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This is going to hurt like hell. The grim thought was confirmed by the look on the gatekeeper’s face, but Bishop didn’t want anyone’s pity. After all, he’d volunteered for this. “Are you ready?” the gatekeeper asked. “Yes, I’m ready.” “And you know your mission.” “Of course.” Bishop glanced over his shoulder at the expanse of bright white behind him. This was as far as he could go before leaving Heaven entirely. He’d left before, many times, but this was different. He pushed aside a sliver of fear. He would return soon—this was not the end for him. It was only the beginning. The gatekeeper studied Bishop as if looking for any sign of weakness. “You’ve been warned that there will be pain?” “I have.” “And disorientation?” “Yes.” Traveling to the human world was not normally a huge ordeal. However, there was nothing normal about this mission.
An invisible barrier shielded his destination, preventing any supernatural being from entering or leaving the city through normal means. Bishop had been told this gatekeeper had the ability to help him breach the barrier—but it wasn’t going to be pleasant. The minds of the others would be protected to prevent any harm, but not his. He was the only one who would remember what needed to be done. Bishop was positive he was more than strong enough to handle whatever was to come. All the better to prove his worth. This was going to be very good. “First you must find the others,” instructed the gatekeeper. “If you don’t find them within seven days, they’ll be lost forever.” “I know this already.” He didn’t even try to keep the sharp tone from his voice. Patience had never been his strongest virtue. The gatekeeper pursed his lips and his expression soured. “Do you have it?” “Yes.” A golden dagger was tucked into the sheath he wore strapped between his shoulder blades. It was all he needed to take with him. The gatekeeper nodded. “Come closer.” Bishop did as he asked. The gatekeeper pressed his pale, long-fingered hand against Bishop’s chest. Bishop grimaced as an unpleasant burning sensation sank into him. He gritted his teeth to keep from showing discomfort at whatever protection the gatekeeper was searing into him to help in his journey. Finally the gatekeeper stepped back. He didn’t smile. It was quite possible that he never smiled. The oldest angels were usually the least pleasant. “Well?” Bishop prompted. “Are we done here?”
“We are. May your journey be—” Before the sentence could be completed, the solidity beneath Bishop dropped away. He hadn’t had a chance to brace himself. Bishop had imagined what this might feel like—a cleansing pain that would help him focus on the all-important task that lay ahead. Instead, it was an agony unlike anything he’d ever experienced. He struggled against it, but it was too much, and he had his very first doubt about his success. But it was too late for doubts. Too late for fear. Too late for anything. As he continued to fall with no way to stop his torturous descent, he felt his mind begin to rip away. The instant he slammed through the barrier surrounding the human city, Bishop realized he’d never before heard himself scream.
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?
“This is going to be an amazing night, Sam!” Carly shouted over the music blasting all around us. “You think so?” I yelled back. “Best night ever!” Sure. My throat already hurt and we’d only been here for a half hour. So far it felt like every Friday night at Crave, elbow to elbow with other sweaty kids on the dance f loor. Don’t get me wrong, as one of the only all-ages clubs here in Trinity, it was a decent place to hang out—especially with my best friend—I just didn’t think it was going to change my life or anything. Anyone looking at us would think that Carly and I were the polar opposite of each other in looks and attitude. Carly Kessler was a curvy, f lippy-haired blonde with a sunny personality whereas I was a skinny, nonsunny, long-haired brunette. And yet we were still best friends and had been forever. After a few more minutes enveloped in the hot nightclub, Carly clutched my arm, her face f lushed with excitement. “Heads up. Stephen Keyes is looking right at you.” I glanced over my shoulder and saw him standing at the
edge of the dance f loor. He was looking at me. Or, at least, he seemed to be looking at me. I turned back around, my heart pounding. Everyone has that one crush, the guy they can’t stop thinking about even though it’s totally hopeless. Stephen Keyes was mine. He was nineteen—two years older than me—and utterly gorgeous with jet-black hair and caramel-colored eyes. We grew up in the same neighborhood, him two doors down from me. He mowed lawns in the summer. I watched from my bedroom window. It was such a cliché, really. The weird, unpopular chick with the massive crush on the hot, older jock. As far as I knew, Stephen was supposed to be at university in California, two thousand miles away. I’d even watched his parents help him pack up his car when he left town at the end of August. I wondered why he was back only a couple of months later. Suddenly he wasn’t just lingering at the edge of the dance f loor looking distant and delectable. He was standing right next to me. Carly watched, her eyes widening as Stephen leaned close enough for me to hear him over the loud throb of the music. “Can I talk to you?” he asked. “Me?” He nodded and smiled. And I, the girl who shunned and mocked romance in all its forms—movies, books, real life— went weak for a hot guy I had a crush on. Whenever I’d really liked somebody in the past—which, not including Stephen, had been only twice before in my entire life—it hadn’t ended in true love. The two other boys I’d fallen for hadn’t liked me in return and I’d ended up ignored, brokenhearted and humiliated both times.
However, that hadn’t stopped me from liking Stephen. A lot. Stephen didn’t wait for my reply. Instead, he walked away, weaving through the labyrinth of sweaty dancers. Something wicked this way comes. The line from Macbeth, our current read in English class, f litted through my head. The quote suited Stephen perfectly. He might be the boy next door, but to me he was also wicked. And dangerous. I didn’t do dangerous. Not anymore. Even little dangerous things tended to lead to big trouble. Six months ago, I’d been busted for shoplifting—my dumb way of psychologically dealing with my parents’ divorce—although I wasn’t arrested for it, thank God. I’d learned my lesson in a very big way that sticking your hands in dangerous places would get them chopped off. “Go,” Carly urged. “This is so awesome!” She wasn’t much help. Carly would storm headfirst into danger if she thought it might mean that she’d have a good time. When she was a kid she’d stuck her hand in a beehive because she wanted to taste the honey. It hadn’t turned out so well, of course, but I had to admire her for…well, going for it, despite all the signs not to. She didn’t second-guess herself. She didn’t regret anything she tried—even the crazy stuff. With a last look at Carly, I followed Stephen off the dance f loor. I was insanely curious what he wanted to speak to me about. I mean, despite us living very close to each other, he didn’t even know me. He led the way up a spiral staircase to the second-f loor lounge, which was surrounded by glass walls with thin, swirling frosted patterns on the otherwise clear surface. Up here, away from the crowd and deejay and loudspeakers, I could
actually hear myself think. The lounge had a couple of pool tables and red couches and chairs. Stephen leaned against one of the couches and studied me. He wore a black button-down shirt and dark jeans. His hair was slicked back off his handsome face. My stomach f luttered. “So…” I began when he didn’t say anything. “Do you come here often?” Oh, God. I was normally proud of my smooth comebacks, my witty one-liners, and that was what came out of my mouth? I wanted a do-over. Stephen grinned, showing straight white teeth. “I’m here every single night, lately. Even weekdays.” “Every night? Really?” I twisted my hair. “Cool.” Cool? Really? I was not handling this well at all. My brain and my voice weren’t working in sync. “Um, what are you doing in Trinity?” I asked. “I thought you were in university now.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I’m taking a bit of a break, trying to decide what I really want to do with my life. Thought I’d come back here for a while.” I just nodded and tried very hard not to say “cool” again. “You come here every Friday, right, Samantha?” A f lush of pleasure went through me. I was totally okay with friends calling me Sam, but I liked hearing him say my full name. “Usually.” “You like it here?” I looked around. There weren’t many people in the lounge tonight. It was the first time I’d even come up here, myself. A couple on the far couch glanced over at us every so often as if curious why Stephen Keyes was talking to me. The majority of kids were downstairs on the large dance f loor and at the
bar area, both visible through the glass wall that circled the lounge. I could even see the top of Carly’s blond head from where I stood. “Yeah, it’s okay,” I said. “Just okay?” I shrugged and rubbed my dry lips together, turning to face him. My lip gloss from earlier was long gone. “Some nights are better than others.” Stephen reached out a hand. “Come here.” If he hadn’t made it sound like a charming invitation, I might have resisted. But I walked closer to him, until I was a few feet away. There was something strange in his gaze as he studied me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but a chill slid down my spine. I cleared my throat. “You said you wanted to talk to me about something?” “So you’re the special one, are you?” That was the last thing I expected him to say. “Special?” “That’s what she said. That’s why she wants me to do this. I normally wouldn’t, since you’re so young.” She? She who? I frowned at him. “I’m seventeen.” “Exactly. That’s young.” “No, it’s not.” “Trust me, Samantha. It is.” He slid his arm around my waist so that his hand rested at the small of my back, and he drew me closer to him. His touch sank into me, cool against my hot skin. It was suddenly difficult for me to breathe. “Who said I’m special?” He didn’t answer. When I looked up at him I realized he was leaning closer to me, closer and closer, and then his lips brushed against mine. I gasped and he pulled back a little.
“Is this okay?” he asked. “May I kiss you?” My cheeks warmed. “I…um…” He spoke softly into my ear. “I should warn you, it’s a very dangerous kiss. It’ll change your life forever, so you have to want it.” If I wasn’t feeling so f lustered, I might have thought he was being cocky. I mean, please. A kiss that could change my life forever? But I kind of believed him. And after months of trying to be a perfect angel after the shoplifting incident, I wanted to push the edges of my comfort zone just a little bit. And this was special—a boy I liked who might like me in return. I couldn’t just walk away. This time I kissed him, tangling my fingers into his black hair and pulling his mouth toward mine as if I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t kissed many boys before, so I hoped I was doing it right. It felt right. In fact, it felt really right. My lips parted as the kiss deepened. His fingers dug into my waist. This felt like something out of a movie—one of the romantic ones I never watched because they made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to try to relate to all of those emotions, those declarations of love and eternal devotion. I mean, spare me the drama. “You’re delicious,” Stephen whispered before he kissed me again and my heart felt like it was pounding right out of my chest. And then it got weird. The cool sensation from his touch turned icy and spread to the kiss, and I shivered. That iciness slid down my throat to my stomach and branched out to my arms and legs, chilling my entire body. Goose bumps formed on my arms. Dizziness swirled through me. It was jarring, but I couldn’t exactly say
it felt bad. It was exciting, a rush, like being on a roller coaster in the middle of winter. I lost track of time. Nothing existed for me except Stephen. His lips never left mine—and I never wanted them to. Minutes, hours, I didn’t know how long it was that he kissed me. All I knew was that I couldn’t stop kissing him even if I wanted to. But then, finally, he stopped kissing me. He held my face between his hands and stared at me for a heavy moment. His eyes looked very dark in the shadows up here. “Sorry, kid. Really.” Then he let go of me and walked away. Kid? Time slowed to a crawl as he disappeared down the stairs, the dance music becoming a hollow echo in my ears. My face burned even though my chest now felt like ice. The scent of sweat mixed with perfume slowly pulled me out of my daze. To my left I could see the multicolored lights above the dance f loor. Even up here, the ground shook with the force of all the kids stomping down there. Carly appeared at the top of the stairs and approached me, glancing back in the direction Stephen had gone. “Sam! What happened?” I tried to find my voice. “Stephen Keyes kissed me.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, my God! You’re so lucky!” He’d kissed me. And then he’d called me a kid and walked away. “Lucky,” I repeated, just before my eyes rolled back, my knees gave out and everything went black.
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