Halo by Alexandra Adornetto has to be our favourite angel book…and now book two, Hades, is out too! Read on for an extract of Hades – but beware, there are a few spoilers if you haven't read Halo yet!
CHAPTER 1 – The Kids Are All Right
When the final bell sounded at Bryce Hamilton, Xavier and I gathered our things and headed out onto the south lawn. The weather forecast had predicted a clear afternoon, but the sun was fighting an uphill battle and the sky remained a cheerless, gunmetal gray. Occasionally the watery sunlight broke through and fingers of light danced across the grounds, warming the back of my neck.
“Are you coming over for dinner tonight?” I asked Xavier, linking my arm through his. “Gabriel wants to try making burritos.”
Xavier looked across at me and laughed.
“I’m just thinking,” he said. “How come in all the paintings, angels are depicted guarding thrones in Heaven or taking out demons? I wonder why they’re never shown in the kitchen making burritos.”
“Because we have a reputation to uphold,” I said, nudging him. “So are you coming?”
“Can’t.” Xavier sighed. “I promised my kid sister I’d stay home and carve pumpkins.”
“Shoot. I keep forgetting about Halloween.”
“You should try and get into the spirit of it,” Xavier said. “Everyone around here takes it very seriously.”
I knew he wasn’t exaggerating; jack-o’-lanterns and plaster headstones already adorned every front porch in town in honor of the occasion.
“I know,” I said. “But the whole idea creeps me out. Why would anyone want to dress up as ghosts and zombies? It’s like everyone’s worst nightmares coming to life.”
“Beth.” Xavier stopped walking and took hold of my shoulders. “It’s a holiday, lighten up!”
He was right. I needed to stop being so wary. It was six months now since the ordeal with Jake Thorn and things couldn’t have been better. Peace had returned to Venus Cove and I’d grown more attached to the place than ever. Nestled on the picturesque Georgia coastline, the sleepy little town in Sherbrooke County had become my home. With its pretty balconies and ornate shopfronts, Main Street was so quaint it could have been an image on a postcard. In fact, everything from the cinema to the old courthouse exuded the Southern charm and gentility of a long-forgotten era.
Over the past year the influence of my family had spread and transformed Venus Cove into a model town. The church congregation had tripled in numbers, charity missions had more volunteers than they could handle, and reported incidents of crime were so few and far between that the sheriff was forced to find other things to occupy his time. Nowadays the only disputes that happened were minor, like drivers arguing over who saw a parking space first. But that was just human nature. It couldn’t be changed and it wasn’t our job to try and change it.
But the best development of all was that Xavier and I had grown even closer. I looked across at him. He was just as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. His tie hung loose and his blazer was slung casually over one shoulder. I could feel his taut body occasionally brushing against mine as we walked side by side, our footsteps falling in time. Sometimes it was easy to think of us as one entity.
Since the violent encounter with Jake last year, Xavier had hit the gym even harder and thrown himself into sports more vigorously. I knew he was doing it so he’d be better equipped to protect me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the perks. Xavier had more definition in his chest and washboard abs. He was still slender and perfectly proportioned, but I could see the muscles in his arms rippling beneath the fine cotton of his shirt. I looked up at his refined features: his straight nose, high cheekbones, and full lips. In the light of the sun, his walnut-colored hair was streaked with gold and his almond-shaped eyes were like liquid blue topaz. On his ring finger he now wore the gift I’d given him after he had helped me recover from Jake’s attack. It was a thick silver band etched with three symbols of faith: a five-point star to represent the star of Bethlehem; a trefoil to honor the three persons of the Holy Trinity; and the initials IHS, an abbreviation of Ihesus, the way Christ’s name was spelled in the Middle Ages. I’d had an identical one made for me and I liked to think they were our special version of a promise ring. Another person who’d witnessed as much as Xavier had might have lost all faith in Our Father, but Xavier had strength of mind and spirit. He’d made a commitment to us and I knew that nothing could persuade him to break it.
My train of thought was broken when we bumped into a group of Xavier’s friends from the water-polo team in the parking lot. I knew some of them by name and caught the tail end of their conversation.
“I can’t believe Wilson hooked up with Kay Bentley,” a boy named Lawson snickered. He was still bleary-eyed from whatever misadventure had taken place over the weekend. I knew from experience it probably involved a keg and willful damage to property.
“It’s his funeral,” someone muttered. “Everyone knows she’s done more miles than my dad’s vintage Chrysler.”
“I don’t care so long as it wasn’t on my bed. I’d have to burn everything.”
“Don’t worry, man, pretty sure they were out on the back lawn.”
“I was so wasted, I don’t remember a damn thing,” Lawson declared.
“I remember you tried to hook up with me,” replied a boy named Wesley in his lilting accent. He contorted his face into a grimace.
“Whatever . . . it was dark. You could do a lot worse.”
“Not funny,” Wesley growled. “Someone posted a picture on Facebook. What am I gonna tell Jess?”
“Tell her you couldn’t resist Lawson’s ripped body.” Xavier thumped his friend on the back as he sauntered past. “He’s really built from all those hours on the PlayStation.”
I laughed as Xavier pulled open the door of his sky blue Chevy Bel Air convertible. I climbed in, stretched out, and breathed in the familiar smell of the leather seats. I loved the car almost as much as Xavier did now. It had been with us from the very beginning, from our first date at Sweethearts Café to the showdown with Jake Thorn at the cemetery. Though I’d never admit it, I’d come to think of the Chevy as having a personality of its own. Xavier turned the key in the ignition and the car roared to life. They seemed to move in sync—as if they were attuned to each other.
“So have you come up with a costume yet?”
“For what?” I asked blankly.
Xavier shook his head. “For Halloween. Try to keep up!”
“Not yet,” I admitted. “I’m still working on it. What about you?”
“How do you feel about Batman?” Xavier asked with a wink. “I’ve always wanted to be a superhero.”
“You just want to pretend you drive a Batmobile.”
Xavier gave a guilty smile. “Damn it! You know me too well.”
When we reached number 15 Byron Street, Xavier leaned across and pressed his lips against mine. His kiss was soft and sweet. I felt the outside world fall away as I melted into him. His skin was smooth beneath my fingers and his scent, fresh and clean as ocean air, enveloped me. It was mingled with a touch of something stronger—like vanilla and sandalwood combined. I kept one of Xavier’s T‑shirts, dowsed in his cologne, under my pillow so that every night I could imagine he was with me. It was funny how the goofiest behavior could feel perfectly natural when you were in love. I knew there were people who rolled their eyes at Xavier and me, but if they did, we were too absorbed in each other’s company to notice.
When Xavier pulled away from the curb, I snapped back to reality, like someone waking from a deep sleep.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning,” he called out with a dreamy smile. “Usual time.”
I stood in our tangled front yard watching until the Chevy finally turned off at the end of the street.
Byron was still my haven and I loved retreating there. Everything was soothingly familiar, from the creaking steps on the front porch to the large and airy rooms inside. It felt like a safe cocoon away from the turbulence of the world. It was true to say that while I loved human life, it scared me sometimes. The earth had problems—problems almost too large and too complex to fully comprehend. Thinking about them made my head spin. It also made me feel ineffectual. But Ivy and Gabriel had told me to stop wasting my energy and focus on our mission. There were plans for us to visit other cities and towns in the vicinity of Venus Cove to expel any dark forces residing there. Little did we know they would find us before we had a chance to find them.
Dinner was already underway when I got home. My brother and sister were out on the deck. They were each engaged in solitary activities; Ivy had her nose in a book and Gabriel was deep in concentration, composing on his guitar. His expert fingers massaged the chords gently and they seemed to answer his silent command. I joined them and knelt down to pat my dog, Phantom, who was sleeping soundly with his head resting on his giant, silky paws. He stirred at my touch, his
silvery body as sleek as ever. He looked up at me with his sad, moonlight eyes, and I imagined his expression to say: Where have you been all day?
Ivy lay semi-recumbent in the hammock, her golden hair flowing down to her waist. It looked resplendent in the light of the setting sun. My sister didn’t quite know how to relax in a hammock; she looked too poised and reminded me of a mythical creature who had somehow found herself unceremoniously plonked in a world that made no sense to her. She was wearing a pastel blue muslin dress and had even set up a frilly parasol, to protect her from the fading sunlight. No doubt she’d found it in some vintage shop and couldn’t resist buying it.
“Where did you get that?” I laughed. “I think they went out of fashion a while ago.”
“Well, I think it’s charming,” said Ivy, laying down the novel she’d been reading. I took a peek at the cover.
“Jane Eyre?” I asked dubiously. “You do know it’s a love story, right?”
“I’m aware,” said my sister huffily.
“You’re turning into me!” I teased.
“I highly doubt I could ever be as swooning and silly as you are,” Ivy replied in a matter-of-fact tone but her eyes were playful.
Gabriel stopped strumming his guitar to look over at us. “I don’t think anybody could outdo Bethany in that department,” he said with a smile. He put down his guitar carefully and went to lean against the railing, staring out to sea. As usual Gabe stood arrow straight, his white-blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. His steel gray eyes and his sculpted features made him look like the celestial warrior he was—but he was dressed like a human in faded jeans and a loose shirt. His face was open and friendly. I was pleased to see that Gabriel was more relaxed these days. I felt as if both my siblings were less critical of me, more accepting of the choices I’d made.
“How is it you always get home before me?” I complained. “When I take a car and you walk!”
“I have my ways,” my brother replied with a secretive smile. “Besides, I don’t have to pull over every two minutes to express my affection.”
“We do not pull over to express affection!” I objected.
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “So that wasn’t Xavier’s car parked two blocks from school?”
“Maybe it was.” I tossed my head nonchalantly, hating how he was always right. “But every two minutes is a slight exaggeration!”
Ivy’s heart-shaped face glowed as she broke into a laugh. “Oh, Bethany, relax. We’re used to the PDAs by now.”
“Where did you learn that?” I asked curiously. I’d never heard Ivy use abbreviated colloquialisms. Her formal speech usually sounded so out of place in the modern world.
“I do spend time with young people, you know,” she said. “I’m trying to be hip.”
Gabriel and I burst out laughing.
“In that case, don’t say hip for starters,” I advised.
Ivy leaned down to ruffle my hair affectionately and changed the subject. “I hope you don’t have plans for this weekend.”
“Can Xavier come?” I asked eagerly before she’d even had a chance to explain what she and Gabe had in mind. Xavier had long become a fixture in my life. Even when we were apart, it seemed there was no activity or distraction that could keep my thoughts from straying back to him.
Gabriel pointedly rolled his eyes. “If he must.”
“Of course he must,” I said, grinning. “So what’s the plan?”
“There’s a town called Black Ridge twenty miles from here,” my brother said. “We’ve been told they’re experiencing some . . . disturbances.”
“You mean demonic disturbances?”
“Well, three girls have gone missing in the last month and a perfectly sound bridge collapsed onto passing traffic.”
I winced. “Sounds like our kind of problem. When do we leave?”
“Saturday,” Ivy said. “So you better rest up.”
CHAPTER 2 – Co-Dependent
The next day Molly and I sat with the girls in the west courtyard, which had become our new favorite hangout. Molly had changed since the loss of her best friend the year before. Taylah’s death at the hands of Jake Thorn had been a wake-up call for my family. We had not foreseen the extent of Jake’s powers until the day he’d slit her throat to send us a message.
Since then Molly had drifted away from her old circle of friends and out of a sense of loyalty, I’d gone along with her. I didn’t mind the switch. I knew Bryce Hamilton must now be full of painful memories for Molly and I wanted to support her in every way I could. Besides, our new group was more or less the same as the old one. These were girls we’d hung out with on occasion but never become close with. They knew all the same people and gossiped about the same things, so becoming integrated into their group was easy as pie.
Things were strained in the group that had once included Taylah, and I knew Molly couldn’t really relax with them. Occasionally, out of the blue, conversations would come to an awkward halt. The kind of pause where you knew everyone was thinking the same thing: What would Taylah say right now? But no one had the courage to speak her name out loud. I had a feeling things would never be quite the same for these girls. They’d tried to make things go back to normal, but most of the time it felt as if they were trying too hard. They laughed too loudly and their jokes sounded rehearsed. It seemed that whatever they said or did, they were constantly reminded of Taylah’s absence. Taylah and Molly had been at the very core of the group, self-appointed authorities on so many things. Now Taylah was gone and Molly was completely withdrawn. The other girls had lost both their mentors and were completely adrift without them.
It was hard watching them struggle collectively with their grief; a grief they couldn’t articulate for fear of unleashing emotion they couldn’t control. I so badly wanted to tell them not to see death as an end but as a new beginning and explain to them that Taylah had simply crossed to a new plane of existence, one that was unencumbered by physicality. I wanted them to know that Taylah was out there still, only now she was free. I wanted to tell them about Heaven and the peace she would find there. But, of course, sharing any of that knowledge was impossible. Not only would I be breaking our most sacred code and exposing our presence on earth, but I’d also be instantly kicked out of the group for being a lunatic.
Our newly adopted friends huddled around a cluster of carved wooden benches beneath a stone archway that they’d claimed as their own. One thing that hadn’t changed was their territorial nature. If any outsiders accidentally strayed into our area, they didn’t linger long. The glaring looks of disapproval that flew in their direction were usually enough to drive them away. Gray clouds rolled ominously overhead, but the girls never went inside unless there was absolutely no alternative. As usual they sat with their hair perfectly coiffed and their skirts hitched up, soaking up the weak rays of sunlight that dipped and wavered behind the clouds, washing the courtyard in a soft, dappled light. Any opportunity to work on their tans could not be missed.
The Halloween party on Friday had served to lift everyone’s spirits and generate a lot of excitement. It was being held at an abandoned estate just out of town that belonged to the family of one of the seniors, Austin Knox. His great-grandfather Thomas Knox had built the house in 1868, several years after the Civil War ended. He was one of the town’s original founders and although the Knox family hadn’t visited the place in years, historical landmark laws protected it from demolition. So it had remained vacant and uninhabited over the years. It was a run-down, old country homestead with deep porches on every side, surrounded by nothing but fields and a deserted highway. The locals called it the Boo Radley House—nobody ever went in or out—and Austin claimed he’d even seen his great-grandfather’s ghost standing at one of the upstairs windows. According to Molly, it was perfect party material; nobody ever passed that way except for people who’d taken a wrong turn on a road trip or the occasional trucker. Plus, it was well enough away from town that nobody could complain about the noise. It had originally started out as a small gathering, but word had somehow gotten out and now the whole school was talking about it. Even some of the better-connected sophomores had managed to score an invite.
I sat next to Molly, whose titian curls were wound on top of her head in a loose bun. Without makeup she had the face of a china doll with wide sky blue eyes and rosebud lips. She couldn’t resist a slick of lip gloss, but aside from that, she’d pared everything back in her attempt to win favor with Gabriel. I’d expected by now she’d be over the hopeless crush she had on my brother, but so far her feelings for him only seemed to have intensified.
I preferred Molly without makeup; I liked the way she looked her age rather than someone ten years older.
“I’m going as a naughty schoolgirl,” Abigail announced.
“In other words you’re going as yourself?” Molly said with a snort.
“Let’s hear your great idea then. . . .”
“I’m going as Tinker Bell.”
“The fairy from Peter Pan.”
“This isn’t fair,” Madison whined. “We made a pact to all go as Playboy Bunnies!”
“Bunnies are old.” Molly tossed her head. “Not to mention trashy.”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted, “but aren’t the costumes supposed to be scary?”
“Oh, Bethie,” Savannah said with a sigh. “Have we taught you nothing?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Refresh my memory?”
“Basically the whole thing is just one massive—,” Hallie began.
“Let’s just say it’s an opportunity for us to mingle with the opposite sex,” Molly cut in, shooting Hallie a sharp look. “Your costume needs to be scary and sexy.”
“Did you know Halloween used to be about Samhain?” I said. “People were really scared of it.”
“Who’s Sam Hen?” Hallie looked baffled.
“Not who . . . what,” I said. “It’s different in every culture. But essentially, people believe it’s the one night of the year when the world of the dead meets the world of the living; when the dead can walk among us and possess our bodies. People would dress up to trick them into staying away.”
The group stared at me with newfound respect.
“Oh my God, Bethie.” Savannah shivered. “Way to freak us all out.”
“Do you remember when we had that séance in seventh grade?” Abigail asked. The others nodded enthusiastically as they recalled the event.
“You had a what!” I spluttered, barely able to disguise my disbelief.
“A séance, it’s when you . . .”
“I know what it is,” I said. “But you shouldn’t mess around with that stuff.”
“I told you, Abby!” Hallie exclaimed. “I told you it was dangerous. Remember how the door slammed shut?”
“Yeah, only because your mom shut it,” Madison hit back. “She couldn’t have. She was in bed asleep the whole time.”
“Whatever. I’m thinking we should try it again on Friday.” Abigail waggled her eyebrows mischievously. “What do you say, girls? Who’s in?”
“Not me,” I said resolutely. “I’m not getting mixed up in that.”
The looks they exchanged suggested they were unconvinced by my refusal.
“They ’re so childish,” I complained to Xavier as we walked to French class together. Doors slammed, announcements rang over the loudspeaker, and chatter flowed freely around us, but Xavier and I were locked in our own world. “They want to hold a séance and go dressed as bunnies.”
“What kind of bunnies?” he asked suspiciously. “Playboy, I think. Whatever that means.”
“That sounds about right.” Xavier laughed. “But don’t let them talk you into anything you don’t feel comfortable with.”
“They’re my friends.”
“So what?” He shrugged. “If your friends walked off a cliff, would you do it too?”
“Why would they walk off a cliff?” I asked in alarm. “Is someone having problems at home?”
Xavier laughed. “It’s just an expression.”
“It’s silly,” I told him. “Do you think I should go as an angel? Like in the film version of Romeo and Juliet?”
“There would be a certain irony in that,” Xavier said, smirking. “An angel posing as a human posing as an angel. I like it.” Mr. Collins glared at us as we arrived and took our seats. He seemed to resent our closeness and I couldn’t
help but wonder whether his history of three failed marriages had left him a little jaded about love.
“I hope the two of you will descend from your love bubble long enough to learn something today,” he sniped cuttingly and the other kids snickered. Embarrassed, I ducked my head to avoid eye contact with them.
“It’s all right, sir,” Xavier replied. “The bubble’s been engineered to allow us to learn from within it.”
“You’re very amusing, Woods,” Mr. Collins said. “But the classroom is not the place for romance. When it all ends in heartbreak, your grades will pay the price. L’amour est comme un sablier, avec le coeur remplir le vide du cerveau.”
I recognized the quote from the French writer Jules Renard. Translated it meant: “Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties.” I hated his smug certainty, as if he knew for a fact our relationship was doomed. I opened my mouth to protest, but Xavier touched my hand under the table and leaned across to whisper in my ear.
“It’s probably not the best idea to get fresh with the teachers who’ll be grading our final papers.”
He turned back to Mr. Collins, putting on his best class-president voice. “We understand, sir, thanks for your concern.”
Mr. Collins looked satisfied and went back to writing subjunctive verbs on the blackboard. I couldn’t resist poking my tongue out at his back.
Hallie and Savannah, who were also in my French class, caught up with me at the lockers. They looped their arms affably through mine.
“What have you got now?” Hallie asked.
“Math,” I replied suspiciously. “Why?”
“Perfect,” Savannah said. “Walk with us.”
“Is something wrong?”
“We just want to talk to you. Y’know, have a girl-to-girl chat.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, wracking my brain to think what I might have done to warrant this strange intervention. “About?”
“It’s about you and Xavier,” Hallie blurted out. “Look, you’re not gonna like hearing this, but we’re your friends and we’re worried about you.”
“Why are you worried?”
“It’s just not healthy for you guys to spend so much time together,” Hallie said expertly.
“Yeah,” Savannah chimed in. “It’s like you’re joined at the hip or something. I never see you apart. Wherever Xavier is, you’re right behind him. Wherever you are, he’s there . . . all the frigging time.”
“Is that that a bad thing?” I asked. “He’s my boyfriend; I want to spend time with him.”
“Of course you do, but it’s too much. You need to get some distance.” Hallie emphasized the word distance as if it were a
“Why?” I looked at them dubiously, wondering if Molly had put them up to this or if it truly was their personal opinion. I’d been friends with these girls all through summer, but it still felt a little early for them to be dispensing relationship advice. On the other hand, I’d only been a teenage girl for less than a year. In some way, I felt I was at the mercy of their experience. It was true that Xavier and I were close, any fool could see that. The question was, were we unnaturally close? It didn’t feel unhealthy given everything we’d been through together. Of course, these girls could never know about our struggles.
“It’s a researched fact,” Savannah broke through my train of thought. “Look, I can show you.” She reached into her bag and yanked out a well-thumbed copy of Seventeen magazine. “We found a quiz for you to take.”
She opened the glossy cover and flipped to a dog-eared page. The image showed a young couple sitting in chairs facing opposite directions but bound together by chains around their waists and ankles. The expression on their faces was one of confusion and dismay. The quiz was called, “Are you in a codependent relationship?”
“We’re not that bad,” I protested. “It’s about how we feel, not how much time we spend together. Besides, I don’t think a magazine quiz can measure feelings.”
“Seventeen gives pretty reliable advice—,” began Savannah hotly.
“Okay, don’t take the quiz,” Hallie cut in. “Just answer a few questions, okay?”
“Shoot,” I said. “What’s your favorite football team?”
“Dallas Cowboys,” I said without hesitation.
“And why’s that?” Hallie asked.
“Because it’s Xavier’s favorite team.”
“I see,” Hallie said knowingly. “And when was the last time you did something without Xavier?” I didn’t like the way she sounded like the prosecutor in a court case.
“I do plenty of stuff without Xavier,” I said dismissively. “Really? So where is he right now?”
“He has a first-aid training session in the gym,” I said brightly. “They’re going over CPR, but he already learned it in ninth grade during a water-safety program.”
“Right,” Savannah said. “And what’s he doing at lunch?”
“He has a water-polo meeting,” I replied. “They have a new junior that Xav wants to train to play defense.”
“He’s coming over to make barbecue ribs.”
“Since when do you like ribs?” The girls raised their eyebrows.
“Xavier likes them.”
“I rest my case.” Hallie put her face in her hands.
“Okay, I guess we do spend a lot of time together,” I said grumpily. “But what’s wrong with that?”
“It’s not normal is what’s wrong with it,” Savannah declared, enunciating every word. “Your girlfriends are just as important. “It’s like we don’t even matter to you anymore. All the girls feel the same, even Molly.”
I stopped short. Finally the fog lifted and the purpose of this discussion became clear to me. The girls were feeling neglected. It was true that I always seemed to be declining their invitations to go out in favor of spending time with Xavier. I’d always thought I just preferred spending downtime with my family, but maybe I had been insensitive without realizing it. I valued their friendship and on the spot vowed to be more attentive.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Thanks for being honest with me. I promise I’ll do better.”
“Great.” Hallie beamed. “Well, you can start by joining in the girls-only event we’ve got planned for the Halloween party.”
“Of course,” I agreed, eager to make amends. “I’d love to.
What is it?” I had the sense even before I’d finished the question that I was on the brink of falling into a trap.
“We’re going to commune with the dead, remember?” Savannah said. “No boys allowed.”
“A séance,” Hallie said brightly. “How awesome is that?”
“Awesome,” I reiterated flatly. I could think of plenty of words to describe what they had in mind, but awesome just wasn’t one of them.