Unchained nr-1, page 12part #1 of Nephilim Rising Series
How would she know? She flipped over the picture, staring down at it. A pretty young blonde smiled at the camera, her arms wrapped around a small boy who grinned impishly up at her. The little thing was Michael, but that wasn’t what caught her eye. It was the woman she assumed was his mother. The photo had captured the woman’s happiness in a way that struck her. She couldn’t help but compare her few memories of her own mother to this picture. Her mom had never been happy. A depressed, bitter, angry shell of a woman was who her mother had been.
Lifting the picture, she noticed a small crucifix around both Michael’s neck and the woman’s. “I feel wrong going through his stuff,” she called to Luke as she slid the frame into one of the larger pockets of her pants.
He snorted from the bathroom. “Really, I would’ve never thought that would bother you.” He was quiet for a moment. “Did you know Michael’s name never came up in the Book of Names?”
Shocked, she paused halfway between Michael’s bedroom and the living room. “What?”
“Yeah.” He came out of the bathroom. “Wonder what that means?”
She gaped at him. “Did Nathaniel tell you this?”
He nodded. “He didn’t want anyone to know. I guess he’s worried about how the other Nephilim would take that little piece of knowledge. So don’t go running back to Nathaniel demanding answers.”
Stung, she did want to run back to Nathaniel and demand why he hadn’t told her.
Obviously he didn’t trust her with the information, and she wanted to know why. Did he think she was the rat? He wouldn’t. He knows me.
Luke glided into the kitchen with a bag full of personal items. Her gaze dropped to her empty bag and she sighed. He popped open the fridge, pulling out a bottle of beer.
Shaking her head, she watched him unscrew the cap. She had no idea why Luke insisted on drinking beer. It was rather pointless.
She strode off to Michael’s bedroom to gather up as much clothing as possible. Not sure what he preferred, she started throwing everything she could get her hands on into the garbage bag. Opening one drawer, she wondered how one man could have so many pairs of socks that didn’t match.
Turning on a bedside lamp, she spied a little crystal dish that had been shoved to the back of the table. Inside the dish were two crucifixes. Lily scooped up the necklaces and slipped them into her pocket with the frame.
Seeing a small shoe box on top of the dresser, she dropped the bag of Michael’s possessions and stepped over to it. She quickly slid off the lid, rifling through the documents. Inside were a couple more pictures of his mom and him, a few newspaper clippings announcing his graduation, and several personal-identification documents. One of the pictures caught her eye. She pulled it out, holding it gently between her fingers. His mother was a beautiful woman; her smile simply radiated. Lily couldn’t help but think this woman didn’t look like someone mourning the loss of a fallen angel.
No. She’d appeared happy to be alive and with her son. Not someone intending to take her own life as a way to escape the painful wound that a Fallen always left in his wake.
Lily trailed behind Luke and Micah, only half listening to their argument. They had been at it since the moment they had climbed into the Escalade. All she gathered was that Micah was upset about Luke pulling him off an assignment. He had been hunting longer than Lily but nowhere near the amount of time Luke had been at it. She recognized how dangerous Asmodeus was, and why Luke was better suited, but she also understood how butt-sore Micah was. She was feeling quite the same way after learning about Michael and the Book of Names. It never felt good to be doubted…or left out.
Clutching the little shoe box in her hands, she let out a weary sigh. I came back here for this? She wished she knew where they had stashed Michael so she didn’t have to listen to the bitchfest that would never end. The ride had been bad enough, but the awkwardness in the elevator was something she never wanted to repeat.
They stopped on level seven, which surprised her. Only Nathaniel and the circle had rooms on this level. Michael was just superspecial since he was “thou shall not be named” in the Book.
Micah hauled the bag of goods she had packed to his shoulder. He was tall, like all male Nephilim were, with red hair and a pale complexion. There was even a splattering of freckles over his nose. He was probably one of the few men who could rock red hair well, and he also had the temper to match it.
“This is bullshit, man. If you guys think I can’t handle the Fallen, then why in the hell do you allow me to hunt alone?” he said, turning to her. “Lily, you haven’t said a thing. Did you know about this?”
There went staying out of the argument. She focused on the tall redhead, forcing a casual shrug. “Not really.”
“Don’t bring her into this.” Luke shifted the bag he had gathered from Michael’s apartment. “An order is an order. So deal with it.”
Ah, Luke had such a way with people. Micah straightened, coming to his full height. “Excuse me?” he uttered dangerously.
There was no doubt they would come to blows if given the opportunity. “Micah, I’m not allowed to approach Baal or Asmodeus, either,” she said, stepping between the two. “It’s nothing personal. Chill out, okay?”
Micah glanced at the bandage around her arm. “I can understand why you aren’t allowed. You’ve been tagged twice, Lily. He’s gunning for your ass. Not to mention you can’t go anywhere without the freak, Julian, showing up.”
Stopping midstep, she stared up at him. Her very fingers itched to dig into him. “Do you want to rethink what you just said, buddy?”
Luke stepped away, looking rather amused with the sudden turn of events. A few Nephilim who were on their way out to hunt skirted around them with curious glances.
Micah sighed. “Lily, I didn’t mean anything by that.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Do you want to know how I got tagged? I fought him. Which is more than I can say you have ever done, and that freak? I trust him to save my ass more than I trust you.”
“Lily,” Luke warned, immediately at her side.
She turned to him, ready to lay into him, too, when she realized what she had done. She’d defended Julian in front of not just two Nephilim but two of Nathaniel’s most trusted. Defending a Fallen was a rather unseemly thing.
And it went over like a ton of bricks. Micah pressed his lips together, taking a step back. His lip curled in disgust as he turned and headed for Michael’s room without another word.
She squeezed her eyes shut, heart pounding. Shit! That was just perfect. She shrugged off Luke’s hand and started after Micah.
Luke swore, picking up the bags. “Lily,” he hissed under his breath. “You promised me earlier.”
She swung toward him. “I did. Just drop it, okay? Please?”
He stared at her hard and then grunted his disapproval.
They caught up with Micah, and as the trio slowed, she could hear the sounds of childish giggles mingled with the deep rumble of Michael’s voice.
“Do you really get to shoot the bad guys?” asked one of the younger Nephilim.
“I try not to,” Michael responded.
“But they are bad, and bad things deserve to die,” stated another child.
Lily cringed at that statement, but Michael laughed softly. “Not all bad things deserve to die. Sometimes bad people are just confused and need someone to talk to or help them. I would try that before I would…”
“Kill ’em!” squealed a child.
Oh boy. Lily stepped around the two louts who suddenly had put away their differences in mutual amusement. “All right, runts, what are you doing down here?”
Michael and two very small heads turned toward her. A little dark-haired boy named Julio, in his Scooby pajamas no less, jumped to his feet and rushed at her. “Lily! Lily!”
She shifted the shoe box under her arm and braced herself. “Julio, what are you doing out of bed?”
“Na-uh, I didn’t!” The other child shot to his feet, planting his little fists on his hips.
She raised a brow at Donovan. He was about a year older than Julio, therefore the unofficial ringleader. “I doubt anyone can make you do something you don’t want to do,” she said to Julio as she pried his arms off her legs. “Isn’t that so?”
He stared at her quizzically. “No. No one can make me do what I don’t want to.”
She patted the top of his head. “That’s good to hear, but you two really need to be in bed. It is far too late, and you don’t want grumpy old Nathaniel to catch you. Do you?”
Luke snorted somewhere behind her, but little Julio’s eyebrows flew straight up and his eyes widened. “No. No.” He glanced back at a pale Donovan. “We should go back to our rooms.”
Donovan nodded, rushing to Lily’s side. She knelt down, leaning her head forward. “Kiss?”
Both boys placed a wet kiss on each side of her face before rushing from the room. She heard Donovan squeal as one of the men made a playful grab for him. Lily stood, wiping the back of her hand over her cheek. “Yuck.”
“That was mean,” Luke said as he shuffled past her.
She giggled. “They’re so scared of Nathaniel,” she explained to Michael. “I really shouldn’t use it against them, but it works.”
Micah pushed past her, dropping Michael’s stuff in the middle of the room. He didn’t even acknowledge the man seated on the bed. He spared Lily a scathing look before leaving the room.
Luke shook his head as he laid his bags down. “Get some rest, Michael. You’ve got a long day ahead of you tomorrow.” Then to Lily and much lower, “You’ve really done it now.”
She watched Luke leave, hoping he managed to stop Micah before he went to Nathaniel. That was one lecture she’d like to avoid tonight.
“What is up with that?” Michael asked as he poked around in the bags.
She grimaced. “You don’t want to know.”
He ran a hand through his cropped hair. “You’re good with kids.”
“So are you.”
“Foster care,” he offered. “I spent a lot of time with children.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, resting the shoe box in her lap. “It was a long time before I was around kids. When I came here, there were only a few kids, and I was one of them. Only in the last couple of years have we been able to offer a school and keep them here. I guess I think of them as mine. We can’t reproduce, or at least none have been able to. So they’re the closest things to children I’ll ever have.” She laughed self-consciously. “And I’m rambling. Sorry.”
He sat beside her, brows furrowed. “I didn’t know that.”
She met his stare. He looked…sad for her. She tore her gaze away, uncomfortable. Did he want children? Well, she’d just busted his bubble. “Anyway, we brought back some of your stuff.”
“I see that.” He rubbed his hands down the front of his jean-clad thighs. “So do I have to stay here forever?”
“Just until you are better prepared for what’s out there.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Most Nephilim do stay, though. They like it. Everything is provided for them, and it’s safe. It’s not really that bad.”
“Do you stay here?”
“Most of the time,” she answered, staring down at the box.
“And the rest of the time?” he prodded.
“I have my own place away from here.” She tapped her fingers along the lid. “Sometimes I like to get away from everyone.”
“I can understand that. I’ve only been here twenty-four hours, and I already feel claustrophobic.” He gestured toward the box in her hands. “Mine?”
“Oh!” She handed it to him. “I thought you may want your personal stuff. We…um…grabbed what we thought you could use until you decide if you want to stay here or not.”
He seemed surprised by that. “I really do have a choice?”
She grinned. Did he think they were the mob? “You have a choice. If you want to leave once you’re trained, you can. It’s on you.” She paused. “Though I think you should pick a different apartment.”
His brows rose. “I’ve figured that. You know, I was normal up until…”
“You met me?” She laughed softly. “Trust me, you were far from normal. I just happened along.” She watched as he opened the box and poked around.
He put the lid back on the box. “Thank you for getting my stuff.”
“Ah, don’t thank me. I felt like a snoop having to go through your things.”
He set the box on the floor. “This has been one hell of a day. I used to think my first day on the job would be the strangest day of my life, but I really had no idea.” He rubbed a hand over his chest, shaking his head slightly. “I guess I don’t have to worry about days on the force anymore, huh?”
His expression became dubious. “Not like I get to go back to work after this. Hopefully, the Sanctuary pays well.”
“The Sanctuary pays extremely well, but you still get to keep your day job if you want.” She waited while a slow smile crept across his face. For some reason, she smiled, too. “You just need to come up with a good reason why you had a family emergency when your four weeks are over.”
“Great,” he joked. “That should be easy. Maybe I should tell them I had a psychotic break with reality.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, I don’t know if that would be such a great idea.”
“Well, after all the crap I learned today about your…my kind? Anyway, the Nephilim and the angel stuff? I feel like I need to see a head doctor.”
“What did Luke talk to you about?”
He folded his arms across his chest and stared up at the ceiling, recounting all that he had learned while Lily listened attentively to what Luke had divulged. It was all the basics, nothing too spectacular. By the time Michael had finished, his shoulders had slumped forward and he rubbed under his eyes wearily.
Lily stood and offered him a genuine smile. “Get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll start training. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks for you.” It would be for her, too. Just because she was training Michael didn’t mean she didn’t have to hunt. She would be burning the candle at both ends.
He nodded, seemingly lost in his thoughts. She made it to the door before she remembered the frame in her pocket and the necklaces. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She pulled out the photo along with the two small crucifixes. “I figured you may want these.”
He took the picture and necklaces, his throat working. “This was my favorite picture. I was four,” he murmured.
Lily placed one hand on the door. She couldn’t read his expression, but he sounded sad. “Your mom looked really happy.”
He glanced up. “She was. She was always happy.” He set the picture on his nightstand, next to a tattered book. “I guess that’s why I never understood…” He trailed off.
“Why she would take her own life?” she said softly.
“Yeah, I guess we never know people.”
She focused on the picture. The woman in the photo smiled happily at them. Once again, she was struck by the difference between her mom and his. Lily paused in deep thought and, after a moment, excused herself.
Hurrying from the room, she waited until she stepped out of the elevator before digging out her cell. The phone rang twice. “Hey, Lily, good to see you’re still alive. What’s up?”
She frowned. “Danyal, can you do me a favor?”
He sighed loudly. “I’m afraid to ask after the last one.”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I wanted to see if you could pull an autopsy for me and tell me what you think?”
“You got a suspicious death?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “It’s on a Sharon Cons. I believe she may have died in Hillsboro, Virginia.”
“Wait. Is this Michael’s mother?”
“Yeah.” She unlocked the heavy steel door and stepped out onto the rooftop. “Can you look into it for me?”
There was a pause before he answered. “Sure. I’ll let you know in a little while.”
“Thanks.” Lily slipped the cell back into her pocket and headed toward the edge of the rooftop. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. As far as she knew, all of their mothers had been miserable and broken women, but the pictures of Michael’s mother proved differently. There was more to it. She was certain.
The resonance of a soul slipping into the body of a human caught Lily’s attention. She closed her eyes, slowing her breathing. Alert, she zeroed in on the possessed’s location in the teeming city. Turning gracefully on her heel, she took flight over the rooftops. Another night, another innocent human lost.
She really needed to up her pay grade.
“Rafe, meet your new friend Michael,” Lily said, stifling a yawn with one small hand. “Michael, say hello to Rafe. He’ll be kicking your ass for the foreseeable future.”
Rafe chuckled, extending his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Don’t listen to Lily. There will be mutual ass kicking.”
Michael shook the man’s hand, shooting Lily a sour look. Did she get any sleep last night? She’d appeared in his room at the crack of dawn, dressed in sweats and a tank top with a strong cup of coffee in hand. She looked better prepared for bed than training.
When he first laid eyes on the tall Spaniard, all he could think was this man had to be dangerous. Well over six feet tall and built like a pro wrestler, he was certain Rafe was the kind of man that didn’t leave many adversaries standing. Oh, this is going to be fun.
Lily floated away from the mats, plopping down in the corner. Casting a sideways glance at her, he saw her sitting cross-legged with her chin resting on a hand. Her cup of coffee sat in front of her, virtually untouched.