became aware of my fingers wrapped around Xavier’s — his hands were cooling my seared skin. As he held me, I noticed that a strange light seemed to glow at the places where our fingers entwined. Soon it was enveloping us. It extended just far enough to cover both our bodies. I noticed that if I squeezed Xavier’s hand a little tighter and drew him a little closer, the light seemed to respond and spread farther out around us like a protective shield. But what was it? What did it mean? Xavier hadn’t even noticed — he was too focused on trying to still my quivering body — but Ivy had. She leaned down and whispered in my ear.

“It’s your gift, Bethany. Use it.”

“I don’t understand,” I croaked. “Can’t you tell me how?”

“You have the most powerful gift of all — you know what to do with it.”

My mind didn’t understand Ivy’s message, but somehow my body knew what to do. I summoned the last shreds of energy left inside me; pushed aside the pain that threatened to drag me under and lifted my head toward Xavier. As our lips met, every negative thought was driven from my head until all I could see was him. Jake Thorn leapt back as the light exploded in dazzling beams, streaming from our entwined bodies and flooding the room. Jake screamed and threw his arms around his body as if trying to protect himself, but the light engulfed him like tendrils of white fire. He thrashed and writhed for a moment, before giving himself up and allowing the ribbons to lick their way along his torso and wrap themselves like tentacles around him.

“What is that?” Xavier cried as he shielded his eyes against the blinding blaze. Ivy and Gabriel who were standing calmly as the light washed over them, turned to him.

“You of all people should know,” said Ivy. “It’s love.”

Xavier and I held each other tightly as the room shook, and the light burned a gaping hole through the floor.

It was into this abyss that Jake Thorn disappeared. He met my gaze as he fell. He was tortured but still smiling.



In the weeks that followed, my brother and sister did their best to tidy up the confusion that Jake had left behind. They visited the families affected by the crimes he’d perpetrated and spent a lot of time trying to rebuild trust in Venus Cove.

Ivy took care of Molly and the others who’d fallen under Jake’s spell. The dark spirits possessing their bodies had been sucked back to Hell along with the one who had raised them. My sister wiped the memory of Jake’s activities from their minds, careful not to touch any other unrelated recollections. It was like erasing words from a storybook — you had to select them very carefully or you might get rid of something important. When she was done, they remembered the newcomer Jake Thorn, but no one recalled having any association with him. A message was sent to the school administration that Jake had been withdrawn from Bryce Hamilton on the wishes of his father and he would be returning to boarding school in England. It was the subject of gossip for a day or two before the students moved on to more immediate concerns.

“Whatever happened to that hot British guy?” Molly asked me two weeks after her rescue. She was sitting on the end of my bed, filing her nails. “What was his name… Jack, James?”

“Jake,” I said. “And he left to go back to England.”

“Shame,” Molly commented. “I liked his tattoos. Do you think I should get one? I was thinking one that says, ‘leirbag.’ ”

“You want a tattoo of Gabriel’s name backward?”

“Damn, is it that obvious? I’ll have to think of something else.”

“Gabriel doesn’t like tattoos,” I said. “He says the human body is not a billboard.”

“Thanks, Bethie,” Molly said gratefully. “Lucky I have you around to stop me from making bad decisions.”

I found it hard to talk to Molly the way I used to. Something had changed within me. I was the only member of my family who hadn’t recovered from the conflict with Jake. In fact, weeks after the fire, I still hadn’t left the house. At first it was because my wings, which were badly burned, needed time to heal properly. After that it was simply because I lacked the courage. I was happy to be a ghost. After all my previous thirst for human experiences, I now wanted nothing more than the haven of home. I couldn’t think of Jake without tears springing to my eyes. I tried not to let the others see, but when I was alone, my self-control failed and I cried openly — not only for the pain he caused but also for what he might have been if he’d only allowed me to help him. I didn’t hate him. Hatred was a powerful emotion, and I felt too drained for that. I found myself thinking of Jake as one of the saddest creatures of the universe. He had come to willfully blacken our lives, but he had achieved nothing really. Nevertheless, I tried not to think about what might have happened if Gabriel hadn’t stormed my prison. But the thought kept creeping into my mind and driving me back to the safety of my bedroom.

I sometimes watched the world go by through my window. The spring drifted into summer, and I felt the days lengthening. I noticed the sunshine arrived earlier and lasted longer. I watched some sparrows build their nests in the eaves of the house. In the distance I could see waves lapping lazily at the shore.

Xavier’s visit was the only part of the day I looked forward to. Of course Ivy and Gabriel were a great comfort, but they always seemed slightly detached, still strongly connected to our old home. In my mind, Xavier was an embodiment of earth — rock solid, stable, and secure. I had worried that his experience with Jake Thorn might change him in some way, but his reaction to everything that happened was to have no reaction at all. He threw himself back into the task of looking after me and seemed to have accepted the supernatural world without question.

“Maybe I don’t want answers,” he said when I quizzed him about it one afternoon. “I’ve seen enough to believe it.”

“But aren’t you curious?”

“It’s like you said.” He sat down beside me and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. “There are some things beyond human comprehension. I know that there’s a Heaven and a Hell, and I’ve seen what can come out of both. For now that’s all I need to know. Questions would serve no purpose right now.”

I smiled. “When did you become such a wise old soul?”

He shrugged. “Well, I have been hanging out with a crew that’s been around since creation. You’d hope I’d get some perspective, having an angel as my other half.”

“You’d call me your other half?” I asked dreamily, tracing my finger along the leather cord at his throat.

“Of course,” he said. “When I’m not with you, I feel like I’m wearing a pair of glasses that turns the world gray.”

“And when you are with me?” I asked softly.

“Everything’s in technicolor.”

Xavier’s final exams loomed, and yet he still came every day, always attentive, always studying my face for signs of improvement. He always brought with him some small offering: an article from the newspaper, a book from the library, an entertaining story to tell, or cookies he’d baked himself. Self-pity wasn’t an option when he was around. If there were ever moments in our past when I’d doubted his love, I didn’t doubt it now.

“Should we try going for a walk today?” he asked. “Down to the beach? You can bring Phantom if you like.”

I was tempted for a moment, then the thought of the outside world overwhelmed me, and I pulled my blanket up under my chin.

“That’s okay.” Xavier didn’t press the matter. “Maybe tomorrow. How about we stay in and cook dinner together tonight?”

I nodded mutely, snuggled closer to him, and looked up into his perfect face with its amused half-smile and lock of nutmeg hair falling across his forehead. It was all so wonderfully familiar.

“Your patience is saintlike,” I said. “I think we’ll have to apply to have you canonized.”

He laughed and took my hand, pleased to see in me a flicker of my former self. I followed him downstairs in

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