I’m dating an angel.
Up until yesterday, I thought they didn’t exist. Now I’m falling in love with one.
Considering the insane events that have happened in the last five days—especially the last twenty-four hours—I shouldn’t be focusing on what MJ is. I am, though.
Whether or not I believed in them, angel references are everywhere. They appear in books, movies, and TV, wearing anything from white togas to trench coats. Their image has been made into figurines and appears on jewelry and even clothes. They’re a symbol of hope that billions of people all over the world have accepted. Some people pray to them daily, assured in their beliefs; others do it in times of desperation, when all hope seems lost. So many people have prayed for a miracle—prayed for proof that someone is listening.
Why then was I chosen over all of them?
I glance over at MJ lying beside me on Hiniker Bridge. He’s staring at the clouds with his head resting on his arms. It’s easy to forget what he is. His short brown hair is messy as if only his fingers have touched it, his hazel eyes suck me in no matter how far apart we are, and his smile shines brighter than high beams on the darkest night. He wears plain white shirts and dark jeans, and somehow on him they look better than a designer outfit—not that I wouldn’t mind seeing him in one. The only thing keeping him from being perfect is the silence coming from his chest.
My heart stutters, pounding out the truth I can’t ignore. MJ is dead.
He is dead and I am not.
A sigh unintentionally leaves my lips.
MJ rolls to face me. “What is it?”
I offer a weak smile. “Nothing.”
He reaches out, taking my hand. A buzzing jolt of energy—his essence—courses through my body, searching for any clues as to what upset me. He frowns, not liking whatever he found.
“No more secrets, remember?”
All morning we’ve been sharing small details of our lives, making good on the promise we made yesterday. MJ’s asked me about school, hobbies, and music. I’ve asked about places he’s traveled and what foods he’d like to try now that he can taste again. As nice as it is to have time like this—where everything is calm—we’re both deflecting.
He’s distracting me from thinking about yesterday—the worst day of my life. I’m avoiding anything even remotely related to his angelic side. But we can’t avoid it forever. At some point, we’ll have to talk about it if I want to have a true relationship with him.
I take a deep breath. Talking to MJ has always been easier than talking to anyone else, but it’s still uncomfortable baring my thoughts to him. He could pop the barrier I put between the world and myself as if it were no more than a bubble. I’m not sure I want him to—at least not yet.
As I release my held breath, I prepare myself for answers I’ll probably never be ready to hear. “Why don’t you have a halo, white gown, or wings?”
He snorts and then releases my hand, running his fingers through his hair. “That does look pretty on church windows and on top of Christmas trees, doesn’t it?”
I blush and nod, hoping I haven’t just insulted him.
His lips twitch, fighting a grin. “The halo is a myth. They were used in literature and art dating back to the first century to signify a holy being. It represents our light, and by that I mean good versus evil. The white gown and wings are true, though.”
I expected the gown to be true, seeing as Elizabeth wore one, but not the wings. Where are hers? Where are MJ’s? Every image I’ve seen of angel wings flows through my mind. There are so many, and they’re all so different, each pair beautiful in its own way. I’m sure MJ’s would be amazing.
“So where are your wings?” My stomach winds into knots, and my heart quickens. This is it. If I see them, there’s no turning back—no way to unsee them. As scary as it is, I want this. I want to prove to us both that I can handle this.
His eyes darken, and he frowns. Even though we’re right next to each other, it suddenly feels as if many miles separate us. “Hidden.”
“Can I see them?”
His words are like an earthquake shaking my foundation. “Why not?”
“It’s against the rules for angels and demons to unglamour them. And while I’m breaking many rules lately, that’s one I have to keep. If an angel like me, a Protector, were to unglamour his or her wings, it would send a pulse through the air that calls to our kind—almost like a battle cry or call to arms in war. We don’t need that kind of attention right now. I nearly lost you yesterday—I won’t let that happen again.”
My eyes clamp shut in defense as I’m bombarded with images from yesterday. The dead old woman in the bathtub . . . My sister, Hannah, tied to a chair . . . Justin’s ludicrous toast to me and my abilities . . . Learning he and MJ are dead . . . Witnessing MJ’s death from hundreds of years ago from inside Elizabeth’s magic fountain . . . Ben’s death . . .
My hands still feel covered in blood from trying to save him. The pain in his eyes as he begged me to forgive him will haunt me forever.
As horrifying as all that is, one piece from yesterday can still destroy everything—the Binding Agreement. The final moments of my time in Justin’s house are a blur. The evil contract that binds my soul to Justin for eternity was on the wall. The feather pen, filled with my blood, was less than an inch from touching it. One drop on the parchment was all he needed to seal the deal. One drop, and he’d own my soul for eternity.
I don’t know if any of my blood touched the contract before MJ arrived. I don’t know if Justin owns me. If he does, he could show up at any moment and take me away. I know that’s why MJ won’t leave me alone. I’m glad, though. Eternity with Justin would be worse than Hell.
My lip quivers. Instantly, MJ is beside me, wrapping his arms around me as he pulls us into a seated position. I snuggle into his chest as his essence enters me again. It fills the ever-present hole in my heart and reduces my fear.
I didn’t know relationships could be like this—feel this good. A single touch from him dissolves my problems until they’re so small they no longer seem like problems at all. Even without his essence, I know his touch would comfort me and bring me strength. It means he’s here for me, ready and waiting for me to let him in. Me, I’m working on it.
“Hey,” he whispers. “I’m right here. Let me help you.”
I sigh and bury my head farther into his chest. His arms tighten around me, and he places a kiss in my hair. A pulse of his essence ripples through me from my head to my toes.
“Please,” MJ begs. “After everything you’ve been through, the last thing I want is to make things harder for you, but we have to figure out how to stop your emotions from manifesting into the environment. While I will be forever grateful that your storm led me to you last night, things could have been a lot worse if other beings were in town.”
I turn in his arms and peek up at him, not understanding what he meant. “Why?”
“Your storm wasn’t natural—just like the clouds you’ve created now. There is a charge in the air, almost like waves of energy, pulsing around you—anxiously waiting to see what you require next. It’s not strong enough for mortals to detect. Immortals, though, would seek out the source, just as I did last night. They can use your own ability to find you. We’ve been lucky so far, but luck doesn’t last forever.”
I peek up at the sky. Dark storm clouds cover every inch. The lowest ones swirl above us, threatening to swoop down and swallow us.
Justin’s words come back to haunt me: It was supposed to be a mild October, yet it’s been cloudy and raining off and on since the night you met me. Your fears have blocked out the sun.
I glare at the darkened sky, hating that it reflects the emotions battling inside me. It’s as if I have my own Bat Signal in the sky. Except mine isn’t cool. Mine says, “Hey, all you angels and demons—here’s the girl you’re looking for. Come and get her.”
“I don’t know how to turn it off,” I say. “I don’t even know if it’s possible. Am I just supposed to walk around on autopilot, unaffected by the world around me just so the sky stays blue?”
MJ lifts my chin, forcing me to meet his gaze. I melt a little, seeing the softness that exists only for me.
“I didn’t mean that. What you can do”—he looks at the sky—“it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. But we’ll figure it out. Together. And it will be easier if you talk to me.”
Together. I like the sound of that. I take a deep breath and rest back against MJ.
“I was thinking about the contract.”
He stiffens. “I will never let him—or anyone else—take you from me. You, Maddy, are my heart. You’re my everything.”
“If it’s signed, there’s nothing you can do.”
“There is one thing.”
Hope sparks in my heart, growing stronger with each beat. “What?”
“Do you know what demons do when a good man goes to war?”
“Are you saying you’d start a war for me?” I joke.
“The war began long before either of us was born. For you, I’d do what my side has longed for and what the other side has feared. I’d fight.”
I gasp and pull back, staring into his hazel eyes. There isn’t a trace of humor or fear in them. He would go to war for me.
A battle rages inside me—one side protesting with handmade antiviolence signs, the other side gearing up to fight alongside him. I’ve never meant that much to someone before. It’s oddly comforting. The battle inside quiets as both sides are suddenly united by one common thread: MJ.
He tilts his head up. “There now. That’s better.”
I follow his gaze to the once-again-clear sky.
Surprisingly, that was easy. But it was only easy because he makes the bad things seem manageable.
“When your emotions are bearing down on you and affecting the environment,” he begins, “try distracting yourself with feelings that match what the weather is supposed to be doing. Like camouflage. I know it’s not a perfect solution, but it’ll work in the time being.”
I stare at the pristine shade of robin’s-egg blue that only exists on perfect days. The hope I found moments ago—the hope he created—becomes so large, it feels as if it will burst out of me at any moment. This could work. Maybe not forever, but it’s a decent start.
MJ hugs me. My heart, once again whole, quickens. My stomach dips. My arms tingle, and I wrap them around him, wishing this moment would never end.
“If you’re up for it, there’s another one of your abilities I’d like to work on today.”
Last night when we talked about my “abilities,” I hadn’t grasped what it meant. I was still so raw from everything that had happened. Even today, it’s hard to think about my abilities—and even harder to hear him talk about them. I want him to see me, not some girl who does all these strange, crazy things.
My gaze roams his face, trying to dissect his thoughts. A slight smile rests on his lips, but his eyes are wide and bright. Emotions are new to him. He isn’t good at hiding them. Whatever he wants to do, he’s eager or excited about it.
I stand and move to the railing, looking out at the pond. The sky reflects off the glassy surface. The bright sun that appeared moments ago is now hidden behind clouds again. The reflection dissipates as a small flock of geese swim through it. On shore, fallen leaves crunch as animals scurry about. Their lives are simple—eat and sleep. Mine used to be simple too. But even after everything that has happened, do I want to go back to that? I don’t know.
MJ moves beside me. “What did I—”
“We both know that’s not true. Tell me. Please.”
Lying would be easier. It always has been. Then we could go on with our day, pretending nothing is wrong. But lies build until one day there is a hole in our relationship the size of the Grand Canyon, with me standing alone on one side, and MJ standing alone on the other. That’s what happened with my family and friends. I don’t want that to happen with us. It can’t happen to us.
I turn and meet his gaze. “It’s just, twenty-four hours ago I was mostly normal.”
I stop. Saying it out loud makes it so much realer than in my head. I’m not normal. So what am I? Tears line my eyes, my heart races, and my lip quivers as I try to fight my emotions long enough to tell him how I feel.
“Now I’m this thing that has all these abilit—”
“Don’t,” he says, his face flinching as if in pain. “Don’t ever talk like that again. Do you have any idea of the depth of my emotions for you? And then to hear you say such awful things about yourself . . . These abilities don’t define you. Only you can do that. All they do is show the rest of the world something I knew the moment I saw you.”
“That you, Maddy Page, are unique. On your gorgeous outside, you appear just as helpless as any other mortal, but you’re not. It’s a trick. Smoke and mirrors. You’re stronger than many of the angels and demons I’ve come across. And that is a good thing. Because what you do to me—what you make me feel—is a gift of the utmost importance, and it needs to be protected. You have the potential to change everything. When you do, there will finally be peace for all beings Father created. But until that day, your safety is in danger. Which is why we need to do everything we can to figure out how your abilities work. Once you understand them, you can utilize them to their fullest extent.”
I swallow the lump in my throat that grew as he spoke. I hadn’t thought beyond today, let alone me changing the world.
“What if I don’t want my abilities? What if I just want to be normal?”
A deep ridge forms between his brows as he stares at me. The pond quiets until only the sound of my breath can be heard. The way he spoke about me changing the world frightened me, but in his eyes I saw a spark of how greatly he wanted it.
“MJ, I’m sor—”
“No. It’s my fault. I got ahead of myself. I’m used to having abilities. You’re not. They’re an enormous responsibility. Many angels have chosen to be reborn so they could return to a life without them. I was about to join them, until I met you. You don’t have the option to be reborn, to give up your abilities. Your abilities can be wonderful, or they can cause great devastation. We can’t be careless with them. I’ll help you gain control over them so you can choose to use them or not use them. Either way, I support you.”
A weak smile forms on his lips. And with that, I know how deeply he’s hurting. I didn’t mean to hurt him or squash his hopes. I didn’t know he had hopes for my abilities. He’s obviously given them more thought than I have. He’s not freaked out—that has to be a good sign, right? And he did say they could be wonderful. His being able to feel is a good thing. So is his being able to taste food. And I like it when we touch and I bring our souls to the bridge. Maybe, with control, my other abilities could be good too? But whether I gain control of them or not, his vision of me changing the world will never come true. I’m no superhero. Their fight is not mine. I’ll leave that to him.
Hoping to fix the damage I’ve done and ease the mood between us, I move away from the railing and smile. “All right. I’m ready. What do you want to work on?”
“Are you sure?” He tilts his head and I smile, thinking back to all the other times he’s done that.
His smile widens. “When we touched and you brought our souls here, were you specifically thinking about the bridge, or did we come here by some other power?”
“I was thinking about the bridge.”
As he weaves his fingers with mine, I feel his softness for a moment, right before his essence enters me.
“If you thought of something else—another real place or perhaps even a ‘place’ you saw in a dream—do you think you could send us there too?”
“Maybe. I’m not really sure.”
His hazel eyes brighten, and he grins. “That’s better than a no. So let’s try it.”
“Try sending us into one of your dreams.”
I take a step back. Some dreams are safe for him to see. Others—the ones that are Elizabeth’s memories—are not. They belong to her, not me, so sharing them doesn’t feel right. And that’s if I can even do this in the first place.
“What sort of dream do you mean?” I ask, trying to keep calm. “Mortifying ones of school? Nonsense ones with purple monsters and unicorns? Or something inspired by movies and books?”
“None of the above. I’m interested in a particular recent dream.”
My heart skips a beat, hoping he won’t ask to see Elizabeth’s dreams, but what else can it be? I told him about them yesterday at school. Of course he would want to know more. “W-what one is that?”
“The one you had yesterday while you were unconscious. I need to know how you saw my death.”
Ignited releases 8/10/15
I will share a few more chapters on this site prior to the release, so be sure to check back!