Finale, Page 4Becca Fitzpatrick
“I’m thinking about you in my bed. ”
My stomach did one of those flutter things. I’d stayed the night at Patch’s place for the first time last night, and while the attraction and temptation had definitely been there, we’d managed to sleep in different rooms. I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to take our relat peke our ionship, but instinct told me Patch wasn’t quite so indecisive.
“My mom’s waiting up,” I said. “Bad timing. ” Speaking of bad timing, I unwillingly recalled my most recent conversation with Dante. I needed to bring Patch up to speed. “Can we meet tomorrow? We need to talk. ”
“That doesn’t sound good. ”
I smacked a kiss into the phone. “I missed you tonight. ”
“The night’s not over. After I finish up here, I could swing by your place. Leave your bedroom window unlocked. ”
“What are you working on?”
I frowned. “Sounds vague. ”
“My target’s on the move. I have to roll,” he said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. ”
And he hung up.
I padded down the sidewalk, wondering who Patch was keeping an eye on, and why—the whole thing sounded a little ominous—when my car, a white 1984 Volkswagen Cabriolet, came into view. I threw my shoes into the backseat and dropped behind the wheel. I stuck the key in the ignition, but the engine didn’t roll over. It repeatedly made a strained, chugging sound, and I took the opportunity to think a few choice and inventive words at the worthless piece of scrap metal.
The car had fallen into my lap as a donation from Scott, and had given me more hours of grief than actual miles on the road. I hopped out and propped the hood, glaring speculatively at the greasy labyrinth of hoses and containers. I’d already dealt with the alternator, the carburetor, and the spark plugs. What was left?
I flipped around, surprised by the sound of a nasally male voice behind me. I hadn’t heard anyone approach. More perplexing, I hadn’t sensed him.
“It would appear so,” I said.
“Need some help?”
“Pretty much I just need a new car. ”
He had a greasy, nervous smile. “Why don’t I give you a lift? You look like a nice girl. We could have a nice talk while we drive. ”
I kept my distance, my mind spinning wildly as I tried to place him. Instinct told me he wasn’t human. Nor was he Nephilim. Funny thing was, I didn’t think he was a fallen angel, either. He had a round, cherubic face topped with a thatch of yellow-blond hair, and floppy Dumbo ears. He looked so harmless, in fact, that it made me instantly suspicious. Instantly uneasy.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll catch a ride with my friend. ”
His smile vanished and he lunged for my sleeve. “Don’t go. ” His voice rose to a whine of desperation.
I took several startled steps back.
“That is— I mean— I was trying to say—” He gulped, then hardened his eyes into glittering beads. “I need to talk to your boyfriend. ”
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 a way 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 con
fessed 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.