|It's too late now; his fate is sealed. With one touch, she becomes as necessary to him as the air he breathes. He will move heaven and earth to protect her-but against a demon as powerful as Asmodeus, heaven and earth may not be enough...
Warning: This book contains one bad-ass Archangel with a fiery, um, sword, a witch who blows things up, one nasty demon who is trying to kill them both, and ghosts who make interfering their mission. Steamy sex is had, even with the voyeur ghosts-though Tory is still blushing.
Looking at the items around her, Victoria Bloom knew something was missing. She had the pentagram outlined in chalk on the old attic floor. At each point rested a large white candle, all of which was surrounded by a circle of protection. Ginseng burned on the makeshift altar, the scent so overpowering it almost gagged her. The Grimoire of Armadel was opened to the correct page. Ari, one of her spirit guides, insisted she was ready, but still she hesitated. The one thing Tory considered to be essential for the ritual to work was the very thing she lacked. Belief.
Funny really, considering Tory was a medium, meaning she saw ghosts, and she was preparing to perform an ancient ritual, all on the advice of a woman who had been dead for almost four centuries. But she couldn't deny something had to be done. On her twenty-fifth birthday, her powers had begun to emerge, powers her guides would soon no longer be able to camouflage. Calling forth an angel, though, seemed a little extreme, even for her.
"Hurry up," Ari whispered in Tory's mind. "You don't have all day."
"Yes, the spell must be performed before the sun sets. You don't want to accidentally call forth a demon, do you?" Sam prodded and Tory sighed. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to be the only voice in her head.
"Boring," Thomas added, his nasal tone a reprimand. "Now get the sigil drawn so we can get this over with."
Tory snorted but didn't bother arguing. It wouldn't do her any good anyway. One of the three guides always seemed to have the last word.
In the center of the pentagram, she carefully copied the sigil from the ancient grimoire. The three stooges, something she had affectionately termed her guides when she'd been a child and continued because it annoyed them so much, had debated for days, poring over the book before finally coming up with a name. Tory would have picked the most powerful warrior to aid her but the stooges had been adamantly against her choice. It seemed even though Michael's mission was to protect humans, he didn't like them very much.
Setting the book aside, Tory picked up the dagger. With the stooges egging her on, she sliced the blade across her palm and gasped. It stung like a bitch. Eyes watering, both from the incense and the cut, she pressed her palm in the center of the sigil, leaving behind a bloody print. Then she moved out of the protective circle and began to chant, calling forth the angel Zadkiel. The words flowed from her, unknown and mysterious, a testament to how much power now flowed through her, energy Tory feared would be her downfall.
A blinding light burst forth within the center of the pentagram, causing her to draw a hand up to shield her eyes as the words faltered on her lips. Time seemed suspended. The rays illuminated every corner of the attic and Tory held her breath, fearing for the first time more than just the evil hunting her. As her body was enveloped within the white beams, she waited for the burn.
Slowly, the light dimmed and she was stunned to find herself unscathed. But still Tory hid her eyes behind her hand. Who knew what the hell stood on the other side. And since her father was, if the bastard still lived, a demon-worshiping warlock, hell was entirely possible.
"You foolish human. I was in the midst of an important meeting. Send me back. Now."
Her hand fell from her face, her gaze latching onto the figure in the middle of the pentagram. Holy shit. It had worked. And he was huge. Close to seven feet tall with long black hair cascading around broad shoulders and rippling biceps. His arms were folded across his massive chest, fists clenched in obvious agitation, causing the veins to bulge prominently.
Tory lifted her eyes to his face and the stark beauty she found there left her dumbfounded. He had a strong face, high cheekbones and a pronounced jaw presently ticking in anger. Ice-blue eyes framed by thick black lashes and full lush lips frowned down at her.
"Well?" he asked, arching one raven-hued brow.
"Please, Zadkiel, I am in desperate need of your help."
"Lord, save me from idiots. I am not Zadkiel, you nitwit."
"Oh shit," Ari muttered.
"What do you mean, oh shit?" Tory demanded. "What have you three gotten me into now?"
"Michael," came the whispered reply, and Tory knew she was in some serious trouble.
"Just what I need. A feeble-minded human. Can this day get any worse?" the angel mumbled, jerking her attention back to him.
"I am not feeble-minded," she cried indignantly, fear quickly forgotten. "And it would serve you right if Fate bit you on the ass."
Michael snorted. "Those three bitches know better than to mess with me. Now I have more important things, woman, than to share insults with you."
Tory watched him curiously, wondering what he thought he was going to do. His eyes closed and he seemed to be concentrating really hard on something. Several moments later, his face scrunched up, his eyes opening to pierce hers with an enraged glare. He took two giant steps forward, stopping inches from the edge of the protective circle. Tory held her breath, suddenly afraid it would not hold him, leaving her with one very pissed off angel on her ass. But Michael didn't try to step over the invisible barrier.
"I do not intend to hold you indefinitely as my own personal avenging angel." Tory watched in fascination as her statement caused his brow to arch again. Damn, but he was hot. It was such a shame he was a jerk.
"Then what are your intentions, human?"
"I have a name. It is Victoria Bloom, Tory for short."
"Your names are meaningless," he replied with an indifferent shrug. "Nothing better than cattle."
"Why protect us if you disdain humans so much?"
"What you have become disgusts me. The corruption. The greed. But that has nothing to do with why I hunt the fallen. There is no atonement for those who raised a sword against the Father and it is my job to terminate them."
"The fallen? You mean demons?"
Michael shook his head. "There are others who track and kill what you know as demons, the abominations created by Lucifer and Lilith. The fallen were once angels who rebelled and have been cast into Hell."
"Tell him," Ari whispered in her ear.
"Yes, tell him," Sam repeated, an annoying echo in her head.
"Asmodeus," Thomas added insistently.
"Who is Asmodeus?" Tory demanded. It was the first time any of the stooges had mentioned a name in connection with the demon who hunted her and she was pissed they had been hiding something so important all this time.
"Asmodeus?" Michael growled. "What does the Lord of Wrath have to do with why I've been brought here?"
Tory ignored the big bad angel, instead focusing her attention on the three stooges. "Someone had better start explaining. And quickly." Her belligerent tone could not be helped. Discovering she had been kept in the dark when her very life hung in the balance didn't have Tory feeling particularly magnanimous.
Ari ignored her because the spirit's awareness was completely centered on Michael, and neither Sam nor Thomas made a sound. Those two were never quiet. Especially Thomas. The cranky old bird had an opinion on everything.
"Is it that bad?" she whispered, swallowing convulsively around the words and fighting the bleakness slithering up her spine.
"Just who the hell are you speaking to?"
Tory flinched at Michael's demand. "My guides. They say the demon hunts me."
"Exactly how is this my problem?"
Wrapping her arms around her torso, Tory tried to fight off the chill sweeping the room at Michael's icy tone. The tiny kernel of hope she'd been secretly protecting since she'd discovered the truth of her birth withered and died. She should be used to it, having learned long ago no one gave a damn about her. At least no one living. So why the hell did it hurt so badly?
"I will release you." The words were forced out around the sob fighting for freedom, but Tory managed to hold back the tears.
Michael opened his mouth to speak but it shut with a definitive snap when an inhuman screech rent the air. The mist lapping at Tory's calves split, a portion swirling violently toward Michael until stopping inches from the magical barrier it too could not cross. Stretching and lengthening toward the ceiling, it began to slowly transform until in its place stood the iridescent figure of a young woman.
"You conceited bastard," Ari shrieked. "You owe me."
Startled by Ari's appearance-the spirits rarely, if ever, showed their human form to Tory much less anyone else-it took Tory a moment for her outburst to sink in. It certainly sounded as if Ari had some familiarity with the angel but that couldn't be. Ari would have told her before she'd ever attempted this fiasco. Wouldn't she?
"Ariadne," Michael said softly.
The way he breathed out her name and the sheer fact he looked like he'd been run over by a Mack truck confirmed Tory was not the only one eating a big helping of betrayal. Never in a million years would she have believed any of her guides, but especially Ari, would dupe her in such a way. And why? For what purpose? Since Michael had appeared, Tory had felt like she was driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction. The stooges had been the only beings on Earth Tory had felt she could trust. Until now.
"You owe me," Ari repeated, this time at a whisper and Michael sighed heavily, searching Tory out with his eyes. She felt those blue orbs sweep over her frame, slowly, like phantom fingers reaching out to draw her close. Then Michael nodded.
"If you return to where you belong, I will deal with Asmodeus."
Ari glanced over her shoulder at Tory. Her face was etched with sadness and seemed to beg for understanding, but Tory found herself a little short on that emotion. Maybe if she'd had some clue as to what was going on… Hell, who was she kidding? She would have still been pissed had she known all the spirit had apparently been hiding from her.
"Your vow, Michael, and I will go."
Michael only hesitated for a second before nodding in acquiescence.
"The words. I am not foolish enough to believe you without the words."
As the angel's eyes narrowed in a mixture of anger and indignation, Tory was glad the piercing gaze was not aimed at her. She would have wet her pants. But Ari just rested her hands on her hips and waited.
"I vow I will deal with Asmodeus."
"And you'll protect Victoria. You, Michael. Not one of your little followers."
His fists clenched, released, then tightened again as he glared down at the apparition, and Tory fell back several steps. Baiting a pissed-off angel seemed like a really bad thing to do, and since she was the only other being in the room still living, Tory figured she would be the one to pay if Michael decided to come after someone.
"You have my vow," he practically snarled, seemingly not the least bit happy about Ari's demands. Not that Tory could blame him. She wasn't particularly pleased herself. The last thing she wanted to do was spend any more time in the angel's presence than absolutely necessary.
"Release the spell, Tory."
Her head shot up in surprise and she found Ari had turned toward her and was watching her solemnly. "Just like that? Without a word of explanation? I don't think so."
A ghostly hand reached out to caress her cheek. "It's the way it must be, baby girl. I can no longer protect you. But Michael can. And he will. It's time."
Stupidly, Tory shook her head. Time for what? She couldn't even form the words to ask. Ari had been with her for as long as Tory could remember, long before the death of her mother. She couldn't imagine a tomorrow without the spirit in it, even if her faith in Ari had taken a hit.
"I would never allow you to come to harm," Ari said softly, her ghostly gaze filling with unshed tears. "Release him."
Tory hesitated a moment, her mind trying to remember all the reasons why this was such a bad idea, before sighing as she reluctantly knelt at the edge of the circle. Using the blade still covered with her blood, she cut a line in the chalk, effectively breaking the protection spell. A powerful blast of energy hit her square on the chest, knocking her on her butt as she unconsciously drew the power back inside her body.
Towering over her like an avenging warrior, Michael held within his tight grasp a mighty sword, the likes of which Tory had never seen. The leather-wrapped handle had little adornment, only a leaf print etched in the silver base. Nothing really to remark over. The blade though was another story and had her frozen in disbelief. If one could actually call it a blade. The damn thing was a good three feet of red and orange flame swaying menacingly.
She was so dead.
Tory squeezed her eyes shut, hands over her head, waiting for a blow that never came. Instead, she heard Michael stride past her. Peeking from beneath her fingers, she watched for one surreal moment as he swung the blade of flame directly into the apparition that was her best friend. Then, with a flash of light and a loud popping sound, Ari was gone and Michael was standing over her again.
"What have you done?" Tory whispered, past caring she might anger him. There wasn't a damn thing she could do if Michael decided to take her life. She figured at least with the angel it wouldn't be the painful experience the demon hunting her would make of it.
"Get your ass into that circle and bespell it. I will return shortly."
Her jaw dropped. That was all Michael had to say to her. "Now just one minute-- " Her sputtering came to an abrupt halt when Tory found herself in Michael's arms. But only for a second. Instead of dealing with any arguments from her, he'd scooped her up then dumped her in the middle of the pentagram.
"Why me?" he mumbled. Then one minute Michael was there and the next he was gone.