Deadly PassionBy: Amanda Pillar
HEAVEN’S HEART, BOOK ONE
To Kel. Thanks for everything.
Six months ago…
Shouts and screams emerged from the Inner Sanctum as people poured through the gold-veined marble hallways, their movements frantic. Azrael stood motionless, his silver-kissed wings held high off the ground as other angels surged past him on a wave of panic.
“We’ve been invaded!”
“Heaven is doomed!”
What is going on?
This chaos could not be supported. Not here, in one of the most holy areas of the Celestial City. Angels did not act like pathetic humans when confronted with discord.
Centuries of military training kicked in.
“Stop!” His shout thundered through the hall.
Silence descended, but for the sound of rustling feathers.
A youngster had tripped over close by, his blue robe hanging askew from a shoulder, pure white wings dragging on the ground. Shock was stamped indelibly on the boy’s face. As Azrael helped him up, he met the lad’s wild, pale green eyes with a stern gaze. “Tidy yourself up. And lift your wings.”
Pink bloomed in the youth’s cheeks as he obeyed.
Angelic faces taut with stress turned toward Azrael from every angle. He kept his posture relaxed, but hardened his expression so they could see his disdain for their behavior. “Return to your rooms in an orderly fashion. This is no place for strife.”
One of the women stepped forward, her crystalline blue eyes awash with tears, her impossibly beautiful face smeared with soot. “But, Lord Azrael—”
Gentling his voice, he murmured, “I will go and see what has happened. You do not need to worry.”
Surely it couldn’t be as bad as these worshippers thought.
Cowed, the angels walked on past him at a more sedate pace, disappearing around a corner. But the tension hadn’t left them, fear and anger marring their ethereally lovely expressions.
Azrael remained still, hands clasped before his belt, until the last glimpse of white wings had vanished. Not a thread of silver, gold or bronze had been visible in the plumage—every last angel had been a pilgrim.
He headed toward the Inner Sanctum, where two of his squadron, Dina and Zadkiel, had been stationed. Surely, if there had been such a breach, he would have heard from them—his unit had worked together for so long that they could generate mental connections with ease. Convinced the disturbance was nothing more than a minor infraction, he came to a sudden halt when he reached the large hall.
The room comprised an open chamber lined with soaring, cloud-colored columns, which drew the eye to a squat building in the middle of the expanse. It had the appearance of a human mausoleum, with delicate stonework and a recessed door.
Normally the hall was pristine. Now, the doorway to one of Heaven’s most treasured artifacts had been destroyed, scorch marks scarring the walls. Tendrils of gray smoke swirled lazily through the air, and silver-flecked, ash-stained feathers wafted in the eddies, some splattered with crimson. The scent of blood, potent and iron-rich, hit him like a punch to the gut.
Hurrying forward, he scanned the hall. Usually filled with a steady stream of worshippers, and guarded continually by members of his squadron, the Darts, it was now eerily devoid of people.
At the door to the sanctum, he paused. A gold bracelet lay on the ground, its delicate and expertly fashioned links broken; the small, rose-shaped diamond in its center glittered against the blood-and-feather speckled floor.
As he squatted to pick up the piece of jewelry, he called out with his mind to the others in his squadron.
Come to the sanctum, now.
Three replied at once—Seraphina, Raziel and Yael.
Two didn’t reply at all—Dina and Zadkiel.
Gripping the bracelet in his hand, he rose to his full height, turning to face the Inner Sanctum. He’d never seen inside before, despite the fact that he’d guarded the place for the last century. What lay within was one of their most valued artifacts, and could only be viewed by the worthiest of worthy, with access decreed by the archangels.
He sensed the others in his squadron approaching: fierce Seraphina, thoughtful Yael and intense Raziel, their second in-command.