hush, hush 04 - Finale, Page 3Becca Fitzpatrick
My heart beat faster and a panicky thought seized me. What if he was Nephilim and I couldn’t detect it? What if he really did know about me and Patch? What if he’d found me tonight to get a message across—that Nephilim and fallen angels don’t mix? I was a brand-new Nephil, no match for him if it came to a physical confrontation.
“I don’t have a boyfriend.” I tried to stay calm as I turned back toward the Devil’s Handbag.
“Put me in touch with Patch,” the man called after me, that same desperate squeak pinching his voice. “He’s avoiding me.”
I picked up my pace.
“Tell him if he doesn’t come out of hiding, I’ll—I’ll—smoke him out. I’ll burn down the whole of Delphic Amusement Park if I have to!”
I glanced over my shoulder warily. I didn’t know what Patch had gotten himself mixed up in, but I had an uncomfortable feeling swelling in my stomach. Whoever this man was, cherubic features aside, he meant business.
“He can’t avoid me forever!” He scurried away on his stumpy legs until he blended into the shadows, whistling a tune that sent a jitter down my spine.
A HALF HOUR LATER, I PULLED INTO MY driveway. I live with my mom in a quintessential Maine farmhouse, complete with white paint, blue shutters, and a shroud of ever-present fog. This time of year, the trees blazed fiery shades of red and gold, and the air held the crisp smells of pine sap, burning wood, and damp leaves. I jogged up the porch steps, where five portly pumpkins watched me like sentinels, and let myself in.
“I’m home!” I called to my mom, the light in the living room giving away her location. I dropped my keys on the sideboard and went back to find her.
She dog-eared her page, rose from the sofa, and squeezed me in a hug. “How did your night go?”
“I am officially drained of every last ounce of energy.” I pointed upstairs. “If I make it up to bed, it will be by sheer mental power alone.”
“While you were out, a man stopped by looking for you.”
I frowned. What man?
“He wouldn’t leave his name, and he wouldn’t tell me how he knew you,” my mom continued. “Should I be worried?”
“What did he look like?”
“Round face, ruddy complexion, blond hair.”
Him, then. The man who had a bone to pick with Patch. I fabricated a smile. “Oh, right. He’s a salesman. Keeps trying to get me to commit to senior pictures with his studio. Next thing you know, he’ll want to sell me graduation announcements too. Would it be completely disgusting if I skipped washing my face tonight? Staying awake an extra two minutes at this point is pushing it.”
Mom kissed my forehead. “Sweet dreams.”
I climbed to my bedroom, shut the door, and flopped spread-eagled on my bed. The music from the Devil’s Handbag still pulsed at the back of my head, but I was too tired to care. My eyes were halfway shut when I remembered the window. On a groan, I staggered over and unlatched the lock. Patch could get inside, but I wished him luck trying to keep me awake long enough to elicit a response.
I pulled my blankets up to my chin, felt the soft, blissful tug of a dream beckoning me closer, let it drag me under—
And then the mattress sank with the weight of another body.
“Not sure why you’re so enamored with this bed,” Patch said. “It’s twelve inches too short, four feet too narrow, and the purple sheets aren’t doing it for me. My bed, on the other hand . . .”
I opened one eye and found him stretched out beside me, hands clasped loosely behind his neck. His dark eyes watched mine, and he smelled clean and sexy. Most of all, he felt warm pressed up against me. Despite my best intentions, the close proximity was making it increasingly difficult to concentrate on sleep.
“Ha,” I said. “I know you don’t care how comfortable my bed is. You’d be fine on a pallet of bricks.” One of the downsides of Patch being a fallen angel was that he couldn’t feel physical sensation. No pain, but no pleasure either. I had to be content knowing that when I kissed him, he felt it on an emotional level only. I tried to pretend it didn’t matter, but I wanted him to feel electrified by my touch.
He kissed me lightly on the mouth. “What did you want to talk about?”
I couldn’t remember. Something about Dante. Whatever it was, it seemed unimportant. Talking in general seemed unimportant. I snuggled in closer, and Patch stroked his hand down my bare arm, making a warm tingly sensation shoot all the way to my toes.
“When do I get to see these dance moves of yours?” he asked. “We’ve never gone dancing at the Devil’s Handbag together.”
“You aren’t missing much. I was told tonight I’m definite fish-out-of-water material on the dance floor.”
“Vee needs to be nicer to you,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to my ear.
“Vee doesn’t get credit for that line. That would go to Dante Matterazzi,” I confessed absentmindedly, Patch’s kisses lulling me into a happy place that didn’t require a lot of reasoning or forethought.
“Dante?” Patch repeated, something unpleasant creeping into his tone.
“Did I forget to mention Dante was there?” I asked. Patch had also met Dante for the first time this morning, and for most of the tense meeting, I feared one would drag the other into a fistfight. Needless to say, it wasn’t love at first sight. Patch didn’t like Dante acting like he was my political adviser and pressuring me into war with fallen angels, and Dante . . . well, Dante hated fallen angels on principle.
Patch’s eyes cooled. “What did he want?”
“Ah, now I remember what I wanted to talk to you about.” I cracked my knuckles. “Dante’s trying to sell me to the Nephilim race. I’m their leader now. Trouble is, they don’t trust me. They don’t know me. And Dante’s made it his mission to change that.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Dante thinks it might be a good idea for me to, ah, date him. Don’t worry!” I rushed on. “It’s all for show. Got to keep the Nephilim thinking their leader is invested. We’re going to squash these rumors that I’m dating a fallen angel. Nothing says solidarity like hooking up with one of your own, you know? It makes for good press. They might even call us Norante. Or Danta. Do you like the sound of that?” I asked, trying to keep the mood light.
Patch’s mouth turned grim. “Actually, I don’t like the sound of that.”
“If it’s any consolation, I can’t stand Dante. Don’t sweat this.”
“My girlfriend wants to date another guy, no sweat.”
“It’s for appearances. Look on the bright side—”
Patch laughed, but the humor was lacking. “There’s a bright side?”
“It’s only through Cheshvan. Hank got Nephilim everywhere all worked up over this one moment. He promised them salvation, and they still think they’re going to get it. When Cheshvan comes, and ends up being like any other Cheshvan on record, they’ll realize it was a crapshoot, and little by little, things will go back to normal. In the meantime, while tempers are running hot and the hopes and dreams of Nephilim are hanging on the false belief that I can free them from fallen angels, we have to keep them happy.”
“Has it occurred to you that the Nephilim might blame you when their salvation doesn’t come? Hank made a lot of promises, and when they aren’t fulfilled, no one’s going to point fingers at him. You’re their leader now. You’re the face on this campaign, Angel,” he said solemnly.
I stared at the ceiling. Yes, I’d thought of it. More times today than I wanted to sanely contemplate.
One forever night ago, the archangels had made me the deal of a lifetime. They’d promised to give me the power to kill Hank—if I quashed the Nephilim rebellion. At first, I hadn’t planned on taking the deal, but Hank had forced my hand. He’d tried to burn Patch’s feather and send him to hell. So I shot him.
Hank was dead, and the archangels were expecting me to stop the Nephilim from going to war.<
This was where things got tricky. Just hours before I shot Hank, I’d sworn an oath to him, vowing to lead his Nephilim army. Failure to comply would result in my death, and my mom’s.
How to fulfill my promise to the archangels and my oath to Hank? I saw only one option. I would lead Hank’s army. To peace. Probably not what he had pictured while forcing me to swear the oath, but he wasn’t around now to argue the details. It didn’t slip my mind, however, that in turning my back on the rebellion, I was also allowing the Nephilim to remain in bondage to fallen angels. It didn’t seem right, but life was paved with difficult decisions. As I was learning all too well. Right now, I was more concerned with keeping the archangels happy than the Nephilim.
“What do we know about my oath?” I asked Patch. “Dante said it went into effect when Hank died, but who determines if I keep it or not? Who determines what I can and can’t do in terms of carrying out my oath? Take you, for instance. I’m confiding in you, a fallen angel and the sworn enemy of Nephilim. Won’t the oath strike me dead for treason?”
“The oath you swore was about as vague as you could have made it. Luckily,” Patch said with obvious relief.
Oh, it had been vague all right. And to the point. If you die, Hank, I’ll lead your army. Not a word more.
“As long as you stay in power and lead the Nephilim, I think you’re within the terms of the oath,” Patch said. “You never promised Hank you’d go to war.”
“In other words, the plan is to stay out of war and keep the archangels happy.”
Patch sighed, almost to himself. “Some things never change.”
“After Cheshvan, after the Nephilim give up on freedom, and after we’ve put a big, fat smile of contentment on the archangels’ faces, we can put this behind us.” I kissed him. “It’ll just be you and me.”
Patch groaned. “It can’t come fast enough.”
“Hey, listen,” I told him, anxious to move on to any topic other than war, “I was approached by a man tonight. A man who wants a word with you.”
Patch gave a nod. “Pepper Friberg.”
“Does Pepper have a face as round as a basketball?”
Another nod. “He’s tailing me because he thinks I went back on an agreement we had. He doesn’t want a word with me. He wants to chain me in hell and dust his hands of me.”
“Is it just me, or does that sound kind of serious?”
“Pepper Friberg is an archangel, but he’s got his hand in more than one pot. He’s leading a double life, spending half his time as an archangel, and the other half moonlighting as a human. Up until now, he’s been living the best of both worlds. He has the power of an archangel, which he doesn’t always use for good while indulging in human vices.”
So Pepper was an archangel. No wonder I hadn’t been able to identify him. I hadn’t had a lot of experience dealing with archangels.
Patch went on, “Someone has figured out his crooked game, and word has it they’re blackmailing him. If Pepper doesn’t pay up soon, his vacation time on Earth is going to become a lot more permanent. The archangels will strip his power and tear out his wings if they find out what he’s been up to. He’ll be stuck down here for good.”
The pieces clicked together. “He thinks you’re blackmailing him.”
“A while back I figured out what he was up to. I agreed to keep his secret, and in return he agreed to help me get my hands on a copy of the Book of Enoch. He hasn’t delivered on his promise, and it seems logical that he thinks I’m feeling hung out to dry. But I think he must have been careless and there’s another fallen angel out there looking to benefit off his misdeeds.”
“Did you tell Pepper that?”
Patch smiled. “Working on it. He’s not feeling very talkative.”
“He said he’ll burn down all of Delphic if that’s what it takes to smoke you out.” I knew archangels didn’t dare set foot inside Delphic Amusement Park, fearing for their safety in a place built by and highly populated with fallen angels, so the threat made sense.
“His neck’s on the line and he’s getting desperate. I might have to go under.”
“Lie low. Keep my head down.”
I pushed myself up on one elbow and stared at Patch. “How do I fit into this picture?”
“He thinks you’re his one-way ticket to me. He’s going to be sticking to you like spandex. He’s parked down the street as we speak, eyes peeled for my car.” Patch stroked his thumb across my cheek. “He’s good, but not good enough to keep me from having quality time with my girl.”
“Promise me you’re always going to be two steps ahead.” The thought of Pepper catching Patch and putting him on the fast track to hell didn’t exactly give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Patch hooked a finger in my neckline and pulled me into a kiss. “Don’t worry, Angel. I’ve been doing this sneaky stuff longer.”
• • •
When I woke, the bed next to me was cold. I smiled at the memory of falling asleep curled in Patch’s arms, concentrating on that rather than the probability that Pepper Friberg, aka Mr. Archangel with a Dirty Secret, had sat outside my house all night, playing spy.
I thought back to a year ago, to the fall of my sophomore year. Back then, I hadn’t so much as kissed a guy. Never could I have imagined what lay in store. Patch meant more to me than I could put into words. His love and faith in me took the sting out of the hard decisions I’d been forced to make recently. Whenever doubt and regret crept into my conscience, all I had to do was think of Patch. I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice every time, but I knew one thing for certain. I’d made the right choice in Patch. I couldn’t give him up. Ever.
At noon, Vee called.
“How about me and you go running?” she said. “I just got a new pair of tennis shoes, and I need to break these bad boys in.”
“Vee, I have blisters from dancing last night. And hold on. Since when do you like running?”
“It’s no secret I’m carrying around a few extra pounds,” she said. “I’m big-boned, but that’s no excuse for letting a little flab hold me back. There’s a guy out there named Scott Parnell, and if shedding some extra weight is what it’s gonna take for me to get up the courage to go after him, then that’s what I’m going to do. I want Scott to look at me the way Patch looks at you. I wasn’t serious about this diet and exercise stuff before, but I’m turning over a new leaf. Starting today, I love exercise. It’s my new BFF.”
“Oh? And what about me?”
“Soon as I lose this weight, you’ll be my number one girl again. I’ll pick you up in twenty. Don’t forget a sweatband. Your hair does scary stuff when it gets damp.”
I hung up, stretched a tank over my head, followed it up with a sweatshirt, and laced myself into tennis shoes.
Right on time, Vee picked me up. And right away, it became apparent we weren’t driving to the high school track. She steered her purple Neon across town, in the opposite direction from school, humming to herself.
I said, “Where are we going?”
“I was thinking we should run hills. Hills are good for the glutes.” She turned the Neon onto Deacon Road, and a light popped on in my head.
“Hang on. Scott lives on Deacon Road.”
“Come to think of it, he does.”
“We’re running by Scott’s house? Isn’t that kind of . . . I don’t know . . . stalkerish?”
“That’s a real sad-hat way of looking at it, Nora. Why not think of it as motivation? Eye on the prize.”
“What if he sees us?”
“You’re friends with Scott. If he sees us, he’ll probably come out and talk to us. And it would be rude not to stop and give him a couple minutes of our time.”
“In other words, this isn’t about running. This is a pickup.”
Vee wagged her head. “You’re no fun at all.”
She cruised up Deacon, a winding stretch of scenic road bordered on both sides by dense evergreens. In
another couple of weeks, they’d be frosted with snow.
Scott lived with his mom, Lynn Parnell, in an apartment complex that came into view around the next bend. Over the summer, Scott had moved out and gone into hiding. He’d deserted Hank Millar’s Nephilim army, and Hank had searched tirelessly for him, hoping to make an example of him. After I killed Hank, Scott had been free to move home.
A cement fence caged the property, and while I was certain privacy had been the intent, it gave the place the feel of a compound. Vee pulled into the entrance, and I had a flashback to the time she had helped me snoop in Scott’s bedroom. Back when I thought he was an up-to-no-good jerk. Boy, had things changed. Vee parked near the tennis courts. The nets were long gone, and someone had decorated the turf with graffiti.
We got out and stretched for a couple of minutes.
Vee said, “I don’t feel safe leaving the Neon unattended for long in this neighborhood. Maybe we should do laps around the complex. That way I can keep my eye on my baby.”
“Uh-huh. It also gives Scott more opportunities to see us.”
Vee had on pink sweatpants with DIVA stamped across the butt in gold glitter, and a pink fleece jacket. She also had on full makeup, diamond studs in her ears, and a ruby cocktail ring, and she smelled like Pure Poison by Dior. Just your average day out running.
We picked up our feet and started a slow jog along the dirt trail circling the complex. The sun was out, and after three laps, I stripped off my sweatshirt, tying it around my waist. Vee beelined to a weathered park bench and plunked down, sucking air.
“That had to be about five miles,” she said.
I surveyed the trail. Sure . . . give or take four miles.
“Maybe we should peek in Scott’s windows,” Vee suggested. “It’s Sunday. He might be oversleeping and need a friendly wakeup call.”
“Scott lives on the third floor. Unless you have a forty-foot ladder stashed in the trunk of the Neon, window peeping is probably out.”
“We could try something more direct. Like knocking on his door.”