Now that it’s 2019, I need to set some goals. Namely, major writing and publishing goals and blogging goals. I’ll save the details for another post. However, I royally dropped the ball on blogging last year. So let me begin meeting my blogging goals by blogging to tell you some belated news.
I didn’t even tell you that I released After the Smoke, Cole’s story!
Yes, it’s true. It went live December 27 on almost all online retailers. Learn more or grab your copy here.
Cole’s character was a favorite for many readers, a mystery for sure. This story takes place during book 2 of my series, When Smoke Rains Down, when he disappears after detaining himself, worried he’s too evil to remain on Earth, and it’s told solely from his point of view.
Here’s chapter one:
I attempt to go invisible at the sound of a familiar, eerie voice and high-heeled footsteps, but the best I can manage is to flicker translucently. I try again and fail. My human hands sweat as I panic.
My senses are off, and it’s hard to place the voice. The hairs on my arms rise and my chest constricts. I place my hand on a locker as cool as Shady Creek’s rushing waters and lean toward the voice. It’s deep and formal. I know I know its owner.
I shake my head and exhale. Fully invisible, for the blessed moment, my wings reach across the hallway. Then, everything brightens as a human student, Kari, rounds the corner.
I should’ve known.
Kari and I have hung out together a couple times while I tried to fit into the high school scene. She and her friends warmed to me and helped me stay inconspicuous and close to my human-angel Hybrid charge, Julia. What Kari’s doing with Legion is beyond me, and beyond frightening. I’ve not noticed her around him before, not even before I became human.
It feels as though it’s been three seconds since I chose to stay as humanly visible as possible, but watching Julia age tells me it’s been three years.
Three years, and I’ve nearly forgotten the sensation this particular demon brings. Legion smells of burnt feathers and rotting soul. Under his jeans and black jacket, his skin is green and scaly. His eyes are bottomless tunnels devoid of light. A wave of disappointment and disgust nearly overtakes me. I don’t think Kari can see him there by her side.
She’s wearing her usual heels and short skirt. Her big brown eyes are wide and light up when they spot me. I sigh and hang my head. I’m visible again. I look up at her from under the hair that’s fallen to partially cover my eyes.
I push off the lockers, straightening to greet her with a smile.
“Cole,” she says, her voice breathless as a whisper. “What are…? Why…?” She composes herself and tries again, ducking her chin to look at me through her long lashes. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
I turn and walk alongside her. “Shouldn’t you?” Behind us, the hall is empty. Legion has vanished. Kari’s Guardian Angel is also nowhere in sight—a troublesome observation.
She gently bumps her shoulder into my arm and giggles. “Funny. I’m getting there.” She holds out a slip, flutters it in front of me. “I have a pass. Ran an errand for Ms. Wiltrow.”
I nod and sidestep left so we’re no longer touching. “Of course.”
The doors at the end of this high school hallway offer a glimpse of a dreary fall day, overcast and grim, like Kari after I attempt to ignore her plea for approval. I may be an angel, but I know flirting when I see it. Even when it’s directed at me.
Especially when it’s directed at me.
Flirting makes the human hairs on the back of my neck prickle and my palms sweat. Humanity is hard to endure. Emotions swirl. Most of them make me nauseous. Maybe that’s how it is with everyone. Or maybe that’s just how it is with me, because I’m not supposed to be human. Maybe it’s a side effect, a flu-like symptom telling me to forego this plan I devised when it seemed like a good idea.
Nicholas told me over and over not to do it, not to become human to better guard Julia. He suspected the results could be catastrophic. I wanted to be as close as I could, to protect Julia from the inside for once. Lucifer found out about her dad—their entire family— and is about to zero in on them. Julia’s close to realizing what she is, and I have to be a physical presence in her life when she does. She has to have someone to turn to, someone to trust. That someone should have been her father, Raif, or even Tobias, but they’re gone now.
I’m doing what I have to do.
Except I’m losing control.
We round a corner. Legion reappears, as if he entered through the doors to our right. But they remain still and no autumn air rushes in at us from outside. Yet he’s visible to everyone. He beckons Kari with an outstretched finger, and Kari whirls, looking at him demurely through her lashes over her shoulder. She fights a smile, but it wins out over her red, pouty lips. I grimace.
“Lovely girl, come here,” he lures. Whether he says the words aloud for her to hear or not, I’m not sure. But she reacts as if she heard them spoken and obeys.
In that moment, the bell announcing class’s end sounds and classroom doors swing open in slow motion, one after another, along the hallway we’ve turned down. I guess Kari won’t be making it back to that class after all.
My humanity and angelic Glory mix and combat one another, causing my senses to overload. I cringe at the sounds, the light, the movement. Kari bends her head to listen to what Legion is saying, her ear brushing his shoulder. Heads bob in the way of my view. Lockers slam and each one is like a slap to my face. Tormented, I consider exiting to find peace among the trees beside the building.
But then, my charge, Julia, is among the crowd filtering through the halls. She’s a light, a blip of something lovely amidst the dreary. It’s lunchtime, and the students are more energetic than at an earlier hour. They rush toward their lockers, whooping and hollering, tossing novels with half-torn pages at one another and balling up loose-leaf paper to dunk into corner garbage cans. They greet me with smiles and shouts. But I’m not really here to be popular. I’m here to watch and protect. And Legion’s black eyes roving toward Julia is not lost on me. What is he up to?
I start at the sound of my name. A towering figure hovers above me before lowering himself to stand beside my half-human form. He’s dressed in a cream-colored robe. His wings are white, but they cast shadows, hiding me. To the students here, I am a physical attribute: a football star, a friend, a smiling light bringing happiness to any boring class we share. To myself, I’m fading. I’m losing control. I’m darkness and mistakes.
With the angel’s Glorious aid, I become transparent and then invisible.
I nod in gratitude. “Gavril.”
We step aside and observe. The hallway is in chaos. Humans are loud and active. Their respective Guardian Angels hover, offering guidance. Demons slither like whispers; the hallway sounds as if it’s been invaded by a knot of snakes. Warrior Angels, too, stand guard, waiting for a demon to step out of line, to attack a human soul.
Each soul is as visible as their body when I’m able to use my Glory to see them. Some are bright as the sun, strong and pure. Others dim or flickering. It’s the recent flickering of Julia’s that’s got me on edge. It’s a recent phenomenon, and I know I’m the cause of it.
Because of me—not some demon—she’s losing her Grace. And I have to do something to remedy that, something drastic.