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“Don’t do that to me ever again!” I yel ed, bal ing up my fists, and landing them straight into Jared’s chest.

He wrapped his arms around me tightly. “I’m sorry. I realized what was about to happen, and I had to go. These pictures were the only things in the loft I couldn’t lose.”

We turned to watch at our home fal in defeat to the fire. The beams creaked as they gave way, and glowing ash was thrown into the sky, floating al around us. My eyes poured out rivers of tears. I’d never realized how much I loved the loft until I witnessed it dying in front of me. Memories of our first date, listening to our song for the first time, cooking together, laughing, watching Claire and Bex grow a little more each time they entered the front door. It was al gone; reduced to cinders.

Sirens sounded in the distance.

“We have to go,” Jared said, gently escorting me to the passenger side of the Escalade.

As he pul ed away, I watched the flames and glowing smoke until I couldn’t see them anymore, and then turned to face forward. Jared placed his hand over mine, and then Bex put his hand over ours.

“It had to be Donovan,” Bex said.

I shook my head. “No. Claire took care of al the humans that might be a threat to us.”

“Except Donovan,” Jared said. His knuckles turned white against the steering wheel.

Bex leaned back in the seat. “He’s the closest human to Shax. Claire left him alive because he's the Taleh of a Half-breed.”

“What?” I said, looking to Jared for confirmation.

He nodded. “Isaac. Very fast, very strong, but emotional. He's been known to make mistakes, but he's stil dangerous.”

I blinked, processing what Jared had said. “So to kil Donovan we’d have to kil a Hybrid.”

“Not just any Hybrid,” Bex said. “The son of Michael. An angel in the Holy Army. A warrior of God. At His word, they would exterminate entire blood lines, entire kingdoms.”

I laughed once. “You’re joking.”

“No,” Jared said, pul ing the Escalade down a road leading us out of town. “Michael belongs to a family of angels that embodies God's Wrath, and if harm came to his son, that would be an act of war against Heaven. That is the only reason Donovan is stil alive.”

The Escalade bounced over the uneven gravel road, and Jared came to a stop just outside a familiar chain-link fence. We walked hand-in-hand to the Warehouse where I met Eli. Jared pushed the button and we waited. Nothing.

“I thought you said he wouldn’t speak to you?” I asked.

Jared stood silent, patient, and calm. Twenty long minutes passed, and then we were final y buzzed in. The breath Jared had silently held, he released. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Bex led the way through the dusty, cement hal . My footsteps echoed throughout the capacious room the hal opened up to, encased by a hundred dirty windows.

As before, we waited in the center.

Jared’s and Bex’s faces were marked by soot from the fire. Their expressions were composed, waiting for Eli to decide to show himself.

An hour passed, and stil we waited. Jared slid his arms from his jacket and hung it on my shoulders. I hadn’t even noticed the cold, but once the added heat was around me, I shivered.

“Patience,” Jared said. His words could have been directed at me or at Bex, I wasn’t sure.

After another hour, the columns of glass were ignited by the rising sun. Rays of white pierced through, il uminating the elegantly floating dust motes in its path. Glowing yel ow squares infringed upon the shadows, and soon the entire floor glowed and warmed with the glorious grace of morning light.

“Nina,” a voice call ed from across the room. Eli walked toward us, his eyes focused only on me. He was dressed in the same attire he wore the last time we met: The crisp, white shirt, the jeans and sandals, and the spiky blonde hair. He made a click noise with his tongue. “You aren’t getting enough rest.”

“But you knew that,” I smiled sleepily.

One corner of his mouth turned up, but it wasn’t quite a smile. “I’m sorry, Cupcake. I haven’t been much help.”

“Can you help us now?” Jared asked.

“We would love to, Jared. We’ve been instructed not to,” Eli said. Compassion was in his eyes, but not apology.

“But…why?” Bex asked, genuinely confused.

Jared watched Eli for a moment, and then frowned. “They won’t intervene unless The Balance is disturbed.”

Eli reached his hand to me, and I took it. He pul ed me into him gently. He towered over me, and I felt like a child wrapped in his arms. Emotion overwhelmed me, and I let myself tremble and weep unreservedly in the quiet sanctuary of his embrace. Jared’s hand touched my shoulder; Bex’s smal er hand touched my back. A sob that had been hiding somewhere deep within me found its way to the surface.

It felt good to cry. I had just seen my father for the first time since his death. The pressure and horror of being the center of a story Hel took very seriously, and now hearing that Heaven was unwil ing to help, hope was dwindling. Crying was a sweet release, and in Eli’s arms, it was natural, much like a tearful moment in my father’s lap when I was hurt or frightened.

Eli released me, and tenderly grasped a lock of my hair. “You have grieved for your former life, Nina Grey. It is time to rise up as the woman you are: Strong, determined,” he smiled, “and stubborn.” He walked away from us, looking at the sky through the windows. “Humans see life as so precious when it’s fleeting. Add in the defensive instincts of a mother, and you’re nearly unstoppable, even in your fragile shel . It’s more inspiring each time I see it.”

“You know she’s not pregnant,” Jared said.

“Yet,” Eli said, turning with a knowing smile. “Let us visit again when the time is right. At the time when you have no more questions to ask but one.”

“What question is that?” I asked, but he was gone. “Damn it.”

“We need to get Nina back,” Jared said.

“Back to where, Jared? Did you forget your house is toast?” Bex said.

I shook my head, stil in disbelief. Jared enveloped me in his arms, warmer and even more inviting than Eli’s.

“You have three choices, Nina: Cynthia’s, Lil ian’s, or Kim’s.”