Exodus stepped from
his cabin and climbed behind the wheel of his shiny black Jeep. He didn’t need
the vehicle to get where he wanted to go, but he couldn’t simply appear out of
thin air in the middle of Hazel’s Diner either.
He inserted the key in
the ignition, loving the feel of the power vibrating beneath him as the engine
sparked to life.
Humans were amazing
creatures, with their cool inventions and mouth-watering foods, he thought,
putting the Jeep in gear and easing out of his driveway. Yet, they weren’t
immortal. Their lives were a mere blip on the radar of time…and then they died.
Of course, some of
them were destined to have wings in the afterlife. Some…but not all.
If they had any idea
an angel lived in their midst, there would be hell to pay for Exodus. Not
everyone believed in angels, and the few that actually did would likely fear
Exodus thought about
the billions of humans walking the face of the Earth, with their thousands of
different religions and beliefs. Most of them rarely prayed anymore, and when
they did, it was usually when someone became sick.
“And where might you
be going on this fine Saturday morning?”
Exodus didn’t need to
look to know who had appeared in the seat next to him. He would recognize the
voice of Leviticus anywhere. “Hello, Levi. You do realize you’re going to get
caught one of these days, showing up here as you do? This is the third time
you’ve been here this month.”
“Keeping count, are
we?” The other angel lifted his hand to study his fingernails. “I only came to
warn you of Delia’s presence in the area.”
Stepping on the brake,
Exodus brought the Jeep to a stop and cranked his head in Levi’s direction.
“Delia’s here in Helen?”
“Not in Helen, per se,
but she is definitely on Earth. And I’d be willing to wager that she’ll be
heading this way as soon as she has her ducks in a proverbial row.”
Exodus turned his head
to stare at the mountains in the distance, his stomach tight with anger. “When
was she released?”
“A little over a week
“Of course she would
be released near the time I’m due to be judged.” Exodus kept his gaze on those
mountains. “Well, if she shows up here, I’ll send her back to Hell without her
pretty little head.”
Exodus had been forced to spend a thousand
years on Earth for his sins— sins that Delia had tempted him into. She’d
seduced him with her beauty and charm. And like an idiot, he’d fallen for her,
taking her to his bed without a thought for the consequences.
fornication had been discovered soon thereafter, and he was cast from Heaven.
He’d been sent to Earth for a thousand years, where he would then be judged to
determine his eternal fate. He would either return to paradise completely
forgiven, or he would spend eternity in Hell alongside Delia.
Delia, of course, had
been ordered back to Hell from whence she’d come, to be chained there for a
“Why has Delia been
released?” Exodus met Levi’s gaze. “I mean, I have less than a month left until
I am to be judged. She was sentenced the same amount of time as me.”
“My guess is she most likely bargained her way to freedom. Probably with the
promise of bringing ole Lucy your soul. You are one heck of a prize, you
Exodus shook his head.
“It makes no sense. Why now? Why not a year ago? She’s cuttin’ it kind of
close, isn’t she? And Lucifer will never get my soul.”
“I hear you, but we
are talking about Delia. If she can tempt you to fall while you are still on
Earth, perhaps she feels that you would be sentenced to Hell and she would win
her freedom by being the one to make that happen.”
repeated, his stomach clenching. “I have remained celibate for nearly a
millennium. And in that time, I have seen more change than I care to remember.
But I have yet to be tempted. No matter how beautiful they are or how alluring,
no one has come close to crawling into my bed. Nor will they.”
Levi touched him on
the shoulder. “Lust is a powerful emotion, X. Especially when fueled by the
powers of Hell. Delia has had nearly a thousand years to plan your demise. Just
be on your guard.”
Nausea rolled through
Exodus. He couldn’t imagine what Delia had in store for him. She’d already
caused him to fall from grace, to be cast out. “You’d better get back before
you are missed, my friend. Else you might find yourself building a cabin next
to mine on this mountain.”
“Not a chance.” Levi
chuckled a second before he vanished from view.
Niki Stanton stared up
in dismay at Randal Johnson, the main cook at Hazel’s Diner. “What do you mean
the refrigerator is out?”
Randal shrugged a
beefy shoulder. “I mean it ain’t workin’. As in, it’s tore up.”
starting to come in.” Niki’s voice grew in volume with the panic that began to
set in. “The refrigerator can’t be broken.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I
know it’s not what you wanted to hear first thing this mornin’, but it ain’t
the end of the world. I put a call in to Carl up at Dover’s Appliances. He’ll
be down here directly. He already knows what the problem is, seeing how he’s fixed
it a bunch of times before. That fridge should have been replaced years ago.”
Niki pushed her
glasses up on her nose. “I’ll go turn the Closed sign on and let the customers
that have recently arrived know we won’t be feeding them today.”
Randal’s eyes grew
round in surprise. “There ain’t no need in doing all that, ma’am. The food is
still cold. My guess is that the fridge went out about an hour before I got
here. If Carl can get it up and running fairly soon, we probably won’t lose
anything in it.”
A spark of hope
flickered to life inside Niki. “I pray so, Randal. I really do.”
“I told your granny a
few years ago that we needed a new fridge,” Randal confessed. “But she was
bound and determined to hang on to this old thing.” He jerked his thumb in the
direction of the double-glass-door cooling unit. “I reckon she couldn’t really
afford to get a new one.”
Niki could relate. She
couldn’t afford a new one either. “Yes, well let me know when Carl arrives. I’m
going to run upstairs for a few minutes and take my medications.”
Worry sparked to life
in Randal’s eyes. “You okay, ma’am?”
“I’m fine,” Niki
hedged, glancing away from the pity she saw swimming in his gaze.
Everyone that worked
at Hazel’s seemed to be privy to Niki’s health problems. Hazel had never made
it a secret that her only granddaughter suffered from a debilitating heart
condition known as Atrial Septal Defect. Though it was fixable in some, Niki
hadn’t had such luck.
Niki had never been
allowed to play like other children, and she’d struggled through school due to
the numerous days she missed after her open-heart surgery.
She’d suffered another
heart surgery during her senior year in high school. The long pink scar down
her chest was a constant reminder of how close she’d come to losing her life.
“All right,” Randal
murmured, turning back to flip the sausage patties on the grill. “If you need
anything, just give a holler. I’ll let you know when Carl gets here.”
Niki nodded her thanks
and left the kitchen through the back door. She gripped the railing to the
stairs that led to her apartment above the diner and slowly ascended them.
She found herself
stopping about halfway up to catch her breath. Dizziness overtook her, and
spots began to dance through her vision.
Squeezing her eyes
shut, Niki leaned heavily against the railing, holding tightly to the
“Are you all right,
The deep voice coming
from the bottom of the stairs could barely be heard over the rapid pulse
pounding in Niki’s ears.
She attempted to
answer, but her mouth didn’t seem to work. Her knees grew weaker the longer she
stood there fighting to breathe, until they eventually buckled beneath her.
Niki cried out as her
hands slipped helplessly from the railing and her body began to topple over
I’m going to die, she
thought in panic, unable to stop the inevitable catastrophe.
Strong arms came
around her, sweeping her off her feet and holding her tight.
“Easy there, little
one. I’ve got you.”
That deep voice again.
As much as Niki wanted to lift her head and thank the stranger for his quick
intervention, she couldn’t seem to do so.
“Do you live up here?”
Niki nodded against
his chest, unable to do much else. “I have…a…dog.”
Warmth and muscle
moved beneath her cheek where she rested against his shoulder. Even in her
weakened state, Niki couldn’t help but notice how clean the man smelled.
“Shhhhh,” the man
responded as if he weren’t the least bit concerned about the threat of a dog.
“It’ll be okay.”
The sound of her
apartment door creaking open reached her ears a moment before her savior
stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him.
She could hear his
shoes trailing across her hardwood floor, yet no barking from her dog ensued.
That’s odd, Niki thought,
swallowing back a bout of nausea. Why wasn’t Lucky going berserk over the
stranger in her home?
And then her body
slowly descended until the soft mattress of her bed touched her back.
“Where is your phone?
I’ll call 911.”
“No,” Niki moaned,
nausea still rolling through her gut. “My pills…medicine cabinet…bathroom…”
Over the sound of her
rapid heartbeat, she could hear the man hurrying across the room.
He was back in less
than a minute. “I wasn’t sure which ones you needed, so I grabbed them all.” He
eased his arm behind her neck and gently lifted her head from the pillow.
“Here, have some water.”
The cool temperature
of the water made some of Niki’s nausea ebb. She reached for her pills.
“I’ll get them,” the
stranger rumbled, removing his arm and propping some pillows behind her head.
“Tell me which ones.”
Niki swallowed, taking
deep, calming breaths. Breathing techniques had always worked to hold back the
She somehow managed to
instruct the man on proper dosages, accepted the pills he handed her, and then
washed them down with the water she held.
He took the glass from
her fingers and placed it on the nightstand. “Are you sure you don’t want me to
call an ambulance?”
Niki shook her head,
forcing her eyes open a crack. There, sitting on the side of her bed was the
most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her lifetime. And Lucky sat near his
feet, calm and relaxed like he’d known the man all his life.
“No,” she croaked,
instantly embarrassed to be caught in such a state by someone as perfect as the
man perched next to her.
Not only was she sick
and weak, but her hair was twisted on top of her head, and her forehead had
broken out into a sweat with the presence of the nausea. “I just need a
“Are you sure? You
look awfully pale.”
A knock sounded on the
door before Niki could form a response.
Her beautiful savior
lifted his eyebrows in question. “Want me to get that?”
Niki wanted to tell
him no, but she couldn’t. Randal had put in a call to Carl, and he was due to
arrive at any moment. “Please,” was all she said.
The man got up,
sauntered toward the door with Lucky tight on his heels, and opened the door.
Ellen Martin’s voice
floated into the room, full of surprise and more than a little flirtation.
“Well, hello, Mr. Brooks. What are you doing up here?”
Lucky growled low in
“Oh goodness,” Ellen
gasped. “Does that thing bite?”
The deep voice of
Niki’s savior reverberated throughout the room. “I’m not sure, Miss Martin. May
I help you with something?”
It wasn’t lost on Niki
that Ellen knew the tall man’s name or that he knew hers as well. Of course, it
wasn’t surprising. Ellen was a beautiful girl, after all. A bit too flirtatious
in Niki’s opinion, but beautiful nonetheless.
Where Niki had brown
curly hair, green eyes, and a stick-thin body, Ellen had platinum-blonde hair,
luminous blue eyes, and a figure any woman would envy.
On more than one
occasion, Niki had heard the blonde bragging about being homecoming queen, prom
queen, and winning several pageants, including Miss Helen two years in a row.
Niki had never even
attended a prom. Not that she wouldn’t have loved to, but no one had asked her.
She couldn’t blame them, really. She’d been sickly all through school and spent
most of her senior year being tutored at home due to her second open-heart
Ellen cleared her
throat, bringing Niki out of her musing. “I just came to let Miss Stanton know
that Carl is here to fix the refrigerator. And he ain’t one for waiting.”
Niki took another
drink of the water, then set the glass on her nightstand, eased her feet over
the side of the bed, and glanced in Ellen’s direction. “Tell Carl that I’ll be
Ellen nodded, quickly
dismissed Niki, and smiled up at Mr. Brooks. “Will you be eating with us this
“We’ll see,” he
murmured, closing the door without further explanation.
He then turned to face
Niki. “Perhaps you shouldn’t get up so soon. You nearly took a spill down the
stairs a few minutes ago.”
More than a little
embarrassed that he’d witnessed her near-fall, Niki adjusted her glasses and
pushed to her feet. “I’ll be fine in a moment. Dizzy spells are nothing new to
Speaking of dizzy
spells, another one washed over her just then, forcing her to grab on to the
headboard for support.
Mr. Brooks was
instantly at her side. “Easy there, Miss Stanton. Maybe you should lie back
down. The refrigerator can wait.”
“It can’t wait. And
please call me Niki.” Where had that come from?
gaze softened. “Okay, Niki. My name is Exodus, but my friends call me X.”
Niki blinked. “Exodus,
as in the biblical Exodus?”
His lips twitched. “I
get that a lot. Which is why I prefer to be called X.”
“Yeah, like that has less
His mouth broke into a
full-on smile, nearly buckling Niki’s knees. If she thought him beautiful
before, he was downright breathtaking when he smiled. And that wonderful scent
she’d noticed when he’d carried her reached her nose once again. God, but he
His dark brown hair
was pulled back into a ponytail at the base of his neck. Even with the shades
pulled in her apartment, Niki could see the auburn streaks running through its
Her gaze lowered to
the black T-shirt stretched across his muscular chest and further still to his
faded jeans and shit-kicker boots before returning to his whiskey-colored eyes.
“Thank you for your help, X. I don’t know what I would’ve done had you not
shown up when you did.”
Then a thought struck
her. “What were you doing behind the diner?”
He shrugged a broad
shoulder. “I normally park around back. It’s a lot less congested on that side
of the building. Especially in the mornings.”
“Makes sense.” She
could feel her heart rate slowing to normal as the medication began to kick in.
“I appreciate your help, Mister—”
“Yes, well, I
appreciate everything, X, but my medication is beginning to work. I can take it
His eyes twinkled.
“Are you throwing me out?”
“I guess I am,” Niki
returned with a nervous chuckle. “There’s only one man in town that can fix
that refrigerator, and that’s Carl. If he leaves before I get down there, I’m
up the creek without a paddle.”
X nodded and moved
toward the door. “I don’t mind waiting. I feel like I should at least walk you
If there was one thing
Niki hated more than anything in the world, it was pity. She’d dealt with
people feeling sorry for her her entire life. “I can manage,” she shot back a
bit stiffer than she’d intended.
His head tilted
slightly, and a strange look skated across his face. “If you’re sure.”
“Very well then.” He
departed without another word.
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