Heaven refers to them as Misplaced Halos.
Humans don’t even know they exist.
This faction of celestial warriors was sent here under the cover of darkness to protect humanity from Lucifer’s demons. In return for their servitude, these warriors expect only one thing: the eternal love they were promised, what angels refer to as an amsouelot.
Never one to rely on luck or favor, Eclipse isn’t surprised when his first interaction with the female whose soul is destined for his results in death. However, he is caught off-guard when the pretty blond who had been held at gun point by a two-bit human turns out to be sassy and fearless and not at all bothered by the mess that was made in that alley.
Orianna McKay has spent the past six years scouring the U.S. in search of her sister. She has put her entire life on hold hoping to locate Amber and bring her home to their mother. What she doesn’t understand is how one failed lead after another continues to take her right back to nowhere, Colorado. Then he appears. The handsome warrior who takes a bullet in an effort to save her. What she doesn’t realize is that warrior is an angel and nothing in her world is as it seems.
Eclipse’s mission is to protect Orianna from the demons who are out to lay claim to her soul. Somewhere along the way, that mission changes, priorities are shifted, and destinies are revealed. By the time the dust settles, Orianna and Eclipse will learn that salvation comes in many forms.
Protected in Darkness (Misplaced Halos, 1) - Prologue
SOME BELIEVE ANGELS ONLY EXIST IN HEAVEN, some claim to have met one, others think they’re nothing more than fictional fodder meant to give humans hope.
Being of the celestial, winged variety myself, I can attest to the fact that we do exist. Granted, we’re not all floating on clouds, listening to the soft strum of a harp while waiting to greet the next to pass on to their life ever after.
Nope. Then again, neither are those who protect the gates of Heaven.
As for the eternal resting place ... well, it’s much like it is here on Earth. Chock-full of well-meaning folk attempting to maintain order with their policies and procedures. Yes, those are the angels you’re familiar with—robes, halos, wings—keeping a watchful eye over your loved ones who’ve moved on to claim their just reward.
For the record, my brothers and I aren’t those types of angels, nor have we stepped foot in Heaven for some fifteen hundred years or so.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh, pity, he’s a fallen angel.
Try less fall, more push.
See, we’re part of what Heaven refers to as misplaced halos, a faction of celestial warriors sent here to walk amongst the humans under the cover of darkness following the orders of our leader: the archangel Michael. You might know him as the protector of humanity, the patron saint of warriors, or even the one who sent the big bad to his rightful destination.
Yep, he’s our boss and he sent us here to watch over you. He refers to us as the Angels of Darkness.
Perhaps we were your next-door neighbors at one time or another. If so, you would remember us. We were the ones with the fast cars, loud music, and all the leather. Not your typical divine beings, no, but we get the job done.
Never to fear, we aren’t in one place for long. We’re drifters, never quite settling in because we’re needed everywhere. Small towns, big cities, bayous, mountains, deserts, we’ve experienced it all. But most importantly, if we stopped in and later disappeared, it was deemed safe for you to keep calm and carry on with your routine nine-to-five, maintaining your cute little house, raising your two-point-five kids, and throwing sticks for Fido.
That’s what we were sent here to do. Protect you.
From what, you ask?
Well, demons, of course. Those that escape Hell, working for Lucifer, performing his evil deeds in an effort to prove their worth. Stealing souls, wreaking havoc, and trashing lives with absolutely no remorse. I hate to break it to you, but there’s probably a few who’ve settled into your quaint little cookie-cutter neighborhood when you weren’t looking. And no, Shawn, the drunk guy two doors down, is not a demon. He’s just a jackass.
Like I said, that’s why we’re here. Seeking out the evil and sending them back where they belong.
Why do we do it? Well, that’s what we were created for. We gain satisfaction by fulfilling our duties, protecting those who need it.
Oh, and because we were promised one thing: a love that knows no bounds. What we refer to as an amsouelot. A single soul destined for each of us, the two halves forming the whole, completing one another.
Of course, this carefully guarded secret got out eons ago. Humans use the term soul mate, though often the connection for them is little more than hope for a love everlasting. Often in an attempt to force the union, the human’s beliefs are steeped in exploited traditions and trivial efforts. In reality, unless the two souls were destined by the Fates, those ventures are merely a desperate need to curate a love that has little chance of survival. That’s not to say your relationship is doomed to fail. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones who’s found your destined love, sealed by the Fates. It does happen.
However, for angels, it’s a bit more complicated. For us, it isn’t a matter of wining, dining, and roses. We can’t use Tinder or eHarmony to track down our one true love. There is no such thing as a chance meeting. And once we do come face-to-face with the one destined for us, the interaction’s far more intense, a phenomenon that engulfs both souls, entwining them, making it impossible to keep any sort of distance, both physically and emotionally. When we mate, we do so for eternity.
Most importantly, without our amsouelot, we would have no reason to live. In essence, we would be nothing.
Which brings me to the beginning of this story...
SUNDAY, JUNE 30, 2019
RELAXING IN HIS CHAIR, A CHILLED BOTTLE of Corona in his hand, Obsidian watched his brothers as they poked at each other in their attempt to enjoy one of their few nights off as of late.
“Now that was a lucky shot,” Eclipse shouted, chugging back his beer, then following with a satisfied ahhh. “I’ll drop a benji if you can do that again.”
“You’re on, brother,” Aphotic countered, snatching up his glass and tossing back the last of his favored Fireball.
While X Ambassadors crooned about the devil you know, Aphotic repositioned the cue ball, then pointed his stick at Eclipse, a shit-eating grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Watch and learn, son.”
Obsidian smiled to himself, grateful to be back home, even if it was only a temporary hiatus.
“They just don’t quit,” Stygian rumbled, his hand casually stroking the top of Zeus’s furry black head.
The dog had been glued to Stygian’s side since they’d returned to the mansion early that morning. As for Aphrodite ... Zeus’s much younger playmate was currently sprawled out beneath the pool table sleeping soundly despite the noise.
“Eclipse is out what? A grand at this point?” Piceous rumbled, his tone relaxed, hooded eyes following the action. “He does know he’s being hustled, right?”
Oh, he knew. And if Obsidian had to guess, Eclipse had a plan to hustle the hustler.
“Can’t blame ’em for wanting a night off,” Shadow drawled, sipping from his third glass of Glenlivet.
“You’re right about that,” Obsidian agreed, taking a deep breath and watching the males strut and grunt.
It had taken four months, but they’d finally cleared out the demon nest that had taken up residence in New York City. Not an easy feat, mind you. Working under the cover of darkness in the city that never slept required strategy to eradicate more than three hundred demons, but they’d pulled it off, ridding the metropolis of the evil that lurked in the shadows.
Part of it, anyway. As for the malevolent humans that resided there ... well, that wasn’t their responsibility, thank God.
Obsidian was equipped to deal with a wealth of shit, but the humans’ behavioral problems were their own. The warriors had their hands full. As it was, it would only be a matter of time before more demons would return, a new group sauntering in and attempting to take over. The demons did their thing, which allowed the warriors to do theirs.
“So where’re we headed next?” Cimmerian flopped down on the black leather recliner, long legs dangling over the side. He tipped his head back, regarded Obsidian. “Tucson? Dallas? Maybe we could head down to Miami. It’s been a while since we’ve had any Cuban action.”
Before Obsidian could respond, the lights flickered, dimmed, the surge of electricity coming from the lights and lamps throughout.
In the true manner of warriors, the seven of them were on their feet, armed and ready to take on the threat. Big or small, didn’t matter. They were always ready.
Of course, Zeus and Aphrodite weren’t going to be left out. The German shepherds were positioned within the group, snarling softly as they anticipated the threat to their home.
“Relax, warriors,” the disembodied voice echoed through the mansion.
“Well, fuck me running,” Eclipse muttered, relaxing his stance with a heavy sigh and tucking his deadly half-moon blades away.
“Sounds like a challenge,” Michael said, taking form in the center of the room, the feathers of his wings rustling as they settled at his back. “One for another day, perhaps.”
Still locked in a fighting stance, Obsidian kept his eyes on the archangel gracing them with his presence. It was rare for the male to make an appearance, and when he did, it was never good.
In true Michael fashion, he didn’t get right down to business. Instead, he ambled around the space, picking up the eight ball from the table, studying it momentarily. He set it back down, moved on. His steady gaze scanned the entire space, taking it in before returning to them.
“To what do we owe the honor?” Shadow queried, more than a hint of disdain dripping from his words.
“Want to commend us on a job well done?” Cimmerian taunted. “Not necessary. We patted ourselves on the back already.”
Michael picked up Aphotic’s glass of cinnamon whiskey, sniffed, grimaced, clearly ignoring their rumblings.
“I come with a message,” he finally said, setting the glass down before turning his attention to them. “Please, sit.”
“We’ll stand,” Obsidian told him.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Michael squatted down on his haunches, motioned the dogs to him.
Zeus and Aphrodite went happily, tails wagging as they cuddled up to the archangel.
“At least someone’s happy to see me,” he muttered softly, gave them each a generous rub before standing tall and crossing his beefy arms over his armor-clad chest.
Mirroring his position, Obsidian honed his patience. The male wasn’t the sort to jump to the point when he could drag shit out.
“I heard about the stint in New York.” Michael’s dark eyebrows rose. “Impressive. Though not exactly timely.”
They’d long ago stopped waiting for Michael to bestow any sort of praise, so the seven of them remained silent, staring intently at their visitor. Though armed to the teeth, they’d all tucked their weapons away, out of sight but never out of reach.
Michael sighed heavily, smirked. “You boys should relax more. The sticks up your asses aren’t becoming.”
Since the archangel didn’t take well to commands, Obsidian kept his lips shut, though he was quickly growing tired of the male’s presence.
“And here I thought I’d injected a sense of humor when creating you. My bad.” Michael dropped his arms to his sides, paced in front of the pool table.
“Just get to the point,” Shadow rumbled, his shoulders squared, eyes narrowed. Clearly the two were still on the outs.
“Fine. We’ve recently uncovered a leak.” Michael’s eyes briefly shot skyward. “Upstairs.” He leveled his stare on them once again. “I’d go so far as to say there’s a traitor in our midst. Though for the life of me, I can’t figure out who it is.”
Didn’t surprise Obsidian. There were tight reins up there, but despite what the gospel wanted everyone to believe, not even Heaven was perfect. It was inevitable someone would fall through the cracks eventually.
A scroll appeared in Michael’s hand before he motioned Obsidian toward him, holding it out.
Stepping forward, Obsidian took the papyrus, broke the solid gold seal, unrolled it, and scanned the archaic writing. “It’s a list of names,” he told the others before meeting Michael’s unamused stare. “What is this?”
“It’s a list of amsouelots,” the archangel clarified. Obsidian frowned. “How did you get this?”
Only the Fates—Adorah, Nevaeh, and Karma—knew the alignment of souls. The sisters were the gatekeepers of the humans’ destiny and they took their roles seriously. They kept detailed lists under lock and key somewhere beyond the pearly gates. Not even the highest order of angels had access to them. Not even God Himself.
Or so Obsidian had been told.
“Look at it again, warrior,” Michael commanded.
He peered down at the paper once more. It was then additional names appeared beside those already scrawled.
Obsidian’s eyes narrowed menacingly, shot back to Michael. “What the fuck?”
Stygian stepped forward, glanced down at the page, inhaled sharply. Obsidian passed it over so his brothers could see for themselves.
“Who are they?” Aphotic asked.
“Those, warriors, are the names of your amsouelots. The seven human females whose souls are destined for yours.”
As the implications settled in, so did the silence.
“That particular list was leaked,” he added.
“To whom?” Obsidian inquired, though he seriously doubted he would like the answer.
“Lucifer.” Michael paced away. “And before you ask, yes, it was the only list that made it into my brother’s hands, though we’re still not sure who shared the information. When we find him, the traitor will be persecuted.” Michael sighed, then relaxed, his wings fluttering when he turned back. “I don’t need to tell you that those females are in danger. Lucifer’s already sent his demons topside and they’re searching. I’ve done my best to keep them shielded, albeit temporarily, but you know my father. He gets all up in arms when we attempt to interfere.”
“How long have you known about this?” Obsidian growled, not at all pleased with the situation.
Perhaps for the first time in Obsidian’s two thousand years of existence, Michael appeared almost remorseful when he said, “Too long.”
“Where are they?” Stygian demanded.
“Unfortunately, warrior, that’s not for me to reveal.”
“Bullshit,” Shadow hissed, stepping forward.
Obsidian held out his arm in a gesture for the male to settle. Inciting Michael wouldn’t get them what they needed.
“It took some groveling,” Michael explained, his eyes narrowing on Shadow, “which you all know I’m not fond of, but I managed to buy you some time.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer, Obsidian asked anyway. “How long?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact timeline. Let’s just say the situation’s being monitored closely.” He paced across the room, exhaled heavily, then turned to face them once more. “The sooner you find your amsouelots and complete the lintamair, the better.”
The archangel made it sound so simple. Like making the acquaintance of a human would result in an instant love that could be punctuated by an archaic mating ritual. They all knew humans were a bit more complex than that. Even if the warriors did have the Fates on their side, it would require finesse. Tack on the fact they had to find them first...
Michael studied them as though he expected them to spring into action. “You’re up against both the clock and your enemy, so I suggest you get to work.”
“And if the situation escalates before we locate them?” Cimmerian asked, the dark rumble of his words reflecting his doubt.
“My father has ordered their deaths.”
A round of growls sounded.
Michael held up a hand. “Not my call, warriors. My father has deemed their deaths imperative should you not fulfill your duties in order to avoid what would happen should Lucifer take possession of their souls. We’d all be in trouble if that were to happen.”
That was an understatement. Because an amsouelot’s soul was tied to that of its mate, Lucifer would take possession of both souls. In this case, he would own an all-powerful, immortal warrior with capabilities that extended beyond that of an archangel. At least here on Earth. Not to mention, with the soul of the amsouelot, he would be able to persuade the warrior to do whatever he wanted.
The only way to prevent that from happening was to bind the souls for eternity, placing them into the hands of Heaven’s guardians. So, not only did they have to find their amsouelots, they each had to get her to fall in love with them and—yes, as though that wasn’t difficult enough--and perform the lintamair, the official mating ceremony.
“I’d like to put in a formal request for backup,” Obsidian told the archangel.
Michael shook his head. “As outlined, you may not seek assistance from the humans, and I cannot grant you reinforcements from Heaven.”
“So we’re on our own?” Stygian groaned.
“Last I checked, you have forty or so angels at your disposal. Plus the seven of you.” Michael cocked one dark brow. “Seems more than fair to me.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Eclipse quipped. “Fifty heads to weed through seven-point-seven billion.”
“A bit overdramatic, warrior,” Michael replied. “It’s safe to say you can narrow your search to North America.”
“Well, in that case...” Eclipse rolled his eyes.
Obsidian fought the urge to do the same because Eclipse was right. It was a near impossible task, and they didn’t have nearly enough manpower to tackle it.
“Awesome,” Aphotic snapped. “Only five hundred seventy-nine million.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy,” Michael noted, then canted his head. “Might I suggest you utilize other factions of misplaced halos. Perhaps they’ll offer you assistance.” He paced away once more. “But fair warning. Lucifer’s proving to be a formidable enemy. Not only to me but to humans and vampires alike. It’s come to my attention that the mesonneir have made it topside. And I’m hearing rumors the trielair won’t be far behind.”
The mesonneir were the lieutenants in Lucifer’s demon armies, capable of severe devastation. On the other hand, the trielair were a beast all their own. They hadn’t come up from the bowels of hell for some six hundred years. It was then that they had laid waste to much of Europe and Asia, rolling out the Black Death, which resulted in the demise of roughly fifty million humans.
“Rumors are spreading that he’s looking to acquire your souls in an effort to strengthen that brigade,” Michael continued. “Without you defending them, the humans will be wiped out. So, I suggest you waste no time.”
“Why not eliminate us now?” Piceous prompted. “Without us, there’s no risk.”
Michael smirked. “Don’t think I haven’t considered it. However, the Fates have informed me your souls have already been aligned with your amsouelots. The direct link is made. Should your amsouelots die, your souls would still reside with whomever owns their soul.”
Which explained why God would eliminate them, ensuring He possessed both souls, regardless.
Michael’s eyes slid over each one of them. “Because you’ve proven yourselves worthy, I requested you be given the opportunity to claim your amsouelots. My father’s aware that your existence will prove futile should He eliminate them, but He’s prepared for that outcome. Don’t let me down.”
“You know, this could be made simple if you’d just tell us where they are,” Eclipse grumbled.
“If it were up to me, warrior, I would,” Michael stated, his words ringing with sincerity.
With that, the archangel vanished, the flutter of wings the only sound in his wake.
“Son of a bitch!” Aphotic shouted, grabbing a pool stick and snapping it in two.
Zeus barked once in warning. The canine was not fond of aggressive actions.
However, Obsidian understood the male’s frustration. They’d been up against incredible odds before, but nothing of this magnitude.
“So much for a vacation,” Stygian said.
“Needless to say, our priorities have shifted,” Obsidian informed his brothers. “We’ll divide and conquer.”
Stygian nodded, taking the scroll when Obsidian offered it. “Good news is, none of their names are Mary Smith.”
True. But with a little more than half the population of North America being female ... they had their work cut out for them.
“Bring in the lieterras,” Obsidian instructed, his mind whirling with things that needed to happen to get their mission underway. “They can start searching.”
“I’m on it,” Eclipse said before disappearing.
“We need to meet with the fiestreigh,” Obsidian told Cimmerian. “Let them know we’re refocusing our efforts.”
“Will do,” the male agreed, then vanished.
“And someone have Søren bring back up the Misplaced Halos website. We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
Seven females to locate and a timeline they couldn’t determine. Sounded simple, right?
Too bad nothing ever was.
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