He stood barely three feet away from me, jean-clad legs spread wide, arms folded across a broad chest. Dark ink curled around rock-like biceps, disappearing into the short sleeves of a black t-shirt. Waves of obsidian hair fell across his brow and curled against cheekbones set high and sharp. Lush, full lips were graced with a panty-dropping smirk, and eyes the colour of glacier ice met mine.
He had the face of angel, and the body of sin incarnate.
And he radiated a dark power so strong it made every hair on my body stand on end and my blood run cold.
"Why are you here? What are you doing in my house?" I whispered, my voice quivering.
His lips twitched, his smirk growing. "I'm here to kill you," he said, and his voice was sex to the ears. It was melted chocolate and rain storms and the wildest seduction. It had a rasping edge that reminded me of the lead singer of Nickelback.
But his words rang alarm bells in my head, and I felt a crackle run beneath my skin from my head to my toes. My power surged as I slipped into a defensive stance, my feet hips-width apart and my shoulders back. I was ready to fight, even though every cell in me was certain I had no chance against this guy. He wasn't human. I knew that much.
I'd known they'd send someone for me one day, I'd thought I was prepared…but staring into those grey-blue eyes as cold and empty as space, I realised I was wrong. I wasn't prepared in the least.
He moved faster than I could blink, and then his arm was under my chin, his forearm against my neck, crushing my windpipe. He was incredibly strong, his arm was like a steel bar. This close, I could smell his skin, a scent like freshly tilled soil and mown grass but with something spicier in the background.
Oddly, the scent calmed me down and instead of panicking, I closed my eyes and focused. I stood still, not fighting him, as I felt for my power, like a thread that ran through my whole body. I reached for the thread, plucking it, tugging it toward my spine.
The space between my shoulder blades tingled, and I felt the skin of my back tear open – it wasn't painful, just a sensation like popping a blister, a release. My shirt tore as my wings sprung open, two great white plumes arching above my head. The force knocked the man backward, and his arm slipped from my neck as my wings came between us like a shoe horn.
He hit the back wall hard enough to leave a dent in the plaster, white dust and chips of paint getting caught in his hair. I turned, stretching my wings to the sides and pulling the around myself, a ripple running from the tips to the bottom of my spine. Reaching out, I ran my fingers over the downy-soft material. Not feathers, but more like the fluff on the top of a dandelion.
It had been years since I'd Shifted like this, I'd done it all the time as a kid – just for fun or by accident when I got upset. My parents had home-schooled me for fear I'd reveal my wings in class or in public, and humans would lose their minds over it.
I'd always known what I was, the power that had been passed down in my family for years. My mother had cradled me in her wings as a baby, my father taught me to fly when I was four, my grandmother had told me the tale of how we came to be Nephilim as a bedtime story.
The story was that the angel Ithuriel had been sent to Earth in the 1600s, in the time of the witch trials – in times of great difficulty for mankind, such as wars or catastrophe, an angel was always sent to escort the souls of the good and the brave to Heaven.
Ithuriel was watching the trial of a woman accused of being a witch, and through his telepathic powers, he discovered that the woman was not a witch but a talented healer who used herbs and advanced knowledge to cure ailments and fix wounds that nobody else could.
The crowd jeered for the woman's death, chanting "Witch" and "Devil", and so the woman was hanged. But as the woman's soul left her body, Ithuriel saw that it was pure. A white, glowing orb that emerged from her chest and hung in the air, invisible to the gathered humans. He saw in that soul how many lives this woman had saved, and how many she would save in future, and he concluded that she was far too good to die this soon. She would do more good on Earth yet.
So Ithuriel froze time for just a moment, just long enough to get to the gallows and release the woman from the noose. He laid her down on the wooden planks and caught her hovering soul in his fist. Then, using a rusty nail pried from the wood, he sliced his wrist open and poured three drops of his golden blood into the woman's mouth. The pure power in those drops healed her broken neck, and Ithuriel laid his fist over her heart. He did what had only been done by angels a handful of times before, he rejoined the woman's soul to her body, and when she opened her eyes, he saw the purity of her soul shining through, and he fell in love with her in that instant.
Releasing his wings, Ithuriel carried the woman in his arms as he flew, and when he returned her to her home, she begged him to stay. And he did. For fifty years, he stayed with her, until her life came to a natural end and by then they'd had three children together, each blessed with angel blood. Each one a Nephilim.
The woman in the story was my ancestor, the one I was named for: Magdelena MacArthur. The woman who'd captured an angel's heart.
Now, as I stood before my would-be killer with my wings spread, I wasn't afraid. I was angry. "Get out of my house and don't come back."
The man pushed himself away from the cracked wall and stared at me, his eyes wide and lips parted. "You don't fear me," he breathed, taking a step toward me. I flung out my hand, sparks snapping from my fingertips. My power was surging, electric. He paused, tilting his head. His eyes narrowed, and he looked at me as if I were an odd science experiment or an ugly beetle trapped in a jar. "A Neph who doesn't fear me. Now that is a rare thing indeed."
A small smile curled the corners of his mouth, and his tongue darted out to lick his upper lip. I was startled by the sudden, intense gripping sensation in my gut as I watched him. He was ungodly sexy…for a demon.
"I said get out, hellspawn!" I hissed, standing my ground.
He tipped up his chin, eyeing me through thick lashes. "Ah, you think I'm a demon. There, you are wrong, little angel." In that husky voice, the nickname sounded like something I should blush at, like he was calling me something dirty.
I took a step back. If he wasn't a demon, what was he? My parents had warned me form a young age that demons lurked among us, that if they found me, they would kill me. I carried the blood of an angel, therefore I was their enemy, I was dangerous to them. I'd expected a demon would come for me one day…but if this man wasn't a demon, why was he trying to kill me?
"Wh-what are you?" I asked, my voice laced with confusion.
All of a sudden, he was right in front of me, so close his breath stirred the hair falling on either side of my face. His eyes took up the whole of my vision, pools of swirling ice framed by lashes of the darkest black. Beautiful. Cold, but beautiful.
He leaned in, and I froze, my breath catching my throat as his lips just barely brushed mine in something that wasn't quite a kiss. "You can call me Raith," he whispered.
And then he was gone. Before I could even blink, he vanished, leaving me alone in my bedroom with a fire in my belly and ice in my veins. My fingers went to my mouth, touching my lips, which suddenly felt cold after the intimate warmth of his. Not a demon, I thought. Raith.