For Shawn Cook
In Celebration of 20 Years
A million thank-you’s go out to all the people who helped Genesis become a reality and ensured I stayed (somewhat) sane along the way.
More appreciation than I can ever put into words go out to my family – Shawn, Zakary, Austin and Nathan, as well as Mom, Terry, Dad and Keena – for your tremendous support, for believing in me, for keeping me motivated and, most of all, for all that you put up with, especially as deadlines barrel my way.
Chrissi Jackson, my publisher, close friend and business partner, thank you for serving as my sounding board, especially when my ideas got really kooky; for holding me up when I felt like falling; and for keeping me focused when my mind soared to far off places. I can’t fathom the idea of doing this without you.
Author Brenda Pandos, I can’t thank you enough for my gorgeous covers, for your keen eye to my writing mistakes, for pushing me out of my comfort zone, and, most of all, for your friendship. We’re doing this, babe, we’re really doing it. And we’re laughing all the way. Yes, KM for the win!
Author Lani Woodland, author Melonie Piper and Judy Spelbring, thank you for enduring my drafts and providing your insight to make this story as tight and strong as Niko’s bod. Author Michelle Gregory and Patti Oaks, thank you for your sharp eyes and for fixing my goofs. Author Jessica Bell, thank you for answering my seemingly endless questions about Greece (you’re not off the hook, though—next up is Australia).
Lisa Adams, thank you for all you’ve done to help keep the chaos under control, both personally and professionally. Tammi, thank you for your friendship, for keeping me grounded in real life and for the laughs on our rides. Jessica and Lisa, a special thank you to you both for your unwavering support, for your love for my books and characters and for all that you do not just for me and other authors, but for the thousands of readers following you.
Readers, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to you all. You make this happen. You keep me going with the beautiful fan mail you send me, with the reviews you post and with the recommendations you pass on to friends, family and even strangers. Without you, all of this would be pointless – just words tucked into a corner of a hard drive, enjoyed only by me. From every cell in my body, from every corner of my world, from the depths of my heart and soul, thank you for reading!
The Angel hovered near the veil between the Otherworld and the physical realm, close enough to take a nearly solid form and near enough to the woman he guarded that he could reach out and caress her cheek. But the distance between them may as well have been the distance of the entire universe. Although Andrew could see her clearly through the veil, she couldn’t see him and she never would—a fact that pierced his soul with more agony than a demon’s blade. He had to ignore that pain, however, as well as his feelings for her.
Andrew could not fathom his love toward this single human. Angels, even warriors such as himself, naturally loved all humans equally—a sacred love only surpassed by their Master’s. His many wards over the millennia had never made him feel as this one did, this human woman known as Zoe from the part of Earth called Thessaly. He did not know what made her different, but from the day he became her guardian, his soul ached to be more than an invisible entity in her life. It wanted to be a part of her physical world. But such desire was dangerous. Forbidden.
Human emotions such as these could cast Andrew out of Heaven, deliver him straight into his enemies’ hands and transform him into one of the very creatures he was created to conquer. The thought of becoming one of them—the fallen, the demons, Satan’s followers—appalled him. He’d rather be extinguished, even if it never meant being a part of Zoe’s physical life. He would destroy her as a demon, but he could save her soul as an Angel.
For her sake, he must suppress his feelings and focus on his duties. He needed to remain alert, ready for battle.
The Higher Angels had special plans for Zoe, although they did not share these plans with Andrew. He was a mere warrior, one who followed orders, not one who issued them. His orders were to protect her, to keep her out of the demons’ hands and alive at all costs. Orders he gladly followed. He would fight for her soul with unmatched ferocity, and according to his superiors, tonight would be the first battle.
Andrew perched on a boulder, feeling the rock’s physicality beneath his not-quite-solid feet, as he watched and waited, his body coiled and ready for the fight. On the other side of the veil, Zoe, unaware of impending danger, knelt by the creek. The moonlight bounced off its rippled surface, washing the color out of her smooth olive skin and casting shadows over her dark brown eyes. She splashed water on her face and glanced up at the half-moon, then suddenly turned her head toward Andrew.
He tensed, for a moment thinking she could see him as her eyes seemed to focus right on him, piercing his soul. If she could, she would see a hard, muscular man with light hair, white wings rising from his bare back, a multitude of weapons hanging from his belt and a long sword in his right hand. Her brows pushed together for the briefest moment and then she let out the saddest sigh he’d ever heard, as if disappointed when she saw nothing but the boulder. Her head dropped and her shoulders sank. Locks of dark hair had escaped the braids wound around her head and now curtained her face as she stared at her lap, her hands twisting into the linen of her tunic.
Andrew heard the noise of someone approaching before Zoe did and sprang to attention. She jumped to her feet, too, and turned toward him—a move that could have cost her life. In the physical realm, three men came at her from behind and one quickly pinned her to the ground.
At the same time, a demon charged the Angel in the Otherworld.
Andrew swung his sword up just in time to parry the demon’s blade. Another arced toward him and he spun, at the same time releasing a dagger from his belt to block the blow. His silver blade clashed with the black one and a shower of sparks rained down. He landed with bent knees, a weapon in each hand, facing the evil spirit in its physical form.
With horns protruding from its temples, razor-sharp teeth, fiery eyes, talon feet and black wings, the demon looked like the Angel’s opposite, though both were hard-bodied warriors conditioned for battle. But while Angels protected human souls, demons sought to destroy them. This one wanted Zoe’s. Curling its upper lip in a snarl, it rose higher in the air, held its blade straight out in front and shot like an arrow toward Andrew.
The Angel’s feathered wings spread widely and lifted him out of the demon’s way. Andrew continued upward, beating his wings harder, as the beast switched directions and came at him again. He dipped and turned and swung his sword, slicing through the demon’s thin-skinned wing. It howled with pain and rage and tried to fly at Andrew again. Instead of crashing into him, however, the injured wing sent the beast careening to his right. As it soared by, its arm jabbed out with full strength, knocking Andrew in the chest.
As he tumbled in the air with the blow, he caught sight of Zoe struggling against the man who pinned her to the ground. Andrew knew the three figures weren’t quite human, but were Satan’s minions, part of his army in the physical world. Zoe would only see three men attacking her. Although they might rape her, they really thirsted for her human blood. Andrew could do nothing about them, however. His purpose was to fight off this demon, driving it away from her soul. He couldn’t be distracted by the physical realm. He had to focus on his own battle and hope Zoe would win hers.
Andrew regained control and now took the offensive. Holding his sword and dagger out in front of him, he charged at the demon, aiming for its chest. The beast swung both of its swords out and locked the Angel’s blades between them. Still gripping the hilts tightly, Andrew flipped over its head and yanked his weapons free. A demon blade pulled loose, too, flying back and carving a gash into Andrew’s thigh. He grimaced as gold blood spurted from the wound. The sweet scent threw the demon into a frenzy.
The two flew at each other and became a blur of tangled limbs and clashing blades. The demon bit with fangs, slashed with talons and sliced with swords, shredding the Angel’s form. Andrew had never faced such a powerful opponent—tonight he might suffer his first loss in two millennia—but he refused to give up easily. He tore into the demon’s thick hide with every swing of his weapons. Splatters of both black blood and gold dotted their faces and bodies.
When Zoe’s screams fell silent, the Angel glanced into the physical realm. Her still body lay on the ground, her dark hair and eyes—staring blind and empty—contrasting with the new paleness of her face. The three figures stood over her with blood-stained lips. At the neckline of Zoe’s tunic, a tiny crimson flower bloomed with the smallest trickle of blood leaking from her throat. They had consumed the rest.
Andrew screamed a protest and his face contorted with rage as he turned to the demon. The evil one lifted the corners of its mouth as if in a grin. Andrew crossed his blades over his head. His wings beat a hard rhythm against the air as he gathered his power and channeled it to the swords. Then with all his might and energy, he swung the blades down and out, slicing through the demon’s neck. Black blood rained over the Angel as the head fell from its body.
Andrew wished he could have killed the evil beast, ended its existence forever, but that was no more possible than the demon being able to kill him. They could be injured to the point of incapacitation, ending that particular battle, but neither would ever die. They were spirits, denizens of the Otherworld since the beginning of time and into eternity. With a growl of defeat, the beast collapsed over its head and its physical form disintegrated into nothing.
Andrew returned his attention to Zoe. He’d saved her soul, but those creatures still appeared intent on taking what remained of her life. Through the veil, he heard them discussing whether to let her die or to turn her into one of them, the vile beasts that were no better than the demons themselves. One lifted Zoe off the ground by her neck, her head hanging unnaturally to the side.
Andrew bellowed with rage and flew at the men.
He knocked into their stone-like, inhuman bodies and they tumbled onto each other in a heap. Zoe fell and Andrew dove out to catch her. The men stared at him with wide eyes the same color as the blood that still pooled around their teeth as their mouths gaped open.
He’d left the Otherworld and entered the physical realm. Terror filled the men’s eyes and they disappeared with three popping sounds.
Alone, Andrew lowered Zoe’s lifeless body to the ground and cradled her head in his lap. His now solid form ached and throbbed with its many cuts and gashes. He needed to return to the Otherworld, to the Heavens, to heal, but looking down at Zoe’s still face, he had no thought for himself. Pearl-like tears dropped onto her pale cheek. She’d lost much blood, probably too much to survive, but her precious heart still beat, the sound slow and faint.
I can save her.
It was a dangerous thought. One he shouldn’t even be considering. But Andrew couldn’t bear a future without his beloved Zoe to watch over anymore. And the Higher Angels had told him to guard her life at all costs. If he didn’t do this, she would surely die.
With that justification, he pulled a small knife from his belt. The demon-inflicted wounds were tainted with the beast’s essence, so Andrew gripped the blade and slashed across his wrist, opening a clean wound. Then he held his arm to Zoe’s mouth, letting the gold liquid pour into her body. Within a moment, her lips parted on their own.
“Sweet, like honey,” she mumbled between swallows, her voice distant and her eyes still closed.
When he felt her essence strengthen, he pulled his wrist away. He knew a taste of his blood would heal her completely. Any more than that, however, he didn’t know the potential consequences. Indeed, Angels weren’t supposed to share their blood with humans. In fact, they weren’t supposed to expose themselves at all unless ordered, which was rare.
Yet … here he was.
Zoe’s eyes fluttered open and filled with wonder as she gazed up at him, a thrill that made his physical heart pound in his chest. The corners of her full lips pulled into a vague smile. She reached her hand up toward his face.
“So beautiful,” she murmured, her voice soft and pure. Aching for her touch, he leaned closer to her fingers, anticipating their caress. But just as her fingertips brushed his skin, he was yanked away from her, out of her realm.
Andrew lost his physical form as he was pulled deeper and deeper through the Otherworld and into the Heavens.
They had no need for words here, unlike the humans. Communication passed through their spirits and Andrew could feel the others’ disappointed shock as he soared past them. His spirit came to an abrupt halt when he reached those who’d summoned him: the Higher Angels. They were more than disappointed and surprised. Anger filled their energies.
“You broke several of our laws,” came one accusation pulsing through his spirit.
“You let yourself be seen,” said another.
“You shared your blood with a human!” This reverberation shook the Heavens with a ferociousness rarely felt here.
“You told me to protect her at all costs,” Andrew protested. “She would have died!”
He didn’t know if his justification was enough to satisfy them, but it was all he had. The Higher Angels’ energy quieted around him, growing into a deafening silence.
“That is the only reason you will be forgiven,” a Higher Angel finally said. “This woman is important to our Lord’s plans. We can overlook this blasphemy. However … ”
And the accusation that came next pierced Andrew’s soul.
“You love this woman. Not an Angel’s love, not spiritual, but a physical love.”
He couldn’t deny it. He couldn’t excuse it. It was true.
“For this you must leave.”
“No!” Andrew cried out.
“Your love for her has already caused you to break our laws. What else would you sacrifice for this woman? Who would you sacrifice for her?”
Andrew had no response. He didn’t know how far he would go for Zoe, but he’d just proven he would violate his commandments. He was a warrior and an Angel—he should have been above such human emotions and rash decisions. His energy swirled as his love for Zoe battled against the shame he felt.