At the beginning of the 22nd century, humanity has survived a challenge to its survival and has commenced the task of rebuilding. An elite corps of fallen angels called the Watchful Host remains in the earthly realm to help—but someone is hunting them.
Once the angel Turiel, Tupperman chose to remain in this realm after his mission was completed in order to aid the Watchful Host. When he is framed as a killer of his fellow fallen angels, Tupperman knows not only that he will be sacrificed next, but that it’s time for his final quest. His only clue is a stone, which leads him to New Mexico—and a woman who enchants him completely. Tupperman never counted on finding love, nor that his mission would include a challenge from a dark force and known cheat. Can he save Kara and complete his quest, or will taking Lucifer’s wager cost him the woman who has claimed his heart?
“Claire Delacroix’s finale to her urban fantasy romance series is fantastic!”
—The Reading Frenzy
An excerpt from Abyss:
Kara was despondent. She’d run out of credits and run out of time. She would return home a failure, condemning everyone she knew and loved.
It was all because of the Watchful Host.
Although Kara had some less flattering names for them.
She marched through the train station of New D.C., not caring one bit for convention. For three weeks, she’d walked with mincing steps, kept her voice low, dressed modestly, conducted herself quietly, and followed the Sumptuary & Decency laws to the last detail. It had gotten her nowhere. She’d finally lost her temper on this, the last possible day she could try to meet the Oracle, and those angels had tossed her out.
The only mercy was that the publicly released vid of the incident was so poor. No one would identify her from it, especially since she’d left her best dress behind.
She was fed up with the Republic and its so-called defenders. All she’d asked was to talk to the Oracle. All she’d needed was a small bit of assistance. But the angels had treated her like a criminal, for daring to ask. She was more than ready to be home, with the solid earth beneath her feet and people she could rely upon on every side.
Even if their trust in her had been misplaced.
Kara winced at that truth as she strode down the train platform. She’d had two goals in coming east and had failed to achieve either. How could she have failed in both of her objectives? She hadn’t been sure she’d be able to persuade the Oracle to help her people, but she’d never imagined she would be denied even an audience.
Kara sighed. It was embarrassing to recall how easy she’d believed her other goal would be. How hard could it be to seduce a man, any man, with green eyes? How hard could it be to conceive a child to fulfill the prophecy, before it was too late?
Impossible, apparently. She hadn’t relied upon the revulsion that Caucasian men felt for women with brown skin. She’d thought her willingness would be enough. She’d never imagined that the prophecy’s demand that the union be a willing one would become a problem.
She could have paid for an interval in the pleasure zones otherwise.
She’d taken old herbal remedies to ensure she could conceive while she was here. She’d been ready to do anything, to say anything, to promise anything to achieve her goal. It would give her people such hope if the prophecy showed signs of fulfillment.
Hope could make all the difference in the world.
But the only thing Kara had to show for her efforts was aching ovaries. Sore feet. Wounded pride. The knowledge that she was a failure.
The Republic had won.
So-called civilization was filthy and noisy, unsettling and false. Kara couldn’t wait to escape it.
She wanted to be barefoot, to be able to take a deep breath because she wasn’t wearing a corset. She wanted to let her hair blow loose. She wanted to smell the wind and feel the earth’s rhythm. The end of the world was coming, and she wanted to savor the few days that were left.
Instead, she’d just make it home in time.
The station in New D.C. was filled with steam and sparks of electricity as the trains were recharged at other platforms. There was a loud hum of running engines and the shouting of the men who serviced the trains. The station was dirty and crowded, people rushing in every direction and porters bellowing to each other. There were beggars and vendors mingling with passengers and children. There was baggage everywhere, it seemed.
Kara’s train had arrived from New Gotham moments before and the gates had just opened for new passengers to proceed along the platform. There was some shoving as people hurried to get to the appropriate cars before the train’s departure to the west. An overhead clock ticked down the seconds, timing them all. Or chiding them all. Conductors called from the ends of the cars, their voices competing with the vendors who were selling food to passengers through the windows of the train.
There was a loud hiss as the train’s engines were slowed for recharging, then a shower of sparks when the engines were connected overhead to the station’s power sources. The engines began to throb at a steady beat, as if the long stainless snake of the train had a heart. Kara could see the darkness beyond the end of the platform where the tracks ran shining into the night.
How far would the train have to travel before she’d be able to see the moon? It would be nearly full. At home, it would be visible everywhere, inescapable, but Kara didn’t trust the Republic not to find a way to hide it.
She watched a flock of pigeons flying through the terminal, enjoying the sight of some free creature in this place. When she turned, she caught a glimpse of a man with a familiar profile in the crowd behind her.
The crowd heaved, and he was swallowed by the throng as abruptly as he had appeared.
“Derek!” Kara retraced her steps, pushing through the people like a salmon swimming upstream. She got to the place where she thought she had spotted her husband, but there was only a porter there. He wore a coat of the same color as the man she’d glimpsed. She spun in place but couldn’t see another likely candidate. The platform was emptying behind her, the rush of passengers hurrying toward the train.
“Help with your bags, ma’am?”
“No, thank you. Did you see a man here?”
The porter smiled. “I see thousands of them, ma’am.”
Of course. Kara nodded and retraced her steps toward the train. She’d thought she’d spotted Derek a dozen times or more since arriving in New D.C. It made no sense. Her husband was dead, and she had no desire to see him again. She couldn’t imagine he would want to see her, or that he would ever come to a place like New D.C. He had disliked cities even more than she did.
But if he was a ghost, it did make a kind of sense that he would haunt her now. Derek had always reveled in her failures, and this was a big one. Kara hefted her bag and shivered before she marched on. Even a false glimpse of him could send a bolt of terror through her.
Soon, she’d be home. A failure still, but one with honest earth beneath her feet, surrounded by those she loved and knew she could trust.
It wouldn’t be too soon.
She climbed the stairs to her car, heading for her assigned seat, declining assistance on every side. Her annoyance mounted with every offer that implied she was weak and incapable of taking care of herself or a single piece of luggage. She was taller than most of the men who spoke so condescendingly to her, and she was sure she could win a fist fight with any of them.
The prospect of starting one improved her mood.
Even this last twenty-four hour train ride to New Mexico was too long to spend in the social embrace of the Republic and its rules. Kara was tempted to tear off her veils and let them see the face of a woman. She doubted it would tempt men as much as the Republic believed it would, and wanted to publicly show the rules to be wrong. She wanted to shout or do something outrageous, just to see their dismay.
She wondered what they would all think if she ran naked down the length of the train. The mischievous idea made her smile, even as the boarding passengers came to a sudden halt in the aisle.
But then she’d end up in jail and might never get home.
In fact, that kind of impulse had gotten her tossed out of the residence of the Oracle.
She just had to survive this chaos for one more day.
The line wasn’t moving, so Kara peeked down the car. A woman halfway down the car was stowing her luggage while everyone behind her waited. She did appear to be incapable of dealing with one small piece of luggage. Several men rushed to help her, ensuring the task took four times as long as it should have. The woman’s veil was so sheer that it didn’t disguise her fair coloring and pretty features. Kara thought her appearance explained a great deal.
She could have found a dozen men to help her conceive a child, right in this very car.
Kara fought her frustration, tapped her toe and checked her seat assignment. She scanned the numbers on the bulkhead and located her seat just a few rows ahead. It was empty, which was a relief—she wasn’t in the mood for an argument or a messed-up reservation—but the man sitting in the adjacent seat made her heart stop cold.
He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.
Kara stared, unable to even think of doing anything else.
From this point, she could see only his head, but knew he must be tall. His features were sculpted in their perfection, his nose straight and his chin square. His lips were surprisingly sensuous. He was a man, not a boy, and one who looked commanding. Kara liked him on sight—and wanted very much to see more. His hair was cut so short that she couldn’t tell whether it had been blond or silver. It caught the light around his head, looking for all the world like a halo.
She really did have angels on her mind.
She’d forgive him the association. She hated angels, particularly the Watchful Host of angels incarnate, but wouldn’t condemn a gorgeous man for the illusion of a halo.
Just then, he glanced over the line and she saw that he had eyes of clearest green.
Suddenly all that had gone wrong was turned to rights. Suddenly there was a purpose driving her choices and hope for the future. Green eyes! Kara had been lost in the darkness of despair and failure, but here was a chance.
She could achieve her second goal before arriving home, against all expectation.
This man’s presence—and his seat assignment—couldn’t be a better sign of providence. It gave Kara a hope beyond expectation and made her heart pound. She eyed him as the line of passengers began to move again, and hoped she could make the most of this chance to fulfill the prophecy.
All she had to do was get his attention, and then seduce him. If he was resistant because of her ethnicity, she had to overcome his objections. She had to accomplish this. Kara gripped the handle of her bag more tightly. She didn’t dare let this opportunity slip away. The express train would take twenty-four hours and she needed to make every moment count.
Even after her failure in New D.C., Kara could taste success.
Excerpt from Abyss ©2014 Deborah A. Cooke