TRIGGER WARNING: Child death. And Scarlett is a mess in these first few chapters.
“I’m afraid she doesn’t have much time left.”
The doctor spoke in hushed tones to the couple standing in the corridor. “There just isn’t anything else we can do for her. I’m sorry.” He walked away in a flurry of his white coat, not pausing to offer any comfort or field any difficult questions. The couple stood there a moment, unable to process what the doctor had said. For a moment they denied it, going through each syllable of the practiced speech they’d been given, but after a few minutes, the harsh reality sank in. The woman broke down, burying her head in the folds of her husband’s sweater. He cradled her in his arms as best he could, but he was having his own crisis of grief. Silent, wrenching sobs rolled over them as they held onto one another. The angel could tell what they were thinking. That they had to pull themselves together for the sake of their child. If they faced her this way, she would be frightened. Should they tell her the truth or continue to feed her false hope? She’d been through so much already. So much pain. The little girl had been diagnosed with cancer at age five and had fought it long and hard. Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery—the doctors had tried everything, but to no avail. Every time they managed to beat down the disease, it had returned someplace else with an aggressive fervor. It began in her brain and then jumped the superhighway of her bloodstream to infect her bones and organs. Now the young girl lay in a sterile, hospital bed, waiting to be released from the prison of her inadequate body.
The angel had seen it so many times.
“We have to tell her, John,” the woman sobbed, wiping her eyes against her husband’s shoulder. “We can’t just let her…” Her voice trailed off in a torrent of sobs. She couldn’t bring herself to utter the solemn truth.
“She’s just a little girl, Anna,” he sobbed. “How are you supposed to tell a little girl that she’s going to die?”
The angel looked away from them, silvery tears wetting his cheeks. They could not see him. No one could unless he willed it and for a moment he considered going to them and offering some bit of comfort. But something told him that it would only seem to them like a cruel joke and he did not wish to cause them more pain.
He drifted into the room where the child lay. She listened to her parents in the hall just outside and turned her face to the pillow. The little girl looked so frail, her pale skin seeming to cling to her bones like a wet blouse. Her head was shorn, only a smattering of ginger-colored fuzz gave her any coloring at all. Her parents were worried for nothing. This child knew that she was dying and when she saw the angel standing in the corner, she looked almost relieved.
“Are you an angel?” she asked, her voice sounding like the crackling of autumn leaves.
“Yes,” he replied, walking toward her slowly.
“You don’t look like an angel,” she said, staring at him with a skepticism that only a child can accomplish. “I thought they wore white robes and had halos. You look more like… a rock star. Where are your wings?”
The angel smiled. “Want to see my wings, do you?” He stepped into the dim light afforded by the small fluorescent over her bed. He closed his eyes and allowed his wings to appear. Shimmery and skeletal, they appeared at his back looking like silver smoke that stretched down to the floor. “There. Now do you believe me?”
“They don’t look right. I always thought they’d be white and feathery. Like a bird’s,” she whispered. “Yours look more like batwings.”
“Are you afraid of me?”
The child looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking her head. “You’re here because I’m going to die.”
The angel hesitated before whispering his answer. “I am.”
“I knew it.” She did not sound afraid. Her voice was even and he detected no trembling or sadness. There was a small stuffed dog on the bed beside her. She picked it up and held it to her chest weakly, worrying the corner of its floppy ear with her fingertips. After several minutes of silence she looked up at the angel. “Will it hurt?”
He sat down on the edge of her bed and took her hand. “Not at all. It’s like going to sleep.” She sat up a little, reaching out for him. She ran the fingers of her free hand over his arm and shoulder, then touched his face.
“You feel like a regular person.”
“What did you expect?” he chuckled.
“I guess I thought an angel would be like touching fog. Kind of cold and misty.” She smiled a little and sat back. He started to release her hand but she held it firm, lacing her tiny, childish fingers through his. “What will happen to me… you know… after? Will I go to Heaven like my mom and dad say?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just deliver the souls.”
The little girl looked down at her toy again, the corners of her mouth turned up into a slight grin. “What kind of angel are you? Aren’t you supposed to know that stuff?”
The angel returned her smile, laughter playing in the corners of his eyes. “Everyone has a choice. And everyone has to walk down a different path. I can only promise you that there is something beyond.” Taking her hand in both of his, he kissed it gently and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You have nothing to fear, little one. This is merely a stop on your journey.”
“Like on the train?”
He grinned. “Exactly.” Reaching out, he brushed his fingertips over her brow. “You have greater destinations ahead of you.”
The door behind him creaked open and a blade of light cut the dark room in two. The girl’s parents crept in and immediately the angel felt her tense. “Will you stay with me?” she asked. “I’m afraid.”
“I promise.” His heart broke for the child. For every child whose soul he had collected. His empathy was both a blessing and a curse.
The girl smiled at her parents as they approached the bed. “Hello, mommy.” She cast a glance at the angel, wondering if she should explain his presence.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “They can’t see or hear me.” She nodded and tried to smile as her parents sat by her.
“How are you, sweetie?” the girl’s mother asked, passing through the image of the angel. He winked at the child and dissipated in a wisp of smoke before reappearing by her other side. “Feeling better?”
“A little bit,” she said, trying to sit up a little. “The nurse gave me some medicine.”
The angel could hear the woman’s thoughts. The nurse had given the child morphine. Something to make her comfortable so she wouldn’t be afraid. “That’s…” she stammered. She trailed off in a new tempest of sobbing, hiding her face in her hands as her husband put a protective hand on the back of her neck.
Her father forced a nervous smile at the little girl. “That’s real good, honey.”
After several moments the girl touched her mother’s hand. “It’s okay, mommy.” She looked back over her shoulder at the angel as he stood over her. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
She smiled and looked over her shoulder at the angel. “I’m ready.”
“Sir! Can you help…” Scarlett called to a man wearing an airline uniform as she came off of the concourse. He either ignored her or didn’t hear because he barreled past as if she were invisible. “…me?” So far this trip had been one disaster after another. Her leisurely evening flight had quickly turned into a red eye when all the flights got grounded due to a terrible storm that had blown up and left Charlotte, North Carolina in a dark haze of rain and thunderheads. Then the first airline douchebag had given her static about everything in her carry on. Next, her non-stop first class ticket to London had turned into a coach seat to New York where she then had a five hour layover before hooking up with an early morning flight to London. The final insult was when the screaming kid behind her had kicked the back of her chair for the entire eight hours of the flight. Now here she was, jonesing bad for a Xanax and completely lost. According to the itinerary that David had handed her on the way out, she was supposed to be meeting Constantine that evening for an early dinner. Looking down at her watch she realized that she had precious little time to make herself look human before that. Now if only someone could help her find the baggage claim.
“Excuse me, Miss.” A deep, accented voice from behind startled her out of her reverie.
“Oh my God… you scared me,” Scarlett replied, clutching her chest. She turned to see an older gentleman looking at her expectantly. He did not smile, but his gray eyes were kind.
“Do forgive me, but are you Scarlett Munro?”
“Oh good. I was afraid I’d have to wander the airport looking for you. Mr. Constantine sent me to retrieve you.”
Scarlett nodded, her mouth slightly ajar. “Well that’s very nice of him, but unnecessary. I could have called a taxi.” By the looks of the old man, she wasn’t sure he should be driving around all over town. “I hate to put you to any trouble.”
“It’s no trouble, Miss Munro.” He offered his hand, “My name is Geoffrey. I’m Mr. Constantine’s valet.”
She took his hand, shaking it politely. “I didn’t realize anyone really had those,” she chuckled. “But how did Mr. Constantine know? I had some trouble en route.”
“Yes, the airline called. Mr. Constantine wanted to be sure that you made it into town without incident. He’s expecting you for dinner promptly at six.” With a flick of his wrist, the older man hailed an airport officer who would take them to the baggage claim.
Everything seemed to be a blur as Geoffrey led her through the crowded baggage claim. He moved quickly for a man of his age and before long Scarlett was panting trying to keep up. Her head ached and she knew that the withdrawals were coming. She hoped that Geoffrey could get her to the hotel before they started in earnest. She stood there beside the old man, not speaking but tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for her bags to come sliding down the conveyor belt. When she saw them, she reached down to pick them up, but Geoffrey beat her to it. “I’ll get those,” she protested.
“No need,” he replied cheerfully. “I don’t mind. Shall we?” He looked at her with an expectant grin and turned toward the door that would take them to the street out front. A tall woman dressed in a black uniform met them on the sidewalk and took the baggage from Geoffrey. She efficiently heaved the cases into the trunk of a slick, black Mercedes before coming around and opening the door for them. “Thank you, Miss Summers,” Geoffrey nodded to the chauffeur, gesturing for Scarlett to get in first. “I believe Miss Munro is staying at The Garden.”
Scarlett watched the people on the street whiz by as they passed. She’d never been to London before and from what she could see so far it was unremarkable. Gray spires climbed into the gray sky overhead. The sidewalks were swarming with people and cars zipped this way and that, honking their high-pitched horns in a maddening cadence. Not much different than other large cities she’d been to. Of course her perception was clouded by the onset of a migraine moving in behind her eyes and the shaking of her hands. Until yesterday morning she’d been living in a haze of alcohol and prescription medication. Having that taken away was starting to take its toll.
“Are you alright, Miss Munro?” Geoffrey asked, patting her hand with a concerned look in his eye.
“I’m fine, Geoffrey. Just a little jet-lagged I suppose.” She tried to smile, but a wave of nausea rolled over her and she had to lean against the cool window.
After what seemed an eternity, the car pulled up to the curb outside her hotel. She stepped out of the car, leaning heavily on the old man, and looked up at the hulk of a building before her. It had begun to rain, just a light mist that made everything sticky, so she hurried up the steps and allowed herself to be ushered inside. Geoffrey followed behind, waving at a porter to grab the bags. Scarlett approached the counter, gave her name as David had instructed and in minutes was on her way up to the twentieth floor in the elevator. “Thank you for walking me up, Geoffrey. I didn’t want to keep you all afternoon. I’m sure that you’re quite busy.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Constantine wanted to be sure you were settled to your satisfaction. Please feel free to call on me for any of your needs during your stay in London, Miss Munro.”
“Thank you, Geoffrey, but you should call me Scarlett.” Her words were cut off as a pain stabbed behind her eye, so sharp that she gasped aloud just as the doors opened. The older man took the keycard from her hand and led her down the corridor to a heavy oak door at the end of the hall. He unlocked it easily and had she not been doubled over in pain, Scarlett would have laughed. She always had to try keycards several times before they would allow entry. As soon as they entered, Scarlett sank to the end of the bed, holding her forehead, as Geoffrey tipped the porter. She could hear him moving around the room and for a moment she thought that perhaps Constantine had sent him to babysit her. “You don’t have to…” she started, opening her eyes to see him standing over her and holding out a glass of water and two pills.
“Some aspirin for your head.” He waited until she had swallowed the medicine and then started out the door. “Mr. Constantine will meet you in the lounge downstairs promptly at 6.”
As soon as he was gone, Scarlett stared around the room. This was truly the most luxurious place she’d ever been. Though she’d been able to support herself with her art for some time now, she wasn’t what you’d call posh. The room wasn’t a penthouse but enormous would be an understatement. An entire wall was nothing but glass looking out over a panoramic view of the city. It was cloudy and wet, but she imagined that one could see all the way to the Thames on a clear day. The dark, hardwood floors were covered with lush rugs and the leather couch seemed to invite you into its depths. Then there was the bed. She sat on the end of it and giggled when she realized that her feet dangled off the end. Everything here was too big, too magnificent… just too much. If this was the type of place her would-be patron preferred, Scarlett wasn’t sure she’d fit in.
“Who is this guy, anyway?” she thought, kicking off her shoes and scooting back against the headboard. Her purse had been tossed carelessly onto the bed beside her and she could see a manila envelope peeking out. She pulled it out and opened it up, dumping the contents onto her lap. “Hmmm… a dossier. How very official, David,” she murmured to herself, flipping through the stapled booklet of printouts. On top was a photograph of Raze Constantine, somewhat smudged because of the copier, but the divine symmetry of his features was apparent. His hair was dark, trimmed neatly but styled with purposeful disorder. His eyes weren’t really blue, but more of a transparent amber with flecks of gold like autumn leaves in the light. Though they sparkled with youth, tiny lines at the corners revealed that he was no boy, but rather a grown, thoughtful, man. Most men of his stature would always appear in a business suit with a crisp white shirt and stiffly knotted tie, but this particular picture showed him wearing a black dress shirt open at the neck. Scarlett’s fingers traced over his image. Something about him wasn’t quite right. Something nudged at the back of her mind but she couldn’t put her finger on it. He was familiar, yet they had never met. The only reason she knew of him at all was the occasional media coverage of some event sponsored by RazCon Technologies. Constantine was known to be somewhat of a high society hermit, only venturing out into the populace when absolutely necessary.
“Who are you, Mr. Constantine?” Scarlett flipped through the biography and found it to be shockingly incomplete. Nothing about his background, but mostly press releases about RazCon. “RazCon Technologies burst onto the entrepreneurial scene with the birth of the Internet. At first a small microchip company, they have expanded their business to include software innovations that benefit nearly every growing industry in the western world. From CGI effects to medical equipment, RazCon is the leader in cutting edge technology for the modern world.” The dossier went on to enumerate Constantine’s many achievements, including being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work building state-of-the-art schools in Africa. In one village, he actually had a power plant built so that the school would have a power grid that could handle the servers needed to go with the computers, tablets, learning software and phone lines that would be installed in the school. Unlike most of the other rich people you hear about, Constantine had actually gone into the villages to hammer nails and lay bricks. There was even a photograph of him standing in the middle of an empty classroom, one small child on his hip and another holding his hand. “No one can be this perfect,” she said with a cynical sigh. She shoved the information back into the envelope and tossed it aside, stealing a glance at the clock by the bed. Its angry red numbers glowed “4:00.”
“Two hours. That should give me enough time to take a short nap,” she murmured, asleep before she rolled over.
The staircase was narrow, so narrow she could barely breathe from the closeness of the air. Deep breaths filled her aching chest with his scent. Mmmm… she could taste him on her tongue already and they hadn’t even reached the top. With a firm hand he led her, never speaking, never stopping, toward the precipice. Looking down over the rail she could see how far they’d come and her heart pounded with exhilarating terror. For a moment she almost pulled away and insisted they go back down, but the words died in her throat. He must have sensed her apprehension, because he pulled her closer to him, holding her tightly around the waist as they ascended the stairs that spiraled ever higher.
Finally, they reached a small landing. She felt as if she was teetering on the edge of something, but she could feel his arm, strong and sure at her back. Darkness surrounded them on all sides and a heavy mist curled around their feet. Looking down, there was only nothingness now below them, yet something held them in place. Suddenly he dropped her hand and began to move away into the mist. A light shone down on him from above, highlighting the careless waves of raven curls that fell over his brow and casting his body in lines of light and shadow. His body was nude, save for the strange markings that snaked down each arm and across his back and shoulders. She could not pull her gaze away, taking in the pale skin and complicated structure of bone and sinew that moved beneath.
“Scarlett,” he whispered, turning back and imploring her to follow. He held out his hand, but she was afraid to move. Somehow she knew that if she took one more step forward that she would plunge into the abyss, falling forever into a sea of black and stars. “Do not be afraid,” he said, his hand still offered. She could feel his pull like an invisible string, tugging her closer and bending her will. Breathing in deep, she took a step forward. To her surprise there was no stumble, no fall from the ledge, only her hand in his. As she stepped into his light she noticed that she was also naked, but she was not chilled and did not tremble with embarrassment as he stared, pacing around her slowly. Sidling up behind, he wound his arm around her waist, pulling her against him forcefully. Her inky black hair fell over one shoulder and he pushed it aside, exposing the pearlescent flesh hiding beneath. Gently he kissed it, his lips so warm that his feathery kisses burned like the sudden sting of hot wax dripped slowly over the skin. His hands were in her hair, tangling it in his fingertips and tugging it away from the back of her neck, mouth and tongue brushing gently over it. She shivered, the tiny hairs standing up. He pulled away and touched the base of her head with the tip of his finger. A quicksilver shock ran down her spine, first hot then cold as ice. Scarlett’s eyes widened as she saw the blue markings begin to appear at her shoulders and grow like a network of vines down her torso, circling her breasts. His fingers followed them, tracing their progress as they spiraled downward, marking her body with a peculiar tattoo.
“You’re mine, Scarlett,” he rasped, breathing moist against her ear. “Body and soul.”
His voice was a powerful tonic, intoxicating her instantly and she swooned into his embrace. With an effortless movement, he swept her into his arms. She gave a sigh when his mouth covered hers, stealing her breath. For a moment she could feel an odd sort of suction, drawing the air from her lungs like one might inhale cigarette smoke. As it left her body she felt relieved. A sense of calm came with an insatiable lust. He tried to pull away, but she held him close, keeping her mouth pressed to his. Their kiss deepened and she could feel his tongue forcing its way between her lips, claiming her mouth for his. Closing her eyes she felt weightless as he lay her down. His hands caressed every inch of her body, sliding slowly over the hills and valleys of her torso. Pausing at her breast, his fingertips circled each nipple lightly until she was mewling with desire. As the centers puckered, they swelled, almost reaching out for his warmth. He was quick to oblige, taking each one into his mouth and suckling the sensitive skin against his teeth. Scarlett cradled his head to her chest, stroking his hair and praying silently that he would continue.
She whimpered when he pulled back, his warmth leaving her body. When he stared down at her, she was nervous. The intensity of his gray eyes at once made her feel as if he could see straight into her soul. Every imperfection and twist of her dark imagination was exposed. He must have sensed her apprehension because he smiled warmly and bent over to kiss her lips. “You must not fear me, Scarlett,” he said. And she believed him.
She lay beneath him, not sure she should move. He knelt between her thighs and pulled her closer so that she could feel his body flush against hers. His cock was hard, poised at her entrance and she was impatient to feel him moving inside of her. With a small whimper, she arched against him, pleading with him to give in. “I need you,” she said, her voice nearly inaudible. “Bind my soul to yours.” With a firm hand under her thigh, he pulled one leg over his hip, laying her open before him. The petals of her sex flushed with heat and she could feel the slick drops of her wetness sliding down between her thighs. For a moment he was still, the only sound their heavy breathing. And then he was inside, his cock driving into her fully. She gasped with exquisite pain, a gentle throbbing that began deep inside her sex and radiated outward. He pulled back slowly, almost letting his member slip from her womb, but stopping at the last moment before thrusting forward with a savage growl. Scarlett cried out, the muscles deep within her sex clenching in a desperate attempt to hold him inside. For a moment he allowed it, teasing her with tiny, shallow strokes. Raising up a little, she tried to wrap her arms around his neck, but he stopped her, grabbing her wrists. With a violent thrust forward, he pinned her wrists down and began pounding into her. Scarlett wanted to moan but she couldn’t catch her breath. All she could do was hang in his grasp, letting him use her for as long as he liked. In the darkness above him she could see the spectral wings take shape, enveloping them in the cool embrace of death.
“Please…” she sighed, her words getting lost in his throat as he pulled her up against him. “Take my soul.”
Scarlett woke with a start, still gasping from the fevered dream. There was a heaviness that had settled in her center and her heart pounded in her chest. Her sex was warm and sensitive, her clothes feeling like sandpaper. Never in recent memory had she been so turned on, so ready for release. Her fingers tingled and she wanted to touch herself but as she turned her head, the clock delivered a sharp slap of reality. 5:45. “Fuck.”