Vindicated, page 1
Fall of Angels
Copyright © 2011 Keary Taylor
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
First Digital Edition: November 2011
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Taylor, Keary, 1987-
Vindicated (Fall of Angels) : a novel / by Keary Taylor. – 1st ed.
Summary: Time is ticking for Alex and Jessica must find a way to save him before he’s pulled back into the world of the dead. But saving Alex will require asking help from Cole and returning to the place Alex saved her from.
The world fell still as I watched the feather drop to the deck. It spun in a perfect circle just once before landing on the wooden surface.
There should be nothing in this world more innocent looking than a feather.
But in that single feather I remembered everything that was wrong with my life. There were so many panic-filled, sleepless nights. Endless nightmares that plagued me every time I slept. The dark eyes that bore into mine before I was branded. Realizing who Cole Emerson truly was and what he wanted from me. The snapping sound of Alex’s neck giving under Cole’s hand and the way Alex’s dead body cooled in my arms. I remembered looking into Cole’s cold black eyes, framed with swollen black veins, before he returned to the afterlife. And knowing the same thing was going to happen to Alex.
And I remembered the first time I had shown Alex my scars, the way he leaned in and pressed his lips to my brand. There was the first time he told me he loved me. There were so many nights in my bed, my body wrapped up against his. Every touch, every kiss, every I love you flashed through my head.
All the things that were right in my world and everything that was wrong with it was summed up in that single feather as it settled on the deck.
In the world of angels, nothing is ever simple.
But the feeling inside of me was simple, it was real. My love for the man on one knee in front of me was real. This moment was real.
The sun created a glow around Alex’s body as it continued to rise, barely breaking over the tree tops. He was radiant, perfect in every sense of the word.
“Yes,” I whispered.
The smile that spread on Alex’s face made one break on my own as he stood, reaching into his pocket. My eyes fixed on the small black box he pulled out, its surface covered in lint, large patches of the velvet completely rubbed off.
He lightly took my hand in his, his eyes watching my face the whole time. He paused for just a moment, an endless flood of memories washing through his eyes. All the hurt and all the joy we had experienced together was there. Alex’s eyes seemed to glow though as a small smile spread on his lips again and he slid the ring I had been waiting the last six months for onto my finger.
“We may not have forever,” Alex said as I looked up into his face. “But we’ve got to make this enough to last forever.”
I bit my lower lip as I pressed my forehead to his, closing my eyes and breathing his scent in. Even through my eyelids, the entire world seemed to glow, just like everything inside of me was. “I love you, Alex.”
“You know I love you,” he said quietly.
I felt it before I saw it, the smile that cracked on Alex’s face. “I can’t wait to hear you say those two words in a white dress.” I couldn’t help but let a small laugh escape my lips. “I’ve imagined it about a thousand times.” As I opened my eyes to look at him, Alex’s face grew more serious. “I hope you know that I’ve wanted this for… so long,” he said, his voice full of longing and a hint of pain.
“I know you have,” I breathed, squeezing his hand in mine. “It just wasn’t the right time until now.”
Alex’s hand came to my cheek, his grey eyes burning into mine. “Thank you for understanding. I know nothing about these past few months has been easy for you.”
“You appreciate something more when it was hard to get,” I said with a small smile.
“Who said that?” Alex asked, a playful grin on his own now.
I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders as Alex’s hand dropped from my face. “I have no idea. I may have just made it up.”
Alex chuckled as well. “How about some breakfast?”
“French toast sounds great this morning,” I said. “And it’s Amber’s favorite.”
“French toast it is then,” Alex said as he pressed a kiss to my forehead and headed back inside.
I watched him as he walked back into the house, the sunlight reflecting blindingly off the metallic surface of Alex’s wings. As soon as he was out of view, I nudged the feather that had fallen from his wings toward the edge of the deck. Not realizing I was holding my breath, I pushed it over the edge, watching as the breeze picked it up and carried it out over the surface of the lake.
I saw it land in the water, the luminosity of it becoming saturated and dulled by the water. With a hard swallow, I turned my back to it and walked inside.
This was the first of how many lost feathers?
Amber staggered out of her room, her eyes squinted and her hair in a wild mess around her face. “Whatcha’ making?” she asked with a croak.
“Your favorite,” Alex answered as he started cracking eggs into a dish.
“See, this is why I put up with all your crazy angel crap,” she said as she tried to run a hand through her tangled hair, and settled on a barstool. “You feed me.”
Alex just chuckled as he pulled the milk out of the fridge. “Why don’t you see if Caroline is awake yet, Jessica?”
“Sure,” I said as I headed toward the stairs. I hoped he couldn’t hear the way my heart quickened. There was something about Caroline that terrified me.
I knocked on the door to Alex’s old bedroom and listened for a reply. From within I faintly heard a stifled cry and what sounded like scratching. “Caroline?” I called softly. “Can I come in?” When I didn’t hear an answer, I pushed the door open.
She sat on what was my old double sized bed, rocking back and forth, a picture sitting in her lap. Tears slowly made their way down her scarred face. She was scratching at the skin on her left arm so furiously there was blood under her fingernails and more dripping down her arm.
“Caroline!” I said as I jumped across the room. I pulled her hand away from her bleeding arm, kneeling next to the bed. “Caroline, look at what you’re doing.”
She barely even glanced down at her arm before she looked back at the picture. She gave a sad sigh. A small smile spread on my lips as I looked down at the photo. It was a picture of Alex holding a basketball, wearing a red uniform and a huge grin. He was probably about sixteen.
“It was better that I wasn’t in his life,” her scratchy voice came out. “He’s such a good man. He wouldn’t have turned out that way if I’d been around.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have turned out this way if you’d been around,” I said as I continued to look at the picture.
Caroline chuckled as she looked up at me, her yellowed and dull looking eyes settling on mine. “You’ve got spunk, kid. You fight for what you want.”
“I do now,” I said quietly. Cole’s words echoed through my head. What are you willing to do to save him?
As I ushered Caroline up the stairs I knew the answer to that question.
“It’s nothing,” she said as she shook her head and sat down at the dining table.
I walked into the kitchen, wetting a few paper towels in the sink.
“How long until they notice?” Alex asked with a sly grin as he leaned into my side, his eyes glancing at the heavy ring on my finger.
I just smiled and walked over to the table without answering his question. Sliding a chair right next to her, I set to cleaning Caroline’s arm off.
“Whoa, there,” she suddenly said, grabbing my wrist. “What do we have here?”
“Apparently ten seconds,” I said to Alex with a chuckle. He laughed too as he flipped more of the French toast.
“What?” Amber asked, her voice still groggy. At the same time the front door opened and in walked Rod.
“That’s quite the rock,” Caroline said, a slightly gross looking smile creeping on her cracked lips as she met my eyes. “Our boy did good.”
“What?” both Amber and Rod said at the same time.
“He did it?” Amber asked, her voice hitching in excitement and awakness.
“Finally,” Rod said as he rolled his eyes, a smile spreading on his face.
Alex walked to my side, wrapping an arm around my waist. “Yeah, yeah, we all know I took too long.”
“Way too long,” I teased as I pressed a kiss to his cheek.
“When did this happen?” Amber asked as she bounded over, jerking my hand toward her. “Why haven’t you told me yet?”
“Relax,” I chuckled. “It just happened less than ten minutes ago.”
“I’m sorry,” she suddenly blushed slightly. “Mornings don’t make me very nice. Congratulations Jess.” She pulled me into a hug.
“Still bleeding over here,” Caroline said in her scratchy voice.
Amber and I both laughed and I sat back down to finish cleaning Caroline’s self-inflicted wound.
There were so many things that weren’t right in my small world. There was the never ending angel situation. My future mother-in-law obviously wasn’t doing very well in getting clean. I couldn’t help but think of Emily, how Cormack was now gone for good. She had said that everything would be alright earlier that day.
And in that moment, with everyone eating breakfast happily and talking over one another, I almost believed her.
In that moment, I was happy.
“Sal?” I called as I walked through the front door later that day. There were piles in every corner, things strewn out on the counter, dishes piled in the sink. I could tell the housekeeper had not been by in a while. “Sal?”
I found her in her office, curled up in a big plush chair that was in the corner. Her knees were tucked up under her chin, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She looked anxious.
“Is everything okay, Sal?” I asked, my eyebrows furrowing together.
“I had a bad dream last night,” she said as she stared vacantly at a spot on the wall.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked as I squatted next to the chair. I was careful not to touch her. She still didn’t like physical contact.
“Roger was there,” she said in a quivering voice. “His breath smelled so bad. He was hitting me again.”
“Oh, Sal,” I said as I felt my stomach sink. Sal’s ex-husband was now serving a life-sentence for nearly killing Sal when he was drunk. Sal was the way she was because of Roger. “I’m so sorry. He’s gone now though, remember? He can’t hurt you anymore. They locked him away.”
She squeezed her eyes closed, taking in a long breath. “I don’t want to see him anymore.”
“Have you been having other dreams about him?”
She nodded her head. “He was scary.”
“Yes, he was,” I said as I stood. “I have a surprise for you,” I smiled as I said it, attempting to change the subject.
“Is it a new book?” she asked, her tone instantly lifting.
I shook my head, holding my hand out to her. Sal’s face looked confused at first. Her eyes trailed from my shoulder, down my arms, and then finally resting on my finger.
“You’re getting married?” she asked in an excited tone. I just nodded. “It’s beautiful! And it matches your bracelet!”
I let my eyes take in the ring again. It was set with a marquee diamond, fixed in a wide band made of intricately carved vines, small diamonds set in the lacy pattern. I’d never seen anything like it. And it did match the bracelet Alex had given me on Valentine’s, just days after we had met.
“When?” she asked as she let go of my hand.
“We haven’t picked a date yet, but soon,” I said, the smile on my face bitter sweet.
The cell phone that Alex had gotten me the day after we got back from England suddenly vibrated. I flipped it open, a text from Rita asking if I could come in for Austin that afternoon. The shift started in just over an hour.
“I have to go Sal,” I said as I slid the phone back into my denim shorts. “I wanted to let you know though.”
“Thank you,” she said with a smile. Just as I was about to walk out the door she called “Jessica?” I stopped, looking back at her. “Don’t let them take him.”
My blood suddenly chilled. “What did you say?”
“Hmm?” she asked, her eyes starting to glaze over.
“You said ‘them’,” I said quietly.
“Them who?” she asked, quietly, her eyes fixing on a place on the wall.
“Never mind,” I said as I shook my head. Sal was in a different place now. “I’ll see you later.”
I went and changed, telling Alex that I was filling in for Austin. We made plans to go out that night, to try and work some details out. I agreed absentmindedly, heading out to my GTO and climbed inside.
Don’t let them take him.
I knew they were already trying to take Alex. I had seen what had happened to Cole. His entire frame started collapsing in on him, like he was being sucked away from the inside out. Cole had said how the dead couldn’t stay long in the land of the living. Cormack had told me how difficult it was to stay here.
I had seen the brief moments when Alex would close his eyes, how his knuckles would turn white as he held onto the edge of the counter. How something in his countenance seemed to quake and shiver.
Alex could be pulled back at any moment.
And somehow I had to stop it.
But I had no idea how I was going to keep the inevitable from happening.
The sky started to gray over as I spent my day inside the bookstore. There was little to do as it was a Tuesday afternoon and the sky threatened to open at any moment. The hours slowly ticked by until closing, the only excitement of the day was showing Rita the ring and hearing her congratulations.
I tried not to think that there was the real possibility of telling her I was a widow so soon after the actual wedding.
After my shift ended, rain started to drizzle as I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. Alex’s black truck was already dotted with drops. I stepped inside the door, my eyes immediately finding him. He would be hard to miss. Everyone in the entrance was staring at him. Ignoring them, he gave me his dazzling smile and indicated to the hostess that we were ready to be seated.
“I always feel so weird going out like this,” I chuckled as I sat across from Alex, picking up the menu the woman had set in front of me. “You don’t eat at all and I only eat when you make me.”
“Forgive me for pretending to be normal,” he gave me a half smile. He was doing a better job than me at pretending half the restaurant wasn’t staring.
“It feels like I can hardly even remember what that is anymore,” I said with a sigh. “Normal.” Alex reached across the table and took my hand in his. As I looked into his gray eyes, I felt my throat tighten. They were just one more reminder that he wasn’t supposed to be here anymore.
He gave me one more small smile before letting go of my hand and leaning back in his chair. “It was Caroline actually. We talked while you were with Cole. And I just kept thinking about how it would have been better if she had been a part of my life, even if it was just for a little while. A little while would have been better than nothing at all.
“I’m ready to move on, Jessica,” he said as his eyes burned with intensity. “I’m sorry it has taken me so long.”
“I understood your reasoning,” I said as my eyes dropped to the surface of the table. Alex’s hand was suddenly under my chin, lifting it until I looked at him again.
“Moving on?” he breathed, so much weight behind his voice.
“Moving on,” I said, pushing the knot from my stomach. We both sat back as our waitress introduced herself and brought water. I ordered a bowl of soup and a salad, Alex ordered the most expensive steak on the menu.
“You money waster,” I teased him as soon as the waitress was gone.
“Hey, it sounded good,” he said in mock defense. “If I can’t eat it I can at least look at it, right?”
I just chuckled and shook my head. “If you like torturing yourself, I guess.”
We were quite for a moment, Alex studying my face. “Don’t get mad when I bring this up, okay?” Alex said, his eyes softening.
“I know how things were between you and your parents but we need to tell them about the engagement. In person. Especially your mom.”
My eyes dropped to the table, my hand rubbing the brand on the back of my neck without thinking about it. “I don’t know if that is a good idea.”
“She’s your mother, Jessica,” he said in a low voice. “I know she hurt you in the past but it’s time to let that past go. You haven’t talked to her in how long?”
“Five years,” I answered quietly, recalling the day I overheard her talking to the mental institution, the day she decided to have me committed.
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