The Guardian-Chapter Ten
Summary: One of Dover's Charges is being watched by a strange familiar, so the guardian resolves to check on each of the others.
Sunlight urged her awake before she was ready. Sleeping soundly without being exhausted by battle happened rarely. She rolled in the warm blankets, preferring to stay in bed for another languid moment before forcing herself to rise.
The small dip in the mattress Hanael occupied the previous night lay empty, still body-warm from his presence only recently removed. Dover blinked sleep-heavy eyes, yawning softly as she peered over the edge of her white duvet in search of her companion.
A heady, rich scent reached her nostrils the moment her head appeared above the blankets. Dover clamped her bottom lip between her teeth, a small smile working its way onto her mouth. When was the last time she woke to a warm bed, to the scent of brewing coffee on the air?
Dover kicked the blankets away from her body with the exuberance of a child at Christmas. Before Hanael knew she was awake, the Guardian ducked into her bathroom to relieve herself and brush her teeth. As an afterthought, she brushed the tangles from her hair. Once she deemed herself decent in the sweats and camisole she’d worn to bed, Dover moved into the kitchen.
Han stood at her counter, whisking what looked like a few eggs in a bowl. Bacon already sizzled on the pan, the toaster glowing as it heated the sourdough she could smell wafting from the grates.
A steaming cup of coffee in her favorite “But first, coffee” mug sat on the counter.
Hanael had removed his sweater from the night before, standing in her kitchen in bare feet, his rumpled jeans, and a white undershirt. His hair was slightly mussed, his lips pursed in a soft whistle as he cooked.
The image would be captured in her mind forever. This powerful angel relaxed, at home, making breakfast. Dover wondered how she remained upright as her muscles seemed to melt into her bones.
He noticed her standing at the bar, his head coming up sharply with a beautiful smile blooming over his handsome face. Dover eased around the breakfast bar, leaning up to kiss the angel’s cheek as he continued to whisk.
“Good morning.” His voice took that low tone of early morning, the words nearly lost against the sizzle of the skillet behind him. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
Dover nodded, then offered her cheek up for him to kiss. The previous evening, they held one another and spoke into the wee hours of the night. He followed her to bed, lying with her in chaste slumber, arms clutching her to his chest. Dover had never experienced something so seductively innocent in either of her lives.
As the Guardian moved back to the stool across the counter, she took up the coffee with a sigh of contentment. Hanael knew his way around the kitchen, though he often peered into two or three cupboards before he located whatever he was looking for.
“So,” he said cheerfully as he poured eggs into the pan. “What are your plans for the day?”
She gave her companion a vapid look. “You mean, I’m not allowed to continue my Netflix mope?”
Hanael lifted a dark brow, his lips quirking into the little smirk that made Dover’s heart thud heavily in her chest.
A tilt of her head wiped the goofy look from her face. Dover shrugged one shoulder. “I need to check in on Royce. He left a message last night, asking to see me. He didn’t seem upset. I’m supposed to meet him for lunch.”
Hanael moved eggs around in the pan, the expression on his face one of concentration. “Royce. The father of four, owns a construction company, wife is a secretary.”
Pleasure at his memory of her Charge bloomed through her chest. Dover nodded. “That’s him. He’s so sweet. After lunch, I don’t have much going on until Matty’s party tonight.”
Han offered a smile, though his gaze remained on the meal he seemed intent on preparing. Since he did not offer information on the upcoming Guardian get together, Dover decided to ask outright.
“Will you be there tonight?”
A furrow appeared between his brows. “No one wants the boss around, my dear. I’ll be at the Arbor with my paperwork this evening.”
Because she knew he was right, Dover shrugged one shoulder. The Arbor had the same office politics as many businesses all over the world. The boss showing up would send everyone straight home.
With quick, fluid motions, Hanael loaded a plate. He slid it in front of her, along with a folded napkin and a fork. Dover stared first at the plate, then at the man. Her expression, she knew, must have taken on a sheen of adoration. She continued to look at him, unable to speak as he arranged his own meal. Once he sat beside her, Hanael seemed to clue in on her stillness, for he turned to face her with a curious expression. Dover’s feelings must have shone all over her features as blood rushed to his face, coloring his cheeks as his eyes downcast bashfully. Dover caught her bottom lip with her teeth again.
“Shall we?” Hanael offered his hand to her. Dover reached out, lightly grasping the familiar fingers with hers. They bowed their heads in unison as Hanael whispered a short, sweet prayer over the meal he prepared for them.
They ate in comfortable silence, with only the tinkling of utensils and coffee mugs for company. Every time Dover shifted in her seat, her leg brushed Hanael’s. He would glance at her, a sort of startled and contented look, as though he couldn’t quite believe they were sitting together this way.
Dover washed up in the kitchen as Hanael prepared to leave. There were duties for him to fulfill at the Arbor, after all, and he had spent the entire night away. The angel lingered as long as he could, waiting for Dover to walk him the extremely short distance to her door.
As he stepped into the hall, coat in hand, Hanael smiled down at her. Dover, for her part, smiled softly as she looked up into the golden-green gaze she could drown in.
“Dinner? Tomorrow night?” He asked quietly.
Dover nodded once. “So long as no Charge comes screaming for help. Say seven?”
Hanael smiled broadly, reaching out with his free hand to tuck an errant raven lock back behind her ear. “May I kiss you goodbye?”
“Yes.” Dover agreed on a sigh.
Unlike Kiss-Gate, Hanael moved slowly. The hand previously playing with her hair slipped to her cheek, cupping the flesh there with aching tenderness. Dover tilted her face up, little tingles of pleasure dancing along her skin as Hanael dropped his mouth to hers.
His kiss was soft, utterly gentle, seeking permission without demand. Dover gave in to him completely, pressing her body against his until she felt him begin to withdraw.
Breath stolen by the moment, she could only smile as he whispered a goodbye, encouraged her to have a good day. She watched his back retreat toward the elevators. Once he reached his destination, he turned to wave before stepping inside and out of sight.
Dover closed the door to her apartment, shook herself back to reality and headed for the shower.
The little house in McDonough sat on a corner lot with high tomato plants sunning themselves at the side of the property. It wasn’t new or flashy, but settled in with a sort of homey atmosphere that Dover enjoyed. The blue shutters needed a few slats replaced, the front steps were missing a board or two, and the driveway had grass growing in the cracks. Dover thought all the flaws in and around the Flores home merely added charm.
The Guardian parked her truck in the familiar driveway, raising a hand as she jumped out to the portly woman sweeping the front steps.
“Buenos dias, señora Flores.” Dover exhausted her Spanish-speaking abilities with the one phrase, but the older woman positively beamed at her.
“Your Spanish better all the time, señorita. Come inside, Roy and Lupita are waiting.”
Dover kissed the woman’s cheek before she breezed into the house, bending her knees as she shouted a greeting into the general clatter that consisted of three sweet girls and one infant boy.
“Royce? Lupe? I’m here.”
She was met in the front room by a pair of sticky-fingered twins and a young girl on the very cusp of womanhood. Gema just turned thirteen, with a willowy silhouette and long, dark hair. The twins – Adela and Nya – were four, with cherubic faces and curly black hair. Little Luis was not yet six months, but promised to be a handsome young man indeed.
“Leave her alone!” Lupita Flores bustled into the room with little Luis in her arms. The boy appeared happy and recently fed, reaching for Dover’s familiar arms eagerly. Dover took the baby boy gladly, bouncing his chunky little form to make him laugh.
“Goodness. It’s my one true love and three little princesas. You’re all dirty and beautiful.” The Guardian kissed each cheek, even managed to get a moody hug from the apple of Royce’s eye. As she reached adolescence, the world was her oyster and Gema still fought for her independence. It was a constant battle for the Flores parents. Even Dover walked softly around the explosive teen.
“Royce is in the kitchen.” Lupita said as she peeled the twins from Dover’s legs. “He wants a minute with you.”
Dover nodded, setting Luis on her hip. “Shall I take my fiancé with me?”
Lupita gave her the ‘Death look’ over the rim of her glasses, that beautiful face twisted in a mock glare. “Don’t you corrupt my boy, angel. Lunch is on the counter. Mama made menudo.”
With a delighted squeal, Dover tucked Luis into her arm more fully and skipped into the dining room. Royce sat at the table with his bowl propping a newspaper, since the forty-year-old man utterly refused to use anything electronic to get his news.
Royce reminded Dover a good deal of Adam. He stood under six feet tall, with a round face turned golden by the sun as he supervised his construction crew. His clothes were always immaculate, a uniform of plaid shirts and crisp carpenter jeans topped off by a pair of battered boots. Royce kept his hair Military-short, had a laugh that could shake the melancholy off of Charlotte Bronte.
Dover adored him.
“Heyya, Roy. I found this.” She held the baby out. Luis gurgled happily. “Can I keep it?”
The handsome man’s eyes lit up with the smile that spread across his face. “Dove! Come in, come in, and give me my boy! Give him here!”
Dover held Luis above her head, making the baby squeal with delight as angel and Charge played ‘Keep away” with the infant. The twins barged in a moment later, running in circles around Dover’s feet until Gema came rushing in to tell them all to be quiet.
Once Lupita came in, armed with a chancla, the rabble dispersed. Dover ate a quick lunch with Luis in her arms, then followed Royce out to the garden. They walked for a moment among the fragrant flowers Mama counted as her pride and joy. Dover thought about the night she’d come here, finding a pair of Hounds had trapped Royce and the then-newborn twins in the house. It took Dover and Elise to send the Hounds packing. Royce had stayed in contact since, even if it was just an update on Gema’s school play or new pictures of the twins. None of her other Charges had folded her into their lives as Roy did.
“Someone is watching us, Dove.” Royce said before he crouched to inspect the leaves of a tomato plant. Feigning interest, Dover crouched beside him, enjoying the heady thrill of brilliant Georgia sunlight on her back.
“Now?” She asked, reaching out to prune a dead leaf from plant, tossing it back onto the earth.
“To the left of the pine, under the brush. Do you see it?”
Careful to not arouse suspicion, Dover shifted just slightly. She made a minor show of pulling more deadened leaves from the carefully planted stalks, lifting her eyes only briefly to the area described.
Under the sticker-bushes that crowned the trunk of an ancient pine, Dover saw nothing. When the light shifted, just slightly, she caught a small reflection that reminded her of car headlights in the gaze of a startled deer.
Royce nodded. “For three days now. It does not approach and it does leave, but at some point, every day, I see it.”
Dover chanced another glance. The creature still lay under the bush, watching the Charge and Guardian intently. If it knew they were aware of it, the creature gave no indication. Dover took one more glance, not surprised to see it had not so much as tilted its head.
“Is it one of yours?”
It wasn’t uncommon for angels and even Guardians to use familiar animals. The creatures could alert a Guardian quickly if something were happening and provided a measure of protection against demonic forces.
Dover had no such familiar, though.
“No.” The Guardian replied. Foxes, she knew, were not common among the angelic host. Angels preferred birds of prey, something that was at home in the air.
Demons, it was said, favored predators and reptiles. She had never heard of either side engaging the services of something as cunning and quick as a fox.
“It does not come closer and retreats when the girls near it. Still, I wanted you to know.”
Dover exhaled sharply, wondering what kind of crazy she was dealing with now.
“I’m glad you called. Keep an eye on it and take this.”
Reaching into her pocket, Dover retrieved a new set of Warding stones for her Charge to place around the house. Embry had taken some of the Celestian wards from what they liked to call the Angel Book. He said the wards would not make it difficult for her to find her Charge since they were linked almost intimately, but another angel was likely to miss seeing them at all.
Dove wholeheartedly approved of this. At least until she had a handle on what was happening within the ranks of the Host. The Guardian handed the small cinched sack to her friend, her hand resting on his for briefly.
Royce frowned, his eyes slightly sad. Dover turned to face him fully, worry crossing her brow.
“Is my family safe, Dover?” Royce asked softly, the chorus of childlike laughter drifting out of the open windows. The September sun suddenly lost some of its warmth as Dover nodded once.
“I promise you, Roy, I won’t let anything happen to you. Or to them.”
Royce bowed his head in thanks, squeezed her hand.
You left them to die.
Jon’s angry words came back to her as Dover reached out. She pulled Royce into a tight embrace, mentally swearing in God’s name that she would keep that promise.
She hoped, desperately, that her vow would never be broken.
After visiting Royce and his family, Dover decided to check in on all of her Charges. Deanne Ross was a 42-year-old divorcee living the corporate-climbing life in downtown Atlanta. Dover made sure she wasn’t seen by her Charge’s co-workers, but she managed to get Dee into an empty conference room. Deanne was great, had a new lover, and was in the prime of her life. Dover left her after a small dose of girl-talk.
Next was Luke, whom had cleaned up his apartment in record time. She got roped into a game of Call of Duty – Zombies leaving her youngest with a smile and bruised pride.
Ellie Brantley lived on the outskirts of Atlanta, on a little farm her parents still owned. The woman was in fine spirits, her engagement to her high-school sweetheart only a few days old. Dover had a celebratory beer with the new couple, listened as they explained their plan to buy the family farm so her parents could retire to Palm Beach.
Jon maintained his radio silence, even when she reached out, so the Guardian found herself perched on his neighbor’s roof for three hours to surveil him. No matter how she hated spying on her Charge, Dover knew she could not force him to speak with her. Still, his safety was her only job.
Just before dusk, when her phone already began chirping with messages about the upcoming party, a sleek red fox loped out of the woods to the south of Jon’s home. Dover watched it carefully, lifting a brow as it navigated easily around Embry’s Warding. The creature had no nefarious intention, but as it wriggled into the flowerbed and hunkered down, Dover frowned.
What the hell was this thing doing?
It waited only an hour or so before rising from the flowerbed, shaking fallen leaves and earth from its fur. Dover watched as the cunning little creature trotted out of the brush, turning its black-muzzled face toward her, as though it sensed her watchful eye. It stared at the perching Guardian for a moment before ducking its head and heading off into the woods.
More than a little confused, Dover climbed from the roof and headed for her truck. She would ask Embry about foxes tonight, at the party she was already late for.