All That Falls
An Etherlin Novel
She should never have touched his blood…
The Etherlin muses have long served as a source of divine inspiration.
Now their world stands between the forces of Heaven and Hell.
As his muse, Cerise propelled her musician boyfriend to the heights of fame, but when he died under mysterious circumstances her powers vanished. Now she’s plagued by disturbing half-formed memories of his final night…until she meets Lysander who seems to hold the key to restoring her memories and abilities.
Fallen archangel Lysander is consumed by his quest for redemption until it leads him to the captivating Cerise. Now his thirst for revenge is rivaled only by his passion for the woman he can’t resist.
Bound by blood and stalked by a deadly enemy, will they pay the ultimate price for succumbing to their passion?
Read an Excerpt
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Cerise thought, running a hand through her black cherry waves to smooth them into place. The famous “good intentions” quote seemed especially true in the Etherlin, the claustrophobic utopia where the most powerful descendants of the ancient muses had lived for three generations.
Tonight the muses were in a newly opened retreat center that was supposed to be a place of refuge and refl ection, a place for the muses to come together. Instead the retreat had been tainted by crime, and the muses stood divided.
“Why the hell are all the lights on?” Cerise mumbled, looking around the lounge where the four Etherlin muses had been gathered along with a pair of ES—Etherlin Security—officers and Ileana Rella’s brother, Troy. Only Cerise and Ileana were left in the room.
Ileana’s coarse black hair stood on end, having overcome the restraint of the gel and hair spray that had been used to tame it for the day’s photo shoots. Her rose-print pajamas strained as she propped herself up. Ileana was in her late thirties, but looked younger without makeup.
“And where is everyone?” she asked, her thick sculpted brows bobbing. Ileana scowled when she looked at the empty recliner where her brother had been sleeping. “Troy left without saying anything?”
“He probably didn’t want to wake us,” Cerise said, pulling her black tank top down over her velour track pants. She slid her feet into velvet ballet fl ats that doubled as slippers. “Hopefully he’s with Dorie,” she said, her gaze stopping momentarily at the covers heaped on the temporary mattress where her younger sister had been lying when Cerise had fallen asleep. She wondered if Dorie had gone looking for trouble . . . or to cause it.
“I’ll be back,” Cerise said, crossing the room and walking out of the lounge.
Striding down the retreat center’s deserted hallway, she caught glimpses of the shimmering snow outside. The retreat was on a mountaintop with stunning panoramic views. It was remote and even more isolated than the rest of the Etherlin, which was famous for its impassable walls. Unfortunately, tonight the walls had apparently been breached.
Alissa, arguably the most celebrated of the modern muses, had brought a private bodyguard into the retreat center, and Etherlin Security suspected the man of being a ventala—a human-vampire half-breed—in disguise. The bodyguard, who was thought to be concealing his identity using a magical glamour, wasn’t just any ventala; he was presumed to be the most infamous ventala in the world, Merrick, a deadly syndicate enforcer.
Part of the reason the bodyguard had come under suspicion was that Cerise’s sixteen-year-old sister Dorie had accused the man of attacking her. Alissa swore that Dorie was lying. As much as Cerise wanted to believe that her sister would never lie about something so serious, Dorie’s story didn’t quite ring true. Cerise hoped for Alissa’s sake that the bodyguard didn’t turn out to be a ventala, because if he was, ES would surely kill him.
A thumping sound drew Cerise to the door of an interrogation room. Was Alissa’s father Richard North trapped inside?
An ES officer wouldn’t have let him bang on the door, which made Cerise wonder if he’d been left alone. She scowled. The man wasn’t well. He shouldn’t have been locked in a room on his own.
She felt a pang of sympathy for Alissa, who’d had to carry the burden of her dad’s mental illness alone. As Cerise tried to pry the door open, she made a silent vow to be a closer friendto Alissa in the future, especially if the bodyguard, whom Alissa seemed attached to, turned out to be Merrick.
How could Alissa have gotten involved with a ventala? She was usually so smart and careful in her decisions. It just didn’t make sense for her to get entangled with a member of the fallen, who were known to be violent and unpredictable. All the muses had been taught from childhood to be wary of the ventala.
Of course five years earlier, Merrick had slain a demon in the Etherlin. When Alissa had met him that night, Cerise supposed Merrick must have looked like a conquering hero. He’d undoubtedly been gorgeous and charming. Trouble often came in attractive packages. That’s the way life was. Some things started off too wonderful to resist then morphed into something else. Like the Etherlin. Like Cerise’s relationship with Griffin Lane.
Cerise’s throat tightened. Don’t go there. Don’t think about Griffin, she thought.
The banging on the door quieted. Was Richard getting tired? Cerise jabbed the keypad’s buttons in frustration. Why wasn’t ES answering?
“Hello,” a man’s voice behind Cerise said, making her jump.
She scowled. “Damn, you scared—”
As she turned her head toward him, the words died on her tongue. She had to look up to see his face, which almost never happened. Dark blond hair spilled over broad shoulders. His bare chest was scarred, but wicked beautiful. Incredibly, inexplicably, the light seemed to fracture around him, as though he were made of crystal instead of flesh.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“I’m not available for conversation. I’m looking for my friend.”
She cocked a brow.
A slow smile curved his lips. “You smell like oranges.” He took a step back, pushing the hair away from his heartbreaking face, then he frowned and shook his head. “Which is actually an unwanted distraction.” For a moment, he lapsed into a language so ancient, she couldn’t translate fast enough to follow what he said. Returning to English, he managed, “My friend Merrick might be with a muse named Alissa.”
Of course, he’s beautiful. He’s one of them, she thought furiously. She didn’t even have a weapon to defend herself. “So you’re Merrick’s friend, huh? It’s illegal for ventala to be in the
Etherlin. It carries a death sentence. Did you know?”
He shook his head. “Laws made by men are—”
She lunged and grabbed the knife sheathed at his hip. He caught her wrist and launched himself forward, slamming her against the wall and pinning her body with his.
“Get off me,” she said, shoving his shoulder with her free hand.
“You’re strong and soft,” he murmured, staring at her mouth. “An unusual combination—which I don’t have time to contemplate.” He grabbed her left wrist and forced it up against the wall so both her arms were pinned over her head.
“Let go,” she snapped, trying to knock him off balance.
When her forehead banged against his chin, he jerked his head back and then spun her body so she faced the wall and was crushed between it and him.
His cool breath blew against her ear, matching her own ragged breathing.
“You smell too good to be part demon, so you’re not my sworn enemy. Calm yourself,” he said.
She was still for a moment, waiting for her chance to throw him off, but his muscles never relaxed. She exhaled hard, frustration thrumming through her.
“You attacked me without cause,” he said. “You should ask my forgiveness.”
“You can kiss my ass.”
His knee rose to nudge her butt. “Be careful what you demand. Someone may accommodate your request.”
“You son-of-a-bitch!” she snapped, whipping her head back to slam it against his face. A moment later she was free, and she spun to face him. He was several feet away, rubbing the swollen corner of his mouth.
“I don’t have time to teach you a lesson, but your ferocity deserves one.”
He smiled, and she hated that it had a devastating impact on the part of her that noticed beautiful things.
“You don’t own the world,” he said. “I trespass where I please.” He turned. “Now I need to find my friend before he gets himself killed.” He sprinted down the hall in a blur of speed that left her breathless.
Who the hell was that? she wondered.
Despite the scandal that had rocked the Etherlin six weeks earlier when Alissa left the new retreat center with a cold-blooded ventala assassin, the Etherlin Council was determined to pretend that life in the Etherlin was perfect and unchanged. To that end, they were throwing a lavish party. Cerise would have skipped it, except that it was being held at her house. Her father, the Etherlin Council president, was the host. With her mother out of town, Cerise was the de facto hostess and was doing her duty by smiling on cue until she saw the text message from Jersey Lane.
The message made Cerise freeze as if she’d been doused in slush. The sounds of the party receded as she stared down at her phone.
Can’t face people after last night. Plz don’t blame yourself for not being able to help, Cerise. I can’t keep it together without Griff either.
Cerise exhaled through pursed lips, chilled as if it weren’t late spring. Two of Cerise’s secrets were thinly veiled in Jersey’s message, but seeing them displayed wasn’t what concerned Cerise most.
Cerise slipped the phone into the pocket of her gunmetal gray silk pants as she glanced around. She forced a smile when she made eye contact with friends, but her gaze didn’t linger. She searched until she spotted Hayden Lane slouched against the wall. He was laid-back and shy, unusual for a rock star, but he’d been poured from the same mold as his older brother, Griffin. Pain skewered Cerise’s chest and tightened her throat.
His name alone could still ambush her. But this wasn’t the place to get emotional about Griffin, and it defi nitely wasn’t the time.
Cerise tipped her chin up a fraction as if daring fate to sock it again. She strode across the room, weaving through people and reaching Hayden a few moments after Dorie did.
Dorie’s new nose and pencil-thin brows had transformed her cute face into something vaguely plastic. Her hips, however, continued to betray her despite a diet completely devoid of everything that tasted remotely decent. If their parents let Dorie get body-sculpting liposuction as a teenager, Cerise would be sick. Of course, the blame wouldn’t rest solely on their shoulders. One of Cerise’s assistants had described Dorie as a Machiavelli princess in the making. Cerise had fired him, but later there’d been moments…
Cerise could understand lying to steal a little freedom. All the muses did that from time to time. But lying to hurt another muse? Ever since seeing evidence of that at the retreat center, Cerise hadn’t felt the same about Dorie. And Dorie, who seemed to sense it, had been trying too hard. Tonight though, Dorie glued herself to Hayden, which gave Cerise a bit of peace. But also didn’t. Hayden had already been through a lot.
“Hayden, I got a text from Jersey. She’s not coming,” Cerise said.
“What happened last night?” Cerise asked. Hayden shuffled his feet. “All week she kept forgetting lyrics in rehearsals so she was a nervous wreck last night. She decided to have a drink to calm down, but on an empty stomach…”
Cerise grimaced. Already petite, Jersey had lost weight since Griffi n’s death and was probably all of ninety pounds at the moment.
“She got wasted off two vodka cranberries,” Hayden said, frowning. “She slurred her way through “Sympathy” and went word salad on “Burn It Down.” I jumped in even though I don’t have the voice to do it. People were pissed. They started yelling for her to get offstage.” He shrugged lean shoulders. “She did.”
“It hasn’t even been a year since Griffi n died,” Cerise whispered.
“I know, but drunk people get annoyed.”
“She’s torn up inside,” Cerise said, knowing that feeling all too well.
“Everybody misses him. You. Me. Jersey. But so do the fans, and we can’t charge people money and then fuck up his songs ’cause we’re too wasted to sing.”
“You’re right,” Dorie said. “Griffin wouldn’t have wanted that. She should respect his memory.”
Cerise didn’t spare Dorie a glance. Her sister, the sudden expert on Griffi n Lane, had met Griffin for a sum total of about twenty minutes.
“Where is she?” Cerise asked.
“At the apartment.”
“Griffin’s place here in the Etherlin?”
“Let’s go check on her,” Cerise said.
“Oh, come on,” Dorie said. “You guys can’t leave the party now. Dinner’s about to start. How would that look to the council, Cer?”
I don’t care what the Etherlin Council thinks. Haven’t for years, she thought.
“Besides,” Dorie continued hastily, probably at the sight of Cerise’s stony expression. “Jersey will never pull herself together if everyone gives her a ton of attention every time she screws up. If she’s going to sulk, ignore her.”
Cerise turned a frigid gaze on Dorie, who blanched, then Cerise glanced back at Hayden.
“I’m worried about Jersey,” Cerise said. “I have a bad feeling.”
Hayden’s shuffling ceased, and he straightened. “Okay, let’s go,” he said.
Dorie fell in step with them. “Considering that you and I are the only Etherlin muses here tonight, if you’re gone, they’ll probably hold dinner till you get back. So it won’t matter if I go out, too.”
Neither Cerise nor Hayden said anything.
“I’ll come with you,” Dorie added.
“No,” Cerise said.
Dorie narrowed her eyes. “Why not?”
Because I don’t trust you. “Because this isn’t your business,” Cerise said.
Even while not dancing, Cerise’s fl uid movements seemed to recall her ballet training, Lysander noticed. Her fi ngers extended gracefully as if reaching for something beautiful. Like a stolen
With the beat of massive wings, Lysander rose from the tree bough that overlooked Cerise’s house. Her scent didn’t reach him that far up, but it didn’t need to. He remembered it too well, along with the warmth of her body and the fi erce way she’d fought to free herself when he’d restrained her.
She’s nitroglycerin wrapped in the softest skin, he thought as he swooped across the sky, skimming the treetops of roof gardens. Cerise’s wild passion had awakened his own.
Enough of watching the girl. Enough of thinking about her.
The more a preoccupation is fed, the more powerful it becomes.
The prophecy—the one that pertained to his only chance for redemption—contained several parts, including a warning that getting involved with a woman could make him fail. He’d never risk that, no matter how beautiful she felt or smelled or danced.
He flew over the Etherlin, so named by her kind, the descendants of the ancient muses. They were the only remnants of the lofty society of the Olympians, the superhuman creatures who had once been caretakers of the world. Until their hubris and their manipulation of mankind had led to their exile from Earth.
Lysander knew all about exile. But he was hoping to make his own a distant memory. Movement below caught his eye. There’s a child on that roof.
A little girl. Eleven or twelve perhaps?
With an unsteady gait she wobbled across the concrete.
It’s dark. Why is she there alone?
She climbed onto the ledge. Bare feet shuffl ed over the faded artwork that someone had painted. He hovered in the clouds.
“Be careful,” he whispered.
She rubbed her arm and swayed.
He held his breath. Archangels weren’t allowed to consort with humans. As an arcanon—a fallen angel—Lysander wasn’t barred from it, but he avoided people out of habit. He also avoided them to resist the temptation that beautiful women presented.
The girl teetered.
She’s not my responsibility. I’ve let myself get too entangled with human beings lately. I shouldn’t—
She pivoted too fast and stumbled, her eyes wide with shock and terror as she fell.
He dove, a torpedo through the air, until he caught her. Her eyes rolled back and her head hung toward the concrete street that would have destroyed her skull.
She’s unconscious and barely breathing, he realized. Opium-scented breath emanated from a fragile body. She was small, but not a child after all. He landed and laid her on the doorstep under a large awning.
“Opium tastes like heaven, but isn’t,” he said, resting her head gently against the step. Her bleached hair fell away from an unlined forehead. Under cherry lipstick her lips turned dusky blue.
She goes, he thought. “You’ll see the difference soon.”
The click of heels in the distance made him look over his shoulder. He recognized the cadence of those footfalls.
Lysander straightened, very tempted to stand his ground, to wait for her to arrive. No law forbade him from talking to her.
The scuff of other shoes was paired with her heel strikes.
There’s someone with her.
Who? A man or a woman?
He ducked around the building into shadow and waited.
From a roof’s edge, an icicle hung like a dagger ready to fall. Spring had arrived but then receded, like a virgin clambering under the covers on her wedding night. Two days of freezing rain had claimed the Etherlin, but a new warm front was steadily melting the ice.
As Cerise walked with Hayden, she drew her shoulders forward, huddling against the chill. I’m so cold. Why is it always like this when I think about Griffin?
Memories of him gushed like a fl ood . . . Griffi n’s sandy brown hair and the crooked smile that could transform his expression from angelic to devilish in an instant. The collection of vintage rock T-shirts that he and Cerise had shared between them. The “morning” coffee they’d drunk upon waking at six p. m.
Cerise dug her nails into her palms. He’s been dead almost ten months. You have to deal with it and move on. The problem was she couldn’t. The final night with Griffin was a hazy blur that haunted her. And the holes in her memory stretched back insidiously. She couldn’t remember the songs they’d worked on. She couldn’t remember their last fight, though she was sure they’d had one.
Worst, and most important, her magic had been damaged. The power she used to inspire people had melted like so much snow. She’d been faking it since then, kept expecting it and her memory to return after the pain receded, but they never did.
After ten months, she felt worse than ever. Some of her aspirants suspected, and it was only a matter of time before the council realized, too. If only she could unlock her mind. If only she could review the steps she’d used to tap into her power in the past.
I need Griffin’s missing songbook. I need to see the flow of ideas, to relive the way the magic worked. The missing pieces are on those pages. I know it.
Instincts more powerful than any she’d ever felt outside of her muse magic were driving her to fi nd the book. She dreamed about it constantly. Unfortunately, she and the band had been searching for Griffin’s songbook since they buried him. The journal had contained all the songs that Cerise and he had worked on during his last year. There were thirty-seven songs in total, including several that Cerise had known would be number-one hits.
After Griffi n died, Cerise couldn’t remember a single lyric or melody from all that work, which had left Griffin’s band, the Molly Times, without their lead guitarist and unable to record new material. They’d begged Cerise to work with them, to inspire them, to come to rehearsal and jam with them. But without her magic, Cerise couldn’t help. It broke her heart. Hayden and Jersey had lost their brother; they should’ve at least had his final musical legacy. Cerise couldn’t even help them retain that much.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Jersey. She knows the songs,” Hayden said as they walked. “She hears a lyric once and remembers it. Always has. Do you think she’s screwing up on purpose?”
“Not even subconsciously? As a way to get back at him for dying?”
Maybe, Cerise thought and flushed. Hayden wasn’t only asking about Jersey now. “I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist.”
“I wish she’d let me take her to one. She needs to talk to someone about how she really feels. It might help.”
“Maybe,” Cerise murmured, refl ecting on her own failed experience. She’d seen a therapist in secret, hoping that through hypnosis the woman would be able to unlock Cerise’s memories and free her muse magic. For a few moments of their session, Cerise had seen a glimpse—a very unsettling glimpse—of the past, but then it had deteriorated and Cerise had been back in the dark and more troubled than before.
Cerise pressed her fi st against the side of her thigh. When Griffin had died at twenty-seven, he’d deprived Cerise of more than her favorite aspirant; he’d been the guy she was crazy in love with, the one with whom she’d been having a secret affair.
That Griffi n’s death might have been partly Cerise’s fault was a detail that no one knew—except Cerise, who could not get over it. She never let on how much she still hurt, but the pain was there, just below the surface.
“I’ve been writing,” Hayden said. “That’s great. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on.”
“Yeah, sure . . .” He paused.
“Dorie’s cool. I thought maybe I’d show my songs to her.”
Cerise’s gaze slid to him. He wanted to replace her with Dorie? Cerise’s blood ran cold. “Is that right?”
“Well, she’s a muse, too. And I thought—”
She raised a brow, but said nothing. He fl ushed and clenched his teeth. She might have admired the way he was trying to assert himself if he hadn’t been stabbing her in the back in the process.
“Look, we can use all the help we can get right now. Things are falling apart. You and Griffin were amazing together, but talking to you doesn’t light my mind on fi re like it did his. If anything, it brings me down and makes me feel—I don’t know, exhausted. Kind of like I’m hungover or something.”
The words crushed her, but before she could respond, she spotted Jersey’s body. Jersey was the same blue color Griffin had been that morning at the bottom of the ravine. Cerise recognized it as the color of death.
To distance himself from the frenzied attempt to save the girl, Lysander had fl own to the roof. He stood at the edge looking down, unable to tear himself away. The girl’s death was bringing Cerise pain, which made him want to comfort her, to touch and reassure her.
Don’t interfere, he told himself.
He stepped down from the ledge so he wouldn’t be able to see Cerise any longer, and in doing so noticed the graffiti. There was very little of it in the Etherlin, but the place where the girl had tread so unsteadily was covered with elaborate artwork.
The white ledge had been painted with the tangled green of a woodland scene. He studied it and within the tendrils of vines, he spotted a blackbird. He froze for a moment, unable to believe . . . But yes it was there.
He flapped his wings and rose, hovering above so he could see the entire thing at once, could stare at the swirling patterns, and he spotted what was buried. A message woven into the vines. The letters emerged in one long string.
Sadly talks the blackbird here. Well I know the woe he found: No matter who cut down his nest, For its young it was destroyed. I myself not long ago Found the woe he now has found.
The verses were from a ninth-century poem called “The Deserted Home.” Lysander knew who and what had inspired it.
Lysander’s muscles locked, and his gaze darted side to side as if expecting his former brother to appear. But of course Reziel wasn’t lurking nearby. Lysander would’ve known, would’ve felt him. Still, there was the message . . .
Had the demon invaded the dreams of an artist? Or maybe one of Reziel’s followers lived in the Etherlin. It didn’t matter how Reziel had accomplished it. What mattered was that it was part of the prophecy: Watch for a sign. The message left by your betrayer marks the beginning of the end.
With stunned triumph ringing in his ears, Lysander thought, This is it. After thousands of years of waiting, the prophecy has finally begun.
Cerise tightened the belt on her purple trench with shaky hands and walked toward the side door of the urgent care center where they’d stabilized Jersey Lane. An ashen-skinned Hayden was at Jersey’s bedside, so Cerise stepped out for a moment to escape the bleach-scented air and the sight of Jersey’s tiny body covered in wires.
Jersey’s alive. You got there in time, Cerise told herself, trying to stop her heart’s frantic pounding.
But she was blue. We had to do CPR. What if she’s brain-damaged? What if she ends up a vegetable? When we got her back, it seemed like we got to her in time, but maybe we didn’t. Maybe I was too late to save her. Just like I was too late to save Griffin.
In a flash, she recalled Griffi n’s lifeless body, and that image was followed instantly by one of Jersey dead on the doorstep.
Cerise’s stomach churned. She swallowed gulps of air and squeezed her eyes shut.
Do not get sick. Do not.
She spit out excess saliva and slowly eased herself down the bricks to sit on the ground, her back against the wall.
In the early days after Griffin had died, the pain had been so bad she’d started to meditate, focusing all her concentration on her next breath. She did that now, listening to her breathing, clocking the beat of her heart as it throbbed in her temples.
Her heart slowed, and her stomach settled.
She rested against the wall until the door opened, and Hayden called her name.
“I’m here,” Cerise said, shooting to her feet. “Is she worse?”
“No,” Hayden said, and a lopsided grin claimed his face.
“She’s awake. The little brat.” He grabbed Cerise in a fierce hug and nearly sobbed. “If you hadn’t said we should go—”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
“Yeah, it freaking does. And it always will.” His bony fingers tightened against her back. “I was so stunned when we found her. If I’d been alone, I might have just stood there in shock.”
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“The way she looked—I don’t know if I would’ve thought to try to save her. If you hadn’t been there, she would’ve died. I’ll never—I’m sorry about what I said earlier. The Molly Times only works with one muse. Ever. No matter what happens we’re with you and no one else.”
Her eyes misted, but she blinked away the tears and swallowed against the tightness in her throat. “We’ll figure things out,” Cerise said. They’d gotten a second chance with Jersey, and Cerise wasn’t going to lose her. Cerise would find a way to help the Molly Times again even if it killed her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Hayden nodded with a wobbly smile.
“Let’s go back in. I don’t want her to be alone,” Cerise said.
“Yeah, c’mon.” Hayden’s hand clung to her arm, and Cerise wondered if that was to steady her or to steady himself. Maybe both.
They walked down the sterile-smelling hall to Jersey’s room. Cerise braced herself with a deep bleach-scented breath before she opened the door.
Inside, Jersey looked like a little doll whose makeup had been applied by a child. Smudged black eyeliner haloed her light eyes. Smeared scarlet lipstick at the corner of her pale mouth looked almost like blood, as though she were a tiny blonde tribute to the undead.
“Sorry, Cerise,” Jersey said. “I’m so sorry. I just wanted to sleep and forget about everything. I guess—” Jersey had a clear high voice that could be mesmerizing when she sang. Even wavering as it did now, it was irresistible. “I guess I took too much.”
“I guess you did,” Cerise said, sitting on the edge of the bed and clutching Jersey’s hand. “You almost killed yourself and us along with you. You scared us to death.”
“How do you feel?” Cerise asked.
“I’m okay.” She tried and failed to stifle a yawn. “Tired.”
“When I was dying, I saw an angel, and I heard Griffin.”
“You did?” Cerise asked, brushing the platinum hair away from Jersey’s face.
“Griffin said, ‘I’ll tell you where it is. Songs among the rafters. In the falling playground above the stage.’ Something like that,” she murmured. “Isn’t that crazy that I heard his voice? It was nice though to hear it again.” Jersey’s lids drooped. “I miss him.”
Cerise ran a shaky hand through her hair. She continued to watch Jersey, but her thoughts were elsewhere. In the last six months of his life Griffi n had been obsessed with heights, climbing them or avoiding them depending on his mood. He’d been fixated. “The farther it is to fall, the more I love it, Cherry. And the more I hate it,” he’d said to her.
Griffin’s mood swings had upset them both. Cerise hadn’t probed into the cryptic things he’d said because he’d been a powder keg of emotions. She’d tried not to pressure him because questions set him off. She’d thought he would talk to her when he was ready. But leaving him alone had been a mistake; his struggle ultimately consumed him. Now he had plenty of space to brood. And she and the Molly Times had plenty of space to grieve.
Cerise shivered, withdrawing from those thoughts. Instead, she concentrated on what Jersey had said.
Songs among the rafters. Above the stage.
Griffin had sometimes written music in one of the top boxes in the performing arts center that was named for her mother. He’d liked the place’s outstanding acoustics. Could he have left his songbook there? But if he had left it in a box, someone would’ve found it and turned it in. Or kept it and sold it. The kind of money collectors and fans would pay for a journal of Griffi n’s would be a serious temptation for most people.
Cerise frowned at the thought of someone trying to profit from that book when she and the Molly Times needed it so much. It was the last piece of Griffin they’d ever have.
Griffin wouldn’t have left his songbook lying around in plain sight for someone to find. If he’d left it in the auditorium at all, he’d have put it someplace where no one would stumble across it. He would’ve hidden it.
I have to check, she thought. Cerise rose. “She’s asleep again.”
“Yeah,” Hayden said with an affectionate roll of his eyes. “She nearly gives us heart attacks and freaks me out so much I may not get a good night’s sleep again ever, then five minutes after she wakes up, she’s out again like she’s got a clean conscience. How’s that for irony?”
Cerise smiled and gave his arm a squeeze. “You watch her. There’s something I need to do.”
He nodded. “Sorry about you missing your dinner party tonight.”
“No worries,” she said, walking to the door. That celebration party was a sham anyway.
The trees lining the walkway were strung with small blue and white lights. Grecian colors, Cerise thought. From the outside, the Etherlin appeared to be all things pearly and bright. Home to women who had descended from the ancient muses. Women who were inspiration made flesh as the saying went. Maybe the fact that Cerise spent a lot of time with rock stars who were subversive and athletes who battled for their bread made her harder to placate, harder to control. She didn’t see the Etherlin as a glittering Garden of Eden. Like all things of great power and beauty, it had a dark side. Ambition and the quest for perfection made people dangerous even if they lived in the Etherlin.
And, of course, some darkness came from the shadows cast by the Varden. It was just outside the Etherlin’s walls and home to the ventala. One of the Varden’s fallen creatures had recently seduced a muse and the community was still reeling in the wake of her defection. Some couldn’t accept that Alissa had been seduced. They believed she’d been taken.
Cerise was sure her former friend had left voluntarily, but sometimes women loved men who later caused them endless pain. Alissa was in the hands of one of the most dangerous men in the world. If Alissa decided she wanted to leave him, would Merrick let her go? Cerise doubted it. And that was a thought that kept her awake at night. What if Alissa regretted her choice? Did she think the Etherlin Council would never let her come back after what she’d done on the night she’d left?
Cerise planned to talk to Alissa. She couldn’t cure her of an attraction to the wrong man, but she could make sure that one of the most talented muses in the world knew that she had the support of the other one. If Alissa wanted to come home, Cerise would fight to make that happen.
Cerise approached the Calla Xenakis Center for the Performing Arts. It was a building of alternating blue and white glass with reeds of silver in between. Musical instruments and notes were etched into the frosted panes, making it playful yet elegant.
When Cerise unlocked the door, music fl oated down to her, and she slowed as she stepped inside. The building was dark. There were no scheduled performances or rehearsals. Sometimes students or staff musicians requested use of the building, but Cerise hadn’t wanted to run into people tonight, so she’d checked the schedule and had been glad to find it bare.
She ventured deeper inside and opened the door to the main auditorium. The dark stage was empty, but light drifted down from above. She stepped inside and looked up. The illumination was very faint. From a candle or small lamp? In one of the upper boxes? Why would anyone be playing up there?
It’s him, she realized.The Etherlin’s version of the Phantom of the Opera.
For months, there had been rumors of a performer who some of the staff called the young maestro. They claimed he played the guitar as well as Hendrix and Clapton, that on sax he was sublime and on violin unparalleled. She knew it had to be an exaggeration, but it made her curious.
The music always came from the upper boxes, and initially, some of Griffi n’s fans thought it was his ghost, but Griffin had only played guitar and never as well as Hendrix or Clapton.
So who was the young man who turned up out of nowhere and left the same way, never tripping the building’s alarms?
He was suspected to have fixed a hole in the roof caused by a lightning strike. There’d been water all over the floor, but when the workmen went up to patch the leak, there were new shingles nailed in place.
His presence had been confirmed as real rather than fantastical when the center’s director had found a cash-filled donation envelope midstage during the center’s annual fundraising drive. The note had been done in writing that was more calligraphy than cursive. It read: “The welcome this space offers to music is admirable. A visiting musician offers compliments to the designers and builders of this place.”
After the note, the hunt for the center’s young phantom had redoubled, but he was more slippery than ever according to the students who sometimes hid in the upper boxes in hopes of spotting him and getting to listen to him play for more than a few moments. They caught glimpses of him and said he was tall and blond, but they couldn’t tell much else.
Knowing the sound of her boots against the stairs would travel, she sat and removed them. Setting them aside, she ascended in stocking feet. Three fl ights up, his playing stopped her. In his hands, a violin was more than a violin. It was the voice of countless generations. It was the soul of the whole world. Beethoven’s Fifth transitioned to Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” which gave way to “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” She crept higher into the building and opened the door. She closed it silently and didn’t dare move farther because she would rather have fallen down the stairs than have him stop playing.
She recognized Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” which turned into Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Then a blazing “Flight of the Bumblebees” transitioned into “Dance of the Goblins.” She cocked her head. His lightning speed had such clarity and precision that her jaw dropped. She slid down the wall to sit on the floor. Closing her eyes, she followed the music, not bothering to identify any more songs.
When the music stopped, Cerise had no idea how long she’d been sitting on the fl oor. And she didn’t care. She uncoiled her limbs and rose. This mystery man was the most talented violinist she’d ever heard, and she wanted him for an aspirant. No sound that pure and amazing should be played for an empty auditorium. The world had a right to hear it. She would make him understand.
She followed the soft glow, enjoying the smell of sandalwood. She was surprised to find that the candle wasn’t in a box.
It was in the middle of a girder. And lying next to it was a book she recognized. There in the center of a steel beam several stories above the stage was Griffi n’s lost songbook.
She heard water slosh and turned her head sharply. When she did, she froze. The tall shirtless blond creature drinking from a jug of water was stunning in a host of ways, not the least of which was that she’d met him before.
The meeting had been on Alissa’s last night in the Etherlin when the ventala had infiltrated the muses’ retreat and had murdered ten members of Etherlin Security including its director, Grant Easton, whose body had never been recovered. She should have been afraid of the blond intruder, but she wasn’t. No sixth sense warned her to retreat. She actually wanted to crowd him, to challenge him. In was an inexplicable instinct.
“It can’t be you,” Cerise said, staring at him.
He quirked a brow. “It can be me. In fact, it can be none other.” He fi nished off the gallon of water, his skin glowing from the ferocity of his earlier playing. “And hello. How have you been?”
“I’ve been fine. How did you get in?” she demanded.
His gorgeous smile widened. “I’m not obliged to answer your questions and choose not to.” Oh right. Now I remember. He’s impossible. “You’re an incredible musician.”
She fought not to scowl. He might be an arrogant jerk, but for a talent like his, allowances would have to be made.
“Thank you for the compliment,” he added, sliding a large duffel bag from the shadow of a corner and putting the empty water jug into it.
“Where did you train?”
“Many places, and the sound quality here rivals them all.”
“What school? Who was your teacher?”
“Ah. I’ve not had instruction. I teach myself.”
Of course you do, you bastard, she thought with an inward sigh.
He wrapped his bow in a worn cloth before putting it in the bag. His violin joined the bow after being covered with a frayed towel.
“You need a violin case. An instrument like that deserves better protection.”
“The violin has never complained,” he said as he zipped the duffel. He looked up through strands of dark blond hair and added with a slow smile, “Which is why it makes better company than some people.” He looked so young and heartbreakingly handsome that her heart thudded in her chest.
She noticed the Crimson logo written in bloodred script on the side of the bag. Crimson is Merrick’s bar, she thought.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He shook his head. “It’s better if I don’t even give you that much. It’ll only make you want more.”
She laughed. “You are so full of yourself. I’ve met rock stars who were more down to earth than you.”
“That’s certainly true. Being down to earth is not something to which I aspire.”
Aspire. She’d been determined to make him an aspirant. Was she still? He had the talent, but he would be a nightmare to work with. Still, his playing…
“I’m Cerise Xenakis.” When his expression remained blank, she rolled her eyes. The fact that she was world-famous could not have escaped his attention, especially when he was in the Etherlin for God’s sake. And how was he still inside? When he’d smiled, she hadn’t seen fangs. Was he ventala or not?
“I’m the Etherlin muse who inspires musicians.”
She waited for him to respond, and he finally said, “Congratulations?”
She scowled. “This center belongs to the Etherlin community.”
“It was built for great music. That’s what I bring.”
She held out a hand. “I know. I’m not going to give you a hard time for trespassing. You clearly deserve to be here. I want to talk to you about your aspirations. What do you want to do with your music?”
Smart-ass. She smiled. “Nothing beyond that? C’mon,” she said. “You could’ve snuck into an auditorium anywhere in the world. You chose one in the Etherlin. Wasn’t some part of you hoping to be discovered by a muse? By me?”
“Definitely not,” he said flatly. “I chose this place because it’s the best place to play that’s close to where I live.”
“Close to where you live? Where is that?”
“Will you excuse me? I should go.”
“So go.” She had no intention of leaving him alone. She wanted to see how he was getting in and out.
“I need to snuff the candle. To leave it burning would risk a fire.”
His turn-of-phrase seemed odd at times. Where was he from originally? Not the Varden. His speech was too precise and too archaic to have been born of its mean streets.
“I tire of waiting,” he said.
She glanced at the girder. The drop was dizzying. She didn’t blame him for wanting to avoid any distractions when he walked out there to get to the candle, but what idiotic impulse had caused him to put the candle there in the first place? Maybe he’d gone onto the girder to look at the book?
“Sorry, but I’m not leaving,” she said. “I came to retrieve the book that’s sitting next to the candle. Since you’re getting the candle, it would be cool of you to bring me the book. That way both of us don’t have to walk out there.”
“Step aside,” he said.
She glanced at the end of the beam. There was plenty of room for him to get to it without her moving out of his way. “I’m not going to touch you,” she said.
“Of that I’m certain.” He ran a hand through his hair, adding more chaos to locks that already defi ed a style. “Nevertheless,” he said, with a gesture for her to move.
She held out her hands in surrender and backed up. “Take all the space you need. I’ll wait here. You can just drop the book as you go past.”
He turned and strode out onto the beam without a moment’s hesitation or fear. She glanced at his legs and noticed for the first time that his feet were bare. She also noticed the scars on his back. There were a lot of them. Mostly thin lines where bladelike cuts had been made, but also two thick vertical lines just inside his shoulder blades that didn’t look like the other scars. They weren’t flat and shiny white as the others were. They looked like golden brown grooves. The tops and bottoms of the vertical scars came to points that were unnaturally perfect. What the hell are those marks?
She studied them and then her eyes lingered on his waist and down to the seat of his leather pants. He had an athlete’s butt. Griffi n had been good-looking, but he’d been somewhat androgynous. This mystery musician had a stunningly beautiful face, despite its scars, but there was nothing pale or fragile about his body. He could probably play a piano; he also looked like he could lift one. The appeal of that combination was not lost on a muse who inspired great athletes as well as great musicians.
She watched his sure footwork as he turned and strode back toward her, candle and book in hand.
“Do you dance?” she asked, her gaze fi xed on his well-defined stomach muscles.
“Often and well.”
“Is there anything you don’t do well?” she asked dryly.
“I don’t lie well. Sometimes it would be convenient if I did.”
She glanced at his face. “You’re odd.”
“That’s the other thing I don’t do well.”
He walked to his duffel bag.
“Hey,” she said.
He glanced over his shoulder.
“You forgot to give me the book.”
“No, I didn’t,” he said, zipping the duffel over the candle and Griffin’s songbook.
“What the hell?” She rushed toward him, but he shouldered the bag and sprinted away. Her socks slipped on the floor, but even if they hadn’t, despite being able to run a five-and-a-half-minute mile, she wouldn’t have been able to keep pace with him.
By the time she rounded the corner, he’d disappeared. She looked around and up. She heard a rustle of wind, but by the time she raced back to where she thought the sound had come from, he was gone. She checked the stairwells, but there was no sign of him.
Where the hell did he go?
She swore in frustration. Griffin’s songbook had probably been sitting on that beam unattended for almost a year, and on the night she’d fi nally seen it, she’d had the bad luck to run into Merrick’s eccentric friend. The other bizarre thing about the night was that for the twenty minutes she’d spent talking to him, despite being aware of the songbook, she hadn’t thought about Griffin or been pained by his memory. That still didn’t mean she could leave the songbook with the mystery musician. She needed to read it and then she needed to turn it over to the Molly Times.
Cerise put a hand to her forehead and grimaced. The only thing she really knew about the phantom musician was that he was a friend of Merrick’s. It looked like she would be talking to Alissa sooner than she’d intended.
Cool air grazed Cerise’s cheek, and she glanced heavenward.
Suddenly, everything slammed into place.
The children of men will not recognize him for what he is unless he reveals himself. They will look, but not see.
“In the rafters,” Cerise murmured. “Not: in the falling playground . . . In the fallen’s playground above the stage.”
Ventala don’t have scars, and they don’t have vertical grooves on their backs that could conceal wings.
Merrick’s friend is a fallen angel.