Crescendo in Patch's POV
Author: Elena Hathaway

Chapter 1
Chapter 1

DELPHIC BEACH, MAINE

PRESENT DAY

 

 

 

 I STOOD BEHIND NORA, MY HANDS ON HER HIPS, HER BODY AS well as mine completely relaxed, at ease.  Nora’s curls barely brushed my chin, something I liked.  I liked being able to rest my chin on her head, on the little white spot where her hair parted, and pressed a butterfly kiss to it now, thinking this, a brush of my lips so light I doubted she even felt it.

Nora’s said curls were a dark brown, nearly black, but with a touch of red that was brought out in just the right light.  Her eyes were a smoky, sexy gray that smoldered at times, and melted at others—melted when she was looking at me.  Her skin was soft, from what I could tell, her curvy lips looking just glossy enough, just begging to be kissed.  But I could wait—a little bit.

Overhead, fireworks lit up the night sky, raining streams of color into the Atlantic.  The crowd oohed and ahhed.  It was late June, and Maine was jumping into summer with both feet, celebrating the beginning of two months of sun, sand, and tourists with deep pockets.  I was celebrating the same thing—plus plenty of exclusive time with my Angel.  She was enrolled in summer school—chemistry—but I had every intention of monopolizing every other second of her day.

The fire department was setting off the fireworks on a dock that was about two hundred yards down the beach from where we stood, and the ground beneath my feet vibrated with each boom.  Waves crashed into the beach just down the hill, and the carnival music tinkled at top volume.  The smell of cotton candy, popcorn, and sizzling meat wafted down to us, and…three…two…one—

“I’m going to grab a cheeseburger,” Nora announced.  “Want anything?”

“Nothing on the menu,” I slid back.

Nora smiled.  “Why, Patch, are you flirting with me?”

I chuckled and kissed the crown of her head, again, more pressure this time so she could feel it.  “Not yet.  I’ll grab your cheeseburger.  Enjoy the last of the fireworks.”

I started to go, but Nora snagged one of my belt loops, tugging me back toward her.  “Thanks, but I’m ordering.  I can’t take the guilt.”

I raised an eyebrow in inquiry.

“When was the last time the girl at the hamburger stand let you pay for food?” Nora asked, putting a hand on her hip.

“It’s been a while.”

“It’s been never.  Stay here.  If she sees you, I’ll spend the rest of the night with a guilty conscience.”

Nevertheless, I took my wallet out and pulled out a twenty, handing it to Nora.  “Leave her a nice tip.”

Nora raised her eyebrows this time.  “Trying to redeem yourself for all those times you took free food?”
I smiled.  “Last time I paid, she chased me down and shoved the money in my pocket.  I’m trying to avoid another groping.”

Nora stared at me for a second, narrowing one eye, as if debating whether or not to believe me.  She must have decided to, because she shrugged and turned to go.

I watched her go, making her way down the hill we’d been perched on, her hair blowing back in the small breeze.  I smiled slightly to myself, gazing at her, and sighed.  It was sappy, but at times like this, I wondered, how had I gotten so damn lucky?  I mean, there were setbacks—I couldn’t feel my girlfriend’s touch, but just being with her was enough.  And when we kissed, even though I couldn’t feel it physically, I still felt the sparks all the way down to my toes. 

Nora disappeared from view, and I tried not to let that bother me.  It had been long enough since everything had happened with Dabria and Chauncey, the little town of Coldwater, Maine carrying on peacefully, that I should have been able to sleep every night without paranoia creeping in.  Easier said than done.  I rarely slept anyhow, and when I did, I perpetually dreamt dreams of Nora Grey, something that I hoped would never change. 

I stretched, swinging my arms out, wishing Angel hadn’t left, however momentarily, wishing I could swing my arms back in and wrap them around her delicate frame, holding her firmly against me so I could feel the warmth radiating from her skin sink into mine.  It was the closest I got to physical contact with her, and it was intoxicating.  Sometimes I thought that if I ever was able to feel physical touch again, I might just spontaneously combust upon contact with Nora.

It was amusing, really, how oblivious she still was to how much she affected me.  I didn’t think she could see how much I loved her, just how much I needed her.  How much the prospect of seeing her beautiful face every day motivated me to ever leave my place.  I knew she loved me—I could see it in her eyes whenever she looked at me.  But I also knew that she didn’t love me as much as I loved her.  I’d had a very, very long time to store up all the emotion inside of me, and now that I had her, it all poured out upon every encounter, over and over again.

Breathing in deeply, I caught a whiff of her perfume and sniffed at my shirt…yep.  My shirt smelled faintly of Nora, no doubt due to how she so often enjoyed snuggling—something that I had no problem with.

The first few months of my relationship with Nora—and it still flabbergasted me every day that I had a relationship with Nora—had involved a lot of spontaneous kissing inside our cars, outside our cars, under the bleachers at school, and on top of the kitchen table at Nora’s house.  I smiled, thinking of that memory.  It had started with her commenting on the first time I’d been in her house and made tacos, and ended with me kissing her, slowly easing her down until her back was flat on the kitchen table.  Our relationship had also involved a lot of tousled hair, smudged lip gloss, and wandering hands.  But it was so much more than that now.  The bond we had went a lot deeper, and I relished in the fact that she honestly trusted me now, not just with her life, but with her problems, her feelings, her thoughts…her heart.

Rixon poked fun at me daily on this topic.  Whenever Nora wasn’t around, he would slip in a comment about her, usually something dirty that resulted in me punching him, but sometimes he would put in a comment about how my relationship with Nora made no sense.

“She’s going to die, Patch,” he’d said once.  “Maybe not now, maybe not for a great many years—but she will die.  And you won’t.  How exactly are you planning to handle that one?”

My totally brilliant response had been to tell him to shove off.  Because, the thing was, he had a point.  And that point?  I hated it.  It made me want to scream.  The thought of Angel dying—of leaving me—was unbearable.  I couldn’t stand to think of it for very long, let alone to discuss it, even with Rixon.  And then, of course, when I did think of it, I would wonder if she ever thought about it.  If she did, what conclusion did she come to?  That she would, indeed, die, and leave me on this earth all alone, miserable, and tortured?  A bit melodramatic for a date at the movies conversation, but then again, maybe she hadn’t thought about it.  Maybe she was just content to live in the moment, enjoying every second she had with me, like I did, like I wished I could do without any outside forces making me watch my back as well as Nora’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I was having the time of my life being Angel’s guardian angel—ha, ha, see what I did there?—but it wasn’t all fun and games and making out, though I sure as hell wished it could be.  There was, of course, the matter of the archangels.  The ‘all-powerful’, nitpicky archangels who were looking for any excuse to send me to hell, quite literally.  There was also the whole thing where I was most certainly not supposed to be in love with the person whose guardian angel I was.  That little detail would be enough to condemn me.  It was ironic that my love for Nora should be the thing that saved me, as well as damned me. 

But I would not let that happen.  I would remain in Angel’s life as long as she wanted me, and even longer probably.  The only thing that could ever send me away would be if she told me she didn’t love me.  That would cripple me.  If she said she never wanted to see me again, that might just be the end of me.  But she was Nora, and I didn’t think she would ever do that.  Not to me, not to anybody.  She wasn’t that kind of person.  She loved unconditionally, even the hopeless cases out there, like me.

At times like this I would have to take a step back and wonder what it was that Angel saw in me.  What I saw in her was a given—she was beautiful, for one, but for the more in-depth reason was that she was so kind and gentle yet fiery and fierce all at the same time.  She loved with her whole self, and she made me want to be better for her.  She brought out the best in me, and she always would.  I doubt she even knew that, though.

“Patch!”

I started, hearing my name roared so loud in my ear.  I turned and, of course, it was Rixon.  He clapped me on the shoulder and glanced around.

“Where’s yer lass?” he asked.  “Yer not attached at the hip—for once.”

“Ha ha,” I muttered, rolling my eyes but allowing a chuckle to escape me.  “You crack me up, ya know that?”
“Why else would ya keep me around?”

I thought about it for a second.  “Well, it’s definitely not because of your scintillating conversation—”

“Shove off!” he laughed.  “C’mon, we’ll go win yer lass a prize at one of the carnival games.”

I let Rixon lead me into the carnival.  I picked a particularly challenging game—challenging for the humans around me, anyhow—a ball toss game.  Nora would be a while, seeing as the line for the hamburger stand had been pretty long when we’d passed it earlier.

I paid the game attendant for a shot at the pins and took up a ball, settling on a table with six neatly lined bowling pins.  I cocked my head to the side, figuring in the trajectory.  I leaned down and let the ball fly from my hand and into the pins, knocking down three of them in just the one shot.  I could’ve gotten all of them, but showing off too much wasn’t always advisable.  Not too much, anyway.  Just when Angel was around.

“Five dollars says you can’t do it again,” came the voice that echoed in my head every second of every day, and I looked up to see Nora standing behind me.

I grinned.  “I don’t want your money, Angel.”

“Hey now, kids, let’s keep this discussion PG-rated,” Rixon warned from beside me.

“All three remaining pins,” Nora challenged me, raising her eyebrows in a dare.

“What kind of prize are we talking about?” I asked, leaning closer.

“Bloody hell,” Rixon complained.  “Can’t this wait until you’re alone?”

I slipped Nora a secret smile, then shifted my weight back, cradling the ball into my chest.  I narrowed my eyes, gauging the way the ball would go, and dropped my right shoulder, brought my arm around, and sent the ball flying forward as hard as I could.  There was a loud crack! and the remaining three pins scattered off the table.

“Now you’re in trouble, lass!” Rixon shouted to Nora over the commotion caused by the onlookers, who were all clapping and whistling for us.

I leaned back against the booth and arched my eyebrows, locking eyes with Nora.  Pay up.

“You got lucky,” Angel muttered, but her lips were twitching upward despite herself.

“I’m about to get lucky.”

“Choose a prize,” the attendant, an old man, running the booth barked at me, bending over to pick up the fallen pins.

“The purple bear,” I requested, and accepted a rather pathetic-looking purple teddy bear with matted purple fur.  I turned to Nora and presented it to her regally, as if it were a priceless jewel rather than a cheap toy that was probably bought at a dollar store for fifty cents.

“For me?” Nora said, pressing a hand to her heart and smiling.

“You like the rejects,” I reminded her.  “At the grocery store, you always take the dented cans.  I’ve been paying attention.”  I took a step closer and hooked my finger in the waistband of her jeans, pulling her close.  “Let’s get out of here,” I murmured in her ear, smiling when her cheeks reddened slightly.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Your place.”

Nora shook her head, pursing her lips.  “Not going to happen.  My mom’s home.  We could go to your place,” she hinted.

I made a face.  We had been dating for two months now, but I still hadn’t taken her to my place.  It wasn’t the kind of place I could really picture her.  It wasn’t that I didn’t dream about her in my bed, because I did.  It was just that I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea about me.

“Let me guess,” Nora began, foreseeing my probable answer.  “You live in a secret compound buried in the underbelly of the city.”

“Angel.”

“Are there dirty dishes in the sink?  Dirty underwear on the floor?  It’s more private than my place.”

“The answer is still no,” I hedged.

“Has Rixon seen your place?”

I paused.  “Rixon’s need-to-know.”

“I’m not need-to-know?”

I fought a smile at that.  “There’s a dark side to need-to-know.”

“If you showed me, you’d have to kill me?” she guessed.

I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, kissing her forehead.  “Close enough.  What time’s curfew?”

“Ten.  Summer school starts tomorrow,” Nora said with a sigh.  I read the unspoken sentence after that: “And my mom has been trying to drop the knife between us ever since we got together.”  I rolled my shoulders in a shrug.  Any time with Angel was better than no time with her.  I would take what I could get, when I could get it.  I was lucky to be with her at all. I wasn’t about to complain if she had an early curfew and a mom who wasn’t all that fond of me.

I glanced at my watch.  “Time to roll.”

I told Rixon we were headed off and he winked at Angel, something that made me roll my eyes.  I took her hand as we left the carnival in a show of possessiveness as well as affection.  It wasn’t that I thought Rixon would steal my girl, but I was sure any other guy might.  Another thing Nora was oblivious to was how unerringly beautiful she was.

At 10:04, I flipped a U-turn in front of the farmhouse and parked by the mailbox, cutting the engine to the Jeep—the tires of which I had had replaced two days after the whole fiasco two months ago.

I glanced at Nora, who hadn’t said a peep the whole ride—an odd occurrence.  “Why so quiet, Angel?” I asked after several more moments of silence.

She glanced up immediately.  “Am I being quiet?  Just lost in thought.”

I smiled slightly.  She was lying; her jaw had twitched, a cute little habit it had of doing whenever she was lying.  “Liar.  What’s wrong?”

“You’re good,” she complimented, edging around the question.

“Really good,” I agreed, my smile widening a fraction.

“I ran into Marcie Millar at the hamburger stand,” Angel admitted, looking down.  I was glad she had ’fessed up, glad I wouldn’t be left wondering if I had said something to put her off.  “She was thoughtful enough to remind me my dad is dead.”

My blood boiled at the tiny crack in her voice on the last word.  It made me want to track down Marcie and beat her to a pulp.  I wasn’t about to hit a girl, but still.  The urge was still there, strong and urgent.

“Want me to talk to her?” I offered, trying to keep the venomous edge out of my voice.

“That sounds a bit The Godfather.”

“What started the war between the two of you?” I asked.  I was genuinely curious.  I had known since before Nora and I had gotten together that she and Marcie hated each other—but I had never gotten the full story on why, or who had started the war.

“That’s the thing.  I don’t even know.  It used to be over who got the last chocolate milk in the lunch crate.  Then one day in junior year Marcie marched into school and spray-painted ‘whore’ on my locker.  She didn’t even try to be sneaky about it.  The whole school was looking on,” Nora said, her brow furrowing.

“She went postal just like that?  No reason?”

“Yup.”  Nora shook her head and sighed.

I tucked a curl behind her ear affectionately.  “Who’s winning the war?”

“Marcie, but not by much.”  There was a determined edge to that that made me smile even more.

“Go get her, Tiger.”

“And here’s another thing.  Whore?  In junior high, I hadn’t even kissed anyone.  Marcie should have spray-painted her own locker.”

“Starting to sound like you’ve got a hang-up, Angel,” I said.  I slid my finger under the strap of her tank-top, watching as a light blush colored her skin from her forearms up.  “I bet I can take your mind off Marcie.”

Nora hesitated, glancing up at the windows of the farmhouse, probably checking to make sure her mother wasn’t looking on.  Satisfied, apparently, that she wasn’t, Angel unbuckled her seat belt and bent across the console, just as I did the same, our mouths meeting in unison in a hard kiss.  My hand was still on the one shoulder, holding her there so I could kiss her thoroughly.  When she broke away for air, I kissed down her neck, just barely brushing my tongue along the curve of her throat to taste her skin.  Her heartbeat stuttered, and I smiled, moving my kiss down to her bare shoulder.  I nudged the strap of her tank-top down more and brushed my lips lower along her arm.  Her breath hitched and, the next thing I knew, she had crawled across the console and into my lap, straddling my hips.  I was just fine with this adjustment—more than fine, really.

She slid her hands up my chest, grasped me behind the neck, and pulled in, finding my mouth again and continuing the kiss.  I wrapped my arms around her waist, locking her against me, delighting in the soft weight of her on my lap as she snuggled in deeper.

I felt a heat against my back, her hands sliding up under my shirt.  I felt the exact second her finger brushed the bottom of my wings, about to be sucked into my memory.  I reached back and grabbed her hand before that could happen, sliding her fingers lower, away from the place my wings joined with my back.

“Nice try,” I murmured, still kissing her as I spoke.

She nibbled at my lower lip.  “If you could see into my past just by touching my back, you’d have a hard time resisting the temptation too.”

“I have a hard time keeping my hands off you without that added bonus,” I pointed out.

Angel laughed, but quickly turned serious, her eyes becoming faraway, lost in thought for real this time.

“Don’t ever leave me,” she whispered, hooking a finger in the collar of my shirt and leaning in closer.  I brushed my mouth along her jugular.

“You’re mine, Angel,” I murmured, kissing the words across her skin until she shivered and arched her neck higher, inviting me to kiss everywhere I could reach.  A tempting invitation.  “You have me forever.”

Her eyes seemed to deepen as she stared at me.  “Show me you mean it.”

I studied her for a moment, gauging what exactly she meant.   I considered for a second, then reached behind my neck and unclasped my silver archangel necklace, taking it off for the first time in—well, a long, long time.  I slid my hands up to the nape of her neck, slipping the necklace into place against the base of her throat.  She touched it, feeling the metal.

 “I was given this when I was an archangel,” I explained.  “To help me discern truth from deception.”

Angel fingered it gently, as if slightly awed.  “Does it still work?”

“Not for me.”  I interlaced our fingers and turned her hand over to kiss her knuckles, closing my eyes briefly.  “Your turn.”

She hesitated only a second before twisting a small copper ring off the middle finger of her left hand and holding it out to me.  I had never seen her take off that ring.  It had always bee there, a minor detail I had never paid much attention to.  She dropped it in my hand.  A heart was hand-carved into the smooth underside of the ring.

I held it between my fingers, silently examining it.

“My dad gave this to me the week before he was killed,” Nora said quietly, pursing her lips thoughtfully.

I flicked my gaze up, startled.  “I can’t take this.”

“It’s the most important thing in the world to me.  I want you to have it.”  I was about to give it back, refuse it, but she bent my fingers, folding them around the ring.

“Nora,” I said, hesitating.  “I can’t take this.”

“Promise me you’ll keep it.  Promise me nothing will ever come between us.”  She held my gaze, refusing to let me turn away, keeping me trapped in the endless gray whirlpools of her eyes.  “I don’t want to be without you.  I don’t want this to ever end.”

I dropped my gaze to the ring, turning it over slowly in my fingers, weighing the importance it held, the emotion, the trust she was putting in me by giving me this.  The trust that I would forever guard not only the ring, but her heart.

“Swear you’ll never stop loving me,” she whispered.

I lifted my gaze back up to hers, surprised she would even have to ask that.  It was a given, was it not?  Still, I nodded ever so slightly.  I never could stop loving her.  It was an impossibility.

Caught up in the moment, she gripped my collar and pulled me against her.  I tightened my arms around her, crushing her against me as tightly as she had me.  She locked our fingers together, sealing the promise between us as she kissed me again fervently, the sharp edge of the ring biting into our palms.  I didn’t feel it, but I didn’t doubt that it had broken skin.  A blood promise.

When I had been kissing her and she had been kissing me back so long and so furiously that I thought she might suffocate, she broke away and took in a breath, resting her forehead against mine.  Her eyes were shut, and mine were wide open, on alert with emotions, the electricity running between us.  I was sure if someone were to tap into the energy, they could fuel a warehouse..

“I love you,” Angel murmured, and I think my heart stopped.  “More than I think I should.”

All of a sudden, something, a sound, outside the Jeep, in the woods beyond, caught my attention.  Not a squirrel, I could tell that.  I tightened my grip on Nora protectively, ready to shove her out of the way if need be.  I turned my head toward the woods, staring through them, trying to discern what had made the noise.  A rustling of feathers, it had sounded like.  Not bird feathers, either.

“What’s wrong?” Nora asked.

“I heard something….”

“That was me saying I love you,” she murmured, smiling as she traced my mouth with her index finger.  There were countless times I had done the same thing, when she had fallen asleep in the Jeep, I would trace the outline of her features, marveling.  But now was not the time for such things, as much as I wished otherwise.

I kept my gaze fixed on the trees, which cast shadows as their branches nodded in the breeze.

“What’s out there?” she asked, following my gaze.  “A coyote?”

“Something isn’t right…”

She stilled, and slid off my lap.  “You’re scaring me.  Is it a bear?”

I didn’t answer, trying to listen, trying to hear the sound again.  It was not a bear, and it was not a coyote, that much I knew for sure.  I stared out into the darkness, attempting to concentrate, something that wasn’t easy to do with Angel so close, so…vulnerable.  I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything with her here, in way of any threat that might be oncoming.

“Turn the headlights on and honk the horn,” Angel suggested.

I bit my lip, just as the porch lights of the farmhouse flashed twice.  I didn’t have to turn around to know Blythe Grey was standing in the doorway, frowning and tapping her foot.

“What is it?” Angel asked again.  “My mom’s coming out.  Is she safe?”

I made a decision right then and there.  I needed Angel out of the line of fire, if fire was indeed coming.  I turned on the engine of the Jeep and put it into drive, keeping my foot on the brake but ready to lift off the second Angel was out.  “Go inside.  There’s something I need to do.”

“Go inside?  Are you kidding?  What’s going on?”

“Nora!” came Mrs. Grey’s voice as she approached the Jeep.  She stopped five feet away and gestured to Angel to lower the window.

“Patch?” Nora tried again.

“I’ll call you later,” I promised, just as her mother hauled the passenger’s side door open.

“Patch,” she acknowledge curtly.

“Blythe,” I answered, giving a nod distractedly.

She turned to Nora with her arms folded.  “You’re four minutes late.”

“I was four minutes early yesterday.”

“Rollover minutes don’t work with curfews.  Inside.  Now.”  Good.  Angel wouldn’t blatantly disobey her mother, which meant she would be inside the farmhouse, more or less safe.

She stared at me.  My attention was elsewhere, but I tried to respond to her.  “Call me,” she implored, her eyes holding me hostage much like they had done the first time they had been cast on me.

I nodded once.  She pursed her lips, her eyes worried, but slid reluctantly out of the Jeep and closed the door, her gaze still holding me through the window.  It took an enormous effort to turn away, but I managed it.  As soon as she was out of the way, I let up on the brake and hit the gas, accelerating away from the farmhouse.

I hated leaving her like that, knowing that I had hurt her, especially at such a big checkpoint when she had told me she loved me, for the first time ever, and I knew I had hurt her when I hadn’t said it back.  I’d wanted to, so, so much, but her safety was a bit more important than a sentiment that should already be a given to her. 

Driving about twenty miles an hour over the speed limit was risky, but I didn’t really give a crap about cops right now.

I stopped the Jeep a good fifteen miles out from Angel’s house, parking it on the shoulder of the road and killing the engine, swinging out in the same instant.  I headed into the woods, moving as fast as I could toward the sound I had heard.

When I saw him, I knew instantaneously he had been the source of the noise.  I stopped in my tracks when I saw him, my heart beating rapidly within my chest, and stared at him.

It was an archangel.  And he did not look pleased as he regarded me.

“Hello again, Jev,” he said coolly.  “We need to talk.”

 

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