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Authors: Nia Shay

Dark Angel's Ward

BOOK: Dark Angel's Ward
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Dark Angel's Ward

Angel Warden Series, Book One

by Nia Shay

 

 

Dark Angel's Ward

 

Published by Moonwild Press

Copyright 2011 Nia Shay

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except for brief quotations in critical reviews and articles.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

One

 

Screams tore through the roaring emptiness inside my head, a sharp, piteous plea for redemption or release. Judging by the scent of blood in the air, I guessed the latter. My lungs grew tight, choked with the thick odor. I was drowning in it. My world melted into a sea of red and black, and in the middle of it all, someone was dying. And I couldn't do a damn thing about it.

Still, I couldn't stop hearing that helpless cry...until my elbow slipped sideways, and my chin hit my desk with a thump. A shower of papers fluttered to the floor at my feet.

Damn it! I knew better than to let my mind wander. I turned bleary eyes to the clock on the wall--no more than ten minutes had passed since I'd set down my pen. Not time enough to have fallen asleep. Definitely not a dream, then. Which meant I'd been hallucinating. Again.

Gulping in deep breaths to slow my racing heart, I leaned down and retrieved the small stack of charge slips I'd knocked over. The Weston Mall didn't do a booming business on Wednesday nights, and sales had been slow. Too slow, obviously, giving me time to think when I wanted to forget. Let go. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Be normal. Be normal. Be normal. The words found purchase in the drum line of the song blaring over the loudspeakers, pounding a steady rhythm in my brain.

The thought didn't soothe me, though, nor did the music. Restless, I pushed back my chair and wandered out into the store proper. The dim lighting of the sales floor made a refreshing change from the harsh fluorescents in the manager's office. I met with the identical stares of my two employees who were, by necessity, doing nothing. The place was absolutely empty.

"Yo, boss," muttered a languid Cara. She slumped beside the register, penning away in a journal titled "True Confessions of a Goth Princess" in spiky handwriting. Her twin, Sara, merely nodded at me and moved to half-heartedly straighten a rack of leather corsets.

I smiled a greeting. They were gorgeous girls, tall and curvaceous, with glossy brown hair and bright blue eyes. I could just imagine them as little girls in the family photos, with pigtails and grins and matching dresses to go with their matching names. Yet here they were at nineteen, their locks done up in short, glue-stiffened spikes, faces made up in opposing patterns of black and white. Both wore black leggings and baggy tee shirts bearing the store's name, Dissonance. It was entirely apropos.

Dissonance was a bit of a conundrum itself--a chain store catering to the nonconformist fashions of the goth and emo crowds. A thousand and one ways to make the outer reflect the inner, beauty wrought from ugliness. The twins and I fit the theme perfectly, because we didn't fit in at all.

A rude noise startled me. "Have I told you lately how much you suck, Jade?" Cara groused, flinging the cap of her pen at me.

I caught it on the fly. "Why? What did I do now?"

"It's so unfair that you get to wear cool clothes while we're stuck in these lame-ass tee shirts," she grumbled.

I shrugged, looking down at myself. I'd dressed pretty conservatively, especially compared to some of the twins' wilder outfits. A metallic silver club shirt, several sizes too big, largely concealed my black lace camisole and skinny jeans. I popped open three buttons and twirled like a runway model, sticking my tongue out at Cara as I spun past.

With a smirk, she tossed the pen itself, missing me by a mile. "What's with the man shirt, anyway? Are you trying to create the illusion that you have a boyfriend?"

"I might, you know." I stopped my strutting and turned, planting my hands on my hips. "Just because you've never seen him doesn't mean I don't have one."

"No, but the fact that you never talk about one, and you never take a day off, and you have no discernable social life...."

"All right, brat, you wanna know the truth?" Fighting back a grin of my own, I reached over a rack of accessories and plucked up a silk top hat, perching it atop my dark waves. "I was actually born a man."

"Yeah, right!" Sara hooted from behind me.

Cara rolled her eyes. "And you're only working here 'til you can pay off the boob job, right?"

"You got it. So, did anyone call while I was in the back?"

"Oh, yeah!" She perked up, waving a page torn from her diary. "This body piercer guy wants to rent out part of the shop and set up a chair. What d'you say? Can we have him? Please?"

"We'll feed him and take him for walks and everything," Sara added, giggling.

I shrugged, accepting the scrawled message. "I'll run it by corporate, but I doubt they'll approve."

"Screw corporate." Cara thumped the cash register with a defiant fist. "Bunch of money-grubbing whores."

"Whores who, incidentally, sign your paychecks. Anything else?"

She looked significantly at her sister, who had her back to us. "Just a creepy pervo doing the heavy-breathing-and-hanging-up routine."

I raised an eyebrow. "Is this something I need to know about?"

"First time it's ever happened," Sara replied without turning, "so I doubt it."

"Hm." How utterly unconvincing. Still, I couldn't do much unless it went on long enough to be called harassment. "Well, are you two gonna be able to handle this crowd by yourselves if I head back to the office?"

Cara grinned at my sarcasm, glancing around the deserted shop. "You know what? I think we've got it covered."

"You're sure spending a lot of time holed up back there." Sara turned a fierce look on me--a bit surprising, coming from the more soft-spoken half of the pair. "Just what're you up to, anyway?"

Sadly, I had no good explanation to give her, only a horrific one. "Inventory's coming up." I waited out their cries of dismay, adding, "Hey, you think the counting is a drag? You should try wading through all the damn paperwork."

"Yeah, we
could
help you with that." Cara nodded thoughtfully. "Or, we could take turns clawing each others' eyes out instead."

"That does sound like a lot more fun." I flexed my fingers, though my bitten nails were anything but intimidating. "Who wants to go first?"

Sara scowled at her sister. "Depends on how much a transplantable cornea will sell for on the black market. We're late with the car payment again."

"So?"

"So, it wouldn't kill you to be serious every now and again."

Cara snorted. "Are you scolding me, Mommy?"

"Oh, you did
not
just call me that."

"Hey, the blind can't drive, anyway. Problem solved." My helpful comment earned me a pair of icy glares. I shook my head and slipped away as they began to argue in earnest, calling an unheard "you kids play nice" over my shoulder.

Their bickering faded behind me, a background cadence to the mournful tones of keyboard and electric guitar. A slow song had begun, one more likely to lull me to sleep than inspire me to dig into the dreaded paperwork. It sat in an ominously neat pile on the corner of my desk, just as I'd left it last night. And the night before. And the night before that.

Resigned, I closed the door and plunked down in my chair to flip through it. A contract for the inventory company sat on top, with a due date of the day before. Oops. I scrawled my signature and slipped it into the fax machine. Next, a payroll report. Then a comprehensive list of which merchandise should be included in the count. After a quick glance, I could sum it up in one word--everything.

On and on it went, drudgery piled upon mundanity. Thankfully, I had a far better grasp on the mundane now than I'd had earlier. I sank into the task, grateful for its repetitiveness. After all, who had time to ponder the yawning maw of insanity when there were HR forms to be filled out in triplicate?

I lost track of the time as I scribbled and scrawled. When my desk intercom buzzed, I scooped up the receiver without even looking up. "Yeah?"

"Dude. I wholeheartedly apologize."

I frowned at Cara's incredulous tone. "Huh? For what?"

"I guess you really do have a boyfriend. Yowza."

"Oh." Snickering, I picked up my pen again. "No, sweetie, I really don't. I was just messing with you."

"Oh yeah? So how come there's a major demigod out here, asking for a lovely young woman who fits your description to a tee?"

I only half heard her as I shuffled through papers. "What?"

Cara let out a squawk of annoyance. "Could you
be
any more square, Jade? I just got done telling you there's an incredibly hot guy out here asking to see you, and all you have to say is...."

"What?"
I asked again, far more sharply this time.

"Now you're listening to me? Good! So who is he? Are you gonna come out of your cave, or should I show him on back?"

My heart stuttered in my chest. "Don't you dare tell him anything!"

"Well jeez, freak out on me, why don't you? Oh hell, he's headed back your way. Sor...."

I didn't wait to hear her apology. Slamming the handset back into its cradle, I leapt from my chair. Only one man in the world would ever come looking for me. If he was here, now, it was nothing short of a crisis. Dread churned in my stomach as I burst out of the office. I nearly tripped in my haste, stumbling down the short hallway leading to the sales floor.

There he stood at other the end of it, with an anxious Sara hovering at his shoulder. Or more around his elbow, actually, since he towered over her by nearly a foot. The pitch black hair that had once spilled down his back had been cropped to cheekbone length, a becoming frame for a face so beautiful, it was almost painful to behold. Almond-shaped eyes shone through his tousled forelock like a pair of exotic jewels.

I stopped short as his eyes lit on me, and watched the play of emotion over that perfect face. It came in a dizzying shuffle, impossible to read at first. But finally, something settled into his eyes that I could recognize--pain. With a groan, he lurched forward and fell to his knees at my feet. His gaze sought mine as he spoke. Just three words, but they shattered everything I'd made for myself in the past two years.

BOOK: Dark Angel's Ward
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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