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Sneak Peek for Avenging Angel

2012-01-08

  11:40:27 am, by

Sneak Peek for Avenging Angel

 

 

 

Happy New Year Everyone!


Here is a sneak peek at Avenging Angel coming March 1st from Ellora's Cave.

 

Blurb:

“I never should have gone to The Purgatory Bar. That’s what started it all.”

Having worked her way through the Heavenly ranks, Porsche’s recently been promoted to Guardian Angel—and if she’d known what trouble lies ahead, she would have stayed in Dream Central.

She’s lost a soul. Well…not lost, per se. Technically it was snatched by a demon, but on Porshce’s watch. With mankind’s faith at an all-time low and Lucifer making a move to buy controlling interest in Heaven Inc., this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Porsche’s determined to battle every succubi, satyr and she-devil in Hades—and possibly a traitor in Heaven—if that’s what it takes to get Alex Chalmers’ soul back.

And if the handsome human wishes to thank her…there has to be some perk to the job.

Publisher’s Note: This story was previously published elsewhere under the title Guardian Angel, and has been revised for Ellora’s Cave.

 

Excerpt from Avenging Angel:

 

When I reported for duty to watch over my roster of sleeping souls, I was even more strung out than I’d been the night before. As supervisor, I commanded the master control suite, a darkened room with rows of monitors occupying the walls. I sat down at the console and looked over the previous shift’s reports. Mercifully, tonight was quiet. Perhaps The Big Guy’d had a change of heart.

I followed protocol and checked the master log against the screens that showed our peacefully sleeping clients. All souls present and accounted for, and no demons afoot.

Having only been on the job a few weeks, I hadn’t had time to acquaint myself with all my charges. One caught my eye almost immediately. “Alex Chalmers”, the log read. I indulged myself with a peek. After all, I had to stay awake somehow.

Sprawled across a king-sized bed, covers in disarray, Chalmers made quite the picture. I reached for the joystick and zoomed in for a closer look.

Dark curls tousled from sleep contrasted against white sheets. Black eyelashes rested against tanned cheeks. He must have been dreaming something pleasant, because his full lips quirked in a half-smile. There was nothing innocent about that mouth. I thought of the things a man could do with a mouth like that and blushed. Guardian Angels aren’t supposed to have lusty thoughts about our charges. If the boss caught me peeking, there’d literally be hell to pay.

Chalmers moved in his sleep, exposing a muscular chest that nearly stopped my breath.

“Research,” I said. My story, and I’d stick to it. I was newly assigned. It only made sense that I’d need to familiarize myself with my subjects. Just then, Chalmers muttered to himself and turned over, burying his head in the pillows.

“Damnation,” I whispered. And sincerely hoped that wasn’t divine intervention.

Exhaustion caught up with me. I glanced again at the wall of monitors and yawned. Angels might be stronger and faster than humans but we still need to rest. I hadn’t had much sleep lately. I was on my third coffee and I still couldn’t will my eyelids to remain open. Finally, I rested my feet against the console and closed my eyes.

Just for a minute, I promised myself.

The persistent shrill ringing of the alarm jarred me from Dreamland.

I sat up, knocking over the coffee at my elbow. Brown liquid poured across the console into the delicate equipment.

The intercom beeped. I gave up hoping for mercy.

“Master Control.” I tried to sound official, and awake.

“Damnation, Winter, you asleep in there?”

I winced. Uriel was my supervisor, right up there next to Gabriel himself. “I’d love to talk, Boss, but I’ve got an alarm going off here—”

“I know about the alarm, you fool. You’ve got a lost soul in sector fifteen.”

“Sector fifteen.” I punched in the coordinates. “I’m on it.”

“You should have been on it five minutes ago. You’re supposed to be watching these things.”

Swiveling my chair, away from the pool of coffee dripping down the side of the console, I cast around for something to mop up the spreading puddle before it damaged anything else. My fingers grasped the thick, fan-folded log. Figuring one more transgression couldn’t possibly make things worse, I dumped it in the middle of the mess.

Somewhere in sector fifteen, a disembodied soul was adrift.

“Get in there and fix it!” the boss screamed into the intercom.

“Right, Boss.”

“And, Winter—”

“Yes, Boss?”

“I’m sending Jarrett with you.”

Coffee and hangover made a sickening cocktail in my stomach. Not Jarrett. Anyone but Jarrett. It didn’t help that I knew Uriel was testing both me and Jarrett, trying to determine if Jarrett really could do my job better.

The boss’s tone certainly didn’t encourage discussion. I felt the prickling of a locator beam on send.

“Hell,” I said, as the floor dropped out beneath me, and hoped the boss hadn’t heard.

* * * * *

We found our charge on the floor of his bedroom, still clutching the sweat-soaked sheets he’d dragged with him in his fall. Though his lungs labored to draw breath to scream, he managed only a whimper.

I took a closer look and groaned. Alex Chalmers. Guilt tugged at my conscience. Had I inadvertently drawn attention to him?

I’d come dressed for battle. The holster at my hip held a discourager—think Taser on steroids. A GPS-type device called a locator was clipped to my belt. A locator did more than just find things and give directions. It had a whole set of nifty capabilities such as allowing us to change planes of existence, move things around and snag people in its beam. Jarrett carried an interceptor in a sling across his back to retrieve Chalmers’ soul.

“Demon for sure,” I said, drawing my discourager.

“Looks that way.”

I could feel Jarrett’s piercing gaze inventorying the dark circles under my eyes, the flight suit that already looked as if I’d slept in it. He might glory in my mistakes but spending the night as my assistant had certainly not been in his plans. I noted he was a shade paler himself. Shouldn’t have gone to Purgatory. I shook my head.

It was going to be a very long night.

Cautiously, I stalked the perimeter of the room, discourager ready should any demons come leaping out of the shadows. I reached for my locator with my left hand, pointed it at the bed and pressed the green sample button on the handle. Readings on the palm-sized computer showed high levels of paranormal activity. Red lights bounced off the walls, and the button blinked, signaling that it was processing information. The tiny screen on the top of the handle read as I feared. Demon.

The display dissolved and flashed another message. Souls present, two. Jarrett’s and mine. The fiend had made its getaway and taken the soul with it.

Squatting by the bed, I examined our subject. Having your soul ripped from your body leaves no outward scars. These days few people pay any attention to body, soul or spirit. Likely only the devout would notice the loss.

Experience told me that this Alex Chalmers was substantially different from the one I’d spied on a short time ago. The aura of innocence had vanished. Not that he wasn’t still appealing.

Our semiconscious subject obviously devoted a good deal of time to his body. One glance revealed a physique honed to peak condition. Bare arms and chest rippled with muscle. I pulled up his blurb from the locator’s database. The profile named him Alexander Alan Chalmers, thirty-one, stockbroker. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who belonged in a suit and tie.

Tousled dark hair covered part of his face but did nothing to hide those tempting lips. With a pang of guilt, I wrenched my mind back to the task at hand. Scandalous thoughts were unbefitting an angel. But I’d have to be dead not to notice a body like that.

I cleared my throat. “Netherworld’s on to him already.”

At the sound of my voice, Chalmers opened his eyes, gaped at us and screamed for real.

I pointed the discourager between his eyeballs and fired. He lapsed back into Dreamland and was silent.

Jarrett grinned. “Sure is entertaining when you screw up, Winter.”

When Jarrett found something funny, it was usually at someone else’s expense. “Go to Hell, Jarrett,” I snapped.

“That’s probably where you’ll end up. I hear they’re short of help in Hell. But after this, you’ll be lucky if they’ll look at your résumé.”

Jarrett’s not-so-good-natured teasing didn’t improve my mood. “Just help me get him back on the bed,” I said, and ground my jaw shut.

The subject was heavy, a good one hundred and eighty pounds of solid muscle, built up on the weight bench in the corner of the bedroom. Glowering at Jarrett, I put my shoulder under Chalmers and heaved.

His eyes flickered once. Deep-brown eyes, I noted, then looked away. We weren’t supposed to notice things like that. Especially with my buddy Jarrett along for the ride.

“Now,” I said, “we’ve got to find his soul.”

“Oh no.” Jarrett held up his hands in protest. “I’m not going wading through the Netherworld because you screwed up. The boss said help you, not do your job.”

Wouldn’t want to do anything you didn’t have to, would you, Jarrett?

“This arguing is useless,” I said. “There’s a soul getting away on us. We have to go after it now if we want to have it back in Chalmers’ body before morning. If we wait, we’ll have to search Hell itself.” Jarrett swallowed nervously but didn’t look convinced. “If you can stand the loss of someone’s soul on your conscience, that’s fine, I’ll do it myself.”

He glared at me for calling his bluff. “All right,” he said turning away. “But you owe me for this one, Porsche.”

Being in Jarrett’s debt was hardly an optimal situation but I was quickly running out of options, so I frowned and said, “Just let me secure the room.”

Using the discourager’s invisible beam, I set up boundaries against further demon intrusion. I stalked the perimeter, stringing lines of protection around ceiling, floor, the windowsill and the doorframe.

“There,” I said finally, stepping back to admire my handiwork. “That ought to hold it until morning.”

Jarrett was poking around in the muscle mags on the night table.

“Whenever you’re ready, Jarrett.”

Caught prying, he looked up, embarrassed. Score one point for me, I thought, and dragged him after me into the Netherworld by the locator’s beam.

Diving into the Netherworld was like tumbling headfirst into a stagnant pond. No one in their right mind would do it if they didn’t have to. Body and soul recoiled from the wisps of clinging fog that chilled me instantly to the bone.

To journey from Heaven into Hell, you must pass through the Netherworld. A plot of territory so unpleasant it’s worked its way into mythology under several erroneous names. Call it Limbo or whatever you like, it’s just plain miserable. No one goes there willingly. The terrain is constantly changing and obscured by curtains of drifting fog. Easy enough to see how a soul could wander forever in its eternal twilight. Not even an experienced angel would travel the Netherworld without a locator.

I plunged into the darkness with Jarrett, my conscience nagging a persistent monologue. Due to my error, poor Chalmers was about to start his first day without his soul. My paranoid mind sorted through the numerous ways a soulless stockbroker could go astray. From all angles, it came up trouble.

Trouble for sure, no doubt of that. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had Wynn Jarrett as witness to the one and only, albeit serious, mistake of my career. I had to fix it. Fast.

In the darkness, the locator beeped reassuringly. The demon couldn’t be too far away if we were still able to track the soul.

Fog cloaked us on all sides, drowning out sight and sound. The mist chilled to the bone. This was the absolute worst part of the job, searching around in the gloom, only air beneath your feet and nothing but the red light of the locator to guide you. Stories of guardians gone astray and never found echoed in the recesses of my mind. I fought the terror down to a manageable discomfort and concentrated.

From beyond the boundaries of space and time, a sickly breeze carried aloft the cries of lost souls. Even the distant whisper of those plaintive entreaties was enough to send a chill creeping down my spine.

Like a vast funnel, the Netherworld channels errant souls into its shadowy depths. Legends of this scary territory abound. But the one detail that never made it into myth is that few souls escape. Doomed to wander, their anguished cries echo eternally.

A shuddering crescendo of screaming swept over me. Cringing, I pressed my palms over my ears. Their distress was seductive, especially to those of us trained to protect and heal. Their pitiful cries were like a magnet drawing me closer. I wouldn’t be the first kindhearted Guardian to stray into their numbers…forever.

With a stern reminder that they were long beyond my assistance, I kept scanning. That won’t be Chalmers’ fate, I promised myself. You’ll find him in time.

Our world had shrunk to a series of red dots on the locator’s palm-sized grid. I forced the display to take on a 3D perspective in my imagination, reminding myself that we did indeed exist in space and time, that I had only to push the locator’s red emergency button and I would find myself home in Heaven. Counting, of course, on the luck that a demon wouldn’t find us first.

We zoomed down the Y-axis, following the blips of light.

“Nothing,” Jarrett said, doubtless as anxious to get out of there as I was.

“Switching to X.” I dialed the appropriate knobs. My stomach turned over as we changed planes. Jarrett cursed in the darkness. If it made Wynn Jarrett uncomfortable, perhaps it was worth it.

We zoned in on X and plunged along the axis. Blips became more regular. As if pulled by invisible strings, we glided closer, wisps of fog parting before us like damp curtains. Ahead of us on the locator’s screen, a red light blinked persistently.

“There,” I said, lining up the dots on the grid. Behind me in the gloom, Jarrett grunt in agreement. “Get ready to intercept.”

From behind his back, Jarrett grabbed his megaphone-shaped interceptor and flipped a switch. A low whine rippled through the silence as the interceptor charged, ready to retrieve the lost soul.

“Ready,” Jarrett said.

“On my mark…one, two…” The intervals between the locator’s beeps decreased to a steady tone.

Ahead in the darkness, two green, unblinking eyes glared at us. My imagination filled in the rest of the details—the sinewy body, the double rows of teeth and barbed claws.

Demon. I knew it.

And it had Alex Chalmers’ soul.

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