Ember x, p.38
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       Ember X, p.38

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 38


  “Then I’ll tell them to go away, too,” I tell him.

  “That won’t work on them, sweetheart,” he says gravely as he slinks farther into the shadows. “The Anamotti aren’t quite as easy-going as me. ” With a swish of his cloak, he alters into a smaller figure, sprouting wings and shrinking into a raven. He circles around my head, before disappearing into the night sky.

  My body aches to fly away with him, be free, shed my skin, become one with the night, but I know I can’t.

  Asher makes a grunting noise and I rush for him, kneeling down on the ground beside him. “Are you okay?” I ask, not daring to touch him.

  His shirt is torn from his cuts and bruises cover his beautiful pale chest. His black hair is disheveled, his lip is split open, and his striking wings are crooked, the feathers scarce.

  “I’m fine,” he assures me with a weak smile as he sits up.

  “Does it… does it hurt?”

  His eyes unite with mine, zealous and hungry. “Nothing could hurt at this moment. You just sent him away. ”

  “I’ve sent him away before. ” I brush stray feathers from his arms and then rest my hand in the curve of his shoulder, feeling his warmth. “But he came back. ”

  “I know. ” His hand finds my hip and he pulls me onto his lap. “And he’ll find a way to keep coming back until I completely surrender to him—they all will. ”

  “What did you do to them?” I ask, gripping at his bare shoulders. “The other Reapers—the Anamotti. Detective Crammer or whoever she is?”

  “She’s a Reaper—all the Anamotti are. Theyre the Reapers who have banded together to eliminate the Grim Angels, even though it’s forbidden to touch them. And I took care of them, for the moment, but they’ll be back. ”

  I note his hands on my hips, wondering if he’s allowed to touch me. “You mean, until they make me lose my sanity. ”

  He nods, his eyes never parting from mine. “That’s the point of all this, yes. We are all cursed to this world until you do. ”

  My knees sink to the ground. “Cursed?”

  “Our curse to this world,” he explains. “It’s our punishment for our part in the Battle of Death. The Angels of Death and the Grim Reapers are bound to the Earth by the existence of the Grim Angel. And it’s only the Grim Angel that can free one of us back to our homes. ”

  “But aren’t the Grim Angels supposed to create balance, so no one can steal souls?”

  “They are, but they will break the balance. The Reapers have been working to weed out every Grim Angel that exists, until there is only one left standing. And that one is the one that will have to pass the test. If they can live their life enduring the Reaper and Angel blood, then the Angels of Death will gain back their power over the souls and be freed from Earth. If they give in to the insanity of the Reapers, then the Reapers gain control over the souls. ”

  “But I thought Reapers collected the evil souls and Angels collected the innocent?” I ask, moving my legs so I’m straddling him.

  “That’s how it used to work,” he says, reaching his fingers for my cheek, like he wants to touch me, but then he withdraws his hand back. “But the rules were broken and a bet was made. Now whoever wins, wins all the souls. ”

  “But if Reapers could collect any soul,” I glance at the tombstones, “then it would be bad. ”

  “It would probably be worse than you can even imagine. ” His voice weighs heavily and then his jaw tightens.

  “How many are left?” I cling onto him, fearing his answer “How many Grim Angels still roam the Earth?”

  “I’m not exactly sure. There used to be a lot, but the Reapers have been singling them out and many have died of old age. The longer they exist, the scarcer the Grim Angels bloodline is. ” He winces as he shifts his weight, still refusing to touch me with his hands. “And the Reapers must know how few there are, because over the last couple years, they’ve been really determined to hunt them down, even though they’re not supposed to. ”

  “That’s what I don’t get,” I say, gently touching a cut on his cheek. “If they’re not supposed to, then why doesn’t someone stop them?”

  “It’s up to their leader to punish them. Or we could go into battle,” he says as I move my fingers upward to the scar on his eyebrow. “But Michael, my father and the ruler of the Angels of Death, won’t allow us to bend any rules under any circumstances. ”

  “You said your dad was bad. And dead. ” I frown, pulling my hand back. “And that you moved from New York to get away from the memories of him. ”

  “I did,” he assures me, and then swiftly changes the subject, his powerful, consuming gaze taking in my bare shoulders and my chest curving out of my torn dress. “You look beautiful like that. ” He strokes the tip of my fake wing. “When I saw you, I almost had a heart attack. For a second, I thought somehow… you became one of us. ”

  The wind howls, flipping my wings in front me and throws my body off balance. Asher’s fingers spread over my hips as he steadies me and then hugs me against his chest. I sense the approaching goodbye waiting for me at his lips. We stare at each other, hearts beating, eyes linked, neither of us desiring to move. But the moment is fleeting, like the sound of a weightless laugh, the flash of a lightning bolt, the last breath of the dying.

  “You’re leaving me, aren’t you,” I say quietly, running my fingers through his hair. “I can tell you are. ”

  “I broke the rules and now I can’t stay. I wasn’t supposed to get involved with you—no one is. It’s all supposed to be of your own free will, to prove a point. ” Wetting his lips with his tongue, he kisses me, slipping his warm tongue into my mouth and I grip onto his shoulders, digging my nails into his skin, never wanting to let him go.

  “But I couldn’t help it,” he says, coming up for air. “When I saw you that night at the party, standing there by yourself, so sad and lost, I knew I had to get to know you. You were the first Grim Angel I met that’s ever done that to me. ”

  I hook my arms around his neck and breathe in his comforting scent. “Why were you there at the party?”

  “I was collecting someone’s soul for Michael. ” His hands travel down my spine, pulling the zipper down with him. I don’t know what he’s doing, nor do I care as my bare back gets exposed to the crisp night.

  “I just want to see you one more time… like this…” He murmurs, feeling my skin. “I messed up, Ember. I let the person live and took someone else’s soul instead,” he says, slipping his hands into my dress and pressing his palm against my lower back.

  “You were supposed to take Raven’s, weren’t you?” I arch into him as he pushes me onto my back. “You let her live and took Laden’s soul instead. ”

  “I could see in your eyes when you were talking about her that night that you need her,” he says sadly, removing his free hand up to my eyes. “There’s so much sadness in here and I wanted to make it go away. ”

  I swallow hard. “So you killed Laden, because he was trying to rape her?”

  “I wasn’t supposed to take his soul or kill him. I just got carried away,” he says, and I’m reminded again of what I read in the book: passionate in battle. “And the Anamotti used it to their advantage. They took his body and made it look like your dad’s crime scene to mess with your head. ”

  “And you got in trouble for it,” I say, kissing his palm when he moves it across my mouth. “What are they going to do to you?”

  “I’m in trouble for a lot of things. ” He lures my chest against his and kisses me with such heat my skin nearly ignites. I rake my fingers through his soft hair and his hands grip my thighs, his fingertips pressing into my skin, wanting everything, but knowing he can’t take anything. The straps of my dress fall down my shoulders and the top of me is revealed to the night. I don’t know what to do or what he’s doing as his slate eyes take my bare chest in.

  “The other night… when you and I…” he shuts his eyes and breathes in a
s he places his hand over my chest, right above my erratic heart. “I’ll never forget what it felt like… how I felt…”

  I’m breathing fiercely, because I can tell he’s about to leave me, and I need him, like I need air. “Don’t go,” I plead and he opens his eyes. “Please stay with me. You’re the only one who’s ever made me feel at peace. ”

  His lips start to part, but I silence them with mine, kissing him with every ounce of life I have inside me. My bare chest presses against his and the warmth and contact drives me into a frenzy.

  “Please, don’t go…” I say between kisses. “Please. ”

  He bites at my lip, cupping my cheek, giving my tongue a quick suck before pulling away and looking me in the eyes. “I have to. ”

  The sky rumbles and his eyes travel upward to the dark clouds. His face is masked with pain as the sky begins to drizzle and his long eyelashes flutter against the raindrops. “Michael doesn’t ever let any Angel go when we’ve broken the rules, and besides, you have to do this on your own… I can’t interfere anymore. ”

  They sky booms again like the snap of an elastic band and I feel it break, my freedom, as raindrops cover my body.

  He guides my ear toward his mouth and drops his voice to a low whisper. “Find out everything you can about Grim Angels and the Battle of Death. Find out what happens with the last Grim Angel standing… There’s a part I can’t tell you. And Ember, don’t trust anyone. Ever. ” His hand slides down my neck, over my breasts, my waist, searing hot against my damp skin. “Shut your eyes. ”

  Reluctantly, I close them and cling to his shoulders, wishing I never had to open them again. I hear his wings snap wide and then a delicate flutter as he flaps them. He kisses my forehead, my cheek, my lips, and then like a feather in the wind, he slips out from under me.

  When I open my eyes, I’m alone, kneeling in the mud, rain soaking my hair and clothes, the top of my dress pulled down. I refuse to move; I’ll stay here forever in the cemetery with the only peace I have left.

  “Oh my God!” Raven screams and I turn around, pulling my dress over my chest.

  She’s staggering through the mud toward me. “What the hell happened? How did I get here? Em, I’m… I have no idea what’s going on or why I’m in a cemetery. ” She stops just short of me and glances down at her white dress, tattered and marked red with tonight’s torture. Her artificial wings are ripped to pieces and her neck is still bleeding a little.

  I stand up and zip up the back of my dress, then grab a piece of fabric off the ground and press it to her neck. “We need to get you to a hospital. ” I drape her arm around my shoulder and lead her toward the gate.

  Her death is back; standing on the ledge and someone begs her to jump, so she does. Different, but still painful.