SINS OF THE ANGELS
#1 The Grigori Legacy
It was done.
There could be no turning back.
Caim stared down at the destruction he’d wrought and held back a shudder. They would come after him, of course, as they had the first time. They couldn’t allow him to succeed. Couldn’t risk him finding a way back and opening a door to the others. They would send someone to hunt him, try to imprison him in that place again.
His breath snared in his chest and for a moment the awfulness of the idea made him quail inside, made his mind go blank. An eternity of that awful, mind-hollowing emptiness, that nothingness. His belly clenched at the thought. It was a miracle he had escaped, and whatever happened, he couldn’t go back. Could never go back.
He focused his thoughts, made himself calm. He could do this. He could find the right one and return to where he belonged; it was just a matter of time. A matter of numbers.
Caim gazed at the corpse by his feet. It was also a matter of being more careful than this. He crouched and touched a withered fingertip to the crimson that welled from the gash in the mortal’s chest. He rubbed the viscous fluid between thumb and forefinger and studied his work, displeased at the lack of control he saw there. The haste.
He scowled at the frisson of remembered, wanton pleasure that even now edged down his spine, making his heart miss a beat. He so disliked that side of himself, the part that thrilled at the destruction. He had never wanted this, had tried so hard not to give in to what she had claimed to see. He wished he’d had another choice; that she’d given him another choice.
But whether he was here by choice or not, he would do well to maintain better control. If one of her hunters had been near just now, his search would have been over before it began. He’d been so caught up in his task, he wouldn’t have felt an approach until it was too late.
No, to stay ahead of her, ahead of the hunter she sent for him, Caim needed to rein himself in, to contain the bloodlust that clouded his mind. To be disciplined. He lifted his head and breathed in the alley musk, scented with rain and death. He needed to be faster, too. Finding one of the few he could use among the billions that existed now — the task seemed nothing short of monumental.
He wiped his bloody, clawed fingers on the corpse’s clothing, and then, on impulse, reached over and spread the corpse’s arms straight out, perpendicular to the body, and crossed the ankles over one another.
Pushing to his feet, he surveyed his handiwork with bitter satisfaction. Perfect. Even if she never saw it herself, she would know of his contempt, know what he thought of the esteem in which her children still held her.
He drew a breath deep into his lungs and stretched his arms over his head, letting his body begin to fill out again, taking on flesh and warmth. He reveled in the fierce pleasure of his own aliveness; the pull of wet cotton against his skin; the remains of the fierce summer rain dripping from his hair; the thick, sullen night air, unrelieved by the storm that had proclaimed his return. The sheer gratification of feeling.
Then, casting a last, dispassionate glance at the remains on the pavement, he turned and started down the alley toward the street. His mind moved beyond the kill to other matters. Matters such as finding a place to stay. Somewhere to hide, where a hunter wouldn’t think to look for him.
Caim emerged from the alley onto the sidewalk and looked up the deserted pavement to his left, then his right. Somewhere —
He paused. Stared across the street. Smiled.
That was the thing about a murder scene, Alexandra Jarvis reflected. It would be difficult to drive past one and later claim that you couldn’t find the right place. No matter how much you wanted to.
She wheeled her sedan into the space behind a Toronto Metropolitan Police car angled across the sidewalk. Alternating blue and red spilled from the cruiser’s bar lights, splashing against the squat brick building beside it and announcing the hive of activity in the dank alley beyond. Powerful floodlights, brought in to combat the pre-dawn hours, backlit the scene, and yellow crime-scene tape stretched across the alley’s mouth.
And, just in case Alex needed further confirmation she’d found the right place, a mob of media looked to be in a feeding frenzy street-side of a wooden police barricade, their microphones and cameras thrust into the faces of the two impassive, uniformed officers holding them at bay. One of the uniforms glanced over as she killed her engine, acknowledging her arrival with a nod.
Alex took a gulp of lukewarm, over-sugared coffee and balled up her fast-food breakfast wrapper. She’d bought the meal, if it could be called such, out of desperation on her way home, as a combined supper and bedtime snack. The nearest she could figure, it was the first food she’d had in almost twenty hours, and she hadn’t made it past the first bite before she’d been called to this, another murder. Even knowing what she’d have to view when she arrived at the scene, she’d gone ahead and eaten it. Working Homicide had that effect after a while.
She dropped the wrapper into the empty paper bag, drained the remainder of her coffee, and tossed the cup in to join the wrapper. Then she slid out of the air-conditioned vehicle.
The early August humidity slammed into her like a fist, rising from the damp pavement and the puddles that lined the uneven sidewalk. Alex grimaced. After a storm like the one that had raged from midnight until almost three, knocking out power to most of the city’s core for the better part of an hour, surely they’d earned at least a brief respite from the sauna-like weather.
She fished in her blazer pocket for a hair elastic, checked that her police shield was still clipped to her waistband, and raised her arms to scrape back her shoulder-length blonde hair as she kneed shut the car door and started toward the alley.
The media piranhas, scenting new prey, engulfed her.
“Detective, can you tell us what — ?”
“Can you describe — ?”
“Is this death related — ?”
The questions flew at her, fast and furious, and became lost in each other. Alex elbowed her way through the throng and shouldered past a television camera, wrapping the elastic around her fistful of hair. If they knew how many coffees and how little sleep she operated on, they wouldn’t be so eager to get this close.
She patted her pockets in an automatic check. Pen, notebook, gloves…Lord, but her partner had picked a fine time to retire and take up fly-fishing. Davis was a hundred times more diplomatic than she was, and she’d counted on him to run media interference for her at these times. She hoped to heaven his eventual replacement would be as accommodating.
“Don’t know, can’t say, and no comment,” she replied, and winced at the snarl in her voice, glad her supervisor wasn’t there to overhear. “We’ll let you know when we have a statement for you, just like we always do.”
The uniform who had acknowledged her arrival lifted the tape so she could duck beneath it.
“Yeah,” he muttered, “and the sharks will keep circling anyway, just like they always do.”
Alex flashed him a sympathetic look and headed down the alley, her focus shifting to the tall, lanky man silhouetted against the floodlights, and to the scene he surveyed.
Her stomach rolled uneasily around its grease-laden meal. Even from here, she could see the remains of a bloodbath: telltale shadows darkened the brick walls on either side of the narrow passageway; rivulets of the night’s rain, stained dark, pooled on the alley floor; crimson reflected back from puddles lit by the floodlights.
She flicked a glance at a sodden cardboard box, catalogued it as nothing out of the ordinary, strode deeper into the narrow passageway. A numbered flag, placed by forensics, marked a blurred shoe imprint in a patch of mud. Another sat beside a door where nothing visible remained, perhaps the site of something already bagged and tagged.
Alex drew nearer to the scene and inhaled a slow breath through her nose. She held it for a moment before expelling it in a soft gust. If this was the same as the others, if it was another slashing…
She drew her shoulders back and lifted her chin. If it was another slashing, she would handle it as she did any other case. Professionally, efficiently, thoroughly. Because that was how she worked. Because her past had no place here.
She stepped over the electrical cables powering the floodlights and Staff-Sergeant Doug Roberts, in charge of the Homicide unit where Alex worked, turned. A smile ghosted across his lips but didn’t reach his strained eyes. Alex made out the vague shape of a human body beneath a tarp stretched out just beyond him.
“Have a good sleep?” Roberts asked. Even raised over the guttural thrum of the generator powering the lights, his voice held a dry note. He knew she’d never made it home.
Alex produced a credible return smile. “Nah. I figured the concept was highly overrated, so I settled for caffeine.”
She ran a critical eye over her staff-sergeant’s height, noting the two days’ growth along his jaw line. Perspiration plastered his short-cropped hair to his forehead and she felt her own tresses wilt in mute sympathy. If the air out in the street had been heavy, here in the alley it was downright oppressive. The man looked ready to drop.
“What about you?” she asked.
“Ditto on the sleep, but I missed out on the caffeine.”
That explained it. Given enough java in his or her system, a homicide cop could run almost indefinitely, but without…
Alex’s gaze slid to the tarp. “Well?” she asked.
“We won’t know for sure until the autopsy.”
Silence. Because he didn’t know, or because he didn’t want to say?
“Chest ripped open, throat slit, posed like the others,” he said finally.
“Damn,” she muttered. She scuffed the toe of her shoe against a weed growing through the pavement. Four in as many days, with the last two less than twelve hours apart. One of the floodlights gave a sudden, loud pop, and the light in the alley dimmed a fraction. Underneath a loading dock, someone bellowed for a replacement bulb, his voice muffled.
Alex pushed a limp lock off her forehead, scrunched her fist over it for a moment, and said again, “Damn, damn, damn.” She released her clutch on her scalp. “Is forensics finding anything?”
“After the rain we had? We’re lucky the body didn’t float away.”
“Maybe the killer’s waiting for the rain,” Alex mused. “Maybe he knows it will wash away the evidence.”
“So what, he’s a disgruntled meteorologist? How does he know it will rain hard enough?” Roberts shook his head. “The weather’s too unpredictable for someone to rely on it like that, especially lately. None of these storms this week were even in the forecast. I think it’s just bad luck for us.”
She sighed. “You’re probably right. So, has the chief called for a task force yet?”
“Not yet, but my guess is that it’s about to become a priority. I’ll put in a call and get the ball rolling. The sooner we get a profiler working on this psycho, the better. You have a look around here, then go home, okay? I’ve put Joly and Abrams on point for this one. You’ve been on your feet longer than anyone else on this so far, and you need some sleep.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “If this guy keeps up at the rate he’s going,” she muttered, “I can pretty much guarantee that won’t happen.”
“If this guy keeps up at the rate he’s going, I’m going to need you on your toes, not dropping from exhaustion. So let me rephrase that: get some sleep.”
The head of Homicide Squad stalked away, dodging a police photographer who looked to be performing a weird kind of dance in his efforts to catalogue the scene’s every angle. Alex watched Roberts cover the distance to the end of the alley in remarkably few long-legged strides, and then bulldoze his way through the waiting scavengers. With a sigh that came all the way from her toes, she turned back to the bloody, rain-washed alley.
Roberts was right. The others were getting more down-time than she was on this case. They always did on slashings, because as much as she like to pretend that her past had no bearing on her present, no one else brought the same unique perspective to these cases that she did. The kind of perspective that made her drive herself a little harder, a little longer…
That made sure she wouldn’t sleep much until it was over.
* * *
The Dominion Verchiel, of the Fourth Choir of angels, stared at the Highest Seraph’s office door for a long moment, and then raised her hand to knock. As much as she didn’t look forward to delivering bad news to Heaven’s Executive Administrator, she could think of no way to avoid the task, and standing here would make it no easier.
A resonant voice, hollowed by the oaken door, spoke from within. “Enter.”
Verchiel pushed inside. Mittron, overseer of eight of the nine choirs, sat behind his desk on the far side of the book-lined room, intent on writing. Verchiel cleared her throat.
“Is it important?” Mittron asked. He did not look up.
Verchiel suppressed a sigh. The Highest knew she would never intrude without reason, but since the Cleanse, he had taken every opportunity he could to remind her of her place. In fact, if she thought about it, he had been so inclined even prior to the Cleanse, but that was long behind them and made no difference now. She folded her hands into her robe, counseled herself to ignore the slight, and made her tone carefully neutral.
“Forgive the intrusion, Highest, but we’ve encountered a problem.”
The Highest Seraph looked up from his work and fixed pale golden eyes on her. It took everything Verchiel had not to flinch. Or apologize. Her former soulmate had always had the uncanny knack of making her feel as though any issue she brought before him was her fault. Over the millennia, it had just become that much worse.
“Tell me,” he ordered.
“I am aware of the situation,” he interrupted, returning to his task.
Irritation stabbed at her. She so disliked this side of him. “I don’t think so. There’s more to it than we expected.”
After making her wait several more seconds, Mittron laid aside his pen and sat back in his chair, giving her his full attention. “Where Caim is concerned, there is always more than expected. But go on.”
“The mortals have launched an investigation into Caim’s work. They’re calling him a serial killer.”
“A valid observation.”
“Because the police officers involved will be more likely than most mortals to put themselves in his path, I thought it prudent to warn their Guardians. Have them pay particular attention to keeping their charges safe.” Verchiel hesitated.
“One of the officers doesn’t have a Guardian.”
“Every mortal has a Guardian.”
“Actually, not every mortal has.”
“Rejected his, has he?” Mittron shrugged. “Well, he has made his decision then. He is of no concern to us.”
“That’s what I thought at first, but I thought it prudent to make certain and — well, she is of concern. Great concern.”
The Highest Seraph frowned. He sat up straighter and a shadow fell across his face, darkening the gold of his gaze to amber. Then the creases in his forehead smoothed over.
“She is Nephilim,” he said.
“She is descended from their line, yes.”
“That does complicate matters.”
“What do you suggest we do?”
Verchiel shook her head, no closer to a solution now than she had been when she’d first heard the news herself. She moved into the study and settled into one of the enormous wing chairs across from him.
“I don’t know,” she admitted.
“How far back are her roots?”
“We’re not sure. We’re attempting to trace her, but it will take time. Even if the lineage is faint, however —”
Mittron nodded even as Verchiel let her words die away. “There may still be a risk,” he agreed.
Mittron levered himself out of his chair. He paced to the window overlooking the gardens. His hands, linked behind his back, kept up a rhythmic tapping against his crimson robe. Out in the corridor, the murmur of voices approached, another door opened and closed, and the voices disappeared.
“What about assigning a Guardian to her?” he asked, his voice thoughtful.
“None of the Guardians would stand a chance against a Fallen Angel, especially one as determined as Caim.”
Mittron shook his head. “Not that kind of Guardian.”
“What other kind of Guardian is there?”
“A Power? One of my Powers? With all due respect, Mittron, there is no way a hunter would agree to act —”
“Not just any Power,” Mittron interrupted. “Aramael.”
Verchiel couldn’t help it. She snorted. “You can’t be serious.”
Mittron turned from the window to face her, his eyes like chips of yellow ice, and Verchiel’s insides shriveled. She paused to formulate her objection with as much care as she could. She needed to be clear about the impossibility of Mittron’s suggestion. She had allowed him to sway her once before where Aramael and Caim were concerned, and could not do so again. And not just for Aramael’s sake.
“Hunting Caim very nearly destroyed him the first time,” she said. “We cannot ask him again.”
“He is a Power, Verchiel. The hunt is his purpose. He’ll recover.”
“There must be some other way.”
“Name one angel in all of Heaven who would risk a confrontation with a Fallen One to protect a Nephilim, no matter how faint the lineage.”
Verchiel fell silent. The Highest knew she could name no such an angel, because none existed. Not one of Heaven’s ranks had any love for the Nephilim, and Verchiel doubted she could find one who might feel even a stirring of pity for the race. The One herself had turned her back on the bloodline, a constant reminder of Lucifer’s downfall; had denied them the guidance of the Guardians who watched over other mortals, and left them to survive — or in most cases, not — on their own.
But where this particular Nephilim was concerned, surviving Caim was essential. For all their sakes. Verchiel felt herself waver. She rested her elbow on the chair’s arm.
“It will consume him,” she said at last.
“Caim already consumes him, which is why we will ask him. The moment you mention Caim’s name, Aramael will do anything necessary to complete the hunt, even protect a Nephilim.” Mittron left the window and returned to his desk. Apparently having decided the matter was closed, he lowered himself into the chair and picked up his pen. “See to it. And keep me informed.”
Despite the obvious dismissal, Verchiel hesitated. The Highest’s logic made a certain kind of sense, but sending Aramael after Caim for a second time felt wrong. Very wrong. He was already the most volatile of all the Powers, barely acquiescing to any standard of control at the best of times. How much worse would he be after this?
The Highest Seraph lifted his head and looked at her. “You have a problem, Dominion?”
She did, but could think of no way to voice her elusive misgivings. At least, none that Mittron would take seriously. She rose from her chair.
“No, Highest. No problem.”
Mittron’s voice stopped her again at the door. “Verchiel.”
She looked back.
“We will keep this matter between us.” He put pen to paper and began to write. “There is no need to alarm the others.”
* * *
Mittron heard the door snap shut and laid aside his pen. Leaning back, he rested his head against the chair, closed his eyes, and willed the tension from his shoulders. He was becoming so very tired of Verchiel’s resistance. Every other angel under his authority obeyed without question, without comment. But not Verchiel. Never Verchiel.
Perhaps it was because of their former soulmate status, when, out of respect, he had treated her more as an equal. A mistake he’d realized too late and had paid for ever since. The cleanse had been intended to provide a clean slate between them, between all the angels, but it hadn’t been as effective in all respects as he would have liked.
Not for the first time, he considered placing the Dominion elsewhere, where they wouldn’t need to be in such constant contact with one another. Also not for the first time, he discarded the idea. She was too valuable as a handler of the Powers, particularly where Aramael was concerned, and particularly now.
Mittron sighed, straightened, and reached again for his pen.
No, he’d keep her in place for the moment. As long as she followed orders, however grudgingly, it would be best that way. If she didn’t, well, former soulmate or not, he was able to discipline an uncooperative angel. More than able.