Bodin rubbed his hands over his face and drew a deep breath. “What’s my next assignment?”
He waited wearily for Michael to answer. He hated this game. Finally the archangel asked, “Why are you still here?”
Bodin looked up annoyed. “What’s my next assignment?” he asked again, this time with an edge to his voice.
Michael’s gaze was patient. Bodin knew the archangel was waiting for a more appropriate reply. Bodin scowled again. He stood up abruptly and started pacing. If he thought pouting would help, he might stoop to it. He’d been in this predicament for nearly a thousand years. When his best friend, only friend if he was going to be honest, had died as a Changeling, Bodin had taken his place in his grief and guilt. He still felt responsible for Eric’s death, and he doubted another thousand years would make the pain or guilt go away. No one had understood why the two had been friends, let alone best friends. Eric had been light to Bodin’s dark. Eric had smiled and laughed, and Bodin, even then, just scowled.
“You know why I’m still here,” he ground out, glaring at the head of the Angel Realm.
“Honor to a friend. Noble, indeed, but how long are you going to go through the motions? Changelings have responsibilities, and upward mobility is one of them. You’ve never claimed your wings, and your heart is not in it. You barely tolerate the idea of love, and that’s what we work with and from.”
Bodin ignored the comment on his lack of wings, instead answered, “Love? That’s bullshit. Love is what got Eric killed.”
“I thought you blamed yourself for Eric’s death.” Michael’s rational question irritated Bodin.
Michael answered with a raised black eyebrow, his eyes declaring Bodin an insolent arse.
“I suck at this angel crap,” he bellowed, but ducked his head at the shameful behavior.
“Yes, you do. Again, why are you still here? I know you loved Eric like a brother, but—”
“I have loved no one,” he interrupted on a roar.
Michael rolled his eyes in impatience. “Seriously, you’d try the patience of the Goddess herself.”
Just then, the energy shifted and Gaia appeared.
“Yes, he does. But, Michael, you don’t have to point it out.”
“Sorry, Mum.” Michael’s face was radiant in the presence of the divine. Bodin couldn’t blame him.
He stared, dumbfounded, as usual, at the Goddess. Looking at her, he could almost believe love existed. She just felt good to be around. He vaguely wondered if any woman on Earth could make him believe in love. Where did that thought come from? He frowned and instead turned toward Gaia. Her smile was gentle, and it made him feel exposed, vulnerable. Over the years, he could always lie to himself, but he couldn’t pull one over her.
“You were inquiring,” Gaia said, still grilling him with her gentle, powerful smile, “as to your next assignment. Her name is Isobelle Cody, or Elle, as her friends call her. She’s afraid of flying, and you’re going to help her.”
Bodin swiftly turned toward Michael, and then back to the Goddess, saying nothing.
Gaia raised her eyebrows, but kept talking, “As usual, you can utilize her main guardian angel, if you want or need to. Her name is Molly.”
Bodin snorted. He worked alone.
Gaia continued to brief him and finished with, “And be nice.”
“I’m always nice.” He prepared for the zap on his tongue at the lie and wasn’t able to suppress a grin. Gaia made him smile. It had taken a few hundred years, more from his stubbornness than anything else. But he didn’t like showing it. He even liked Michael. He just didn’t like admitting that, either. It might ruin their gruff exchanges. Being around pure love all the time had a way of wiggling into one’s defenses.
Bodin was sure he was the only Changeling in history to require a thousand years and counting. Michael was right. His heart was not in it. He was quite certain he didn’t have any heart left, so Michael’s observation was no big surprise. It was guilt and honor that made him make that life-changing decision all those years ago. He really had no desire to be an angel or even to help his fellow man. People were largely assholes. Himself included. Eric was the only person he had ever met as a human that wasn’t. Sure, the last several centuries had given him opportunity to see a different side of humanity, a better side, but he was too stubborn to admit it. Bodin was likely the loneliest angel in training out there, and the grumpiest. Gaia wanted him to be nice, ha! He had no idea how to be nice. All right, time to get this thing done.
Gaia and Michael watched Bodin leave. Concerned, Michael turned toward the Goddess. He knew the internal demons Bodin faced. Being an archangel gave quite a bit of insight. He just wondered how long the Changeling was going to live in his self-imposed purgatory. His mouth twitched into a half smile. Changelings were human angels-in-training, and few would consider the high honor purgatory.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Michael asked mildly, trusting Gaia’s decision. “I usually cover fear issues, or have input in them.”
“I know.” Gaia paused. “And I appreciate your trust.”
“You are the Goddess.”
“Yes, but love doesn’t take anything for granted. Know I appreciate you. Elle is a doorway for Bodin, as he is one for her. Now, we just have to see if they walk through. Besides, as gruff as he is, Bodin will come to you if he needs help. He doesn’t jeopardize people for ego.”
Gaia looked lost in thought a moment before she smiled again, her eyes positively twinkling.
Michael was amused and curious at the extra radiance. “What?”
“Elle had another request.” The goddess twirled in a circle. “I’ll let Bodin figure that one out on his own, though.”
Excerpt from Duke Out at the Diner:
It’s a terrible thing to realize you have food stuck in your teeth. Even more terrible when the shiny napkin dispenser you’re slyly using to check, points it out.
“I’m not a napkin dispenser, I’m in the thing. There’s a difference.”
“Ahhh.” Shay shrieked. “Who said that?”
Cautiously she peered around the deserted cafe. The waitress and cook had disappeared out the side door, giggling and mooning over each other. No way were they back yet.
“I have got to get more sleep.” Shay ran her tongue over her teeth in front of the dispenser’s mirrored surface, wondering if she could imagine voices because of lack of sleep.
“Your teeth are fine. Now get me out of here.”
Shay dropped the chatty dispenser onto the table and looked around in panic. I can’t be imagining that.
“I’m stuck in here, now get me out.”
Shay stared at the unassuming chrome napkin dispenser talking to her.
“I. Am. Not. A. Napkin. Dispenser.” The voice started in the tone used in talking to someone dimwitted, but ended in an enraged growl, “I just need you to get me the hell out of here.”
Shay jumped in her seat at having her mind read, but the boorish attitude and unwarranted snapping spurred her to action. Shay was sick of men treating her like an idiot. With a new-found smile, she swatted the offending chrome piece, launching it into the air. It landed with a thud on the floor and skidded a few feet.
For a mind reader, he should have seen that one coming, she thought smugly.
In that brief moment, Shay had unleashed on all the men who had hurt her in the past. A paltry thing, throwing around diner-ware, but it had felt darn good. Shay’s manners returned, though, and she couldn’t stop herself from getting up and retrieving the fallen canister. It now had a dinged corner and dirt on it from skidding across the uncleaned-floor.
With a sigh and feeling a bit self-conscious, Shay grabbed one of the napkins held within and started to rub clean the unobtrusive object. She must have been imagining the darn thing talking to her. She needed to get more sleep, work less, and regroup more. That’s what coming to this town was supposed to be about anyway. And getting away from Jerrod.
Rubbing the dirt off, Shay looked at her reflection in the chrome, remembering when her life had been normal, with nothing scarier than the calorie count on her favorite ice cream. And even that wasn’t scary, it was delicious. Life had been simple, wonderful, and then the rug had been pulled out from underneath her. Almost in a trance she rubbed the napkin holder, thinking, dreaming of how she was getting her life back on track.
“Stop that. . . quit rubbing, that’s enough, I’m already coming-” The voice was back.
A swooshing sound rang through the empty room. She still held the chrome piece, but now an irate looking man had materialized and now lumbered over her. Broad shoulders crowded near Shay’s face. Okay, so definitely not a napkin holder. The man was gorgeous. Cranky, but undeniably gorgeous. Why had the most interesting man she’d ever seen materialize from an inanimate object? In so many ways, life was not fair. And why did he look so grumpy? He was probably an ass, like all the other men in her life.
* * * *
“Out.“ Eric finished his sentence. Dusting off his jeans and running his large hands through longish dark blond hair, he glared at his rescuer.
“Nice rub-down.” He knew he spat the angry words, but he couldn’t seem to help it.
The woman had been so spunky, then caring, and then so lost. Not to mention she was clean-spun gorgeous. Eric could deal with the fairer sex, no problem. But not knock-out wholesome beauties with backstory. God help him.
The woman’s vibrant green eyes narrowed at his comment. Eric couldn’t wait to find out what she would do. This was madness, he needed to get out of here, find out how to break the curse so wouldn’t be stuck back in that damn dispenser again. But the woman before him was making it impossible to move. Eric was mesmerized and wanted to see what she would do next.
She did the unthinkable. Eyes still narrowed, she drew her leg back. Eric’s brain was registering what she was doing, but his arrogance couldn’t believe it. People gave him a wide berth, he knew it was because he looked so intimidating. But the fiery minx thrust her knee up and made direct contact where Eric was most vulnerable.