“All three remaining pins,” I challenged Patch.
“What kind of prize are we talking about?” he asked.
“Bloody hell,” Rixon said. “Can’t this wait until you’re alone?” Patch gave me a secret smile, then shifted his weight back, cradling the ball into his chest. He dropped his right shoulder, brought his arm around, and sent the ball flying forward as hard as he could. There was a loud crack! and the remaining three pins scattered off the table.
“Aye, now you’re in trouble, lass,” Rixon shouted at me over the commotion caused by a pocket of onlookers, who were clapping and whistling for Patch.
Patch leaned back against the booth and arched his eyebrows at me. The gesture said it all : Pay up.
“You got lucky,” I said.
“I’m about to get lucky.”
“Choose a prize,” the old man running the booth barked at Patch, bending to pick up the fall en pins.
“The purple bear,” Patch said, and accepted a hideous-looking teddy bear with matted purple fur. He held it out to me.
“For me?” I said, pressing a hand to my heart.
“You like the rejects. At the grocery store, you always take the dented cans. I’ve been paying attention.” He hooked his finger in the waistband of my jeans and pulled me close. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What did you have in mind?” But I was all warm and fluttery inside, because I knew exactly what he had in mind.
I shook my head. “Not going to happen. My mom’s home.
We could go to your place,” I hinted.
We’d been together two months, and I still didn’t know where Patch lived. And not for lack of trying. Two weeks into a relationship seemed long enough to be invited over, especially since Patch lived alone. Two months felt like overkill. I was trying to be patient, but my curiosity kept getting in the way. I knew nothing about the private, intimate details of Patch’s life, like the color of paint on his walls. If his can opener was electric or manual. The brand of soap he showered with. If his sheets were cotton or silk.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You live in a secret compound buried in the underbelly of the city.”
“Are there dishes in the sink? Dirty underwear on the floor?
It’s a lot more private than my place.”
“True, but the answer’s still no.”
“Has Rixon seen your place?”
“Rixon is need-to-know.”
“I’m not need-to-know?”
His mouth twitched. “There’s a dark side to need-to-know.”
“If you showed me, you’d have to kill me?” I guessed.
He wrapped his arms around me and kissed my forehead.
“Close enough. What time’s curfew?”
“Ten. Summer school starts tomorrow.” That, and my mom had practically taken a part-time job finding opportunities to drop the knife between me and Patch. If I’d been out with Vee, I could say with absolute certainty that my curfew would have stretched to ten thirty. I couldn’t blame my mom for not trusting Patch—there was a point in my life when I’d felt similarly—but it would have been extremely convenient if every now and then she relaxed her vigilance.
Like, say, tonight. Besides, nothing was going to happen.
Not with my guardian angel standing inches away.
Patch looked at his watch. “Time to roll.”
At 10:04, Patch flipped a U-turn in front of the farmhouse and parked by the mailbox. He cut the engine and the headlights, leaving us alone in the dark countryside. We sat that way for several moments before he said, “Why so quiet, Angel?” I instantly snapped to attention. “Am I being quiet? Just lost in thought.”
A barely-there smile curved Patch’s mouth. “Liar. What’s wrong?”
“You’re good,” I said.
His smile widened a fraction. “Really good.”
“I ran into Marcie Mill ar at the hamburger stand,” I admitted.
So much for keeping my troubles to myself. Obviously they were still smoldering under the surface. On the other hand, if I couldn’t talk to Patch, who could I talk to? Two months ago our relationship involved a lot of spontaneous kissing inside our cars, outside our cars, under the bleachers, and on top of the kitchen table. It also involved a lot of wandering hands, tousled hair, and smudged lip gloss. But it was so much more than that now. I felt connected to Patch emotionally. His friendship meant more to me than a hundred casual acquaintances. When my dad died, he’d left a huge holl owness inside me that threatened to eat me from the inside out. The emptiness was still there, but the ache didn’t cut half as deep. I didn’t see the point in staying frozen in the past, when I had everything I wanted right now. And I had Patch to thank for that. “She was thoughtful enough to remind me my dad is dead.”
“Want me to talk to her?”
“That sounds a bit The Godfather.”
“What started the war between the two of you?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t even know. It used to be over who got the last chocolate milk in the lunch crate. Then one day in junior high, Marcie marched into school and spray-painted ‘whore’ on my locker. She didn’t even try to be sneaky about it. The whole school was looking on.”
“She went postal just like that? No reason?”
“Yup.” No reason I was aware of, anyway.
He tucked one of my curls behind my ear. “Who’s winning the war?”
“Marcie, but not by much.”
His smile grew. “Go get her, Tiger.”
“And here’s another thing. Whore? In junior high, I hadn’t even kissed anyone. Marcie should have spray-painted her own locker.”
“Starting to sound like you’ve got a hang-up, Angel.” He slid his finger under the strap of my tank top, his touch sending electricity humming along my skin. “I bet I can take your mind off Marcie.”
A few lights were burning in the upper level of the farmhouse, but since I didn’t see my mom’s face pressed up against any of the windows, I figured we had some time. I unlatched my seat belt and bent across the console, finding Patch’s mouth in the darkness. I kissed him slowly, savoring the taste of sea salt on his skin. He’d shaved this morning, but now his stubble rasped my chin. His mouth skimmed my throat and I felt a touch of tongue, causing my heart to bump against my ribs.
His kiss moved to my bare shoulder. He nudged the strap of my tank top down and brushed his mouth lower along my arm.
Right then, I wanted to be as close to him as I could. I never wanted him to go. I needed him in my life right now, and tomorrow, and the day after. I needed him like I’d never needed anyone.
I crawled over the console, straddling his lap. I slid my hands up his chest, grasped him behind the neck, and pulled him in.
His arms circled my waist, locking me against him, and I snuggled in deeper.
Caught up in the moment, I ran my hands under his shirt, thinking only of how I loved the feel of his body heat spreading into my hands. As soon as my fingers brushed the place on his back where his wing scars used to be, a distant light exploded at the back of my mind. Perfect darkness, ruptured by one burst of blinding light. It was like watching a cosmic phenomenon in space from millions of miles away. I felt my mind being sucked inside Patch’s, into all the thousands of private memories stored there, when suddenly he took my hand and slid it lower, away from the place where his wings joined with his back, and everything spun sharply back to normal.
“Nice try,” he murmured, his lips brushing mine as he spoke.
I nibbled his lower lip. “If you could see into my past just by touching my back, you’d have a hard time resisting the temptation too.”
“I have a hard time keeping my hands off you without that added bonus.”
I laughed, but my expression quickly turned serious. Even with considerable concentration, I could hardly remember what life had been like without Patch. At night, when I lay in bed, I could remember with perfect clarity the low timbre of his laugh, the way his smile curved slightly higher on the right, the touch of his hands—hot, smooth, and delicious on my skin. But it was only with serious effort that I could pick up memories from the previous sixteen years. Maybe because those memories paled in comparison to Patch. Or maybe because there was nothing good there at all.
“Don’t ever leave me,” I told Patch, hooking a finger in the collar of his shirt and pulling him close.
“You’re mine, Angel,” he murmured, brushing the words across my jawbone as I arched my neck higher, inviting him to kiss everywhere. “You have me forever.”
“Show me you mean it,” I said solemnly.
He studied me a moment, then reached behind his neck and unclasped the plain silver chain he’d worn since the day I met him. I had no idea where the chain had come from, or the significance behind it, but I sensed it was important to him. It was the only piece of jewelry he wore, and he kept it tucked under his shirt, next to his skin. I’d never seen him take it off.
His hands slid to the nape of my neck, where he fastened the chain. The metal fell on my skin, still warm from him.
“I was given this when I was an archangel,” he said. “To help me discern truth from deception.”
I fingered it gently, in awe of its importance. “Does it still work?”
“Not for me.” He interlaced our fingers and turned my hand over to kiss my knuckles. “Your turn.”
I twisted a small copper ring off the middle finger of my left hand and held it out to him. A heart was hand-carved into the smooth underside of the ring.
Patch held the ring between his fingers, silently examining it.
“My dad gave it to me the week before he was killed,” I said.
Patch’s eyes flicked up. “I can’t take this.”
“It’s the most important thing in the world to me. I want you to have it.” I bent his fingers, folding them around the ring.
“Nora.” He hesitated. “I can’t take this.”
“Promise me you’ll keep it. Promise me nothing will ever come between us.” I held his eyes, refusing to let him turn away.
“I don’t want to be without you. I don’t want this to ever end.” Patch’s eyes were slate black, darker than a million secrets stacked on top of each other. He dropped his gaze to the ring in his hand, turning it over slowly.
“Swear you’ll never stop loving me,” I whispered.
Ever so slightly, he nodded.
I gripped his collar and pulled him against me, kissing him more fervently, sealing the promise between us. I locked my fingers between his, the sharp edge of the ring biting into our palms. Nothing I did seemed to bring me close enough to him, no amount of him was enough. The ring ground deeper into my hand, until I was certain it had broken skin. A blood promise.
When I thought my chest might collapse without air, I pulled When I thought my chest might collapse without air, I pulled away, resting my forehead against his. My eyes were shut, my breathing causing my shoulders to rise and fall. “I love you,” I murmured. “More than I think I should.”