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       Cinder X, p.19

         Part #2 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 19

 

  “You never did tell me how you were watching me,” I say quietly. “I never saw you anywhere. Well, except for feathers. I’ve been seeing a lot of feathers lately. ”

  The sadness in his expression deepens as he absentmindedly reaches around and grazes his fingers across the back of his plaid shirt. “I was in the shadows,” he whispers without looking at me.

  Shadows. I remember reading about those in the book that was stolen, but… “You were in the shadow realm?” Please say it’s not true.

  His attention whips to me. “Where did you learn about the shadow realm?”

  “From a book. ” I glance at the antique chest where the book Elliot gave me is. “A book that a… I think a shadow stole from me a couple of weeks ago. ”

  “A shadow was in here?” He swiftly scans the room, his muscles going rigid as if he senses something dangerous. “In your room?”

  “Yeah, it took my book about Grim Angels, the one Raven gave to me around Halloween and the only one that’s ever given me any useful information,” I say and then open my mouth to tell him that I have it again, but I stop myself, not ready to tell him yet until he tells me why he was in the shadow realm. Or better yet, how?

  “Someone’s been watching you,” he mutters then abruptly rises to his feet and starts to pace in front of the bed, mumbling incoherently under his breath.

  I watch him pace back and forth as my brain slowly processes what he’s just told me. “You said you were in the shadow realm. ” I slide to the edge of the bed and lower my feet over the edge to the floor. “But from what I understand, the shadow realm is for Reapers. ”

  He stops in the center of my room, his eyes fixed on the floor. “It is. ” His voice trembles as he battles to control his emotions.

  “Oh, my God,” I breathe, gripping onto the edge of the bed. “Cameron was telling the truth. Your father’s a Reaper. ” Shit. I need to run. Get out of here, away from him as fast as I can.

  The need to run only amplifies when he doesn’t deny my accusations, looking miserable and embarrassed amongst other things. I’m not sure what to do. I probably wouldn’t get very far if I ran and he tried to chase me.

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” I dare to ask. How hard would it be to get to the door?

  “For a lot of reasons,” he says, carrying my gaze but with nervousness. “And even if I wanted to tell you, I couldn’t. I wasn’t even supposed to get this involved with you to begin with. ”

  “How is it even possible?” I ask, stunned beyond comprehension. “How can your father be a Reaper, yet you’re an angel… or are you a Grim Angel?” My eyes widen. “Oh, my God, are you a Reaper?”

  He promptly shakes his head and then slides to the floor on his knees, kneeling in front of me. He then places his hands on top of my thighs, there’s a slight tremble in his fingers. “Ember, please relax. I’m just an ordinary Angel of Death, just like I told you I was. You’ve even seen my wings. ” He’s panicking, looking so raw and emotional right now that, if I didn’t know any better, I’d guess he was human. If I wasn’t worried he was working with the Reapers, I’d have paused the moment and tried to capture it with words—write them on the wall—so this moment would be recorded forever.

  I move my legs out from under his hands, pull my knees to my chest, and hug my arms around them. “I may have seen your wings, but it doesn’t mean I believe that they were real… nothing seems real anymore. Everybody—you, the Reapers, the Anamotti, Cameron—are all throwing stuff at me, and I can barely sort through it all. ” I shut my eyes and inhale, sucking back the tears stinging at them. “And you keep telling me you can’t tell me things because it’s against the rules, yet you’ve told me enough that it seems that, if there were really rules—or if you were telling the truth—you’d be in trouble. ”

  Silence overlaps the sound of my breathing while my heart pounds in my chest. Asher was the only person I’d ever felt comfortable around. I let him feel every inch of me. Kiss me. I gave him my virginity. It feels like my heart’s breaking right now. I think I might have thought I loved him once, but maybe Cameron was right. How could I love him when I didn’t know his flaws; when I barely knew him? I was simply naïve.

  “I’ll tell you everything I know,” he says softly. I feel him shift closer to me. “But I want to hold you while I do. ”

  When I open my eyes and meet his gaze, his pupils are so massive only a ring of silver remains in his eyes. “I’m not sure I can let you do that. I… You lied to me, or at least omitted the truth. I trusted you, but now I’m not so sure I can. ”

  “I know I lied. I messed up. ” He looks remorseful as he climbs on the bed beside me, keeping enough distance that I don’t feel threatened, although he’s still close enough that I nearly drown in his body heat. “And I hated not telling you things, but trust me when I say I couldn’t tell you at the time. ”

  “But now you can?” I ask, warily. “What’s changed?”

  Sadness floods his eyes again. “Because things are different now. ”

  “What’s so different now than it was a few weeks ago in the cemetery when you told me I had to figure out stuff on my own?”

  He diffidently extends his arm towards me, afraid I’ll bolt if he moves too fast. And I want to bolt, but I can’t bring myself to. So I let him put his arm around me and lure me onto his lap. Then I rotate my body so I’m facing him and then slide a leg over him to straddle his lap.

  He never takes his eyes off me as I get situated and then hook my arms around the back of his neck to hold onto something because it feels like whatever he tells me next might knock me down.

  “I missed touching you,” I divulge truthfully, wanting just one moment to enjoy this moment; one beat of my heart, one breath. Before everything breaks apart because I know it’s going to.

  The corners of his lips quirk to a sad smile. “I missed touching you, too. ”

  When he doesn’t begin explaining things right away, I say, “Please tell me you’re not a Reaper before I go mad. ”

  His arms circle my waist and he presses on my lower back, pushing me closer to him until the front of our bodies are perfectly aligned. “I’m not a Reaper. I promise. But I was faced with a choice once that had to do with my Reaper blood,” he explains. “I had to decide whether I wanted to be part of the good or the evil. ” He slants his head forward and I think he’s going to kiss me, but instead he rests his forehead against mine. Then he shuts his eyes and breathes in deeply.

  “My mother was an Angel of Death and my father was a Reaper. The love between the two breeds is obviously forbidden, so they hid it, but eventually my mother found out she was pregnant with me. After I was born, she hid me for as long as she could, but eventually she was discovered; I was discovered. A lot of the Angels wanted to send me down with the Reapers to live in their realm. The Angels feared what I’d turn into—that I’d become death and start stealing souls—but Michael gave me a choice of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be. ”

  “And you chose the side of the good,” I say, sketching my finger up and down his neck.

  “I did, but it wasn’t without a price. ” His eyelids lift and he puts a sliver of space between us as he reclines and looks me in the eyes. “I’ve pretty much been a prisoner amongst the Angels ever since I chose to be one,” he says. “An outcast. And to constantly prove that I won’t surrender to the Reaper side, I’ve been forced to follow every order, day after day, collect soul after soul. If I refuse, then all the Angels question my allegiance. And collecting so many souls it… it takes a toll on you. ”

  I clutch onto him tightly with an ache forming inside my chest because I understand what it’s like to be an outcast. “That’s horrible, Asher. I’m so sorry. ”

  “It was… is. ” He urges me closer by pressing his hand against the small of my back and I give into him, pressing my chest to his. “I’ve been alone in all this for so long. ”

  “You sound so
much like me,” I note, perplexed. “Which is something I don’t get. If your father was a Reaper and your mother was an Angel than why aren’t you considered a Grim Angel?”

  “Because I wasn’t born human,” he says, sounding sadden. “Grim Angels may have Angel blood and Reaper blood in them, but they’re also human and part of the human world, where as I am part of the Angel and Reaper world, am Immortal, can fly, take souls—it’s my job to. ”

  For a brief second I seriously thought he was going to say he was a Grim Angel and that we were the same—that I wasn’t as alone as I thought. “What about your mom?” I ask.

  I feel him tremble under my hands. “My mother was banished and stripped of her wings when they found out what I was. ”

  I pull back, startled. “What?”

  His fingers dig into my back in desperation. “She’s human now, or at least, close to human. Her wings, some of her power lost, like the ability to take souls and her strength. She’ll remain that way until the Angel’s leader Michael decides to give her back her wings, but I doubt he ever will,” he says, not with anger but with pain. “Michael has a hard time forgiving. ”

  “But isn’t he an Angel?” I ask. “I thought they were supposed to represent good. ”

  “For the most part they do, but they—we—do have our rules. ”

  “I’m so sorry, Asher,” I say again because it’s all I can think of to say. Suddenly I understand his painting even more. The pain he was able to capture probably stemmed from his own internal agony. “Do you ever see your mother?”

  He shakes his head, his pain amplifying. “I’m not allowed to. ”

  I place a hand on his cheek, unshaven and rough beneath my hand, wanting to comfort him despite the uncertainty between us. “Do you know where she is?”

  “I think somewhere in New York,” he tells me, leaning into my hand. “But I’m not sure where exactly and my whole basis of her living in New York only comes from rumors I’ve heard. ”

  “Do you—do you know who your father is?” I ask. “I mean, he’s a Reaper, but have you ever met him? Because you told me once that he was terrible to you. ”

  “I’m sorry,” he says remorsefully, his eyes pleading with me to understand. “I only told you that because I didn’t know what to say when you started asking me questions. ”

  “But you said he took you to that place with the statue,” I say, hurt that he’s lied to me so much. “Was that story a lie, too?”

  He closes his eyes, then his firm chest lifts and descends as he takes a deep breath. “I went there with my uncle and mentor, Elliot Morgan, who you know as Professor Morgan. ” His eyelids lift open, his pupils massive. “He was pretty much like a father to me. He was a friend of my mother and he sort of took it upon himself to step up and be a father figure when he could, but it was hard for him going up against the other Angels who wanted nothing to do with me. ”