Angel Falls, Book 1
by Stephanie Burke
eBook BIN: 05921-01899
[ Dark Fantasy Romance ]
That the ex-footballer and the betrayed prince manage to discover each other is a miracle. Staying together will be an even bigger challenge. But Angel Falls, Maryland, is a town like no other. And with a town full of geeks and weirdoes on your side, reporters and rogue scientists don’t stand a chance. Broken wings will be mended, and their souls will learn to fly once more.
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“Three more books?” Angel wailed, resisting the urge to jump up and down like the eight year olds who came to his book signings with their starry-eyed parents. “In one year?”
“You can do it.” His agent laughed. “And I got you a great deal too. Hollywood turning your book into a movie is the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”
“I guess,” Angel muttered into his cell phone, moving deeper into the woods that surrounded his Angel Falls home.
Angel had returned home, tail between his legs so to speak, after an ugly breakup, and bought the massive property where he now lived. Returning home had been instinctive, no matter how he’d longed to shake the dust of the ultra conservative town from his feet. He’d come back here to hide in the order and rules he had always railed against. But when he returned to the only place he’d ever called home, he’d found it greatly changed.
No longer were there cookie-cutter, Tudor-style homes ringed by green box hedges and oak trees. Now there was a staggering amount of individuality all squeezed into one small town.
There wasn’t a cardigan sweater or string of pearls in sight. The Angel Falls Men’s Club had been replaced by Snake’s Tattoos and piercings, run by the seventy-two-year-old Snake herself. The quaint restaurant where in Angel’s youth one of his foster families had flocked for breakfast after Sunday service was now Planet Quest Café.
It was the perfect place for a broken-hearted ex jock to retreat to lick his wounds in privacy.
It was also here he’d found the means to sooth his shattered soul. He’d finally put his degree in English to good use — the one he’d gotten by taking a chance and putting off the NFL for a year to complete his college education. He began writing about the very thing that kept him sane when his foster homes were less than desirable — the world of brave princes and beautiful fairies.
At first the books were more of a comfort to him than anything else after losing his career to injury and then losing his relationship and the baby his girlfriend had decided, without consulting him, not to carry. But one day he left his notebook in Planet Quest Café and the owner, Amber Graves, read through it in an effort to discover who had left it behind. She was so entranced with the stories that, by the time he remembered where he’d left his beloved leather binder, she had read all of them and was clamoring for more. He finally gave in and sent a short story in to a publisher. The stories were immediately picked up and touted as the best thing in children’s literature since that book about the boy wizard.
His story, about an abused human boy who stumbles his way into the world of fairies and accidentally makes himself the king’s champion, shot to the top of the charts. Then, in his third year writing, Hollywood had come to call. At first he was reluctant to accept the offer, but he decided to go for it and to dedicate the movie as well as the books to his lost child. He wrote under a pseudonym, not wanting anyone to connect the shattered ex-football player with the closeted and reclusive writer AF Hudson.
And now his agent had cut a deal for a sequel to the series. It would be a massive undertaking, but he would do it, and again ease his soul-deep pain by dedicating the book to his lost child.
The problem was, his characters no longer spoke to him. It was the worst case of writer’s block he’d ever experienced, and he was almost sure it spelled the end of his career.
“I’ll get back with you in a few days, Rich,” he finally said, cutting off his agent.
“Good.” Rich sighed, as if knowing Angel wasn’t invested in the conversation at all. “I’ll wait till I hear from you.”
“All right.” Angel started to disconnect the call, but Rich’s voice stopped him.
“There’s some reporter sniffing around about a ‘where are they now’ piece, Angel. I told him to fuck off, but I have a feeling he’s not going to give up so easily.”
Great, Angel thought, cursing mentally as he thought of being hounded once more by a media who felt they had a right to put his pain on display. Apparently the pseudonym hadn’t been enough to keep him under the radar. “Thanks for the heads up,” he nearly growled at the phone. “But I think I’m safe here.”
“It’s damn hard to find you in that twisted, crazy zone where you currently reside.” His agent laughed. “I’d keep my eye out just in case. The reporter’s name is Jonathon Greely.”
“Thanks, Rich. And goodbye.”
Angel disconnected the call and moved deeper into the woods. He braved the trails regularly in a bid to exercise his injured knee and clear his head.
It hadn’t been easy getting to the point where he could feel connected with life again, but the exercise and the fresh air helped, as did the acceptance of the people who lived here. They could care less about who he was or what had happened to him — they just accepted him as a shy recluse who fit into a town already half occupied by shy recluses.
It was great.
He was about to turn back home to stare at his computer screen again when he heard the screaming. It sounded like someone was stabbing a peacock with a pitchfork.
He turned toward the sound, his feet automatically moving him at a swift pace deeper into the woods, into a place he rarely visited. Before he reached its source, the screaming stopped.
“Damn,” he murmured, wondering what he would find when he got there. He had high hopes that whatever was attacking the poor creature had fled and that maybe the poor prey hadn’t died.
He’d just rounded a small copse of maple trees when he saw the body.
“Good God,” he gasped, looking around to see if whatever had savaged the poor man was still nearby.
And it was a man, wearing ripped pants and slashed boots. He was bare-chested save for a pair of ill-fitted costume wings attached to his back.
Moving around to the man’s head, Angel dropped to his knees and pulled what seemed like mountains of dyed hair out of his face, wondering what the green goo that covered him was. It was tacky, the consistency of drying paint, and it liberally splattered the poor man’s form.
But the man was breathing. When Angel pressed his fingers against his neck, he could feel the steady pulse beneath his soft, warm skin. The man wasn’t exactly pale. No, his skin tone was dusky with an olive tint. His body under the grime and fake wings was fit and muscular.
“Hey. Hey, buddy. Can you hear me?” Angel asked, tapping him on the face, not wanting to move him in case of injury. “Hey.”
He tapped the man again, looking around to find the cause of his injury. The ground wasn’t torn up as it would be if he’d been defending himself. The trees and even the grass in the small clearing remained undisturbed. Unless the man had been dropped out of a plane, Angel couldn’t see how he’d found his way onto his property wearing a set of wings…
“Wings,” he muttered, shaking his head. Maybe this was one of the citizens of Angel Falls. Maybe he was a geek who’d invented some kind of flying machine and had tried to test it, with disastrous results. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. A few years ago, an incident with a jet pack had torched a good half-acre of his land and the inventor, a fifteen-year-old boy who was way too young to be playing with jet fuel, broke a thumb on Angel’s property.
Angel reached for the wings and –”Damn it!” He quickly pulled his hand back as what felt like a hell of a lot of static electricity zapped his fingers.
Shaking his fingers, he again tried to get the man to respond. “Sir? Sir, can you hear me?”
He was about to give up on waking his avian visitor to call 911 when the man’s eyelids fluttered.
“Yeah,” Angel encouraged, speaking a little louder. “That’s it, buddy. Come on and open those eyes for me –”
The invured man’s eyes fluttered once more and then blinked open. His eyes — the color was shocking Angel nearly jumped back before he realized the solid black had to be contact lenses.
Calling himself all kinds of a fool, he moved in closer. “Hey? Buddy?”
“Cosxgrturve exzline gzlk,” the man gasped, his tongue twisting the incomprehensible words.
“Slurred speech.” Angel spoke to himself, already reaching for his cell. This looked like it might be serious —
“Cosxgrturve kzilei jemanzr!” the man said, his voice steadier.
“Calm down, buddy –” Angel rested a hand on the man’s shoulder when he suddenly lurched as if to get up. “Hey!” But the man braced a hand on Angel’s shoulder and fought to rise.
Not wanting him to hurt himself more — brain injuries could be tricky, as his year in the NFL had taught him — Angel braced the man as he lurched to his feet. Suddenly he was looking up into a dark-eyed visage that was staring back at him.
The man was big, and for Angel to say that was telling. Angel himself stood at six foot seven inches tall, a formidable height for a quarterback, but this man — he had to be about a foot taller than Angel.
And as Angel stared, his mouth open in shock, his cell dangling unused from his hand, the man arched his back and the wings fluttered. Then, as Angel tried to figure out how the massive things were attached, there was a zap that felt like a milder form of that earlier static electricity, and the wings began to glow faintly.
He blinked at this marvelous feat of technology then noticed one of the wings seemed to be broken.
“Damn,” he muttered, stepping around the man to peer closer at his back while supporting him. The man was on his feet but still unsteady. One of the wings looked different than the other, stunted and listing to the right. “That’s a damn shame.”
Angel reached out to touch the broken wing. Even as he reached, the light intensified. Just as his fingers gently touched the broken wing, there was a zap, and then he felt himself flying backward. He hit the tree and his world grew dim as he stared at the shocked-looking man. The wing, the once-broken wing, had developed a silver halo that made it a glowing match to the other, undamaged one. It was right about then that Angel realized the wings just might be real.
He blinked rapidly to clear his graying vision, and with every blink the winged man came closer. When Angel’s vision began to steady, the sharp ache in his back from smashing into the tree became noticeable. He looked up and saw the man looming over him, frowning.
“Wh-what –” Angel managed to gasp when the man reached out for him, tangled blue and silver hair flowing over his shoulders, wings fluttering behind him.
“Czutith Iptz zlizta okay?”
Angel knew he’d hit his head. He had to have suffered some sort of brain injury, because he’d understood that last word.
“Czutith you okay?” The black eyes glittered with some inner energy as the man tilted his head down to peer at Angel.
“You — what?” He knew he had to sound like an idiot, but it looked like a genuine alien or something was staring at him.
The winged man tilted his head up as if staring at the sun, and his eyes narrowed as he looked around him. He opened his mouth to speak but froze as a bright yellow butterfly flitted past. “Butterfly.” The man’s eyes followed the yellow insect as it lit upon some low grasses, then flew away.
He was fascinated by a butterfly? Angel’s own eyes followed the path of the Lepidoptera until he felt a gentle touch on his face and looked back to the winged man.
By rights, Angel should be screaming and fighting, fearful for his life, but he was just too fascinated by this man. Then the winged man pressed his fingers over Angel’s eyes. Angel felt a mild jolt again, as if he’d been hit by electricity. He winced, jerking away when the man began speaking again.
“Our brief contact wasn’t enough for me to acquire all the knowledge I needed to communicate with you. But I have just corrected that deficit.”
The man removed his hand and knelt. “I am regretful that you were harmed, but I thought it was common knowledge that only a mate or someone with a parental bond can touch the wings of another.”
“Wings?” This was all a bit much for Angel to take in.
“Hmm, you do not appear to be injured, though you lack essential wings. Could it be you are like some of the stories of the Southlanders? It is said there are wingless tribes there.”
“Wingless tribes,” Angel managed, before shaking his head. “No one has wings here.”
“Butterfly.” The winged man grinned. “Yes, butterfly.”
Before Angel could make more of a fool of himself, the man reached down and reached for his hands. One jerk, and Angel was standing shakily on his feet. He looked up once again and gawked at the black eyes, the fluttering wings of silver-blue light, and felt himself list to the side. Then his world spun as he was turned and hefted bridal style into a pair of strong arms.
“I will seek shelter and attempt to heal you.” The man’s voice was rich and velvety. “I must ascertain as much information about this place to which I have been exiled.”
Exiled? But Angel’s back and head hurt too much to bother with much of anything at this point. He did note that it was odd he wasn’t panicking and chalked it up to a side effect of the blow to his head. When he was healed, he would kick up a fuss good and proper. Until then, he absently pointed toward the trail he’d blazed to get to the strange, winged alien. “Home,” he stated, and the winged man twisted his mouth to the right and sort of clicked. But he began to head off in the right direction and, oddly enough, Angel found himself wishing for a pen and paper so he could write this down.
It would make an awesome plot for a book.
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