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Finale, Page 2

Becca Fitzpatrick

Page 2

  A robed Nephil had placed the branding iron in Scott’s hands. He’d gazed down at the marble slab and the fallen angel manacled to it. Ignoring Baruch’s cursing vows of revenge, Scott repeated the words the robed Nephil at his side murmured in his ear—a load of crap that compared the Black Hand to a deity—and pressed the hot iron onto the fallen angel’s bare chest.

  Now Scott leaned back against the tunnel wall outside the antechamber, waiting for Nora. If she stayed in there more than five minutes, he was going in after her. He didn’t trust Lisa Martin. He didn’t trust any of the robed Nephilim. It was clear they’d formed a secret society, and Scott had learned the hard way that nothing good came of secrets.

  The door creaked open. Nora walked out, then threw her arms around his neck and held on tightly. Thank you.

  He held her until she stopped trembling.

  All in a day’s work, he teased, trying to soothe her in the best way he knew how. I’ll put the U. O. ME in the mail.

  She sniffled a laugh. “You can tell they’re really excited to have me as their new leader. ”

  “They’re in shock. ”

  “Shocked that the Black Hand left their future up to me. Did you see their faces? I thought they were going to start weeping. Either that, or throw vegetables at me. ”

  “So what are you going to do?”

  “Hank is dead, Scott. ” She looked at him straight on, then dried her eyes by running her fingers under them, and he saw a flash of something in her expression he couldn’t nail down. Assurance? Confidence? Or maybe, outright confession. “I’m going to celebrate. ”

  Chapter  1


  I’M NOT A PARTY GIRL. THE EARSPLITTING MUSIC, THE gyrating bodies, the inebriated smiles—not my thing. My ideal Saturday night would be at home, snuggling on the sofa and watching a rom-com with my boyfriend, Patch. Predictable, low-key . . . normal. My name is Nora Grey, and while I used to be an average American teen, buying my clothes at the J. Crew outlet and spending my babysitting money on iTunes, normal and I have recently become perfect strangers. As in, I wouldn’t know normal if it marched up and poked me in the eye.

  Normal and I parted ways when Pateir1ch strolled into my life. Patch has seven inches on me, operates on cold, hard logic, moves like smoke, and lives alone in a supersecret, superswanky studio beneath Delphic Amusement Park. The sound of his voice, low and sexy, can melt my heart in three seconds flat. He’s also a fallen angel, kicked out of heaven for his flexibility when it comes to following rules. I personally believe Patch scared the pants off normal, and it took off running for the far side of the world.

  I might not have normalcy, but I do have stability. Namely, in the form of my best friend of twelve years, Vee Sky. Vee and I have an unshakable bond that even a laundry list of differences can’t break. They say opposites attract, and Vee and I are proof of the validity of the statement. I am slender and tallish—by human standards—with big curly hair that tests my patience, and I’m a type A personality. Vee is even taller, with ash-blond hair, serpent-green eyes, and more curves than a roller coaster track. Almost always, Vee’s wishes trump mine. And unlike me, Vee lives for a good party.

  Tonight Vee’s wish to seek out a good time took us across town to a four-storey brick warehouse throbbing with club music, swimming with fake IDs, and jam-packed with bodies producing enough sweat to take greenhouse gases to a whole new level. The layout inside was standard: a dance floor sandwiched between a stage and a bar. Rumor had it that a secret door behind the bar led to the basement, and the basement led to a man named Storky, who operated a thriving pirated anything business. Community religious leaders kept threatening to board up Coldwater’s hotbed of iniquity for disorderly teens . . . also known as the Devil’s Handbag.

  “Groove it, baby,” Vee yelled at me over the mindless thump, thump, thump of music, lacing her fingers through mine and swaying our hands over our heads. We were at the center of the dance floor, being jostled and bumped on every side. “This is how Saturday night’s supposed to be. You and me gettin’ down, letting loose, working up good ol’-fashioned girl-sweat. ”

  I did my best to give an enthusiastic nod, but the guy behind me kept stepping on the heel of my ballet flat, and at five-second intervals, I had to shove my foot back into it. The girl to my right was dancing with her elbows out, and if I wasn’t careful, I knew I’d get clipped.

  “Maybe we should get drinks,” I called to Vee. “Feels like Florida in here. ”

  “That’s ’cause you and me are burning up the place. Check out the guy at the bar. He can’t take his eyes off your smokin’ moves. ” She licked her finger and pressed it to my bare shoulder, making a sizzling noise.

  I followed her gaze . . . and my heart lurched.

  Dante Matterazzi lifted his chin in acknowledgment. His next gesture was a little more subtle.

  Wouldn’t have pegged you for a dancer, he spoke to my mind.

  Funny, I would have pegged you for a stalker, I shot back.

  Dante Matterazzi and I both belonged to the Nephilim race, hence the innate ability to mind-speak, but the similarities stopped there. Dante didn’t know how to give it a rest, and I didn’t know how much longer I could dodge him. I’d met him for the first time just this morning, when he’d come to my house to announce that faed unce thllen angels and Nephilim were on the brink of war and I was in charge of leading the latter, but now I needed a break from war talk. It was overwhelming. Or maybe I was in denial. Either way, I wished he’d disappear.

  Left a message on your cell phone, he said.

  Gee, I must have missed it. More like I deleted it.

  We need to talk.

  Kind of busy. To emphasize my point, I rolled my hips and swung my arms side to side, doing my best to imitate Vee, whose favorite television network was BET, and it showed. She had hip-hop stamped on her soul.

  A faint smile quirked Dante’s mouth. While you’re at it, get your friend to give you some pointers. You’re floundering. Meet me out back in two.

  I glared at him. Busy, remember?

  This can’t wait. With a meaningful arch of his eyebrows, he disappeared into the crowd.

  “His loss,” Vee said. “He can’t handle the heat, that’s all. ”

  “About those drinks,” I said. “Can I bring you a Coke?” Vee didn’t look ready to give up dancing anytime soon, and as much as I wanted to avoid Dante, I figured it was best to just get this over with. Suck it up and talk to him. The alternative was having him shadow me all night.

  “Coke with lime,” Vee said.

  I edged my way off the dance floor and, after making sure Vee wasn’t watching, ducked down a side hallway and out the back door. The alley was bathed in blue moonlight. A red Porsche Panamera was parked in front of me, and Dante leaned against it, arms folded loosely over his chest.

  Dante is six feet nine with the physique of a soldier fresh out of boot camp. Case in point: He has more muscle tone in his neck than I have in my entire body. Tonight he was wearing baggy khakis and a white linen shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, revealing a deep V of smooth, hairless skin.

  “Nice car,” I said.

  “It gets the job done. ”

  “So does my Volkswagen, and it cost considerably less. ”

  “Takes more than four wheels to be a car. ”


  “So,” I said, tapping my foot. “What’s so urgent?”

  “You still dating that fallen angel?”

  It was only the third time in as many hours that he’d asked. Twice by text messaging, and now face-to-face. My relationship with Patch had gone through a lot of ups and downs, but the current trend was upward. We weren’t without our issues, however. In a world where Nephilim and fallen angels would rather die than smile at each other, dating a fallen angel was a definite no-no.

  I stood a little taller. “You know it. ”

  “Being careful?”

Discreet is the watchword. ” Patch and I didn’t need Dante to tell us it ed tell uwas wise not to make a lot of public appearances together. Nephilim and fallen angels never needed an excuse to teach each other a lesson, and racial tensions between the two groups were getting hotter with each passing day. It was autumn, October to be exact, and the Jewish month of Cheshvan was just days away.

  Every year during Cheshvan, fallen angels possess Nephilim bodies by the droves. Fallen angels have free rein to do as they please, and since it’s the only time during the year they can actually feel physical sensation, their creativity knows no bounds. They chase after pleasure, pain, and everything in between, playing parasites to their Nephilim hosts. For Nephilim, Cheshvan is a hellish prison.

  If Patch and I were so much as seen holding hands by the wrong individuals, we’d pay, one way or another.

  “Let’s talk about your image,” Dante said. “We need to generate some positive media around your name. Boost Nephilim confidence in you. ”

  I gave a theatrical snap of my fingers. “Don’t you just hate it when your approval ratings are low?”

  Dante frowned. “This isn’t a joke, Nora. Cheshvan starts in just over seventy-two hours, and that means war. Fallen angels on one side, us on the other. Everything rides on your shoulders—you’re the new leader of the Nephilim army. The blood oath you swore to Hank is in effect, and I don’t think I have to remind you that the consequences of breaking it are very, very real. ”

  Queasiness pinched my stomach. I hadn’t exactly applied for the job. Thanks to my deceased biological father, a truly twisted man named Hank Millar, I’d been forced to inherit the position. With the help of an otherworldly blood transfusion, he’d coerced me into transforming myself from mere human into purebred Nephil so I could take over his army. I’d sworn an oath to lead his army, it had gone into effect upon his death, and if I failed to do that, my mom and I would die. Terms of the oath. No pressure.

  “Despite every cautious measure I intend to implement, we can’t completely erase your past. The Nephilim are digging around. There are rumors you’re dating a fallen angel, and that your loyalties are split. ”

  “I am dating a fallen angel. ”

  Dante rolled his eyes. “Could you say it any louder?”

  I shrugged. If that’s what you really want. Then I opened my mouth, but Dante was beside me in an instant, covering it with his hand. “I know it kills you, but could you make my job easy just this once?” he murmured in my ear, glancing around at the shadows with obvious uneasiness, even though I was positive we were alone. I’d only been a purebred Nephil for twenty-four hours, but I trusted my new, sharper sixth sense. If there were eavesdroppers lurking, I’d know.

  “Look, I know when we first met this morning I carelessly said the Nephilim would just have to deal with me dating a fallen angel,” I said when he lowered his hand, “but I wasn’t thinking. I was angry. I’ve spent the day giving this a lot of thought. I’ve talked to Patch. We’re being careful, Dante. Really careful. ”