“Let me get this straight. Your dad is Gabriel? As in, the Gabriel mentioned in the Bible?”
“And he and I were once the equivalent of best friends?”
Clara Kate stifled a laugh as she watched Ini-herit process this news. His gray eyes were wider than she’d ever seen them. The only sound was of the rain pelting the roof of the large tree house located in the backyard of their human guardian, Mrs. Clara Burke. Despite the fact that they were eighteen and the tree house was meant for younger kids, it was a place they visited whenever they wanted some time away from everything else. They’d even camped in it a few times.
Now, they sat against one wall with their legs sprawled in front of them and their hands joined. He studied her for a moment. When she just quirked an eyebrow, he let out a long breath.
Her lips curved upwards. “You believe me.”
He continued to look at her without responding. She knew his features as well as her own after these past few months with him on the human plane, but that didn’t make her less interested in gazing at them. His aristocratic nose, long-lashed eyes and full lips would have made him what others called a “pretty boy” if not for the rough, honed edges of his cheekbones and jaw line. He wore his dark hair longer than Mrs. B would have liked, but he usually pulled it back into a ponytail out of deference to her. At the moment, he had it unbound and it brushed his shoulders in beautiful waves.
“I do believe you,” he said at last. “Though heaven knows why.”
“Well, you’re the Corgloresti elder. It’s a class founded on faith. Even though your Estilorian memories and abilities have been suppressed while you re-learn human emotions, you retained your core characteristics.”
“So when I call you Angel, it’s not so much a nickname as a fact.”
Shaking her head, she nudged him with her elbow. “I told you we’re Estilorians, not angels.”
“What if I want to be an angel?”
“Oh, you’re no angel,” she said. He grinned wickedly, making her heart work overtime. “Angels are just one of the mythical creatures humans created based on their memories of Estilorians. When we separated the planes a couple of thousand years ago, humans documented their experiences with us in a variety of ways. Art, literature, music…you name it. In essence, we became human myths and legends.”
“Being a legend doesn’t sound so bad.” He paused, looking thoughtful. Then he asked, “And I’m how old?”
“Well, you were around before the separation of the planes.”
“It’s true,” she said, laughing at his expression. “On the Estilorian plane, you’ll look about the same age you are now, though. Maybe a few years older. Estilorians don’t age, and many of the elders are the youngest in appearance.”
“You said I’ll look different when we transition. How different?”
She was pleased by his apparent acceptance of what she’d shared with him. They had been discussing this for hours, ever since she received word that they had to return to the Estilorian plane. She knew she wouldn’t be commanded back unless something big had happened. Maybe her mother had gone into premature labor or something. Whatever the reason, she couldn’t refuse the command.
“I don’t know,” she responded. “We don’t have photographs on the Estilorian plane, and you left before I was born. I’ve never seen your Estilorian form.”
“Well that kinda sucks.”
“Why? Do you think you’ll end up looking like Brent?” She batted her eyelashes at him.
He shoved her shoulder. “Ha. You can have that blond Viking with the IQ of a sock puppet. Who needs enough muscles to lift a car, anyway?”
“Yeah.” She sighed dramatically. “Who needs ‘em?”
He rolled his eyes and swung an arm over her shoulders. She felt the taut muscles there and knew he didn’t really have a complex about Brent’s steroid-induced physique. It was Brent’s unwanted attention toward Clara Kate that had brought her and Ini-herit closer together, so he was a frequent butt of their jokes.
“But you’ll look the same?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. She’d already discussed this, but didn’t mind reviewing it if it helped ease his worry. “I’ve been able to transition between the planes without changing forms since I was three. I’m the only Estilorian who can, actually. No one knows why.”
She didn’t bother describing the uproar she’d caused the first time she did it. She barely remembered the experience. One moment she’d been sleeping in her bed at home. The next she was in a hospital on the human plane answering a million questions from the humans who found her. As a result of her impromptu transition, the protections around her homeland had been strengthened considerably.
“You’ll look similar to how you do as a human,” she explained. “Archigos Zayna, the Scultresti elder, did her best to mimic your Estilorian features in your human form to make the transition less psychologically stressful on you. Your eyes will be more silver than gray, and you’ll have a bunch of silver markings on your body from past pairings with Gloresti. And I think your hair will be longer, based on what I’ve heard.”
“Based on what you’ve heard?” he repeated. He reached over and traced the line of her jaw, causing her to shiver. “You were curious about me before you ever came here, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” she said breathlessly. His touch always did this to her. “I couldn’t wait to meet you.”
“And now that you have?”
“You’re everything I ever dreamed of and more. You know that by now. I love you, Harry.”
He leaned down and kissed her. It was every bit as potent as the first time. She reached up with her left hand and wove her fingers through the soft hair at the nape of his neck. Her tongue pressed eagerly against his as he deepened the kiss. Bliss such as she had never envisioned coursed through her.
Eventually, he pulled away from her. They both had to catch their breath. His eyes were dark with passion.
“I love you, too, Angel.”
Her heart soared. This wasn’t the first time he’d said it, but it never got old. She caressed the side of his face, enjoying the feel of stubble beneath her sensitive fingertips.
“What will we tell Mrs. B?” he asked.
She sighed. “We’ll have to tell her some form of the truth. She won’t see you again…at least, not in this form. She went through this nineteen years ago with my parents. She’ll understand.”
“I’m worried about her,” he confessed.
“I know,” she said. “Me, too.”
They’d both observed how tired their guardian seemed lately. She had told them that she was retiring once they left for college in the fall. She’d been a foster parent for nearly forty years, ever since her beloved husband, Henry, was killed in the line of duty when she was twenty-eight. She’d been unable to have her own children, so she decided to raise those kids who needed a good home. But the time had come, she said, to hang up her hat.
“She’s been going to the doctor more frequently,” he said, running his fingers through her hair. “She won’t tell me what they say.”
“We’ll get some answers after we transition,” she promised. “We have contacts in the human medical field. My friend, Quincy, will probably be coming back here soon to harvest more souls. He usually transitions after the Kynzesti are born. I’ll ask him to look into it.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Clara Kate rested her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. “We have to leave soon,” she said eventually. “Within a day or two.”
She nodded. “There’s something going on. They wouldn’t tell me what, but we’re both needed right away.”
“Yeah.” Lifting her head, she looked again at his lips, then caught his gaze. “Harry, when we transition…things might be different. We’ll both have responsibilities, and I’ll have my family around me every moment of the day. And, well…I’ve decided that I want our last bit of time here on this plane to be memorable.”
He lifted a dark brow. “Memorable?”
“Yeah.” She shifted and ran one hand slowly up his chest, following the lines of his well-toned midsection through his T-shirt. When he drew in a sharp breath, she smiled. “Memorable.”
Before he could say anything else, she rose up and turned to face him, straddling his thighs. Then she kissed him, long and deep. His hands soon began to roam, causing unbelievable flares of pleasure.
What she wanted was reckless. Foolish. Unlike anything she would normally do.
But she wouldn’t be swayed.
“I don’t—” he managed to say as she pulled away from his mouth and ran the tip of her tongue along his sensitive ear lobe. “I’m not prepared for—” he stopped again when she bit down lightly on his neck. Then she reached under his shirt, producing a tormented groan. “My wallet’s—in the house.”
“Do you want this?” she asked, pulling back so she could catch his gaze.
“Dear Lord, yes.”
“So do I. This feels right, Harry. I haven’t ever, you know, menstruated.” She blushed after that confession, but purposefully ignored it. “I can’t get preg—”
He reached up and gently touched her lips. “Thank you. I promise you, Angel…no matter what occurs when we transition to the other plane, I’ll never forget this moment. You’re everything to me. Whatever happens, we’ll always have each other.”