Feb 012013
 

I’ll be signing copies of BLACK CITY and answering your questions at this event at the wonderful CHALLENGERS Comics and Conversation. Mark your calendars and join me there!

Friday March 1st, 7pm-9pm

CHALLENGERS Comics and Conversation

1845 N. Western Avenue, Chicago

For further details and directions, check out this link.

 

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Oct 222012
 

Chapter Two

“Madeline!” Nathaniel cried.

I slammed the foyer door behind me and unlocked the door to my apartment. Beezle and Samiel hadn’t followed me in. I wondered what they were doing.

I wondered what Lucifer had planned now.

I hung up my coat, took off my boots and realized I’d left the groceries out in the snow. A second later Samiel and Beezle came in. Samiel carried the grocery bags into the kitchen, patting me on the shoulder as he went by.

I looked at Beezle. “What’s Lucifer up to?”

Beezle shrugged. “It is not for me to comprehend the ways of the Morningstar.”

“He had to know that I wouldn’t accept Nathaniel,” I said. “Why send him here?”

“Lucifer has to be thinking of the child,” Beezle said. “He wants the baby protected.”

I looked at Beezle incredulously. “And you think that Lucifer thought Nathaniel was the best choice to protect a child he will no doubt despise because of its parentage?”

Beezle shook his head slowly as the smells of something cooking came from the kitchen. Samiel was getting pretty good at turning a small amount of ingredients into something delicious.

“No. I think that Lucifer presented an unappealing option that he knows you’ll refuse out of hand so that he can then send you the person that he really wants here.”

I nodded. It made sense. It was exactly the way Lucifer operated.

“And his leniency toward Nathaniel is no doubt dependent on Nathaniel’s ability to get me to cooperate,” I said.

“Which is why Nathaniel is still on the porch,” Beezle said. “He said he’ll sleep there if he has to.”

I thought about calling the cops to remove him, but Nathaniel would just return over and over again until he got what he wanted. I didn’t believe that he cared about me one whit. I knew for sure that he cared about keeping all his body parts in their proper places, and that meant that he would go to any lengths to please Lucifer.

Fine. He could stay on the porch if he wanted. I hoped he froze to death.

“Maybe you should think about accepting Nathaniel,” Beezle said thoughtfully.

I stared at him. “That’s the second insane thing you’ve told me to do tonight. First I’m to make a pact with Lucifer; now I’m supposed to accept Nathaniel?”

“Think about it,” Beezle said urgently. “You’d have leverage with Nathaniel. You could use him to find out what Lucifer is up to. Plus, you’d definitely throw the Morningstar a loop if you accept a bodyguard he was certain you’d reject.”

“Nathaniel is a killer,” I said heatedly.

“So are you.”

“I didn’t kill innocents. And I don’t try to justify anything I did saying I was under orders from someone else.”

“Nathaniel can’t help that,” Beezle said, shaking his head. “It’s something you never understood about Gabriel either. You’ve never submitted to anyone’s authority in your life—not your mother, not me, not your Agency supervisors, not your teachers at school. You were born contrary.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m an independent thinker.”

“Or, depending on one’s perspective, you’re a stubborn mule, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’ve never understood why angels don’t contradict their master, why they follow orders that would seem unreasonable to you. It’s because they’ve had respect for the hierarchy drilled into them from birth. They’ve been taught to be unquestioning, to do what they’re told even if it’s something a human would consider morally wrong.”

“So they’ve been brainwashed?” I said skeptically.

Beezle sighed. “No. Think of them as soldiers in an army. A soldier might doubt the validity of a commander’s order, but that soldier would still do as his commander said. Because that’s the way he’s made. That’s the way he’s been taught to behave, because an army is not made up of one person. Its strength comes from the sum of its parts.”

“So all the angels are taught to do as they’re told because it’s so important for each court to preserve its base of power.”

“Yes,” Beezle replied. “It’s also why rebellion is never initiated from the bottom. Most of the lower hierarchy could never conceive of going against Lucifer. But Azazel and Focalor are both Grigori. They have their own courts. They are used to answering only to Lucifer, and in recent years it seems he has given them more leeway.”

“But why?” I asked. “You told me once that Lucifer would do anything to maintain his base of power. And Gabriel once said that he thought Lucifer had enough power to have dominion over all things.”

“I’m pretty sure he does,” Beezle replied.

“Then why loosen his grip?” I wondered.

“To see what would happen,” Beezle said. “To see who is truly loyal to him.”

I scowled. I really disliked the idea that Lucifer would allow a rebellion to fester just so he could watch the game play out. I was also disturbed by the idea that Nathaniel might not be entirely at fault for his part in the memory-selling enterprise. He wasn’t completely blameless, not by a long shot, but it seemed it would have been difficult for Nathaniel to refuse Azazel.

He had tried to kill me in Azazel’s court. But he had also helped us save Wade’s cubs.

I shook my head. I didn’t know what to do about Nathaniel right now. It seemed too complicated to sort out what was right and what was wrong, and that worried me. Those shades of gray were Lucifer’s provenance.

Samiel came into the dining room carrying a tray full of food. He set three bowls on the table.

“Yum, chili!” Beezle said, diving toward his portion.

“Use a spoon,” I said before he went headfirst into the bowl. “You’re not a pig at the trough.”

Beezle muttered crossly to himself, but he perched on the edge of the bowl with a spoon held in his fist. He scooped chili into his beak with the rapidity and care of a toddler just beginning to use utensils. Food dribbled from his mouth to his stomach.

Don’t look at him, Samiel signed. You’ll lose your appetite.

I try not to look at him generally, I replied.

Samiel went back into the kitchen and returned with a plate of corn bread  and three glasses of milk. He indicated I should sit down across from him, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

“This looks great,” I said.

I wondered where he had found all the ingredients in my very bare kitchen. I was pretty certain I hadn’t bought all of this stuff with Beezle, so I asked Samiel.

I had most of the stuff downstairs, he signed, pausing between bites.

His bowl was almost empty already, and I’d had only a small taste. Samiel eats like a teenage boy who’s not sure where his next meal is going to come from.

“But where did you get the money for the groceries?” I wondered aloud.

Lucifer gave it to me.

I raised my eyebrow at that.

He knows that I don’t work, and he was worried about you because he knows you depend on the rent from the apartment.

“Yeah, I’ll just bet he was worried,” I muttered into my chili so that Samiel couldn’t read my lips.

Everywhere I looked Lucifer was there, entangling me in his spider’s web. I knew Samiel was loyal to me, but I also knew that Lucifer was very good at making simple things look confusing.

If Samiel continued to accept an allowance from Lucifer, then one day in the future the Morningstar might come to Samiel asking for a favor. And Samiel might think that one little favor was small repayment to the angel who had given him so much. Then Lucifer would ask for one more thing, and another, and another, until Samiel was well and truly trapped.

“Aren’t you eating?” Beezle asked, breaking my reverie.

I glanced over at him and wished I hadn’t. He was covered in chili from horn to claw and was presently stuffing corn bread in his beak. The bread crumbs sprayed everywhere as he chewed. I covered my eyes.

“I don’t know why, but I seem to have lost my appetite,” I said loudly.

“More for me,” Beezle said gleefully.

Samiel pried my hands from my face so I could look at him.

You have to eat, he signed.

Do you know about the baby, too?

He nodded, looking rueful. Beezle told me.

Listen, Samiel, I signed. Do you want to work?

He looked uncertain. Yes, but Lucifer said I wouldn’t be able to get a regular job, because I can’t hide my wings like you can.

“It’s nice that he’s thought of everything,” I mumbled to myself, then looked at Samiel and spoke. “You could work at the Agency. There are a lot of supernatural creatures working for us that aren’t Agents.”

But I thought you didn’t get paid?

“I don’t. Agents don’t because collecting souls is a ‘sacred duty,’” I said, making air quotes with my fingers. “But the support staff and the management collect regular paychecks. Don’t ask me where the Agency gets its funding from, though. That’s apparently need-to-know only.”

Do you really think I could work there? Samiel looked doubtful.

“Sure. I’ll talk to J.B. about it.” As I said this, it occurred to me that I hadn’t picked up any souls for a couple of days, and I wondered if I had been neglecting my sacred duty while wandering around in a depressed fog.

“Before you start panicking,” Beezle said, reading my thoughts, “you should know that J.B. called a few days ago and said he was reassigning all of your pickups for the next week.”

“Do you think you could actually deliver my messages in a timely manner?” I said. “Or, better yet, don’t pick up the phone at all and let the answering machine fulfill the purpose for which it was created.”

“What?” Beezle said. “You’re getting the message now.”

“That’s not the point,” I began, and trailed off. The snake tattoo on my right palm tingled. I stood up. I’d learned not to ignore Lucifer’s mark.

What’s wrong? Samiel signed.

“Danger approaching. Stay in the house,” I said to Beezle.


 

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Oct 152012
 

Chapter One

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.

Gabriel.

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.

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 what?”

“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.


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Jul 252012
 

CHAPTER ONE

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 nauseum.

“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.

Gabriel.

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.

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 what?”

“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 backwards and failing. “I guess I have to go to the store.”

“And I’ll come with you,” Beezle said.

“OK,” 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.


 

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Jul 092012
 

I will be signing books at the Cyphan convention on Saturday, July 28th, from 9am-1pm. The con will be held at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, Illinois. Stop by and see me, and then check out the other cool events happening at CYPHAN!

For further details check out www.cyphan.com

 

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May 312012
 

OK, Beezle lovers, let’s spread the word! Tell a friend about the BLACK WINGS series, have them “like” my Facebook fan page here, and then send me an email at contest@christinahenry.net with your name & email address AND your friend’s info. You will BOTH be entered to win a signed set of all three books! If you tell more than one friend, you get more than one entry, so be talkative :) Contest runs until June 7th.

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