Read Fallen Angel (Hqn) Online
Authors: Eden Bradley
Was she heaven-sent…or more heartbreak waiting to happen?
Haunted by a military mission that ended in personal tragedy, Declan Byrne still bears a soldier’s scars. As a park ranger on the secluded Mendocino coast, he guards his heart while standing ready for anything. Anything except a beautiful, ethereal woman with a mysterious past, falling from the cliffs to the rocks below.
Angel, as Declan decides to call her, has no memory of what happened. But as her body heals, disturbing dreams emerge. In Declan’s protective care, Angel feels safe to act on the undeniable passion between them, without the threats from old, unnameable demons. And, in time, she senses Declan needs her as desperately as she needs him. But when her past returns with a vengeance, Declan must decide just how much he’s willing to risk in order to keep the woman he loves safe.
Also by Eden Bradley
To Sam, thank you for putting up with my creative meltdowns and writing burnout, for talking this book through with me over and over, and for understanding that sometimes the best thing to do is to slide a plate of food in front of me and tiptoe away. Without your patience and support this book would never have been written.
Thanks to my agent, Roberta Brown,
who was just as excited about this rather strange idea
as I was. And also to my editor, Susan Swinwood,
for allowing me to stretch my writing wings.
I must thank, in no particular order, my writing friends
R. G. Alexander, K. B. Alan, Crystal Jordan, Lilli Feisty,
Jax Cassidy and Gemma Halliday for reading my proposal and chapters and giving me the encouragement I needed
to write this book, and for their cheerleading
when I was afraid I’d gone too far off track.
Thanks to James Buchanan for guidance early
about writing in the horror/suspense genres, and encouraging me to include some of those elements in my work.
A huge thank-you to fellow author
and L.A. city police officer Kathy Bennett
for sharing her knowledge of police procedure.
Many thanks to Sam and my girls, R. G. Alexander,
K. B. Alan, Rachel Jameson, Vivienne Westlake
and Sabrina Darby for support, karaoke, lunch, knowing
the value of retail therapy and always, for the cabana boy.
, obscuring the hard-packed sand as Declan Byrne took his morning walk down the rugged beach. The sun was just beginning to rise, a faint amber glow casting the first golden rays of the day, barely touching the cresting waves of the Pacific Ocean. He loved it here, loved to come when it was still nearly dark, picking his way over the craggy rocks, the piles of driftwood and seaweed, the empty sound of the thundering ocean soothing him.
Liam, his enormous black mastiff, trotted beside him, his only company. Declan preferred it that way. He reveled in the loneliness, the isolation of this place. It was a big part of why he’d come back here six years earlier. He’d needed the quiet. He’d needed to heal. Maybe he still did.
No, don’t think about her now.
Don’t think about her, period.
He turned instead to the sea, watched as Liam chased the edge of the incoming waves, sniffing, backing away as the water surged onto the sand. This was their daily ritual. How Declan got his head on straight before beginning work, before he had to interact with other people, something he’d been lousy at the past few years. He much preferred his dog, the ocean, the rough and lonely Mendocino coastline, to people.
His work as a forest ranger didn’t require much human contact. This particular job included making sure trails were cleared, keeping order in the campgrounds, the occasional lost hiker, and sometimes training new rangers. But most of the time it was just him and the forest, the lone stretches of beach and rugged cliffs that made up the national park’s coastline. Probably the biggest reason why he’d taken the job. That, and something about his father having worked in this area as a ranger most of his life, up until he’d retired a couple of years ago.
Following in the old man’s footsteps, no matter how he felt about him. But this place was home to him. His gruff father was home to him, even though they’d barely spoken since his mother died.
Don’t think about that, either.
The sun was coming up fast, warming the damp air as he and Liam climbed over the rocks to the next crescent of sand. Declan stopped and looked out to sea, tracking the rising sun, the surge of the gray-and-green water, and felt that brief moment of peace he sought each day. He breathed in the sharp salt air, filling his lungs. Watched as a lone gull flew in low over the water on silent wings, skimming the surface beyond the waves. Peace here, yes. He didn’t want to stop to consider why he needed it so desperately.
A hard thump sounded behind him; shocking, how loud it was, how it made the ground shake. Declan spun around, his heart hammering while Liam went off, barking like crazy.
A woman lying on the sand before him. He nearly tripped over her in the half light, had to dig his heels into the rocky beach to steady himself. The crashing of the cold surf faded into the background as he tried to grasp what he was seeing. Liam had stopped barking and was sniffing her limp body, his huge black head dwarfing her.
He grabbed for the mastiff’s collar. “Liam, off!”
What the hell?
She was naked, bleeding, one leg caught on the rocks, twisted at an impossible angle. His brain shifted into high gear as he bent over her, adrenaline swamping his veins in a hot, speedy current.
Where the hell had she come from? He looked up, peering through the pale light, his gaze wandering up the ragged cliff side, but he saw nothing, no one.
“Jesus,” he muttered as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.
As the phone rang his gaze roamed her body, trying to assess the damage in the diffused light of the rising sun. Pale, wavy blond hair down to her knees. There were strange symbols painted all over her: her stomach, her thighs, across her bare breasts. They were lush and round, he couldn’t help but notice, then cursed himself. The woman was half-dead, for God’s sake. He leaned in closer, trying to hear her breathing. He didn’t want to touch her. No, he
to touch her. He didn’t dare.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
There. A small, gasping breath rattling in her chest.
An operator finally answered the phone, and he quickly told the man who he was, gave him details, his location.
He hung up to wait for the rescue team, finally dared to reach out and lay his fingertips on her wrist to check her pulse. Bones like a bird, isn’t that what the saying was? She was so delicate…
She was alive, her breath shallow, but she was taking one after another. There was blood everywhere; he could smell it even over the tangy ocean scent in the air, but beneath the mess he could see a lovely, angelic face. Hard to tell how old she was. Early twenties? Closer inspection showed him bits of twigs—herbs, maybe?—and small bones woven into her hair. On her upturned palms were pentagrams painted in red.
Who the fuck would have done something like this?
Liam was standing next to him, over the girl, peering into her face as though he were trying to figure it out, too.
Declan had never seen anything like it. He never wanted to again.
He fought back the sense of horror that made bile rise, made his throat want to close up.
So much blood…
He pulled off his jacket and covered her, glad it was spring and, although the beach was damp, it wasn’t too cold. He had no idea what else he could do for her. He waited, his pulse racing, his jaw grinding hard. And no matter how he fought against it, his mind began to fill with memories, flashing images he couldn’t seem to forget.
The heat of Bahrain, the dry, acrid desert scent he’d never smelled anywhere else in the world. He hated that scent. Hated the Middle East. But it was his job to be there.
It was your job to protect them.
Yeah, great job he’d done. The girl was dead and he was mind-fucked for the rest of his life.
His jaw clenched so hard it hurt.
And now this girl.
He reached out and touched his fingertips to her cool cheek, then pulled back, feeling like some kind of asshole for touching her. Some kind of pervert. But he hadn’t been able to help himself. She hadn’t stirred. He knew enough to realize she would probably die. Who could survive a fall like that? Those cliffs had to be a good fifty, sixty feet high. Her lungs must be compressed, other internal injuries, he was certain. Sadness tied his gut into a knot.
Who was she? What had happened to her? Someone had pushed her off that cliff. Had done some pretty weird shit to her before that, by the look of it. No one could have done this to themselves. Could they?
Where the fuck was the damn rescue team?
He breathed deeply trying to calm himself.
Liam whined and Declan focused once more on the girl’s still figure, her solemn face. He knelt beside her, the damp sand soaking through the knees of his jeans. She was so broken.
He rubbed a hand over his jaw, his fingers automatically finding the ridge of the old scar there. He didn’t need this. This…trauma. This horrible sight.
He watched as she drew a rattling sigh into her damaged lungs.
She didn’t need it, either.
Liam hadn’t taken his eyes off her. Well, neither could he, for more than a few moments. Unbelievably flawless face. If it weren’t for the blood matting her hair, the cuts all over her skin, she would almost look as if she were asleep. He reached out and touched her cheek once more. Like cool satin under his fingers.
What was he thinking?
He forced his brain to shut down, to let the thunder of the ocean drown out all thought, and waited.
* * *
. Breathless. Why couldn’t she breathe? She was falling through the dark. Alone. The wind whistled by her, whipping her hair against her cheeks, stinging her skin.
not flying. She had some idea of what that meant. But alone? She couldn’t bear that. Where was he?
Silence, but for the sound of the wind and her own heart beating faintly. Tears stung her eyes.
Had she failed again? The Grandmother would be so disappointed. She had lived for this moment. They both had. And this was the fourth attempt. Her last chance.
Her heart was a hammer in her chest, a wild thunder carrying pure, stark panic. She couldn’t stand this sense of being utterly alone, even though she’d spent most of her life by herself, other than The Grandmother. And
She tried once more. “Asmodeus!”
She felt him before she saw him. He was with her, the heat of him radiating like a shield. He was glorious, as always, gleaming in the dark as though he were made of light. His hair so pale it shimmered like transparent strands of the finest silk around his shoulders. His skin was golden and shining, a hard shell around his massive body. Exoskeletal. Beautiful. Perfect. And his eyes, black as midnight, black as coal, and hotter than any fire could possibly burn. Just black, no pupils, so that she never knew what he might be thinking. She could feel the heat on her naked flesh.
Her teacher. Her lover. Her enemy.
He shimmered before her, his lush mouth curving into a welcoming smile. Or perhaps it was a mocking smile. It was impossible to tell with him. Her body surged with yearning, the same yearning she had felt in his presence since she’d first seen him. How long ago had that been? She’d just reached puberty when The Grandmother had shown Asmodeus to her. And she had loved and feared him, craved his touch, the timbre of his deep voice, ever since.
Light shone through the darkness behind her eyelids, and he faded away, the flame that was his presence, his essence, dimming. Her eyes burned as she tried to pry them open.
Sunlight. Pale, gray, but cutting through the dark. A shadow moved over her.
His head was enormous, his black fur shining. His eyes were two dark orbs, glittering with a knowing intelligence. Not as dark as Asmodeus’s eyes. Not as bottomless. But the pupils were large. His gaze seemed almost soft to her, not what she’d expected. She wanted to reach out, to ask for entrance, but her arm wouldn’t obey her brain.
I am failing.
That dark head moved in closer, until she could feel the heat of his breath. And in the distance was a dull roar that she understood was the sea, waves hammering on a shore. Was that salt she smelled? Water on her skin? She was so cold…
She let her eyes close, dared to hope…and fell, once more, into the darkness.
The darkness was illuminated by his golden body. He was naked, as she was, his body flawless in only the way that of a fallen god could be. They were always naked together. Desire pulsed in her system, even through the haze of pain.
“My beauty.” His voice was deep, as deep as the darkest caves beneath the ocean floor. She had read about such things.
He reached for her, but didn’t touch her. He never did.
Instead, he ran his long fingers up the length of his always erect cock, his fingertips feathering against the solid shaft. He sighed, his expression never changing as his tongue darted out to lick his beautiful lips. Her breasts ached, needing to be touched. But she held her arms where they were, wrapped around her body. Even her need couldn’t overcome her fear, her sense of desolate desperation.
“I thought I’d made it,” she told him, her voice shaking. She was so tired. “I saw Cerberus at the Gates. I swear I did.”
“No.” His face was somber.
Her heart seized in her chest. Pain again.
“I did, I swear it!”
He shook his head.
She knew he was right.
“What happens now?” she asked. “This was my last turn. If I’ve been rejected again, what happens now?”
“That does not concern me. I have served my purpose. It was up to you to serve yours.”
“Will I be here forever, then? With you?” She wiped at a strand of her hair, caught against her mouth by the wind. The idea was frightening. But at least he was familiar to her, her demon lover. And she wanted him, as always.
“I would keep you with me for eternity. But it is up to you. Choose. Choose to stay and fall with me. Or choose to go.”
“Go? But I wouldn’t see you again! Is that true? You’re…all I have left. I love you.”
“I love you, in my way. Do you understand?”
“I understand that you are greater than I can ever be. That your love is precious.”
“Yes. But you were not created for me. Nor were you trained for me. I have been nothing more than a catalyst.”
“You have been the most important thing in my life. You and The Grandmother. And I won’t return to her now, will I?”
She remembered the pungent fragrance of herbs drying in The Grandmother’s kitchen, the sweet air of the high, walled garden that was her one haven. She remembered The Grandmother’s silent, stony presence in the evenings as they sat by the fire, reading or sewing. Her lined face, ancient and weary, the beady gray eyes, as sharp as a steel blade and twice as cruel, yet familiar. As familiar and cruel as her hands could be, her hard, ancient voice. Cruel and cold, yet her heart twisted. Ached. She knew what the answer would be.
“No. She is done with you.”
“Does that mean you are, as well? How do I choose if I don’t know what I’m choosing?”
“Every choice is a risk.”
“Please, Asmodeus… Tell me what you mean. Tell me what to do.”
He remained silent for several moments. Then, “Choose.”
His face grew cold, hard. Her pulse throbbed with fear. With desire. With life. She chose.
* * *
he sat and stared at her before Liam went off again, and he saw the rescue team making its way down the treacherous path that led to the far end of the beach. Endless moments as he waited for them to run down the narrow strip of sand, while he felt some odd twisting in his gut about handing the girl over to them.