Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Falling Hard -- July, 2011 From Carina Press
After a life filled with tragedy, rocker Gabriel Gunn thinks he's finally getting the better of his personal demons. Then he's attacked after a concert—and rescued by a warrior goddess brandishing a sword and white wings. As hard as it is to believe in an angelic bodyguard, Gabriel must face an even more impossible truth: he carries the devil's soul within him.
Amelia has been watching over Gabriel for years, using her angelic powers to prevent Lucifer's return. Now she must also protect him from warring angel factions with their own agendas. Amelia would do anything to avert another angelic war, even sacrifice her own emotions to avoid temptation. Yet with Gabriel she feels things she no longer wants to deny, and pleasure she never imagined.
But the closer Gabriel and Amelia get, the stronger Lucifer becomes. Will Amelia be forced to kill the man she's come to love to stop the war she's always feared?
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“So what’s going on with you tonight? I thought you said you were ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“Come on, you know what I mean. Ready to start doing this again—facing the press, making appearances, being involved in all the public stuff.”
Gabriel lifted a brow and returned David’s penetrating look with what he hoped was a bored one of his own. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit. It isn’t like you to spend hours looking for some phantom groupie. If you wanted a girl, there were a hundred babes begging me to let them in to see you—and at least half of them were legal, if not completely sober.”
“You know that’s not what I want.” Mindless, faceless fucking hadn’t been part of Gabriel’s agenda for the past year. Neither had the drugs and booze. Not since Leanne’s death. “This was different. And she wasn’t a teenager. I saw her hanging around behind the stage just after the show and I think she was watching me.”
“Hell, Gabe. Everyone’s watching you all the damn time. You know that.” David paused. “You and I also know this wasn’t really about the girl—not this girl, in any case.”
Actually, for the first time in a long while his feelings hadn’t been complicated by grief, guilt, shame, anger—or some combination of them all. It really had just been about a mysterious pretty girl.
Gabriel didn’t know how to explain it, but the moment he’d locked eyes with the blonde backstage, however briefly, a current had gone through him. It was the same kind of surge he felt when he sang—an almost electrical flash of heat and awareness, a heady thrum of energy and power.
“Yeah, whatever. It doesn’t matter now.” He didn’t want to talk about this with David, didn’t want his friend to think he was slipping back into the depressive guilt that had plagued him since Leanne’s overdose. “Let’s just get the rest of this night over with.”
“Happy to.” David smiled. “My friend, as much as I dig you, I’m looking forward to seeing the end of your ugly mug for a while and going home to Lila.”
David’s wife hadn’t come on tour since their son Tony was born, and neither David nor Gabriel blamed her for staying home in Chicago, near her family. A rock band’s tour bus was no place to raise a young child—especially last year, when the band had been riding with an entourage that had always been loaded or high.
Gabriel chuckled. “I don’t think that’s going to work out quite the way you planned it, David. Especially since your lovely wife insisted I come home with you for a visit.”
David stopped at the back door, his fingers curling around the long metal bar that acted as a handle, forcing Gabriel to stop as well or run his friend down to get outside. “She what? No, you wouldn’t. You’ve got to give me at least a week alone with her first. I need time to make her remember why she continues to lust after the boring ol’ manager, and not music’s most soulful bad boy.”
Gabriel snorted. “And why should I continue to suffer with salty takeout, overpriced television porn, and the torture of my own company, when I could be enjoying the soft, sweet charms of the most amazing cook this side of the Atlantic?”
“You’re killing me, you know that?” Sighing, David pushed open the door. A bare fluorescent bulb glowed from above the exit, bathing a small circle in front of it in thin light. A blast of cool, pungent air coming up from the San Francisco Bay met them as they stepped out into the darkened alley behind the club. “Why don’t you go fu—”
A whoosh of noise.
Gabriel quickly glanced left and then right, but David reacted first and threw his body in front of him. He tried pushing them both back inside the building, but the door had already swung closed—and locked.
The car that was supposed to pick them up was indeed parked and waiting, but the windshield had been smashed and, inside, Gabriel’s long-time driver was covered in blood, his eyes held open in a sightless stare.
“Oh, God,” David moaned as he too searched the dark shadows of the car. “Oh, hell no. Gabriel. That’s Larry. He’s dead.”
One minute there was nothing but darkness and devastation, and the next a figure took shape within the shadows. A figure that rushed them both so quickly Gabriel barely had time to move.
He took a blow to the cheekbone that rocked his head back into the hard brick wall of the building. Stars exploded behind his eyes. Grunting against the pain, he blinked them away and grabbed David. He tried to shove his friend down to the dirty asphalt so they could crawl behind the car. The stubborn idiot resisted, recklessly insisting on pushing himself in front of Gabriel just as a thin beam of moonlight bounced off a razor-edged length of steel slicing toward them.
The blade whistled in the air before meeting flesh. Not his.
Gabriel yelled as David’s body slumped forward and his head hit the pavement with a hard smack.
Blood. Holy shit, immediately there was blood everywhere. On David’s clothes and face. Trickling from the corner of his mouth and spilling from the deep gash across his throat to the ground, over the glittering broken glass from the limousine’s windshield.
“Oh no, David. Ah, Jesus.” Looking up, Gabriel tried to pinpoint who had jumped them, but saw only indistinct shapes, like looking through thick lenses tinted red and black.
Lunging toward the fuzzy figure, Gabriel put himself between his friend’s body and their attacker, all the while swearing a blue streak and praying silently but desperately for David’s life. He sought to look his enemy in the eye, but the bastard wore a heavily cowled black cloak and, when combined with the shadows of the darkened alley, was having no problem keeping his face covered.
“Bastard. Show yourself, damn you,” Gabriel growled. “I’m going to fucking kill you.”
“No. You won’t.” The man’s slow, deep voice echoed. “But you are welcome to try.”
Gabriel shook his head to clear it of the unwelcome, almost musical cadence that melted into his brain like a cloud of doped-up smoke.
“Fuck you.” Gabriel gritted his teeth. Although it had been years, he’d been in enough street fights during his less-than-stellar past. His fist instinctively clenched tight and his quick, hard jab landed true.
He hit the guy again fast, before the shadowy attacker retaliated. Trouble was his fists weren’t having any measurable effect. The guy didn’t go down. Didn’t so much as flinch.
And his next shot didn’t even connect. As if he’d been toying with Gabriel up to this point, the faceless spook raised his free arm in a block and aimed the bloody sword in his other hand at Gabriel’s chest.
Just enough time to twist sharply to the right, but the blade still slid into Gabriel’s midsection. All too easily. Agony flared as the length of steel scraped his rib before passing through. He cried out when the weapon was yanked back out again, impotent rage a thick sludge that pounded in his veins.
Falling to his knees, he pressed a fist into the wound, taking ragged breaths. Pain spiked in his side, a hundred times worse than any runner’s stitch. Deep red blood had already spilled over his hand and spread across his white shirt. He couldn’t stop it. It ran down into the waistband of his jeans. He could feel it, warm and wet and sticky.
He struggled to stay upright, to protect David. Black ink spots swam in front of his eyes, but he could still see the dark figure poised over him, ready to strike another, this time final, blow.
His life’s blood flowing between his fingers, Gabriel found it hard to imagine that less than five minutes ago he’d been teasing David and making plans to spend a lazy week hanging out with him and Lila before settling in to get started on the new album.
Oh God, David.
As Gabriel’s eyelids drooped a little more, he whispered an apology, one he feared his friend couldn’t hear.
Just then a rustling sounded from somewhere close, but he couldn’t tell whether it came from in front or behind. Gabriel forced his eyes back open in time to catch sight of another figure landing between him and his attacker, as if falling from directly above.
Warmth bathed his upturned face and it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t blood splashing across his skin. A woman stood with her back to him. Blond hair fell to her shoulders. While his vision was spotty and blurred, he couldn’t mistake the bright glow that surrounded her, a visible aura of white light extending outward and enfolding him in its sphere. Awestruck, he held his breath.
She looked over her shoulder, big blue eyes examining him with a taciturn expression.
Blue eyes. Blond hair.
Gabriel’s mouth opened and closed as he fought to call out a warning, but the words came as a harsh groan of pain. Struggling through the nausea and dizziness, he reached for her, trying to grab her and pull her back, but she shrugged off his hand as if he were a nuisance getting in her way.
The last of his strength bled away. Gabriel’s final image before consciousness deserted him was of a golden warrior goddess dressed in silver armor and bathed in light, brandishing a gleaming sword in his defense as great white wings spread out from her shoulder blades—
But that was impossible…