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Redemption First Three Chapters

Chapter 1

Gabe

The last thing the Archangel Gabriel wanted was to mingle with a bunch of mortals, but it couldn’t be helped. Whenever he finished one of his covert missions, he made a point of returning to the place where his client had first approached him. A symbolic gesture for anyone who might be tempted to solicit him for a favor.

A warning to stay away.

Five minutes was all it would take. He was meeting his fellow archangel, Mephisto, in ten.

He teleported to Zega, an exclusive club on one of the pleasure planets in the Andromeda Galaxy. It was a frequent hang out among half-blood immortals and excessively wealthy mortals looking for expensive thrills and interspecies sex.

As soon as he materialized, the effect of his archangelic radiance was instantaneous. The crowd pulled back, mesmerized, and a couple of mortals fainted. The music thundered, the floor vibrated, and he strode through the club, raking his gaze across the myriad faces focused on him.

A few would recall his previous visit and, combined with the alleged disappearance of his client, the whispers would spread, reinforcing his reputation as a mercenary who demanded a fee only the desperate would pay.

“My Lord Gabriel.”

The voice came from behind him, and Gabe swallowed a groan as he swung around. He was too damn tired to interact with presumptuous mortals. All he really wanted was to get blind drunk and crash for a week. Unfortunately, the likelihood of doing either was remote.

He gave the tall male who had accosted him a withering glance, but the man didn’t back away or apologize for his impudence.

“A moment of your time, my lord. That’s all I ask.”

“No.” He turned away, but the man grasped his arm, and Gabe stopped dead. What the hell? Mortals didn’t grab at him like this. Ever. Especially when they were obviously hoping for a favor.

“I’ve been searching for you for the last three Medan moon cycles.”

Gabe slowly turned, and after a couple of seconds of eye-contact, the man finally appeared to realize his error and released him.

“Forgive me.” He bowed his head in respect and kept his eyes trained on the floor. “Lord Gabriel, you’re the only one who can help me. I beg you to consider my request.”

Gabe made a cursory scan of the man’s aura. A faint trace of immortal heritage glinted, which wasn’t a surprise, considering the man’s attitude. But there was something else entwined with those faded threads. An elusive glimmer that he’d never before encountered.

Reluctant interest stirred. It wouldn’t take long to hear his request.

He gave a brief nod.

“You have two minutes.” He strode to a darkened alcove where a couple was entwined. “Move.” His voice was low, and the couple instantly leaped to their feet and sidled past him, clearly eager not to raise the wrath of an archangel.

He sprawled on the seat and propped one booted foot on the table. Without waiting to be invited, the man sat opposite.

“My name is Jaylar. I come from the planet Medana, in a solar system in the Beta Spiral of Andromeda,” he said, although Gabe didn’t know why he felt it necessary to give his address. “My daughter, Evalyne, is missing. We believe she’s been taken off the planet.”

Damn. He’d hoped for something far more complex.

“Maybe she took off by herself.”

“You misunderstand, Lord Gabriel.” Jaylar swallowed, clearly struggling to compose himself. “Although the blood of the gods flows in my veins, my lineage is diluted and Evalyne’s mother is a pureblood mortal. Evalyne didn’t inherit my ability to teleport. She’s never left Medana in her life.”

This is a waste of time.

“So, she found herself a lover who gave her something she lacked. I don’t track runaway lovers.”

Jaylar leaned across the table. His eyes glowed with a hint of madness. “She’s four years old, Lord Gabriel.”

Fuck.

The jagged rip in his heart, that would never fully heal, burned like acid, as long buried memories clawed for release.

Not now. Ruthlessly, he pushed the haunting echoes of another life back into the abyss. It was the only way he could function.

The only way he’d managed to survive.

A four-year old child was missing. Of course he’d take on the mission.

He kept his expression impassive. If word got out that he was a sucker for a missing child, he’d be inundated by frantic parents. His reputation was such that right now, only those on the verge of insanity dared to approach him.

He would help them, and in return he demanded a client’s soul. Rumor had it he claimed their life, as well.

Either way, it was a fair exchange for hiring the services of an archangel. Even if the rumors were little more than a smokescreen for what he really exacted as payment.

He slung his arm over the back of the seat and rapped his fingers on the leather upholstery. “Give me the details. I’ll let you know what I decide.”

Jaylar slid a small package across the table. “The information on this disc documents Evalyne’s life. We’ll pay anything. My life is yours. My wife wants you to know—”

“Stop.” Gabe said. Jaylar had already given him all the information he needed, and he picked up the package and dropped it into his pocket. “I require access, so I can contact you.”

Jaylar bowed his head in assent for the mind probe. It took barely a heartbeat for Gabe to gather the information he required to initiate a telepathic link in case of emergency.

He stood. “I’ll be in touch.”

Jaylar also stood. “How long before you decide? Is there a way I can contact you in the meantime?”

“When I’ve had time to access the information, I’ll let you know whether the assignment appeals.”

Jaylar’s hands fisted, but he kept his mouth shut.

“And no. You can’t contact me. The link is strictly one way.”

“But my lord, you must understand the urgency of—”

“Those are my terms.” His voice was deadly, and Jaylar backed up a step, appearing to belatedly realize he was seriously pushing his luck.

Gabe wasn’t known for his benevolence. If anyone else requesting his services had spoken to him with such disrespect, there was no way he’d even consider the assignment.

But there had never been a choice. A child was involved.

He already knew he was going to take on the case.

 

Aurora

“You’re going to have a lovely time.” Aurora gave her mum an encouraging smile as they stood by the front door of their small cottage on the coast of Cornwall. The late July breeze was warm and the scent of honeysuckle filled the air. “You haven’t been to London in ages.”

“But I want to be here, with you, before you go back to university.”

Aurora exchanged a glance with her dad. The pain in her heart was reflected in his eyes. Although it had been years since her mum remembered the past, just lately she’d been forgetting the present, too.

Time is running out.

And that’s why she had to make sure her parents went on their annual weekend getaway, so she could put her plan into action.

“Aurora’s finished Uni,” her dad said as he wrapped his arm around her mum’s shoulders. “She’s moved back home for a while. She’ll be here when we get back.”

Her mum gave her the strangest look, and shivers raced over her arms. It was almost as though she knew about Aurora’s plans.

But she couldn’t. It had been years since she and her mother had been able to communicate telepathically, and besides, that wasn’t the same as mind-reading.

There was no way her parents had guessed what she was going to do.

“That’s right.” She kissed her mum’s cheek. “It’s only for a couple of days. Go and enjoy your anniversary break.”

“Anniversary…” There was a faraway note in her mum’s voice. And although her dad quickly recovered, she caught the stricken expression on his face. It didn’t matter how often it happened. He was always devastated with every reminder of just how much her mum had lost.

“Tomorrow it’s twenty-five years since you arrived here, Aria,” he said softly, and there was so much love in his voice tears prickled in Aurora’s eyes. “We celebrate every year.”

Her mum’s eyes clouded, and it was hard to keep smiling when all she wanted to do was rage to the uncaring universe. Why has mum forgotten so much?

Agonizing didn’t help anyone. But her experiment just might.

There was a long silence before her mum turned to her dad. Aurora held her breath. Had she remembered?

“But I’ve always been here, Tom,” she said, and Aurora’s fragile hope shattered.

* * *

Early the following morning, Aurora sat cross-legged on her bed as she did a final read of her checklist on her laptop. Her room, set under the eaves of the cottage, might be messy, but her data was meticulous.

Today she was going to find, and enter, the world where her beloved mother came from.

A world in an alternate dimension.

Just because her parents had never tried to cross dimensions again, didn’t mean she had to accept their word that it had been a once-only, never to be repeated miracle.

For eight years, since she’d turned sixteen, it had been her driving focus. And not just because she was desperate to find answers to so many questions she had about her own unique heritage, and to finally meet her mum’s beloved sister, Aurora. Her namesake.

Or the deep, secret fear that had haunted her for as long as she could remember that she was a freak who shouldn’t exist.

It was because she realized how tenuous her mum’s grasp on reality really was.

With every passing year her memories became more faded and confused. And on the rare occasions she did speak of her old life, it was as though it was nothing more than a childhood dream. But the more she denied her past, the more fragile her health became.

If Aurora could bring back proof of the parallel world, she was convinced that everything would go back to the way it used to be. All her mum needed was a rock-solid reminder of her own world.

And Aurora knew exactly what she needed to find.

She picked up a silver photo frame that usually took pride of place in the living room. The delicate, ethereal flower that had been lovingly pressed and preserved so many years ago never failed to send trickles of awe along her spine.

Her mother had worn this exotic bloom in her hair the day she and her father had finally met for real, instead of in their shared dreams. She’d been in a meadow and had picked the flower just moments before walking into her dad’s arms. It was the only link they had to her mum’s world.

And it was this link that would open the gateway.

* * *

The sun was still low on the horizon as Aurora made her way through the village to the woodlands on the far side. The scientific part of her, that had got her through four years of university, didn’t see what difference it made where she was when she put her theories into practice.

But in her heart, she knew being in the exact spot where her mother had stepped into this world was her only chance of success.

She sat on the ground, facing the woods. The summer sun warmed her shoulders, and the faint rustling of the countryside sank into the beat of her heart.

Everything revolved around the strength of her psychic grip on the flower in the frame and the image she had in her mind of the meadow where the flower had once grown. There was no logical reason why she needed to enter the astral planes before conducting her experiment. It was a spiritual realm, and in theory could be accessed by anyone who went into trance or deep meditation.

Except she’d loved the astral planes since the first time she had ascended as a child. And, just as importantly, it was the place where the idea to link to her mum’s world had come to her.

I can do this.

It would work. It had to.

With practiced ease, she slipped into trance, and within seconds the vibrant landscape of the astral planes shimmered, as though a gossamer veil had fallen across the realm. She focused her psychic energy on the flower and her own trans-dimensional heritage.

Her instincts were right. It would be enough to allow her to open a gateway from the dimension of her birth into the dimension where her mother had been born.

A spiderweb of glittering raindrops materialized in front of her. It pulsed like a living entity and gently cocooned her in a breathtaking, ethereal sphere.

Yes …

From nowhere, a silent roar thundered, an anomaly that shouldn’t even exist here. Waves of discordant energy vibrated through her and terror spiked as countless levels within the astral planes tumbled into chaos around her.

And then she slammed back into her body with such force she couldn’t breathe, and an imprint of distorted, violet lightning flashed through her reeling mind.

What just happened?

Chapter 2

Gabe

Gabe tossed back his fourth whiskey in as many minutes, but it might as well have been water for all the effect it had. That was the trouble with Earth. Even in the worst dives on the planet, the alcohol was never potent enough to numb his brain.

Not that this exclusive club in the heart of London was a dive, with its celebrity and wannabe-famous clientele. But Mephisto, the oldest archangel of them all, had contacted him just before he’d visited Zega. And since it had been at least a couple of decades since they’d last seen each other, he’d agreed to meet him here.

Even though he’d been late, Meph still hadn’t arrived. Any other time Gabe would have left already, but after his meeting with Jaylar, the prospect of hanging out with another immortal and getting blind drunk seemed like a good idea.

Not going to happen here. It didn’t stop him ordering a fifth whiskey.

He leaned his back against the bar and eyed the humans as they drank and flirted with each other, oblivious to his presence. His glamour was barely a level one, but it was more than enough to blur their perceptions if they glanced in his direction. He’d had enough of mortal adoration for one day.

Mephisto obviously didn’t care who saw his mesmeric glory. Like a cursed god, he strolled across the club toward Gabe, and the humans parted before him like a subservient wave.

“You look worse than shit,” Mephisto greeted him as his besotted entourage edged closer. “I should’ve checked in with you years ago.”

“Call your lapdogs off.” Gabe glanced at the crowd. Humans were among his least favorite lifeform in the universe, and while he could tolerate them from a distance, this was pushing his limits.

“You’re still an antisocial bastard.” Mephisto grinned, and a faint shimmer radiated from him across the club. The humans blinked, disoriented, before stumbling away and leaving the two of them alone at the bar.

Gabe ignored the comment, since it was true. But although they hadn’t seen each other in years, the other archangel had already ruffled his long-destroyed feathers. “What do you mean, you should’ve checked in with me? I’m not your fucking responsibility.”

“Ego’s still intact, though.” Mephisto snapped his fingers and the bartender placed a glass in front of him. “You’re all my fucking responsibility.”

Right. It was only the mocking gleam in the other archangel’s eyes that reminded him Mephisto didn’t do serious. Ever.

Except one time.

A shudder inched along his spine, burning the livid scars that even after millennia still distorted the flesh on his back. Sometimes he could go years—okay, weeks—when the searing loss of his wings didn’t scorch his soul.

Let it go, already. That wasn’t going to happen, but it didn’t stop him wishing for it.

He didn’t like being in anyone’s debt. Especially Mephisto’s. But some things could never be repaid.

The other archangel pulled a squat, black bottle from the pocket of his long trench coat and topped up both their glasses. “Tonight, you’re getting laid. Get that down you.”

Gabe scoffed. “If you wanted to get me drunk, why are we here?” Even if the bottle contained some wild off-world spirit, he’d need more than a few shots to get wasted. And he wasn’t going to touch the getting laid comment. While Mephisto lived to fuck, Gabe couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had sex.

There was nothing in the universe that would get him to confess that to anyone.

To prove his point, he tipped the sparkling yellow liquid down his throat. Fire blazed, incinerating his tongue, mouth, and whole fucking GI tract. Supernovas exploded in front of his eyes and a primal drumbeat throbbed through his brain. The glass shattered in his hand, and through an orange mist, Mephisto smirked.

“Lightweight.”

“What the fuck?” The words were a strangulated wheeze, and it was a struggle to focus. In the past, he’d tried every alcoholic blend in creation. None of them were this potent with just one gulp.

“A gift from the Demonic Council in gratitude for my phenomenal diplomatic skills. I don’t share this shit with just anyone.”

Gabe coughed, and blood splatted across his fingers. While archangels and demons were deadly enemies from the dawn of their existence, there was no active war between them. Most of the time they kept out of each other’s jurisdiction. At least, in theory. “You mean you stole it.”

“Whatever.” Mephisto took a swallow of the lethal drink, and his eyes blazed crimson. “Tonight, you’re having a woman from Earth. It’s my mission.”

“Not going to happen.” And it had nothing to do with his unintentional, self-imposed celibacy. Even when he’d screwed around, he hadn’t touched women from Earth. The idea curdled his guts.

“It’s time, Gabe.” Mephisto procured another glass, slammed it on the bar, and filled it to the brim. “You need to move on.”

He laughed. Not that it was funny. Obviously, the demon drink was starting to take effect. He drained the second one, and this time managed not to crush the glass when the alcohol splintered his sanity.

Damn, that was good. A mellow benevolence warmed his blood, and through a swirling orange haze he contemplated the club’s occupants.

Still way too human for his liking. He’d forego mindless sex and stick to the booze tonight.

A discordant bleep drilled through his brain, and Mephisto pulled a phone from his pocket. Interesting. Why did he need a phone? And one that originated, of all places, from Earth? There were countless more advanced civilizations who had similar devices. He had a couple himself that were useful for contacting non-telepathic races.

Mephisto checked his message and a frown slashed his brow. “Fucking unbelievable.” There was no hint of his usual mockery. “It worked.”

It wasn’t like Mephisto to be enigmatic. Genuinely intrigued now, Gabe placed the glass on the bar and attempted to banish the swirling fog that was trying to penetrate his eyes.

“You need some help?” Fuck, had he said that out loud? First, Mephisto never needed help. Second, Gabe would never offer it. It was the way things were between archangels. Assistance was only ever given in the direst of circumstances, and it was never spoken of.

His reluctant admiration for the inventor of the demon drink increased another notch. It was mind-rot at its finest.

Mephisto shoved the phone back in his pocket. There was a familiar, maniacal gleam in his eyes. “No. But you, my friend, do.”

As Mephisto teleported from the club, a couple of women draped themselves over Gabe. He froze, glaring at the spot where Mephisto had been just a second before. Since his glamour was enough to render him all but invisible to humans, it was obvious the other archangel had bedazzled the women who were now stroking his chest and gazing at him in adoration.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” one of the women said in a breathy voice as her friend sighed and rubbed her head against his biceps. “But you look soooo familiar. Are you an actor?”

“Let’s go back to my place,” whispered the other one. “It’s not far.”

I’m going to fucking kill him.

“Not tonight.”

His feral growl had no effect. They continued to gyrate against him and drop reverential kisses over his shoulders.

The demon drink might have lowered some of his inhibitions, but it sure hadn’t corrupted his libido. The women could be marble statues as far as his body was concerned.

Was it because they were from Earth? Or has my sex drive died?

Shit, that hadn’t occurred to him before. Mephisto was right about one thing. He did need to get laid. But not here. And never with humans.

He peeled their arms from him, gritting his teeth against the distaste that roiled through his chest at the touch of their naked skin. Some things never changed. Not that he wanted them to. Armageddon could annihilate the entire planet before he found a human from Earth appealing.

He needed to leave. Right now. It would be easy enough to crash a party on a half-civilized planet and find a willing female. Or three. Why the hell not? It had been eons since he’d enjoyed an orgy. Just because the thought wasn’t getting him hard didn’t mean it was a bad idea.

Twenty-four hours of hedonistic pleasure, and then he’d focus on his next mission.

From nowhere, a blast of icy terror ripped through his brain, freezing his blood and sending eerie prickles of inexplicable menace along his spine. Paralyzed, he didn’t even care when the two women fell onto him again, like vampiric succubi.

Danger.

Raw dread scraped through his synapses. A primal fear dredged from the depraved soul of creation. Alien, skeletal fingers clawed over his heart as an ancient horror seeped from his deepest memories.

This isn’t real. It had been millennia since those nightmares had haunted him. I’m not going back.

Blackness tumbled around him, and the world winked out of existence.

 

Aurora

Can’t breathe.

Everything hurt, and vertigo spun through Aurora’s mind.

What’s wrong with my chest?

The spinning slowed, and with a jolt, reality slammed into her.

A heavy weight pinned her to the ground.

What the hell?

Panic flared, a molten wave that licked through her blood and liquified her nerves. She was flat on her back, her arms by her sides, and her fingers splayed against the ground. Grass?

Open your eyes.

She couldn’t just lie here. For a start, she didn’t even know where here was. Suppose she’d succeeded in her mission?

Suppose she hadn’t?

I’m afraid of what I might see.

Was it just her imagination that the weight crushing the life out of her was shaped like a hard, muscular, body? An unmoving body. A bolt of terror scorched through her as fireworks sparked inside her brain, like she’d short-circuited her memory.

God, I hope not.

And having a one-sided conversation with herself wasn’t going to help get her out of whatever this was. The most likely explanation for her predicament was she’d somehow given herself an electrically charged shock from the astral planes.

Was that even possible?

It was better than the alternative.

She screwed up her cowering courage and tentatively forced open her eyes.

A muscled shoulder, encased in a dark blue shirt, greeted her.

Shock slammed through her, shredding the lingering fog that clouded her brain. It wasn’t a figment of her imagination. There’s an unconscious man on top of me. His face was buried in the curve of her shoulder and neck, and tangled dark blond hair teased her cheek.

Her fingers dug into the grass and adrenaline flooded her. Except she couldn’t fight or flee because there was a strange man sprawled across her.

He hadn’t attacked her. He wasn’t trying to assault her. Calm down and think.

Maybe they’d collided when she had crossed from one dimension into another?

That was the danger of undertaking a cutting-edge experiment like this. There were so many unknown variables involved.

She hitched in a shallow breath, but it didn’t help much. At least he wasn’t dead. His breathing was warm against her throat, and his heartbeat was strong.

She needed to escape before she suffocated.

Gingerly, she tried to push him off her. It was like trying to move a mountain.

Concentrate. Her lack of oxygen was affecting her sense of reality. Maybe she should say something?

“Hello?” Her voice was hoarse. And seriously, was hello the best she could do? But what else could you say to a comatose stranger who was in danger of asphyxiating you without even knowing it?

He didn’t move, but something stirred. Her face burned as the unmistakable length of his cock thickened against her jeans-covered thigh, and her fingers froze in his hair. Why am I twisting his gorgeous hair around my fingers?

She had no idea. But she couldn’t pull free.

His weight shifted, a slow realignment of heavy limbs, as though he was becoming aware of his surroundings. With languid grace, he raised his head, and, for one eternal moment, an overwhelming sensation of déjà vu quivered through her. His perfectly sculpted face, enhanced by an irresistibly sexy stubble, seemed as familiar as her own reflection.

That was crazy. She’d never seen him before in her life. And he wasn’t the type of guy anyone could forget in a hurry. Stop staring at him.

She might as well tell her heart to stop beating. Because his eyes were a swirling kaleidoscope of blues, greens, and silvers. Am I hallucinating? But she wasn’t. They were captivatingly beautiful, unique. And yet threaded through her awe was a faint echo of haunting recognition.

“Hello?” he repeated. His voice was low, sexy, and sent a needy thrum vibrating through her blood. She licked her lips, and his gaze dropped to her mouth. Help. “Were you at the club?”

What club? Why wasn’t he freaking out? There had clearly been a cosmological fuck-up. It was the only thing that made any sense.

That doesn’t make any sense at all.

“No.” It came out as an undignified croak. He braced his weight on his forearm, and she sucked in a jagged breath as she caught sight of the familiar trees she’d known all her life. My experiment failed. Right now, that was the least of her concerns. “You just suddenly appeared from nowhere.”

How dumb did that sound? But it was true. She was on the outskirts of the village where she’d grown up, and the sun was still low in the sky. If she’d been knocked out, it hadn’t been for long.

Still didn’t explain anything about the arrival of this breathtaking guy. Or why he was behaving as though he did this kind of thing on a regular basis.

A slow frown creased his brow, and she realized her fingers were still entwined in his hair. What were the chances he hadn’t noticed? With a mortifying lack of coordination, she freed them, and then didn’t know where to put her hand.

She needed to regain control. Except her initial panic had faded, and although she was in the most vulnerable position she’d ever been in her life, she didn’t feel threatened.

If that wasn’t a sign of concussion, she didn’t know what was.

“Nowhere,” he repeated, and a half-smile tilted his lips. Do not stare at his lips. “I sure as hell owe Meph one for that demon drink.”

Wait. He’d been in a bar? How could a guy who’d been drinking in a club somewhere have suddenly materialized on the coast of Cornwall? At least if he had also been meditating on the astral planes there would be some kind of connection between them.

His smile was mesmeric. She wanted to run her fingers through his hair again, pull him closer, kiss his delectable mouth.

Heat burned through her, and again she dug her fingers into the grass, in case they did something random like stroke the stubble on his magnificent jaw. I can’t believe I’m thinking this. What was the matter with her?

He might be the most gorgeous man she’d ever met, but she had far more important things on her mind than caving in to her deprived hormones.

“Could you”—kiss me—“get off me?” Before she did something totally embarrassing, such as wrap her arms around his spectacular shoulders.

I’ve definitely suffered a concussion.

His smile was the epitome of sex and sin and everything in between. She wanted to bask in his glorious splendor and obey his every sensual command.

Get. A. Grip. Was he hypnotizing her?

“Are you sure that’s what you want?”

His teasing question whispered across her cheek, a tantalizing promise of unimaginable decadence. How easy it would be to say no. Why was she trying to fight the inevitable?

There’s nothing inevitable about this.

“Yes.” She ignored the regret that fluttered deep in her chest. There was a time, and there was a place, and this was neither.

Shock flashed across his face, as though her response had been completely unexpected. She gritted her teeth before her traitorous tongue overruled her good sense and tried not to melt beneath his irresistible grin.

“Your call.” He rolled off her but didn’t sit up. Instead, he stretched out next to her, his leg touching hers as he gazed at her with those fantastical eyes. It was glaringly obvious he expected her to protest at his withdrawal. And for an eternal, surreal moment, she almost did.

Not going to happen. Even though I want to.

 

Mephisto

Mephisto had done many things in his long life, but hiding in an oak tree and concealing his presence from another archangel was a novelty. And not one he wanted to repeat anytime soon.

What in the name of the goddess was Gabe doing here? He hadn’t arrived voluntarily. He’d literally fallen from the sky. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he never would’ve believed it. Only the ancient gods and goddesses wielded the power to transport an archangel against their will, and those Immortals had abandoned this sector of the universe millennia ago.

Luckily, Gabe had been unconscious when he’d landed, which gave Mephisto time to throw up a dozen glamours. No way did he want to explain why he was keeping this annoying little human under surveillance.

He’d first come across her a couple of years ago, when he’d attended a university lecture on multiverse theory. Although humans still had a long way to go when it came to understanding quantum mechanics, he ensured he kept up with their advances, pitiful as they were.

Especially when they started theorizing on the possibility of testing for the existence of those parallel universes.

The lecture itself hadn’t given him any concern that humans were closer to breaching dimensions than they had been a thousand years ago. But the questions from one particular student had fascinated him.

She queried the use of psychic abilities as the catalyst.

Her views had been brushed aside, but since humans were notoriously unreceptive when it came to the untapped power of their minds, he’d expected that. And while he had no personal experience of crossing into a parallel world, it was possible.

And Aurora Robinson’s theory intrigued him.

As a precaution he’d tapped her phone so he could monitor her psychic fluctuations. Because if she did somehow come close to succeeding, he planned on shutting down her psychic link and wiping her memory of everything connected to her insane experiment.

Better that than the alternative. Although he didn’t often interfere when humans did stupid shit, he made an exception when the outcome involved falling under the jurisdiction of an alien race known as the Guardians.

They had patrolled the dimensional boundaries for millennia. The Dark Matter of the universe, where they lived in ethnocentric isolation, was rumored to hold ancient secrets. Immortals surmised that, when dimensions were breached, it triggered a celestial alarm for the Guardians.

Ten minutes ago, she’d triggered his alarm. He’d had milliseconds before she opened a rift and was beyond his help. But when he’d arrived, for a reason he couldn’t fathom, she’d ascended into the astral planes to do it.

Like he said, annoying human. But before he had the chance to do a grand rescue that she would never remember, a preternatural ripple shuddered through reality.

Fuck. He was too late. There was no saving her from her fate now. And he had no intention of staying to watch the inevitable fallout.

She’d keeled over—and then Gabe had landed.

Which had stopped Mephisto in his tracks. He didn’t believe in coincidence, but it was hard to imagine a possible connection between the two events. And much as he wanted to hang around and see Gabe’s response when he discovered he was trying to charm not merely a human from Earth, but one who had metaphorically jumped on the Guardians’ hot button, he had shit to sort.

Sometimes, being the Immortals’ undisclosed peacekeeper was a fucking pain in the ass.

Chapter 3

Gabe

I’ve no idea where I am.

Something dark and primeval gnawed the outer edges of his subconscious, like an elusive warning for his blackened soul. But an alcoholic hum vibrated through his mind, dulling the primitive imperative for answers, and with every passing second, the eerie sense of an unknown terror receded.

Did that demon drink knock me out?

The last thing he remembered was being manhandled by a couple of mesmerized women. The chestnut-haired siren beside him, who possessed a smattering of irresistible freckles across her nose, hadn’t been one of them.

She hadn’t been in that human-infested club at all.

He needed to find out what had happened, but his usual ironclad logic drifted just out of reach. There was no rush. Something about this woman intrigued him, and not just because it was the first time in too long that he wanted to get naked, with her.

It was because she’d pushed him away.

Without a glamour, it was the curse of an archangel to bedazzle unsuspecting mortals. His unscheduled side trip had shattered his protective shield, and while this tempting creature appeared shaken, she was far from dazzled.

Her reluctance to melt beneath his archangelic radiance was intoxicating.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” His full weight had pinned her to the ground. It was a minor miracle he hadn’t crushed her ribs when he’d smashed into her. At least, he assumed that was how he’d landed on top of her. Why can’t I remember how I got here? Wherever here was. Not that she appeared injured as she sat up and brushed nonexistent grass from her thighs. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders, and copper highlights glinted in the sun.

She was fucking gorgeous.

“No.” She glanced at him, and their gazes locked. She had the prettiest blue eyes he’d ever seen. For an eternity, time stood still as her breathing became uneven and an enticing blush suffused her cheeks. Arousal thrummed in the heated space between them, and the scent of grass and the salty tang of the sea drifted in the warm, early-morning air.

He smiled, aware of the effect it would have on her. Her jagged intake of breath and the way her kissable lips parted, begging for his possession, was everything he expected. He brushed errant strands of her silky hair from her cheek, and primitive need streaked through his blood, straight to his cock.

He leaned closer. It was insane how badly he needed this kiss. Thank fuck no one was around to witness it.

And then she raised her hand between them, her fingers all but grazing his chest, in the universal sign of stop.

She’s telling me to stop?

Incredulity crawled across his lust-soaked brain. Was this some demon-induced hallucination?

“What happened? How did you get here?” Her voice was breathless, as though she were recovering from a dozen mind-shattering orgasms. He blinked, trying to dislodge the graphic image scorching his reason, but it didn’t help.

“I was at a club … and then—” With more reluctance than he’d ever admit, he straightened. “Then I turned up here. What the hell were you doing?”

“I was ascending into trance, in the astral planes.”

This was getting more warped by the second. If this was Mephisto’s idea of a joke … He left the thought hanging, but only because his brain hurt too much to conjure up suitable retribution.

“The astral planes. Right.” It wasn’t his area of expertise, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. Why was he even having this conversation? If sex was off the agenda, he needed to find his bearings and teleport back to civilization. But something, damned if he knew what, compelled him to remain where he was.

“Yes.” Her gaze dropped to his throat, and she gripped her fingers together on her lap.

He narrowed his eyes. Guilt dripped from her, although she was trying hard to hide it. What aren’t you telling me?

“I can sort of remember this crushing feeling of dread. Like the world was ending or collapsing in on me. It’s hard to explain. You didn’t get any of that?” she said.

Echoes of an ancient horror skittered across his skull. Except they weren’t memories he’d buried so many millennia ago. They were fresh. Recent.

The club.

His phantom feathers burned, an acidic, soul-deep anguish, and he gritted his teeth. Not now. Whatever had transported him from the club had nothing to do with the events that had cost him his wings.

And he wasn’t about to discuss any of it with this mortal, no matter how intriguing she was. He’d keep the focus on her. Get her to tell him where he was, without having to ask. Although the effects from the demon drink had dimmed, it had screwed with his internal compass, and he didn’t have a clue where in the universe he’d landed. “That’s never happened to you before while you were in the astral planes?”

“No. The astral planes are tranquil. I can’t understand why this was different.”

A shadow passed over her face, and the same certainty as a moment ago stabbed through him. What’s she hiding?

“Can’t you?” He meant it as an accusation. It sounded like an invitation to sin. What could he accuse her of, anyway? He didn’t care what secrets she kept. She didn’t possess the power to render him unconscious or mess with his mind.

No mortal did.

“I don’t understand how you can be so calm about all of this,” she said.

He mentally scanned the area, but it was half-hearted. Sure, he needed to find out where he was, but there was no sense of danger, and damn if he didn’t still want her.

To hell with it. It had been too long since a woman had roused his interest. A leisurely fuck and then he’d be ready to leave. He gave her a lethal smile, infused with an additional glimmer of archangelic radiance, and her soft sigh drifted like gossamer on the breeze.

She swayed toward him, and her fingertips brushed his biceps. Such a featherlight touch, and yet even through his shirt sleeve his skin burned at the contact.

This was going to be fucking spectacular. He leaned in for the kiss.

And the unmistakable ring of a phone from behind him splintered the moment.

Fuck that. He sent a blast of psychic energy, and the phone went silent.

“Was that my phone?” She sounded dazed and blinked a couple of times. He traced his finger along the curve of her cheek, and she gave a delicate shiver.

“You don’t need your phone.”

“Yes, I do. It might be my dad.”

It was the third time she’d refused him. Even demigoddesses, minor deities in their own right despite their diluted immortal blood, found it hard to resist an archangel. He was so staggered by the phenomenon, he reached for her phone without further protest.

As his fingers touched the device, a distorted, ephemeral image of Mephisto burned through his brain. Mephisto was behind this. Had he ever doubted?

No, but the knowledge that this woman was a creature of Meph’s, that willingly or not, she’d agreed to fuck with Gabe’s mind, pissed him off more than it should. I’m only pissed because I still want her.

He tossed her the phone and she caught it one-handed.

This was his cue to leave. For all he knew, Mephisto had rigged up a remote recording and was watching this whole thing unfold. No way was he hanging around as the main entertainment while the other archangel got his rocks off.

She checked her messages and frowned, and for some reason he couldn’t stop himself. “No further orders from Mephisto?”

“What are you talking about?” She transferred her frown to him and sounded so genuine he almost believed her. There was one sure way of discovering the truth, but unless he was on a mission and needed intel, as a rule he didn’t probe innocents’ minds.

“Big guy. Arrogant as fuck. Hard to forget.” Even if he concealed his wings with a glamour.

“Should I know him?” She tilted her head, and a thoughtful expression crossed her face. Now they were getting somewhere. Shame it didn’t improve his mood. “Did we all collide on the astral planes, do you think?”

Her obsession with the astral planes grated on his nerves. It had nothing to do with the fact she appeared unmoved their kiss had been interrupted.

“I don’t visit the astral planes.” He hadn’t for years. And he was done playing their games. His navigation system was still out of alignment, but all he needed was a reference point so he could get out of here. “Which planet is this?”

She stared at him as if he’d just spoken in ancient Sumerian. Belatedly it occurred to him she might not have a clue that Mephisto wasn’t indigenous to her home world. Fucking great.

“I’m sorry. Did you say planet?”

“Or the name of the local star system?” He was never touching that fucking drink again.

“I think I should take you to the hospital. Just so they can check you over, make sure you haven’t hit your head or something.”

Why couldn’t she give him a straight answer? It wasn’t that hard. “No.”

“It’s no trouble. Or I could call for an ambulance.” She gripped her phone as though it was a weapon more than a tool of communication. “Why don’t you come back to my house? It’s not far. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

A cup of tea wasn’t high on his list of priorities at any time, but for some reason he was tempted by her guileless offer. You’re fucking losing it.

It appeared that agreeing to her terms was the only way to get her to talk. If not for Mephisto’s connection to the whole thing, Gabe might have found the incongruity of the situation funny. Seriously losing it. “Okay. But first you tell me where I am.”

There was no mistaking the alarm that flashed over her face, and he had the crazy urge to reassure her that he hadn’t lost his mind. It had been a long time since such a benevolent thought had occurred to him when it came to mortals.

“We’re in Cornwall,” she said in a soothing tone, and offered him a wary smile. “You really have no idea how you got here?”

His navigation system, that was hardwired into his DNA, kicked into gear, and star systems flooded through his mind like a celestial kaleidoscope. But he didn’t need maps of constellations to figure out where he was.

“Earth?” His voice was raw. He should have known from the second she spoke. But the ability to understand any language he encountered was as natural as breathing. He rarely gave it a second thought.

“Uh, yes.”

He barely heard her reluctant response. Blood pounded through his brain as fury seared his reason. For the first time in centuries, a woman had sparked his impassive libido. He’d been tempted.

By a woman from Earth.

Set up by Mephisto.

And Gabe had almost fallen for it.

Once, he’d loved the humans of Earth. But that had died millennia ago, and even the ashes that had remained in his heart had long since dissipated to the outer edges of the universe.

Get out of here now. There was no reason to stay. Except for the destructive need to know if this woman was as innocent as she seemed.

There was only one way to learn the depths of Mephisto’s manipulation, and if he discovered this blue-eyed mortal was knowingly deceiving him, the Archangel Gabriel, he’d make her remaining, fleeting, years of life a living hell.

With minimal effort, as befit her lowly perch on the evolutionary clusterfuck, he scanned the surface of her mind. Looking for answers that weren’t turned into riddles. Looking for signs Mephisto had been playing him.

Psychic fire jabbed into his brain and he recoiled, shock reverberating through him.

She had rebuffed him.

How? Only the most advanced, primarily telepathic races should have been aware of such a mild scan.

Her shielding was delicate, beautiful, and would have taken years to perfect. He’d glimpsed it for less than a nanosecond, but its construct was unique.

“What the hell?” She glared at him, which was almost as intriguing as her impressive mental barriers. “Did you just try and get inside my mind?”

He’d never been confronted by an irate victim before. They were either oblivious or, in cases where he really dug in deep, they were in no state to confront anything by the time he’d finished with them. Who could have taught her such a thing? No one native to Earth, that was for sure. Hell, he couldn’t think of a species with such a sophisticated defense system. He was astounded the under-developed human brain could even master such a thing.

“Well?” Her sharp tone held no trace of the reverence he was used to when dealing with mortals. Nothing about her was what he expected. Even the knowledge that Mephisto’s machinations were behind this encounter failed to deaden his twisted fascination with her.

“Are you a telepath?” It was rare for a human, but not unheard of.

“Is that your idea of an apology?”

Was she for real? No one, unless they harbored a death wish, spoke to him like this. One quelling glower from him and they were a quivering mess at his feet.

Then again, he wasn’t glowering at her, was he?

“I don’t do apologies.” He gave her a mirthless grin, the one that could fell intergalactic gladiators to their knees. She didn’t even twitch. “What’s your name?”

She blinked a couple of times, and for an incredulous second, he thought she wasn’t going to answer him. “Aurora Robinson.”

Silence spun between them. It was obvious she was waiting for him to reciprocate, in which case she could wait forever. He wasn’t in the habit of introducing himself.

She slung him a dark frown and snatched up a silver photo frame from the ground.

“It’s been very strange meeting you.” She stood and brushed grass from her jeans. “If you’re sure you’re okay, then goodbye and good luck.”

With that, she turned her back on him and stalked off.

 

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