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Katies hellion (rhyn tri.., p.8
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       Katie's Hellion (Rhyn Trilogy, Book One), p.8

           Lizzy Ford
 

  Katie poured more whiskey into her cocoa. She hadn’t been able to shake the cold she felt and was dressed in layers despite the thermostat being set to eighty. Restless, she took her cocoa into the darkened living room and looked out the window, expecting to see Gabriel lurking across the street. He was there.

  "I’m a four-hundred-thousand-year-old angel. I’m a baby in my world. More marshmallows!"

  Just when she thought things were weird enough, Toby had started to talk to her. She refused to send him to school or to go to work, determined to figure out what insanity was going on under her roof. Toby’s eyes glowed as small marshmallows tumbled into his cup. He held out his hands. She ignored them and placed the cup on the table before him, then set down her own.

  "You’re a four-hundred-thousand-year-old baby," she repeated. "Then you’re not my kid."

  "I am!" he replied. "I have to have a human mother."

  "You get a new one every eighty years or something?"

  "I’m kinda reborn every once in awhile to a new mom."

  "And the death dealer is…what?" She asked and pinched her arm. She was still awake.

  "He’s Death’s hit man."

  "Of course, why not." She poured more whiskey into her cocoa. Alcohol had replaced Hannah in her life when she left.

  Toby chewed on the crackers she’d placed before him, crumbs and chunks going all over his pj’s. He didn’t look like a four-hundred-thousand-year-old angel trapped in a five-year-old’s body.

  "His name is Gabriel. He’s way older than me. I see him every few dozen years, usually when he’s coming to kill my mama. He’s cool."

  She gripped her head.

  "Gabriel, fairies!" Toby exclaimed.

  She turned and gasped, heart leaping to see the death dealer lingering like the shadow he was in the middle of her living room. His eyes glowed darker than night, two black holes in his otherwise indistinguishable face. She groped for the nearest light and flipped it on, unsettled by the man even in the warm lamplight.

  "Toby says you’re going to kill me," she said, heart hammering.

  "Not yet."

  "Not yet?" she echoed. "You have a date in mind you’d like to share?"

  "No."

  "Soon, not soon?"

  "No," he said.

  "Look, I get that no one survives life, but I’d like to know when you plan on taking me out so I can plan a few things, say farewell to my sister, maybe prepay for my burial!" she demanded, hearing the hysterics enter her voice.

  "There won’t be a body to bury."

  Her mouth dropped open.

  "Gabriel takes people to the underworld, body and all," Toby explained as he grasped the large man’s gloved hand. "Fairies!"

  The death dealer went obediently to the kitchen. Katie’s hands shook. She followed them and set her cocoa down on the counter, grabbing the whiskey and retreating with the intent of drinking herself to sleep. Gabriel’s hand snaked out as she passed, and he yanked the bottle neatly from her hand. She snatched at it, and he pushed her away.

  "Immortal Code," he stated.

  Keeping her away with one hand, he dumped its contents into the sink. She watched, and then stalked out, furious and frustrated. After he destroyed all her drugs, she’d suspected he’d react this way and had hidden another bottle in her bedroom.

  She slammed her door and rested her head against it, wondering how long this would continue before her head exploded. Or when Gabriel the death dealer killed her. She withdrew the final bottle of whiskey from beneath the bed. It was wrenched away from her, and she grated her teeth.

  "No," Gabriel said. He held up the bottle and retreated to the bathroom.

  She jerked her door open and grabbed her coat. She didn’t care if she left a five-year-old kid home alone, not when he was a four-hundred-thousand-year-old angel! He had someone better than an army watching him. He had death’s personal assistant.

  She walked out onto the sidewalk, shivering in the cold.

  I usually only see him when he comes to kill my mama.

  The words echoed in her head, and she walked blindly for several moments, until the cold burning her lungs made her stop. She’d been seen by a doctor who’d been dead twenty years, was babysitting a four-hundred-thousand-year-old angel, and the grim reaper spent the night on her couch.

  Things really couldn’t get much stranger.

  "Ms. Young, I need a blood sample."

  The man who spoke stood behind her. He was tall with glasses, a brunet ponytail, and a goofy grin. His lab coat was all the overcoat he wore, and he hopped in place beside a beat-up VW Bug whose engine coughed as if it were on its last leg.

  "Let me guess, you work for a dead doctor," she said, crossing her arms.

  "Oh, no!" he said with a laugh. "Technically, I am a dead doctor."

  "Unbelievable."

  "No, no, it’s a really good story. I got to meet Death and everything."

  She turned on her heel and walked.

  "Please, Katie!" he begged. "No girls ever visit my lab, and Kris rarely lets me leave. Just one pinprick."

  "You know Ted Bundy drove a VW Bug, right?" she challenged.

  He opened the passenger door with a hopeful smile. She climbed in wordlessly, not surprised to find it cold. The vents rattled without producing heat.

  "It’s not far," he said with a cheerful smile despite his shaking body. "I’m Ully."

  True to his word, they drove less than two blocks before he entered a public parking garage and drove to the bottommost floor and parked in a dark corner with yellow no-parking lines. He turned off the car and touched the garage door opener on the sunshade above him, whistling as he waited. She jerked as the ground lurched below them, lowering them slowly through the thick cement layers into a tunnel wide enough for a dump truck.

  He started the car again and drove through a series of tunnels and intersections, a virtual underground street grid, before arriving at a large garage filled with gleaming cars.

  She trailed him to an elevator that took them even further underground. Her headache was returning, her heart beating so fast she knew she’d pass out if she didn’t calm down. Her deep breaths drew Ully’s dark eyes.

  He smiled in encouragement and led her off the elevator and through a series of cheerfully lit hallways with pictures on the walls and wood floors. He swiped a badge to enter what she imagined was the Mecca of all science labs, with rows of stainless steel, machines, computers, and glass. He parked himself at a computer, and she perched on a stool beside him.

  "What is all this?" she breathed.

  The air was cool and clear, as crisp as a fall day.

  "Only the best lab ever!"

  His enthusiasm for the underground world only made her feel more nauseous. He took her hand and pricked her finger. The pain and the sight of her blood made her vision dim. She fell into the in-between place, only vaguely aware of his panicked response as she sagged against him or of the muscular form that lifted her from the floor and carried her away.

  The pungent smelling salts snapped her out of the in-between place. She swiped the hand away, blinking to clear her gaze as she stared into a fire. The hearth blazed opposite her position on a plush sofa with buttery leather in a small study with Persian carpets. She thought the man before her old because of his silver until her vision cleared and she saw his face.

  His white-silver hair was long and clasped at his neck, his bronzed face and forest-green eyes displaying no emotion. His features were chiseled, the firelight casting harsh shadows across the planes of his face. He was muscular and tall, clothed in dark jeans, a snug grey T-shirt that hugged his biceps and stretched across his chest and back and then sagged at his slender torso and hips, and a round black medallion that fell from his T-shirt as he leaned over her.

  "Ully," he growled, turning to face the scientist.

  Ully was pale.

  Katie pushed herself up, startled by the stickiness on her hand. She looked down and saw the sleeve
of her sweater soaked in blood.

  "I am so sorry!" Ully gushed, stricken. "You fell, and I tried to catch you, but then you kind of veered to one side and I grabbed your arm but then you--"

  "Out."

  Ully frowned but obeyed the white-haired man’s command. Katie sat up, wondering why her hand didn’t hurt. It shook, and she was even colder.

  "I don’t know what you are, but I couldn’t heal you. You owe Gabriel one," the silver-haired man said. He squatted beside her, wrapping her arm in a clean white towel before he rose and strode to the desk along the far wall. He picked up what looked like a medical file and became as still as the death dealer, as if forgetting her presence completely.

  Her eyes skimmed his perfect, buff body before the pain in her hand finally registered. She tugged off her wool coat with some effort. Blood soaked her towel, and she stood.

  "Do you have a restroom?"

  He jabbed his thumb toward the wall behind him, where she made out the slender nickel doorknob in the space between two shelves of ancient books. He didn’t acknowledge her as she entered the surprisingly large bathroom. She winced and pulled the towel free then turned on the water as hot as she could stand. She stared at herself in the mirror, wondering when she’d started looking like a pound dog. She glanced down to watch the blood stream down the drain then held up her arm.

  It was healed, just as he said.

  She flipped both hands front and back and looked at the blood-soaked towel and the sleeve of her sweater. Her hands both worked. With a sigh, she cleaned up the area as well as she could and pulled off the sweater, as it was warm enough in the study with her T-shirt.

  She looked like shit. There were dark circles beneath her light eyes, her hair was in a half-assed lumpy ponytail, and her face was so pale and drawn, she looked ill.

  Was this what crazy looked like? She breathed out another sigh and righted her ponytail, then splashed water on her face. Emerging from the bathroom, she was confronted by a pacing Ully.

  "I, uh, dropped your blood sample," he said with a glance at the figure with his back toward them both. "Could I get another?"

  She handed him the towel. He hesitated then took it and left. The silver-haired man made no move at all.

  "I need--" she said finally.

  "Have a seat."

  His order was calm, the slight accent in his voice foreign. She stared at the back of his head, a chill running through her. Her move toward the fire was reflected in a small mirror behind the desk in front of which he stood.

  He had no reflection.

  She squeezed her eyes closed and breathed deeply, swaying. His touch made her jerk away and her eyes snap open. She stared at him, backing out of his reach until the back of her knees hit a chair and she dropped into it.

  His eyes had changed color to a deep violet-blue, a beautiful shade of tanzanite. She felt cold again on the inside and shivered. He looked away finally and returned to his desk.

  "Are you all right?" he asked in a measured tone.

  She cleared her throat and said simply, "Yes."

  As if sensing the weight of the word, he turned, brow furrowed. He perched on the edge of the desk, the fire casting shadows across his perfect, chiseled features. Any other day, she’d have stared at his hard body and the way his jeans hugged his muscular thighs and the round globes of his backside, or the T-shirt that fit so well.

  "What’s your name?" he asked.

  "Katie."

  "How did you get in my lab?"

  "Ully brought me."

  "From the Outside?" He crossed his arms, displaying his displeasure without his face changing.

  She nodded. "You must be Kris."

  "I am."

  "Ully said you don’t let him out much."

  "I don’t," Kris agreed.

  "And that he was once a dead doctor."

  "Yeah."

  She shuddered. They gazed at each other for a long moment, her shock and exhaustion too deep to fear the man who radiated power and control, even in a simple T-shirt. Tattoos of interlinked geometric shapes glowed on his arms before fading.

  "Why do you need my blood?" she asked.

  "Ully’s testing it. It’s what he does."

  "Dr. Williams said my blood tests were unusual."

  His eyes turned from tanzanite to deep emerald. She shivered again.

  "I need a shot of whiskey," she said.

  For a long moment, she didn’t think he’d agree, if not because of how young she looked, then because of how shitty she looked. At last he moved around the desk to a dark corner and withdrew a crystal carafe from a locked cabinet.

  "Don’t give me your good stuff. I don’t intend to savor it," she warned.

  He gave her an amused look, then poured her three shots worth of whiskey and handed it to her. She downed a mouthful, grimacing at the burn that went down her throat and all the way to her gut.

  "I can’t get warm any other way," she admitted, and took another gulp.

  "You’re in shock," he surmised.

  "No argument there. I have a feeling you know already what the past two days have been like."

  "Tell me."

  "No, thanks."

  He raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms again. She really didn’t give a damn if he wasn’t used to being challenged. She finished her whiskey and sat back in the chair, its warmth chasing away her internal chill. For now.

  "Do Gabriel and Toby work for you?" she asked.

  "In a sense."

  "What does that mean?"

  "Death dealers don’t work for anyone really, just Death, though I do buy assassinations from him on occasion," he said.

  Buy assassinations, like he was ordering a new couch for his study.

  "Oh," she managed. "And Toby, the baby…angel?"

  "I’m his guardian, yes." His gaze had sharpened.

  "And you randomly assign him new moms every few dozen years and then send Gabriel to pick them off at the end," she summariezed.

  "More or less."

  "Do you ever bother to see if the moms want to have a baby angel in their lives?"

  "I don’t think I’ve ever had a human question me," he stated, eyes flashing golden topaz.

  "It’s really not cool to use women like this," she replied. "Even if we are puny humans."

  "You’re the first to object."

  "No offense, but I’m under the impression the others didn’t have a chance to object."

  A light tap sounded at the door.

  "What, Ully?" he belted.

  She jumped, unaware she’d ruffled him despite the calm exterior. Ully opened the door without entering, his gaze fluttering from her to the angry non-human.

  "I, uh, kinda need to talk to you, bossman, if you’re cool with that," Ully said.

  The man with the jewel-toned eyes strode across the study without a look at her. She waited until the door closed before crossing to the carafe and refilling her glass. His anger surprised her with its intensity, and she judged from Ully’s reaction that seeing the lord and master pissed was not something the good-natured mad scientist wanted anything to do with. She didn’t know what he was, but if he routinely played with the lives of puny humans and bought assassinations…

  She drank the caramel liquid too fast and was soon too dizzy to stand.

 
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