Elizabeth and Lev believe the danger with the dark angels and the Dagger of Light are finally behind them, but with Elizabeth’s sacrifice comes a new more menacing threat as whatever power the dagger once possessed now possesses Elizabeth, endangering all those she loves most. In a last ditch effort to protect them, Elizabeth runs away, unaware her fate rests with a Triune of angels who have come to judge her transgressions against others of their kind.
Sojourner Book 4
Barnes & Noble.com
Maria Rachel Hooley
Maria Rachel Hooley
I dreamed of them again, those angels with unnatural wings and eyes that haunt me even now, in this waking world, where visions of the night should be forgotten. They chased me into a dark wood, their white robes and pale skin glowing ethereally in the night, yet all I could see were their bony fingers reaching for me, exploding with light. Then the pain struck, and I sprawled atop the soft, damp ground, blanketed by moss and leaves.
I screamed as they advanced, unable to move except to writhe in pain from the light that enveloped my body, their voices booming inside my head: “You must stand judgment for your crimes against us.”
That’s when Griffin wakes me by shoving at my shoulder, his gaunt face pale in the moonlight. When he realizes my eyes are open, he stops prodding and sits on the bed next to me.
“You scared the hell out of me with all that shouting,” he rants, raking his fingers through his hair. “I thought someone was killing you.”
I’m about to tell him that so far as my dream is concerned he isn’t far off, but there’s no point in vocalizing that fear. Whoever those angels are, at least for the moment they’re gone from my head. Griffin has enough trouble dealing with his own Jayzee-sized demons. Even though we think she’s dead, it’s like she’s still keeping some kind of hold on him so he really doesn’t need to add my problems to the mix.
“Sorry I woke you,” I murmur, brushing the hair from my face. “Please tell me that at least Jimmie is still asleep.”
He nods. “Since he fell asleep on the couch, he’s farther from your noise than I am, and I haven’t been sleeping too soundly, remember?”
“Yeah.” I keep blinking as though that will drive away the nightmares, but those angels refuse to leave.
“What did you dream about?”
I shrug. “Don’t remember.”
“Lizzie.” Griffin warns.
“Seriously, I don’t,” I argue, brushing my hands up and down my arms, trying to drive away the goose bumps rising on my skin.
“You were ready to fly out of that bed,” he counters, shaking his head.
“You remember, and you really don’t spook easily. Hell, when Maguire was pointing that gun at you, you were completely calm, or seemed to be.”
“I was petrified!” I say, hoping to distract him from the subject. “Maybe you couldn’t tell, but I was freaking out, Griffin.”
“Just like today, when I woke you up.”
“It’s nothing,” I snap, standing and walking to the open window, where a slight breeze stirs the night around us. The parted curtains billow inward, and a gust toys with the hair hanging over my shoulders, lifting it and tossing it back.
“Why won’t you tell me?” he asks, rising.
“It’s nothing.” That’s all I know to say without complicating everything beyond measure.
For a moment, Griffin just stands there, waiting. When silence answers him, he shakes his head.
“Fine. Have it your way.” He walks away.
By morning, I’ve convinced myself the dream is just that; it’s easier that way. The last thing I want to believe is that those kinds of angels do exist. I have enough problems with angels who look like humans. The others are just plain scary.
After I get out of bed, I peek into Griffin’s room. He’s still in bed, but at least this time he’s not thrashing around and calling Jayzee’s name, which, in its own way is just as scary as the angels haunting me. Part of me wants to ask Lev about them but I know better. Things have been going too well between us to open that can of worms. And if I ask, he won’t let it go until the truth comes out, and I’m not sure where it will go from there. I don’t really want to find out. Right now, figuring out what’s happening with Jayzee is more of a priority. Until that is resolved, I don’t think there’s any way Griffin is going to heal.
I head into the kitchen, where Jimmie sits, smoking a cigarette. I’ve been trying to get him to quit; considering how healthy he isn’t looking these days, I think it would definitely help, but hiding his cigarettes hasn’t deterred him any more than my less-than-subtle comments, so I’m not sure what to try next.
He leans on one elbow and stares off into space, not realizing I’ve come in. I grab a box of cereal and a bowl before pulling the milk from the fridge.
“You want some cereal or something?” I ask. “I can make some eggs.”
“Nope. Not hungry yet. Could you grab the paper from the porch, though?”
“Sure.” I set everything down and trudge to the front door. Two steps onto the porch, I grab the paper, yet as I rise, I see a girl with long blonde hair that reminds me…of Sarah. She’s standing on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.
I stagger backwards, unwilling to be dragged down that memory road again; It’ll be too hard to fight my way back. Her name rests on the tip of my tongue, and I almost call it out before clamping my mouth shut.
“I don’t want to know,” I whisper and dart inside, closing the door and leaning against it, trying to stop breathing so hard. Is it possible? I wonder, gritting my teeth.
My hand is trembling, and I actually drop the newspaper, which thuds atop the linoleum entryway. What if it were Sarah? What would that mean? I lean over and pick up the paper, pushing all thought from my head. I try to steady myself.
Returning to the kitchen, I plunk the paper in front of Jimmie and go back to preparing my cereal, even though I’ve pretty much lost my appetite. The only real giveaway I’m nervous is that my hand shakes enough so I spill a little milk on the counter that I quickly wipe up.
Every time I think I’ve moved beyond Kane and the others, the past comes flying back so fast I can’t duck.
“So what are your plans today, Lizzie?” Jimmie asks, stubbing out his cigarette and plucking the rubber band from around the newspaper. He unrolls and spreads it across the table.
“Lev and I are going to have a picnic at the lake.” I snatch the rubber band from Jimmie and quickly braid my hair, a good way to keep it from getting in my way while I eat. Then I reach for a spoon. “Sure you don’t want something? I don’t mind fixing it.”
“Lizzie, I fixed my own meals before you were even born. If I’m hungry, I’ll eat. Stop worrying over me like a mother hen.”
Biting my lip, I set my bowl on the table and sit across from Jimmie, who is still staring at me. Then he shakes his head and goes back to reading. I start eating and watch Jimmie from my peripheral vision. At first he focuses on the paper, adjusting his glasses to read, but, as he feels the weight of my gaze, he looks up and pulls off the glasses altogether.
“Okay, Lizzie. Spit it out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know something is rattling around in that head of yours, so you might as well just ask instead of staring at me like I’m going to turn into the Cat in the Hat or something.”
The absurdity of that image really makes me want to laugh as I suddenly see Jimmie wearing one of those tall red-and-white striped hats. Now there’re two things which should never be combined.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I protest innocently and take a spoonful of Frosted Flakes to keep my mouth busy. If I can’t answer, maybe he won’t ask me any questions.
“Lizzie, I’ve known you since you were a baby. You never have been able to lie worth a damn, so just throw it out there so I can read my paper in peace while you and Lev enjoy your picnic. Out with it.”
I take a deep breath and swallow, figuring he’s probably right. I’ve never been a good liar, and he does know me better than a lot of people. I set my spoon in my bowl and sit up straighter, as if that’s going to make this conversation any easier.
“Do you ever dream about Theresa, Jimmie?”
He frowns and squinches his nose in confusion. “Theresa? Why would I? Where is this coming from?” Jimmie is definitely not looking at the paper anymore. Whether I want it or not, I have his full attention. Lucky me.
“I…just wondered, that’s all.”
Jimmie shakes his head. “No, Lizzie, I don’t think you just wondered. There’s a reason you’re asking, and I want to know.” He levels his gaze at me and taps his fingers impatiently.
“Okay, here’s the deal. Griffin’s been having nightmares about Jayzee. He’s convinced she’s still alive. I just wondered if you might have had a similar problem with Theresa, that’s all.”
He shakes his head. “No. If you’re asking if I sense Theresa like before, I don’t. I think she’s gone, and considering all the crap that happened while she was here, I don’t miss her one damned bit.” He shakes his head. “Anything else you want to share?”
“No. That’s it.” I focus on my cereal, feeling more than just a little stupid for bringing any of this up. I guess considering how hard this has been for all of us, I just want to make sure nothing else happens.
Jimmie stares at me for a moment longer before finally picking up his glasses and slipping them into place so he can read the headlines. I see the pictures of soldiers in the paper, and half of me worries about that. The other half worries about all the unseen things in this world.
The floorboards creak, and I look to find Griffin standing in the doorway, blinking as he tries to focus. He leans against the jamb and absently raises his hand to run it through his hair, trying to tame the wild strands. Our gazes meet but he quickly looks away, probably because he, too, is tired of dealing with all this stuff, and the last thing he wants is to start the morning off with that.
“Want some cereal?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “No, not really hungry.” His gaze flashes toward the refrigerator. “I think I’ll get some juice, though.”
“Suit yourself.” I finish the last of my cereal as he rummages through the cabinet for a glass.
“How’d you sleep?” Jimmie asks, trying to meet his gaze.
“Good.” Griffin sits and takes a long sip of his juice. No matter how hard he works at seeming fine, Jimmie and I know better. The dark shadows under his eyes and the fact that he’s losing weight tell the real story.
Griffin levels a meaningful glance in my direction. “And how about you, Lizzie. How did you sleep?”
My shoulders stiffen, and I feign further interest in my cereal than it’s worth. “I slept well, thank you.” My tone is cooler than I mean for it to be, but I wish to hell Griffin would just let things go. He can’t exactly help me with this. No one can.
Sensing he isn’t going to let it go, I stand and take my bowl to the sink. Both Jimmie and Griffin watch me until I want to turn and hightail it out of there. Yeah—like that wouldn’t be a dead giveaway. Instead, I carefully wash the bowl out, set it in the sink and force myself to start humming an upbeat tune as I head for the door.
“What time is Lev coming to get you?” Jimmie asks, peering at the clock on the wall.
“In about an hour.”
I don’t wait for a response because there’s no telling what will come out of Griffin’s mouth. I’d like to blame this on Jayzee, but I know better. If it were Jayzee’s control wreaking havoc, Griffin would probably forget I existed, not take a keen interest in my nightmares. No, this is typical Griffin.
“Have fun,” Jimmie calls as I head into the bedroom to get ready.
“I will,” I yell.
Lev kisses my cheek as I greet him on the porch. In my left hand, I already carry the picnic basket, and he cocks an eyebrow inquisitively at me.
“So are you excited to see me, or is Jimmie driving you nuts?” he asks, folding his arms across his chest.
“Not Jimmie. Griffin.” I grab his hand and try to tug him down the porch steps but he chooses that moment to become an immoveable object.
“Griffin? Really? Maybe I should give him some pointers.”
“Not funny,” I snap, tugging harder.
“Depends on whom you ask.” His mouth is twisted into a smirk, reminding me of the teenage Lev I’d known from Hauser’s Landing, the form I’ve really missed. Not that it matters what body he possesses. It was Lev’s spirit that’s connected with mine, not his form. I just happened to be fondest of the body I’d met him in.
“Okay, you proved your point. I can’t make you move. But unless you want to pack your own lunch, you might want to pick up the pace. I’m leaving.”
“Spoil sport,” he mouths, suddenly stepping forward so I almost fall. It’s only him holding me that keeps me on my feet, and as I’m dangling from his arm, his broad, undaunted smile making me wish I could trip him, but even if I did, that would probably be because he let me, not because I was really all that fast or tricky. Sometimes it’s tough having a supernatural boyfriend.
“You ready to go?” he asks, hoisting me upright. The basket almost topples my balance, so he quickly wraps his arm around me to help stabilize me.
“No, I want to stand here all day,” I mutter. He puts me down and I stride toward his truck.
He follows and opens my door so I can slide the basket onto the floor and get in. Although I can tell by his frown he’s wondering what’s up between me and Griffin, he’s good enough to wait until we at least pull out of the driveway and head to the lake before bringing it up.
“So what’s going on?” He stares ahead casually, like that’s going to help.
I want to tell him it depends on who he’s asking, but I know what he’ll say, so I shake my head. What Lev really wants to know is if there is something going on with me. So not going there. Instead, I think we really need to talk about Griffin and his dreams. Yeah, that definitely seems a more suitable topic.
“Things are really kind of tense, that’s all.”
“What do you mean?” I feel his gaze wander my way. He’s still pulling off that casual demeanor, which isn’t like Lev at all.
“I’m worried about him, and he knows it.”
Now he’s flat out staring, his eyebrows bunched together as a frown spreads across his face. “Okay, Elizabeth, let’s just get to it. Why are you worried?” He’d probably keep staring if he didn’t have to steer.
“Yesterday I saw that he was having a nightmare and so I woke him up. I could tell he was freaking out, and when he told me what he was dreaming about, I understood why.”
“He’s dreaming Jayzee is still alive.”
Lev’s foot falters on the accelerator, and he flinches. “That’s not possible.”
I shake my head. “I know you believe that, but after watching him closely these past months and realizing he’s not much better than right after I used the dagger, it does seem like Jayzee might still be alive. Lev, he still has feelings for her, and that shouldn’t be.” I swallow hard and watch his fingers cinch the wheel.
“It can’t be,” he mutters, shaking his head, but judging by his tone and the way he’s staring, I know the comment isn’t really meant for me.
“There’s more,” I add meekly.
Lev’s ocean eyes glare at me, and I know he really doesn’t want to hear this. He wants things to keep going the way they have been as much as I do, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible.
“Okay, what is it now?”
“I think I saw Sarah walking down my this morning.” I don’t realize I’m holding my breath until I finally exhale. “I know you don’t want to hear this.”
“You’re right. I don’t,” he snaps.
“That dagger almost killed you, Elizabeth, and it was supposed to have cleaned house when it came to the evil angels, but from what you’re telling me, we might just be back at square one again, fighting Kane and Colin, which I am so not looking forward to.”
A shiver runs through me as I think about Kane finding me again. I don’t think I could bear that. “Don’t you think if Kane were alive I’d sense him or something?” It’s the only thing I can think of which gives me hope. After all, Griffin senses Jayzee, meaning the connection must still be in place. Shouldn’t it work like that with Kane?
“I don’t know. The fact that Kane managed to connect with you at all, considering how strong our connection had been, astounded me so I can’t rule out the possibility that he’s here somewhere off the radar.”
He parks the truck in front of a copse of trees just before the beach area, and I think we’re both relieved there are no other cars, meaning we’ll have the place to ourselves. Granted, it’s September and well past swimming season when this area is usually packed beyond belief. Still, even in autumn, there are usually at least a few people around so privacy isn’t possible. Today must be our lucky day. Yeah, right.
The stiffness starts in my shoulders and seizes my whole body in a matter of minutes as I try to wrap my head around our conversation without panicking. I can’t face Kane again. Period. I don’t have it in me. Without realizing it, I start shaking and can’t stop.
As Lev pulls the keys from the ignition, he sees my ashen face and freezes. “Elizabeth, you okay?”
“Yeah,” I manage, but my voice is all wrong, and I feel light-headed.
“Calm down,” he soothes, wrapping his arm around me, and the minute I feel his touch, I cave in toward him, my head falling into its usual spot just beneath his chin. I think I’m so shell-shocked by this whole thing I can’t cry. Nothing will come out except the violent shaking that keeps me from speaking.
“I know you’re scared,” he says, “but you don’t have to be. Last time you felt like you were fighting him all by yourself. You weren’t alone then, and you sure aren’t alone now. Besides, we don’t even know for sure Kane survived. Before you panic, we need to confirm as much.”
“How?” My voice shakes, just like my body. “How can we know for sure?”
“Evan. He can sense these things.” Lev tilts his head and kisses my temple.
“But Evan isn’t here.” The shaking is worse, and Lev embraces me more tightly; I feel the heated light that emanates from his body, the white noise of it helping purge the panic, and a moment later, all I can think about is Lev.
I don’t know how long we stay wrapped in each other like that, but when he finally pulls away, I feel strong enough so the fear isn’t so overwhelming and I can meet his probing blue eyes.
“Are you sure it was Sarah? Think carefully.” One of his hands slips over mine, and I feel his fingers softly caressing my skin.
I close my eyes and think back to the moment when I saw the blonde ambling down my street. “She was facing the opposite direction, so I can’t be positive. I just…felt it was her.”
Lev nods. “All right. Until Evan returns, we can’t rule out that it wasn’t Sarah, so we need to be careful and watch for Kane and Colin as well, just in case. I’m not as worried about Jayzee and Sarah because without the others, they have no great source of power or strength.”
Although he sounds so assured of that, I can still see the hard line of his shoulders and the clench of his jaw, as though he can’t relax either.
“What will happen if they are here?”
Lev takes a deep breath and lets it go. “Truthfully, I have no idea. I need to talk to Evan. He’ll know what to do.” He nods toward the lake. “Anyway, didn’t we come here to have a picnic?”
I nod and open my door, and together we head for the beach wrapped in each other’s arms. Lev carries the basket, probably knowing it is safer with him because he isn’t nearly as likely to trip over his own two feet.
“I missed you last night,” he whispers in my ear, giving me a shy smile.
“I know the feeling.” I stare ahead, watching as the trees give way to a clearing white with sand, and I smile.
I’ve always liked this spot. I mean, it’s the same lake as where we were at yesterday, just on the other side--but what I love about it today is that the birds circle overhead lazily, cooing at our arrival as the water gently laps the sandy shore.
The minute we leave the rocky path and touch sand, my sandals are off and in my hand so I can feel the coolness beneath my feet. As I get my first glimpse of the shoreline, I propel myself from Lev’s arm toward the shore where sand and water meet. Yeah, I know the water is going to be cold, but I don’t care. I love the feel of wet sand over my feet. Nothing else in this world relaxes me the way water does.
Although I tense when I feel the cold, I don’t back up, knowing if I just give it a moment, my body will adjust. And it does. Still, Lev stands on the shore, the basket in one hand as he stares at me, grinning at my lunacy.
I stare at my wriggling toes, suddenly feeling very refreshed. “Come on in.” That smile is so rare. I beckon him to join me.
He looks down at his sneakers and jeans. “I’m not exactly dressed for this….” He shakes his head ruefully.
“I didn’t know that during a picnic you would want to play in the cold water. It is September….”
“I know! Now come on!” I wave again, harder, more determined, thinking if I just keep trying, he’ll eventually come.
“All right,” he finally agrees, setting the basket down. “Give me a minute.”
He sits amid the sand and unties his shoes. He jerks them off, following by his socks before ambling toward me. For the first time I realize he’s wearing a black button-down cotton shirt that makes his skin look all the more golden and turns his eyes a brighter blue. I didn’t think that was possible.
Lev rolls up the legs of his jeans and wanders down the shore. He reaches for me, wrapping his arms around my waist, still grinning. “Happy now?”
“Of course. I’m at my favorite place with my favorite person.”
“Glad to hear it.” He draws me closer and slips his hands to either side of my face, gently resting there. As usual, the nearness of him leaves my heart racing, and all I can see is my reflection in his eyes and how I swim in them.
Lev’s lips part slightly, and I see his Adam’s apple bob with it, feeling myself drifting toward him, a slow stretch of nothing but him. The rest of the world has ceased to exist, and it seems as though I’ve been waiting forever to feel his lips upon mine; yet I’m still surprised by the feather-light caress when it comes, and my whole body stirs with anticipation.
We seem to linger like this forever and a scattering of seconds at the same time when he pulls back, leaving me waiting for more. When I finally realize he’s moved away, I open my eyes to find him staring intently. No matter how much I might have wished for a guy to look at me the way Lev does, I know I’ll never be able to earn it. It’s like he sees something within me I can’t find but want to become for him. If he believes she’s in there, she must be, doesn’t she?
His left hand moves from my face to stroke my hair. At that moment, I feel I can barely breathe, and I can’t stop staring into his eyes. I lick my lips. All this feels like a dream and, if it is, I never want to wake up.
Lev blinks. “What do you mean?”
“Why me? Of all people, why was I so lucky?”
He laughs humorlessly. “Lucky? This is lucky, Elizabeth?”
I nod, feeling a catch in my throat as tears prick my eyes. I never thought I would find anyone like him. “I’m with you, aren’t I?”
He tenses and closes his eyes. When they resurface, I find myself swimming in that ocean. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out, and for once he seems pale and unsure. “Elizabeth.” His voice is like rough silk, and his mouth twists into a frown.
I raise my hands to his lips, knowing what he’s trying to tell me. “Shhh. Don’t say it. I am lucky. No matter what happens, I’ll take this life with you over any other. I know it’s right. It’s what should be.”
I try to embrace him, but he steps back, and he seems on the verge of tears. “No, this isn’t luck. If it were, I could protect you. What kind of an angel am I to stumble so much and fail you at every turn? And yet you still remain. You can’t have a normal life with me.”
“Maybe I don’t want one.” I step closer. “This is my life, Lev. Don’t I get to pick what I want?” I reach to hold him, but he catches my wrists.
“You’re seventeen. You haven’t had time to discover what your heart yearns for.” His fingers start to ease as he seeks to release me, but my hands quickly latch onto his.
“Maybe you want to believe some part of me is a stupid teenage girl who had no choice in any of this, but you’re wrong. I’m here, looking at the road we’ve come down and seeing everything, every horrible dream and reality, I’d go through it again just to get to this one moment with you. I’m seventeen, Lev—one year away from being an adult, and I know what I want. You.”
He flinches again, but at least this time he doesn’t push me away. Instead, when I seek his arms, he enfolds me in them, and those beautiful wings furl around us, closing off the rest of the world.