Jun 21 2012 12:30pm
Last Rite (Excerpt)
Enjoy this excerpt from the last book of Lisa Desrochers Personal Demons series, Last Rite, out now:
In this final installment of the thrilling, edgy Personal Demons series, the battle between Heaven and Hell has become critical, and Frannie Cavanaugh is right at the center of it.
With the help of the powerful angel Gabe and demon-turned-mortal Luc, Frannie has been able to stay one step ahead of the forces of Hell. But when the demons killed Frannie’s best friend and destroyed her brother, they raised the stakes. If Frannie wants to keep her family and friends safe, she knows she has no choice but to go on the run.
Their best defense is the power Frannie has been struggling to master, but her attempts to hone her skill go horribly awry. If Frannie doesn’t learn fast, the consequences could be devastating—even apocalyptic.
Run Like Hell
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen myself dead, but this time it’s different.
The pain in my head starts to soften as the image becomes clearer. White clouds, blue sky. My stomach lurches. Lightning in my veins. I don’t have time for one of my stupid visions right now. Consuming me. I breathe back the nausea . . . burning alive . . . and force the image out of my head.
I glance sideways at Gabe, whose eyes flit between the narrow dirt road in front of us and the rearview mirror. I thought I drove fast, but I can’t even make myself look at the speedometer as he weaves through the pitch-black woods to God only knows where.
The headlights of Rhen’s silver Lincoln and Marc’s hearse light up the inside of Gabe’s Charger. They’ve followed us, first on the highway and now through the woods, for the last hour, since we left Haden.
When I turn to look over my shoulder at our demonic tail, I see Luc, in the backseat. It takes him a second to realize I’m looking. When he does, he presses his hand to the bloody bandage over his left forearm and lowers his eyes.
My stomach knots and I wonder again what happened in the park with Lilith. He went after her. Did he kill her? No. He couldn’t have. She would have transferred her soul into his body and taken control if he had.
I look at him more closely. His eyes are tortured, but they’re clear. I know in my gut that this is Luc. No Lilith.
But he’s not my Luc.
In my room, when I asked him if he was coming with us—told him I wanted him to—he said no. But Gabe made him come. He said it was too much of a risk to leave Luc behind. When Luc still refused, Gabe lifted a hand, white lightning cracking over his skin. For a second I really thought Luc was going to let Gabe kill him. But, finally, he moved away from the window and pushed past both Gabe and me without ever looking at either of us.
Just like he won’t look at me now.
I realize I’m still staring when a flaming streak of red Hellfire takes out the back window of the Charger. Gabe speeds up, fishtailing on the dirt road. Luc reflexively levels his fist out the back window before remembering that isn’t gonna get him anywhere. He ducks behind the seat and his eyes lock on mine for a heartbeat, flickering with something that I can’t read, before he lowers them again.
I close my eyes and breathe away the knot of panic in my chest. My heart leaps into my throat as my eyes snap open to a flash of red, and I jerk them toward the road in time to see a blast of Hellfire streaking toward us. I duck and throw my arms over my head as the windshield explodes in a shower of glass. Gabe floors it as I lift my head, but the demon in the road vanishes just as we rev through the spot where he was standing. Marc.
At the sight of him I feel suddenly cold.
At the memory of what he did to her my stomach lurches. I bite my lip and wrap my arms around myself, pushing the image away.
Gabe shoots a look in the rearview mirror at Luc. “It appears Marchosias has figured out we’re leaving.” The Charger spins in a 180 when he slams on the brakes and we skid to a stop. He and Luc bound from the car.
In front of us, a microscopic jet sits on a long, narrow runway next to an old wooden barn. Luc rips my door open and I see he has my duffel bag in one hand. He yanks me from the car with the other as Gabe repeatedly launches bolts of white-hot lightning toward some unseen target in the dark of the trees lining the tarmac.
As Luc herds me toward the plane, I notice lightning shooting from that direction into the woods as well. He’s careful to keep himself positioned between the trees and me as we move, but the thirty feet between the jet and us might as well be a mile. Blasts of red Hellfire erupt all around us, leaving shallow craters in the pavement. The air crackles as a red streak scorches past my head, and the smell of singed hair and brimstone is suddenly heavy in the damp night air. I swat at the small flame that erupts in my hair as something thuds heavily behind me. I turn to see Luc on his hands and knees. My duffel bag is singed on the ground and there’s a smoldering hole in the right side of Luc’s T-shirt.
“Luc!” My stomach twists into a painful knot as I run to his side and kneel. Adrenaline hammers through my ears, louder than the boom of exploding Hellfire all around, but all I care about is Luc.
A grimace pinches his face, but what I see in his dark eyes isn’t pain or panic. It’s fear—for me.
I pull him from the ground. “Go!”
Gabe covers us with booming white eruptions from his palms, faster than machine-gun fire, and the red blasts stop for a moment.
Luc starts to reach for my bag, but I push him toward the plane.
“Go!” I yell again, shoving him and scooping the bag into my arms. We bolt for the plane and I push him up the stairs in front of me. He lands hard in the backseat with a wince, and I throw myself into the seat next to him.
“Let me see,” I say, reaching for his shirt.
“I’m fine,” he responds, brushing my hand away. They’re the first words he’s spoken since we left my room, and I barely hear them over my hammering heart and the echo of the war being waged outside.
Gabe appears in the seat in front of us. He pulls the door shut and settles in at the controls.
“So . . . who’s flying this thing?” I ask when I realize there’s only one more seat—and it’s empty.
He turns and raises his eyebrows at me, almost apologetically.
Red and white light flashes outside, illuminating the night sky in bursts, like Fourth of July fireworks. I look out the window at a glowing form in the dark: a girl with thick copper curls and iridescent white skin. She stands next to the plane, launching bolts into the woods. Trees on the edge of the airstrip detonate in a shower of sparks as her white lightning strikes, and the returning red streaks are sporadic and poorly placed.
“Who is that?” I ask Gabe breathlessly over the roar of the engine.
“Celine,” Gabe responds, but then we’re rolling away from the girl, down the narrow runway, and I decide I probably shouldn’t distract him for more details. As I watch, the girl spreads her wings and takes flight, moving with us along the airstrip. Marc chases us out onto the runway, throwing red flashes after us. Rhen stands in the smoke and shadows at the edge of the trees, arms crossed, watching as we rocket away.
And that’s when I remember he doesn’t want us dead . . . or even in Hell. He wants me to make him mortal. He thinks it will help somehow with his uprising against Lucifer.
It feels like the earth belches us straight up into the air, leaving my stomach behind. The ground falls away at an alarming rate.
“Are there any airsick bags on this thing?” I ask, just as a red blast—Marc’s last-ditch effort—hits the plane.
Red electricity skitters over every metal surface, and our tiny bird lurches sharply before everything goes dark.
I’m thrown forward, then slammed back as we suddenly change direction from what felt like straight up to what I’m sure is straight down. The sensation of falling is sickening, like the initial drop of a roller coaster, leaving my stalled heart stuck firmly in my mouth.
In the dark, I see Gabe begin to glow and realize his hands are no longer on the controls. He’s holding them up and, just over the roar of the straining engine, I hear him say something that I can’t make out.
The force of the fall has me plastered to the seat, but I feel Luc’s fingers lace into mine. I turn my head and my heart lurches again when our eyes connect. There’s a sudden overwhelming rush of emotion as I realize he could die, right now, because of me. I turned my beautiful demon mortal with my Sway, and, once again, I’ve put him in danger. Staring into his eyes, what flashes before mine isn’t my life. It’s his—his very short life and all the pain I’ve caused him in that brief time.
Gabe’s glow lights up the tiny cabin and, suddenly, the whine of the engine stops. I glance forward and see he has one hand back on the controls. With the other, he reaches forward and flicks a switch.
The plane lurches to the side, throwing me against Luc. I look back at him and his gaze doesn’t waver. I want to reach up and touch him, stroke his face and tell him I love him, but my hands are plastered to my sides, heavy as anvils. Desperation sucks at my aching chest. It can’t be long. Any second we’re going to become a crater in the ground. Any second, I’ll have killed him.
My heart strains against the force of the fall—against the force of the memories. A tear slips from the corner of my eye and drips sideways, landing on Luc’s arm. Only then does he close his eyes, his face pinching in a pained grimace. When he opens them again, they’re moist, and deep, and beautiful.
All of this lasts only a heartbeat, but lost in Luc’s eyes, it feels like forever.
A growl rips from Gabe, and I’m sure this is it. This isn’t the image I saw after the lightning in my head—white clouds, blue sky—but it’s close enough.
But, at that instant, there’s a screech of twisting metal and the engine roars to life. The falling sensation stops, and I glance forward to see Gabe pulling up on the controls. His glow fades and the control panel lights flicker then illuminate as power returns. Once we start climbing again, Gabe flashes an anxious glance over his shoulder. “Sorry. It’s going to be bumpy.”
Luc drops my hand and pulls his eyes away from mine, and whatever it was that just happened between us is over.
“No shit,” I mutter.
We climb in silence, me grasping the edge of the seat cushion so hard I rip the seam. Finally, we level out and I chance a sideways glance at Luc, pressed against my side in the backseat. He’s doing his best to ignore me while I’m doing my best not to throw up on him.
“Let me look at that,” I say again, pointing at his side.
His jaw clenches and he stares straight ahead. “It’s nothing.”
From here, through the hole in his shirt, I can see reddened flesh with white patches that are sure to become blisters soon.
“Please,” I say, catching his eyes.
He holds my gaze for an instant, then gives in, raising his arm so I can get a closer look. The singed edges of his T-shirt are already starting to stick to the wound. I carefully peel the fabric back and lift it to expose the burned area, and my breath catches when I notice the souvenirs of his latest trip to Hell. Smooth pinkish scars still cover most of his chest and back.
Tears sting my eyes, knowing this was all ’cause I let him down. They never could have taken him if I’d loved him enough. He was human and tagged for Heaven. If I’d believed in him, he never would have turned demon again, and Rhenorian couldn’t have taken him back to Hell.
I breathe the tears away. They’re not gonna help.
I run my finger gently around the periphery of the red patch on his side and he shivers as goose bumps pebble the flesh under my finger. His skin is hot, and the center of the burn is dark red and already starting to ooze clear fluid.
“This is bad.”
“It’s just a burn. It’ll be fine,” he answers, his expression stoic as he tugs his T-shirt down.
My heart crumbles as I push back into my seat, staring out the window, and I find myself fighting tears again. I can’t blame him for hating me. After all the ways I hurt him, I don’t deserve anything else.
It’s dark and, in the distance, I see lightning flicker. But other than that, it’s a charcoal gray blanket of clouds as far as the eye can see.
We’re all alone up here.
It’s eerie, but despite the fact that we’re rocketing through space in a tiny tin can, it also feels oddly safe. I glance at Gabe, then lean my forehead on the window and let myself zone out. I feel all the adrenaline that had been fueling me during the escape run out into a puddle on the floor, leaving me empty and exhausted. But I’m too scared to close my eyes . . . because the dreams . . .
I nearly jump out of my skin when the plane lurches and realize my eyes had slipped shut. I grasp the back of Gabe’s seat and pull myself forward. “Why couldn’t we just take a regular plane?”
“A small group in a small plane is easier to Shield. And, unless you’re willing to use your Sway to persuade the crew of a commercial jet to change course mid-flight, all Marc would have to do is phase to our arrival airport and wait for us.”
I don’t want to use my Sway at all, let alone to hijack a plane. “Good plan,” I say. The plane is tossed again and my stomach protests. “How much longer?”
“Another five hours.” He throws an assessing glance over his shoulder at me. “How you holding out?”
“Okay,” I lie. “Where are we going?”
He leans forward and rifles through what looks like a glove compartment in the console, then pulls out a white envelope and hands it over the back of his seat. I take it from him and pull it open.
Luc’s ID is on top and I hand it to him. It says he’s Damon Black. I look at mine. My face smiles out at me from the shiny surface of the Florida state driver’s license. The smile is fake, just like the name. It says I’m Colby Black. I’m not. It also says my eighteenth birthday was on April 12. It wasn’t. It was on August 22, somewhere in the haze following Taylor’s funeral.
Taylor’s dead. My best friend. And it’s my fault.
The weeks since Lilith killed her are just a jumble of random memories—nothing but a blur—ending with Gabe whisking Luc and me to the airport.
I lean against the window again and concentrate on breathing. The ride smooths out a little and I tip my head back into the seat and close my eyes, knowing I won’t sleep but needing to settle my stomach. But it won’t settle. It churns with the thoughts whirring through my brain.
Luc’s hand brushes against mine and I look up. “Are you okay?” he asks softly, just audible over the hum of the engine.
Something stirs inside me at the concern in his voice. I nod, even though it’s a lie. I’m so far from okay, there’s not even a word. I went to Luc’s apartment tonight to tell him I loved him. But Rhen showed up. He told Luc he and some others wanted to start a rebellion against Lucifer . . . asked for our help. Then there was Lilith in the park, and everything went to Hell. Literally.
I never said it. I never told him how I feel.
And now I can’t. He doesn’t want to be here . . . with me. He said it. I don’t blame him. If I didn’t have to be with me, I wouldn’t.
I breathe deep and try to slow my throbbing heart and racing mind, but there’s not a single thought I can conjure to calm me down. Every memory leads me back to this place and how we got here—my endless list of bad choices.
I pull my iPod out of my bag and press in the earbuds, then do the best I can to relax as Alicia Keys tells me “everything’s gonna be all right.”
But I know better.
Lightning in my veins. Consuming me.
I’m not going to survive this.
I’ve learned to trust my visions. Matt, Grandma, Taylor . . . even Luc. Each time, I saw them dead before they died. There’s only once my vision hasn’t come true. The first time I saw myself dead, Luc and Gabe were able to save me. But this was more than a vision. More concrete. I didn’t just see myself dead—I actually felt myself dead. I felt myself floating, like air, without physical form. Nothing but light.
I won’t take Luc or Gabe with me. No one else is gonna die ’cause of me.
I turn off the music and listen to the hum of the engine, white noise, as I stare out the window. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch movement—a black shape moving over the gray blanket of clouds below. I stare for a moment, startled, but then realize it’s just the shadow of our plane cast by the moonlight on the clouds. I close my eyes and focus on slowing the beat of my heart.
Frannie’s breathing becomes slower and deeper as she sinks into me, causing mine to become more erratic. I hesitate before laying my arm over her shoulders, sure that, if I let her this close, I won’t be able to let her go again. But I’ve made my decision. As a mortal, I’m useless. I need my demonic powers. As a demon, not only can I protect Frannie, but I can blow things up.
When he shoved his lightning hand into my face tonight and told me I was coming with him and Frannie, I would have loved nothing more than to blast him into oblivion.
I glare at the back of his head as Frannie leans into my side, pressing into the burn on my ribs. But the sting of her pressure there is nothing compared to the sting of my heart. Her whole life has just exploded into chaos, and it’s my fault—me and my infernal brethren.
Before we left, she asked me what happened tonight with Lilith in the park, and I couldn’t answer. It’s just one more of the many ways I’ve failed her. Killing Lilith would have been a small gesture, but a significant one—a way I could have helped instead of bringing Frannie constant pain. I’d had the knife to her throat. I was going to do it. But then I realized, if I followed through on my plan I wouldn’t kill Lilith, only her host body. Angelique would be dead and my tag would reverse. I’d be a murderer—tagged for Hell. I couldn’t have turned the knife on myself fast enough to keep her essence from entering me.
Being human is working to my distinct disadvantage.
Worse, I didn’t take Rhenorian as seriously as I should have. If I could have figured out a way to be useful to his uprising— lobbied Gabriel harder, or found a way to go over his head, which I would have enjoyed immensly—maybe Frannie’d be safe right now.
But she’s not, and I’m having a hard time imagining that she ever will be.
I know what she is, and I’m going to have her.
Black dread snakes through my insides at the echo of King Lucifer’s words in my head, as perplexing now as they were when He said them.
I know what she is.
What does He think she is?
Gabriel said she could change the shape of Heaven and Hell, but I don’t think I ever really believed it until now. My heart thrums, aching with my fear for her—my need for her—as I gaze down at her, so soft in my arms. But I know she’s anything but soft. She has strength of spirit seldom seen in a mortal, especially one this young. There’s something about her beyond her Sway, and the king of Hell wants it. He’s going after her with more determination than I’ve seen in Him since my creation.
I know what she is.
She moans and stirs against me and I quickly move to unwrap myself from her, sure she’s woken. But she hasn’t. Her breathing is irregular, coming in fits and bursts as she fights the demons in her dreams. I fold her more tightly into my arms and pull her as close as I can without waking her, needing to make this okay for her. Picking up a lock of her singed blond hair, I rub it between my fingers and bring it to my nose, taking in the faint scent of currant and clove that’s so uniquely Frannie. I kiss the top of her head and try to ward off her demons the only way I can now—by sending her all my strength.
Gabriel shoots a glance over the seat at us. “She sleeping?”
I nod. “Finally.” Frannie jumps in my arms and I shift in my seat, pulling her deeper into me, then look back at Gabriel. “How is this going to work? Marc and Rhen were both at the airstrip. They’ll know where we’ve gone.”
“Our Shields will continue to hide us, and they’ll have no idea where we land. The only way they’d be able to track us is to physically follow us, and last I looked, neither Rhenorian or Marchosias had wings.”
My gut twists. Marc and Rhen may not have wings, but others do. “And if you’re wrong?”
“Then we’re all screwed.”
I hear Gabriel’s frustration and it sparks my own. I look down at Frannie, twitching in my arms. “Please, for the love of all things holy, tell me you have a plan.”
Gabriel is silent for a long moment. “I’m working on it.”
My heart sinks. No plan. This is worse than I thought. “Why did you drag me along on this field trip? You know I’m no help in a fight.” I hold up my hand. “No spark in the plugs.”
He glances over the seat at me, then his eyes glide to Frannie and something mournful darkens his face. “You two are connected in a way I can’t explain. The only way I can keep Frannie safe is to keep you close. You’re the only demon who’s ever been able to see past her Shield. You know Lucifer will use you to find her if He gets His hands on you.”
I do, which is why I couldn’t let Lilith take me. But, if he’d left me—if Frannie gave up on me—I could have hidden out until I turned demon again, then gone vigilante on Lilith, Marc . . . all of them.
I settle deeper into Frannie, propping my cheek on the top of her head. I know it’s dangerous to let myself go around her, but for just a minute, while she’s sleeping, I can pretend things are how they were before I killed any chance we had at happiness. I close my eyes and remember.
The plane is tossed, startling me awake. There’s a warm body wrapped around me and hot breath in my hair. And cinnamon.
For an instant, I think it all must have been a horrible dream and my heavy heart lifts. I’m in Luc’s bed, wrapped in his arms. Just where I belong.
But the plane tosses again, scaring the snot out of me, and I grip Luc harder as panic and despair start to choke me. It’s not a dream. It’s real. All of it. Lilith. Luc. Matt.
My heart goes dead in my chest for a second, then slams back into rhythm with a jolt that jerks my entire body.
No. I’m not going there right now. I can’t.
Luc’s breathing is slow and deep, and I realize he’s asleep. God, I miss this. I breathe him in and try to lose myself in the feeling of being in his arms again. The gaping hole in my chest fills a little as I let myself remember what it was like to open up and let someone in. I’d never let anyone touch my heart before Luc, and he’d filled it completely. So, even though I know I’ve ruined what we had, I lie here in his arms and pretend he still loves me. But I don’t let myself fall back asleep. I don’t want to miss a minute of this.
As I lay here, drawing on Luc’s strength and feeling safer than I know we are, my mind drifts to my family and a thread of panic tickles deep inside my chest. I’ve left them behind. Will they be okay? Can Dad protect them?
I picture him and Mom as they watched us pull out of the driveway. They knew something wasn’t right, but they also knew better than to ask. I wonder if Dad knows I’m not in L.A. Guilt eats me alive at the lie.
How was nothing in my life what I thought it was? Luc, Gabe, Lilith, Dad, me? I’m a Nephilim, the product of a mortal mother and a fallen angel. I don’t even know what that means, except it’s probably why I have Sway.
And the whole reason we’re rocketing through space in a tin can—running from everything I’ve ever known into God only knows what.
And the reason Taylor is dead and Matt is gone.
I sigh and sink into Luc, trying to force the knot in my chest to loosen. If anything happens to him or to my family before this is over, I don’t know what I’ll do. But I’m not gonna think about that now. Luc is here, holding me. I want to stay here forever and just forget the world. I nestle my face into him, my ear against his chest, and listen to the beat of his heart.
Last Rite © Lisa Desrochers 2012