Above the flames the fla.., p.3
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       Above The Flames (The Flames Trilogy #1), p.3

           Cassandra Fear

  “Can’t I take this blindfold off yet?” she whined.

  “No,” Beau said sternly. “We’re almost there.”

  Jasmine concentrated on her steps as she kept up with Beau. She had no idea how long they walked, but if she had to guess, maybe ten minutes. Beau grabbed her shoulders and pushed down. “Now. Stay right here for a second.”

  The sound that came next reminded her of when her mother used to do laundry and shook out a shirt before folding it. Two years since I’ve heard Mom’s voice. I wish I could stop missing her.

  “Okay, ready now,” Beau said loudly, and Jasmine jumped. His hands moved to the back of her head, his fingertips tickling her scalp as he untied the blindfold, which dropped to the ground.

  Jasmine’s mouth dropped open and she gasped loudly. “Oh. My. Gosh.” A big, cheesy grin formed on her face. “I can’t believe you did this.”

  He’d brought her to their favorite spot. A large field filled with tall grass and wildflowers of every color. A crimson sheet lay on the ground. Plates and bowls sat on top of it, and dinner rolls, fried chicken, and coleslaw had been carefully scooped onto the plates. It looked delicious and she quickly sat down.

  Beau plopped down beside her. “Well, believe it. Only the best for my girl.” He winked.

  She shook her head from side to side. “I have the best boyfriend in the world. That’s all there is to it.”

  Beau’s pale blue eyes caught the light from the last rays of sunlight. “So, I got you a nice big breast…of chicken. A pile of coleslaw and a dinner roll.” He held up a small packet. “Look, I even got the little packs of butter.”

  Jasmine chuckled as she took a bite out of a roll, foregoing the butter. “Mmm. This is fantastic.” She looked around, the darkness trying to swallow the little daylight that remained. “It’s getting dark really fast.”

  “Good thing I brought these.” He brought out two thick white candles and lit them.

  “You thought of everything, didn’t you?”

  “I just know how hard today is for you. With the problems between you and your mom, and the anniversary of your dad’s death…”

  Jasmine put her hand up, stopping him. “That’s enough. I don’t want to talk about it.”

  Beau leaned back. “Jazzy, you’ve got to talk about it to someone. If not to me, then maybe a therapist.”

  “Absolutely not.”

  “I’m just trying to help.”

  Jasmine stuffed her face full of a bite of coleslaw, a shred of chicken, and a bite of roll.

  “That’s not going to stop me. You don’t have to talk. I just want you to listen.” He sighed. “I don’t know how to help you.”

  “You can’t,” Jasmine said, but it came out mumbled with all the food in her mouth. I’m being unreasonable. I need to stop this.

  Beau scrunched his eyebrows. “Honestly, Jaz. Didn’t anyone ever teach you any manners? You’re supposed to chew, swallow, and then talk. You did all of those things, only backward.” His smile showed dimples in the corner of his mouth. “I hope you like this.”

  He gets it. He’s not going to push it. Not tonight, at least.

  “I do. So much.” Jasmine swallowed the remaining food in her mouth, and then cleared her throat.

  As comfortable as she was with Beau, there was a thick tension in the air and she had to do something to lighten the mood.

  “So, tell me, Beau. How many times did you hit the tanning bed this week? That bronze glow just doesn’t look natural.”

  “Come here, you.” Beau grabbed her arms and yanked her close, then tickled her sides.

  “Stop it!” she said around laughs, and eventually he did.

  Beau stretched his legs out and Jasmine shifted so her back rested against his chest. He draped his arms around her. She didn’t say anything, only gazed at the stars. They shimmered white against a small patch of purple and pink sunset. The rest of the sky was black with glittery silver stars. The contrast was beautiful, and Jasmine inhaled, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the field of wildflowers. She’d be content sitting in the calming silence all night.

  Beau’s body angled toward the wooden picnic basket behind him in the grass. “I forgot the best part.” A piece of chocolate-on-chocolate cake came into view.

  Jasmine forked it into her mouth. “Mmmm. This is perfection,” she said. The moist cake stuck to the roof of her mouth. She licked her teeth, tasting the flavor even after it disappeared. “Any water in that basket?”

  Beau handed her a bottle. After she swished it around her mouth, she swallowed.

  Jasmine leaned in and kissed him, a quick peck to the lips. “Let’s take a walk. I need to get rid of some of these calories.”

  A line of pine trees grew along a dirt path directly outside of their favorite spot. She weaved between them, making Beau chase her. When he finally caught her, he tickled her again and she dropped to the ground, cackling uncontrollably. He came down on top of her. Their eyes met.

  “Look, Jaz. There’s our tree.” A large heart was carved into the bark of a tall maple. It said, ‘JR luvs BM.’ Beau McDaniels and Jasmine Reynolds.

  Jasmine arched her neck to look up, but the sound of lightning crashing close by had her searching the sky for the storm. The clouds didn’t look dangerous, but it was hard to see in the darkness. “Did you hear that?”

  Beau stood up and moved toward the picnic area. “Sure did. I think we better get home.”

  Jasmine nodded. “Good idea.” She followed behind him, but the ground shook with long, hard tremors like waves crashing against the shore. Her heart thumped in her ears as she lost her balance, tumbling backward. The back of her head struck the base of a thick tree. She landed in a heap on the green grass. When she tried to get up, her hands slipped and blackness swarmed her vision, dragging her down what seemed to be a never-ending pit of darkness. She closed her eyes and let it take her.

  Chapter 3

  Hell’s Fury


  The grass sparkled like diamonds as the hot sun beamed down on fields waiting to be planted. He couldn’t stop the tightness in his chest, the panic in his breaths. It came every time, and although he knew this was a dream, he couldn’t open his eyes yet. He ran from the field, dropping his pitchfork on top of bales of hay, toward the house, not stopping as he crashed through the door. He tripped as his foot collided with something stiff, and he fell, smacking his cheek against a cracked floorboard. He brought his hands up, pushed himself up, and stared down at the pile of bodies. Mom. Dad. His little brother, Jimmy. He gasped for breath that was no longer there, and dropped to the floor. His eyes fell to a bundle in the corner of the room, and he crawled with stiff muscles, pulling his weight with arms that were like mush. He pulled the blanket away, knowing who it was even before he did. Gabriella’s dark blue eyes stared, unblinking. Her rosy cheeks had turned gray and were sunken in to the bone. Her baby laughter, which had always brought a pang of happiness into his heart, was gone forever. He cradled his sister, his arms turning red from the cold blood that coated them. Slowly, he stepped backward around the bodies of the rest of his family, almost slipping in the pool of dark blood underneath them. He turned, the baby still in his arms, ready to run, but slammed into a wide chest.

  “I’ve been waiting for you,” the silky voice said.

  Amon backed up, fear making his movements clumsy. He almost stumbled again, but caught himself in time. When he met the man’s eyes, they glowed red.

  Amon screamed, finally able to open his eyes. His breaths came quick and carried little oxygen. Bael! This must stop. I can’t take much more.

  The smell of burning rock was strong as he inhaled deeply, dragging the thick air directly into his lungs. A long cough followed, and when he was through, his throat felt like it had been sliced apart with razors. When was the last time they brought me water?

  A thick band of gray smoke funneled through a rocky archway, which happened to be the door to his prison. Long ago, the rock had s
plit and broken open, leaving this small chamber.

  Soon after he arrived, he’d been strapped and chained to this wall. Demons had stripped him of all his clothes, leaving only a small brown cloth covering his manhood. They used to come and lift that strip of cloth, point, and laugh. The humility was endless in Hell, but that part had never bothered him. He’d been an angel once, far better than any of these evil beings. He had been better than them, and he thought he still was.

  The torment, though, had eventually made him lose the most important thing he had. Hope. And when the rock had grown over his chains, he knew there would be no escape. In fact, there was no need for chains any longer since the rock now covered his arms, leaving them buried underneath the wall. He’d like to say he barely missed them, but they would come in handy when he had an itch, or an ache that needed rubbing. Of course, they’d gone numb as well, so sometimes, when he woke after his nightmare, he imagined they had been cut off. Gone forever. Thankfully, that was only his imagination.

  The room was dark, the walls charred and black. Orange flames flickered around him, stretching across the walls and ceiling, creating shadows. They tickled and burned his skin when they touched it. Sweat poured down his forehead, the heat almost unbearable. Of course, I’ve grown immune to it now.

  If he had to look at this room much longer he’d go crazy. As if I haven’t already. Dreams of his family plagued him almost every night. They always ended the same, even though some of the events leading up to finding his dead family changed. Amon had a feeling that was Bael’s doing. He loves to make people have nightmares. I think he feeds off their fear.

  “Amon. My old p-pal.” Amon stiffened as a demon came into view, his red eyes reflecting the flames. His black hair was short, his large ears sticking out from the side of his head. Great, it’s Belze.

  Amon cleared his throat. “I’m not your old pal, Belze. Nor your current pal. So, whatever you want, out with it.” Amon’s voice was weak to his own ears, so he narrowed his eyes.

  Belze stumbled as he came through the archway, catching himself against the wall Amon hung on. “That was a b-bit embarrassing.” He ran a hand down his black button-up shirt, smoothing it. “I th-thought you might want to know we’re blowing this j-joint.”

  Amon angled his head. “What do you mean?”

  “W-we won. The demons, that is, n-not you fallen ones, since you actually didn’t fight or anything…”

  “Get on with it. And for the love of Christ, please quit your idiotic rambling,” Amon pleaded.

  Belze glared. “Do n-not use that name down h-here.” He paused, winding his blood red tie around his finger. “Well. The d-demons defeated the angels. As in, the war has been w-won. As in…”

  “I got it, Belze. No need to explain. Hell on Earth.” Amon sighed deeply. “So what about us?”

  “It l-looks like you aren’t going anywhere, h-huh?” Belze snickered. “I may be able to h-help you with that, though.”

  Amon growled. “What do you want?”

  “When we r-rise, I want you to stay away from us.” Belze smiled. “I want you to r-run. Hide. Anything. As long as you aren’t by Bael. He’s had his eyes on you for long enough. Being above the flames w-will only put you on his radar even more.”

  Amon smirked. “Why not just leave me chained here?” Belze looked at the floor and Amon smiled. “Because Bael told you to release us, didn’t he?”

  “Yes.” Belze hissed the word, sounding like a snake. “Can you j-just promise you will stay away? Or is that too m-much to ask?” He let out a long sigh.

  Amon’s thoughts whirled. Bael wanted the fallen ones above ground, but why? Belze didn’t want them anywhere near the demons, which made sense. Belze’s position had never been stable. As Bael’s second, he should have been ruthless. Cunning. Smart. But Belze was none of those things, making Amon believe Bael put him as his right hand man because of his weakness. If he wasn’t strong enough to overthrow Bael, then Bael would keep his position with no challenges along the way. He didn’t want Belze, or Bael for that matter, to bother the fallen ones.

  “And what if I don’t make that promise? What if I want to fight beside Bael?” Amon asked.

  Belze’s eyebrows shot up. “Y-you expect me to b-believe that? I may not be all the th-things Bael’s second should be, but I’m not s-stupid.”

  “Perhaps not, but I don’t exactly have anywhere to go. The demons are my family now.” Belze opened his mouth, but Amon quickly continued. “I don’t want them to be, but the angels threw me away. My family has been gone for a very long time, and so all I have left are the demons.”

  “I m-must insist you leave as soon as you a-are able.” Belze stepped forward, placing his face very close to Amon’s. “Wh-what do you want to e-ensure this happens?”

  “I want you to leave us be. Once we leave, we are off limits, no matter what that means for you.”

  “D-done. I can guarantee I w-will not bother any of you. B-but Bael will search for you.”

  “Why does he want us on his side?” Amon asked.

  Belze crossed his arms over his chest and angled his chin down. “Like you d-don’t know. H-he’s had his eye on you fallen ones since you fell. A-and I won’t have you t-taking my place.”

  Amon smiled. Belze looked like a middle-aged man who’d just found out his job had been given away.

  “St-stop laughing at me!”

  “I’m not laughing at you, Belze. Now, are we going to sit and talk all day, or are you going to cut me out of here?”

  Belze backed up and put his thumbs under his suspenders. “I’m g-going to admire the view for a m-moment. Amon, the powerful fallen angel, will finally be out of m-my way.”

  Belze could admire the view all he wanted. Amon knew that once he was free he had other plans. Once he planted his feet on solid ground again, he would run as far away as he could. If I ever regain feeling in any of my extremities.

  He remembered the day he’d been imprisoned. When he’d first fallen, Bael had approached him with interest. He’d asked Amon to join his side almost immediately. Of course, Amon had refused even more immediately. He would never work with a demon. He had been an angel and hoped to one day be brought back to Heaven.

  Bael had become angry and slashed out at him, but Amon quickly retaliated and used his remaining angelic powers, touching Bael with his golden light. The demon had cringed against it, and ordered him thrown into the cell.

  In Hell, the rocky walls, the flames, everything within this realm was alive. The demons were strong. And without his angelic powers, Amon had no chance to defeat them any longer. Maybe on Earth things would be more balanced. He no longer had his wings, but he still had his strength. Well, I will have my strength once again.

  “Fr-freedom will taste sweet after all these years. W-won’t it?” Belze spoke from beside him, startling Amon from his thoughts.

  Amon nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Freedom would be great, but the cost would be even greater. Once the demons moved to the Earth realm, they would want bloodshed. Amon didn’t know the specifics of their release, but there must be a stipulation if the angels were involved. Although he knew the demons wouldn’t share that information with him.

  Belze grabbed a flame from the ground and held it in his hand. “B-brace yourself. This may st-sting.”

  Amon clamped his jaw shut, but not before saying, “I’m sure it won’t. I can’t feel anything.”

  Belze brought the flame closer to Amon’s buried arms. “Melt.” The flame flickered, and then glowed brighter. Belze turned to him.

  “Have to m-make it hotter to m-melt these walls. You see what the regular flames do. A bit of charring, but n-nothing else.” Belze shoved the flame into the wall, and it ignited, spreading over his arms. “Once the w-wall crumbles, you should be able to get out. Good luck. I’m outta here.”

  Belze skipped out of the archway, peered up and down the hall, then disappeared from view. He’s so strange.

  The flame
scorched the hair on Amon’s arms, but didn’t harm his skin. Pieces of rock fell, skittering across the floor of his cell, until a large chunk broke off, releasing both arms, but crashing into the back of his head. He slid to the ground, landing with a thud. I can’t wiggle my fingers.

  Amon tried to stand, but his feet were numb. It felt as if he had no muscle left in his legs and his arms seemed as if they weren’t even at his side. He slumped back against the lumpy floor. He hadn’t the energy to move yet, so he waited, hoping the numbness would wear off soon.

  Flames caressed his skin as if in welcome. How long would it be? Hours? Minutes? Days? It doesn’t matter. I’ve all the time in the world.

  The ground below him shook violently, the rock cracking, creating deep fissures. I guess it was minutes, after all.

  Amon stood slowly, his legs wobbling like a babe learning to walk. He placed his palms against the wall, which trembled, tickling his fingers. He forced a step forward, his hand slapping the wall to keep upright. Only this time it shook with such force his whole arm mimicked the movement. Pieces of rock broke off, clattering against the ground. The charred stone beneath him split open. Pebbles skittered across the jagged floor, falling into the yawning cracks. A loud boom sounded in the distance.

  With no thought, his feet scrambled ahead of him, but his body wasn’t ready for the movement so he tumbled forward. He jammed his hands against the stone floor, just in time to escape smashing his face into the ground. Pain radiated from the base of his palms to his elbows. Amon sucked in a breath.

  A smoky smell lingered in the hallway, and as he climbed to his feet, his jaw dropped open. Fire, once so bountiful in Hell, was being sucked into the cracks. Right before his eyes the glow disappeared. He breathed deeply through his nose, and instantly coughed. I have to get out of here. I must find Caim.

  Amon focused on every step he took. It was impossible to see anything through the smoky haze that lifted through the narrow hallway, and he barely jumped back in time to miss a horde of demons filing from the intersecting passage to his right. Their glowing red eyes provided a little light, though, so he followed behind them as quickly as he could, figuring they knew where to go better than him.

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