End of Days Page 16

‘How do you think things might have been . . .’ My voice dries up. I swallow and keep going. ‘If you were human, or I was an angel?’

He reaches out as if he can’t help himself and runs his forefinger along the shoulder of the dress. ‘If I were human, I’d plow the nicest farm for you.’ He sounds completely sincere. ‘Better than anyone else’s. It would have golden pineapples, the juiciest grapes, and the most flavorful radishes in the entire world.’

I just stare at him, trying to figure out if he’s joking. I think he’s serious. ‘You haven’t been to a lot of farms, have you, Raffe? Most of us aren’t farmers anymore anyway.’

‘That wouldn’t diminish my little human commitment to you.’

I smile a little. ‘If I was an angel, I’d tickle your feet with my feathers and sing angelic songs for you every morning.’

He scrunches his brow, looking like it pains him to try to envision this.

‘Right.’ I nod. ‘Neither of us have any idea what it would be like to be in each other’s world. Got it.’

He looks down at me with sincere eyes. ‘If I were human, I would have been the first in line for you . . .’ He looks away. ‘But I’m not. I’m an archangel, and my people are in trouble. I have no choice but to try to set things straight. I can’t get distracted by a Daughter of Man.’

He nods a little to himself. ‘I can’t.’

I hook the dress carefully back on the rack and make myself listen to what he’s telling me. I just need to accept the situation.

I take a good look at him, steeling myself to see determination and maybe even pity. But instead, I see turmoil. There’s a battle raging behind his eyes.

A tiny light of hope flares in my chest. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for anymore. My brain can’t seem to keep up with my heart.

‘Just this once,’ he says almost more to himself than to me. ‘Just one moment.’

Then he leans down and kisses me.

It’s the kind of kiss that I’ve been dying for since I was born.

His lips are supple, his touch tender. He strokes my hair gently.

He licks my lips – a probing, wet glide – then touches my tongue with his. Electric sensations zip from the tip of my tongue down to my toes and back again.

I feel like I’m drowning in him. Who knew such a thing existed? I open my mouth and grab him tighter, almost climbing into his arms.

We kiss wildly for what seems like a year, for what is only a millisecond. My breath is ragged, and it feels like I can’t get enough air. My insides are melting, flowing like lava through my body.

Then he stops.

He takes a deep breath and steps back, holding me at arm’s length.

I groggily take a step toward him on pure instinct. My eyelids feel heavy, and I just want to get lost in the sensation that is Raffe.

There’s a mix of longing and sadness in his eyes, but he’s not letting me get any closer.

Seeing that brings me back to myself. Back to the here and now.

The invasion. My mom. My sister. The massacres. They all come rushing back. He’s right.

We’re at war.

On the verge of an apocalypse filled with monsters and torture in a nightmare world.

And I’m standing here, a moonstruck teenager pining for an enemy soldier. What am I, crazy?

This time, I’m the first to turn away.

13

The vault in my head feels full, and my churning emotions need a break.

I wander deeper into the store, away from Raffe. In the dim area before the store gets really dark, I find a display platform to sit on. It’s bright enough for me to see but dark enough to be just one of the shadows if anyone else is watching. Sometimes, I feel like my whole life is lived in this twilight space between sunshine and darkness.

I sit and brood over the fallen racks and broken pieces of our old civilization. When I get tired of that, I look into the dark part of the store. I can’t see anything but keep imagining things that may or may not be moving. But then, as I look around, I do see something.

Behind a tilted sign near a sea of shoes and several fallen mannequins is a small flashlight. It’s on, but it’s weak, casting more shadows than light.

I put my hand on the soft fur of Pooky Bear and debate whether to run away or to investigate. I don’t feel like running to Raffe, so I hop onto my feet and walk quietly in the direction of the flashlight.

Before I can get there, someone steps into the light.

It’s Paige. She’s still in her oversized T-shirt that hangs crookedly off one shoulder and falls past her knees. Her tennis shoes are almost black with dried blood.

The dim light hits the hollows of her face, emphasizing her skeletal features beneath the stitches and casting long shadows from her hair onto her neck. She walks toward the mannequins like she’s sleepwalking. She looks mesmerized by something on the floor.

I take another look at the mannequins and realize that one of them is a man.

He’s lying on his back on top of the scattered shoes with his head and shoulders mixed with mannequin limbs, as if he collapsed onto them. One pale hand stretches toward the fallen flashlight while the other clutches a scrap of paper over his chest. He must have died of a heart attack.

Paige kneels down beside him like she’s in a trance. She’ll see me if she looks up, but she’s too preoccupied with the man. Maybe she smells people now the way a predator might smell prey.

I know what she’s about to do.

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