before,” I said bitterly.
Ramuell. Baraqiel. Amarantha.
“To defend yourself, or someone else,” Beezle said. “Not like this. You’re not a cold-blooded murderer.”
I thought of Azazel again, and said, “Yes, I am.”
I could—I would—kill Azazel without a shred of pity or remorse.
Nathaniel got to his feet, rubbing his throat. The sight of him made me furious all over again.
“You’d better run,” I said, struggling against Samiel’s grip. “Because when I get down I’m going to finish what I started.”
“I will not run,” he said. “I came to speak with you.”
“I’m not sure this is the best time,” Beezle said to Nathaniel. “She seems a little . . . unreasonable right now.”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here,” I said. “I’m not a child.”
“Then cease behaving like one,” Nathaniel said.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’re not doing yourself any favors here, pal. What did you come here for?”
“I told you, to speak with you.”
His calm demeanor was making me angrier, which hardly seemed possible. There was a well of rage inside me that I had barely tapped. I’d been so foggy with grief that I’d forgotten how furious I was until I saw Nathaniel.
“How can you stand there like that, arrogant as ever? How can you stand there and pretend that you’ve done nothing wrong?” I said.
“Because I have spoken with Lord Lucifer and atoned.”
I froze, blank with shock. “You . . . what? You spoke to Lucifer and he didn’t strike you down on the spot? You participated in Azazel’s rebellion!”
“I had no other choice,” Nathaniel said icily. “Azazel was my master, the lord of my court. I must do as I am bid.”
“That’s a really convenient load of bullshit,” I said. “You had choices. You could have chosen to go to Lucifer when you had foreknowledge of the rebellion. You could have saved the lives of the people that were killed before you sucked their memories from them. You could have done a hundred things differently and in the end you chose to do exactly what you were told even if you knew that it was wrong.”
“If I had defied Azazel, I would have paid for it with my life,” Nathaniel said. His voice had an undercurrent of anger.
“So you chose your own worthless skin over the lives of innocents,” I said, letting my contempt show on my face.
“Regardless of my past actions —” he began.
“Your past actions are very relevant,” I said.
“Will you allow me to complete a sentence?” Nathaniel said angrily.
I’d finally cracked his icy façade. Yay for me.
“No,” I spat. “You deserve no courtesy from me.”
“Last time you saw her you did call her ‘hell’s own bitch,’” Beezle pointed out.
“Lord Lucifer has heard my plea and accepted me as a part of his court,” Nathaniel said.
“What you mean is that Azazel’s plan didn’t go the way he intended, and he abandoned you, so you were forced to crawl to someone else,” I said.
“You have never respected me,” Nathaniel said, his eyes sparking furiously in the light from the streetlamps .
“No, I haven’t,” I said. “I don’t see why I should have to.”
“You were my betrothed.”
“Do not bring up that farce of an engagement again,” I said through my teeth.
“It was not a farce to me,” he said. “When Azazel told me that you had married the thrall . . .”
He looked lost suddenly, vulnerable in a way that I had never seen him before. But his reference to my husband as “the thrall” set me off again.
“That’s why I could never respect you. Because you cleave to this ridiculous notion that you were better than Gabriel.”
“I was,” Nathaniel said. “You were the only one who could not comprehend what an insult it was for you to marry one such as him.”
I thought I’d reached maximum rage, but apparently I was wrong.
“Get off my porch. Leave this city and never come back.”
“That will be extremely difficult,” Nathaniel said, icicles dripping from every word, “as Lord Lucifer has bid me protect you as my penance.”
“No,” I said, pushing at Samiel’s arms so he would release me. “No.”
Samiel tightened his grip, and I turned to look up at him. He cocked his head, asking me with eyes, Can I trust you?
“I won’t attack him,” I said. “I promise.”
Samiel looked like he wasn’t sure.
“I won’t,” I said again, and he let me go.
I marched up to Nathaniel, who took a half step back. Good. He’d better be afraid of me.
“Now, hear this,” I said softly. “I don’t care what Lucifer says. I will never submit to this.”
“Lord Lucifer has said that I am to protect you,” Nathaniel said tightly. “That, I will do.”
“And the first time your life might be threatened you’ll run away with your tail between your legs. I can take care of myself, and that ought to be abundantly clear by now,” I said with a pointed glance at his still-bruised throat. Angels heal fast, so I must have really damaged him for the marks to still show.
“You cannot refuse Lord Lucifer,” Nathaniel said, and there was a touch of desperation in his voice.
I had a feeling a lot was riding on his ability to get me to cooperate. Too bad.
“Watch me,” I said, and walked into the house.