Shadow Mission Excerpt

Chapter One

It was only a month after graduation, and already my life was insanely busy, kind of awesome—and not anything like I’d expected it to be.

“Are you working today?” my dad asked as I dashed into the kitchen to grab a blueberry muffin on my way out the door.

I halted mid-reach. I couldn’t lie and say yes, because my schedule at The Dirty Pickle, the restaurant downtown where I worked, was on the fridge. I couldn’t say I was spending the day with Tucker, my boyfriend, because my parents were amping up the worried lectures about decision-making before a big separation. And they knew Jordan was on vacation with her parents. So all my go-to cover-ups wouldn’t work.

I flipped up the napkin covering the muffins and made a sound of dismay. “Dad! Did you eat all the muffins?”

“Of course not.” He turned a page of his newspaper and sipped his coffee. “I left you one.”

“One! Unbelievable! I helped bake these, you know. And I haven’t had any yet. I swear—”

“So where are you going, then?” He stood and carried his mug to the sink. “We barely see you.”

I scowled, annoyed that he was ignoring my rant. It wasn’t like it was completely pulled out of my ass. I baked with my mother and my five-year-old twin sisters once a week, and every time, I was lucky to get any of it. The urge to throw the basket at him welled until the wicker edge dug into my fingers, my arm shaking with the force of it.

I drew in a long, slow breath, counting as I did. I’d gotten good at that in the last month. A new skill I’d never needed before.

Let it go. It’ll backfire. Even if I kept my cool and my rant reasonable, he’d use it as ammunition. Say it was my own fault because I’m never home. That was a complaint I’d deflected too often already.

I grabbed the lone muffin and a paper towel, frantically trying to come up with something to tell him. But then I spotted my copy of The Oresteia on the table in the breakfast nook. It was required reading for one of the classes my parents thought I was taking at Amherst College this fall. “I’m going to the library to see if I can find another translation.” I grabbed the book and waved it at him. “For comparison purposes. I have that paper due before classes start, you know? I’ll just hang out there for a while.”

“Fine. We’ll see you at dinner.”

It wasn’t a question. Dammit.

“Yep, see you then. Six?”

“Around that.” He hooked his arm around my shoulders as I passed and pressed a kiss to my temple. “Have a good day, sweetie, and don’t work too hard. Love you.”

“Love you, too.” And I ran.

Lying to my parents was one of the hardest things about my new life. It started a couple of weeks before graduation, when I learned the truth about who I was. Not adopted—that would have been too easy to deal with. No, I’m half angel. Not like the heavenly angels most people think of. Those are mythology based on the real angels, who are beings of light from another dimension. They can’t really do anything here without a human body, and the angel soul has to enter the body only when there’s no other soul in it. So, pretty much at conception.

Ideally, I’d have been born fully fused, body and soul, and remembered everything about being an angel, including my mission. Then I’d grow up just in time to complete it, guided by the angel guardians, with whom I’d be in mental touch whenever I needed to be. Kind of like having a cell phone embedded in your brain, I guess. I don’t know, because that’s not how it happened.

I got into my eight-year-old Prius and pulled away from the curb in front of the house, rubbing my shoulders against the seat. They were all itchy, like someone was watching me. Probably my dad. I had to do something—he was way too suspicious lately. The problem was that I didn’t know which of my secrets he was cluing into.

My phone rang as I neared town. I flicked the levers to answer through the car’s Bluetooth, something that never failed to make me grin. I’d gotten a new cell for graduation, along with the car that I was half paying for, so it was like I’d leaped a century in technology. Maybe in five years I’d catch up to my friends.

“Hello?”

“Hey, babe.”

My insides melted a little, despite the annoying endearment. Tucker had proven himself a worthy boyfriend and didn’t deserve crap over something dumb. But let the record show that I didn’t actually condone it.

“Hey.” I slowed down a little. I was close to the Pickle, and if Bing saw my car in the back lot, he’d expect me to come up right away. He operated under an unofficial deadline and every second was precious.

“Just checking about tonight. You coming over?”

I winced. “Hopefully. It’ll be after dinner, though. Command performance.”

“You can’t get out of it? Tell them you’re with me. They like me.”

They adored him, but that didn’t matter. I was (supposedly) going to college here in Massachusetts, and he was going to Northwestern, fourteen hours away. My parents kept haranguing me with the “facts” about long-distance relationships and high-school sweethearts and all that. They were worried I’d do something stupid. Little did they know…

“It’s not that. They haven’t seen me much. Dad’s getting annoyed and I can’t let him get suspicious about what I’m doing with Bing and Lincoln.”

The six beats of silence told me I’d made a mistake mentioning Linc. A couple of months ago we’d all been friends—me and my best friend Jordan, my boyfriend Tucker, and our other best friend Lincoln. We’d gone on a quest together to retrieve my light, my angel soul. And everything had changed, even though we all pretended it hadn’t. Linc was half angel, too, and he was the only one who had an inkling of what it was like to be me. But when I was born, my mom went into cardiac arrest and they shocked her before the umbilical cord was cut. My soul had been ripped from my body. I’d lived without it, feeling empty and disconnected and totally clueless about why, for eighteen years. Lincoln had been born properly, with all his memories and knowledge intact. He grew up knowing his mission was to help me, but he was cut off from home and unable to communicate with those who’d sent us both here. Tucker was, understandably, a little threatened by the bond Lincoln and I had formed in the last few weeks.

Then there was the moment right before the Big Event when Lincoln kissed me. And Tucker saw it. I’d made it clear to both of them that I was with Tucker, but inside? Where my emotions were so freaking huge now?

It was a lot more complicated.

When we were all together, there was a tension between them, a coldness that hadn’t been there before. It made me sad, and uncomfortable, and our group had all drifted apart just a little.

“Okay,” Tucker finally said, just as I was pulling down the alley to the parking lot behind The Dirty Pickle. “Text me and let me know when you can come over, okay?”

“Definitely. Dinner’s at six, so I should be able to get away by eight.”

We hung up and I grabbed my stuff and locked the car, jogging up the stairs to Bing’s apartment.

Lincoln opened the door before I got there. “You’re late.” He didn’t scowl. Over the past few weeks, his expressions had gotten far too still and guarded for that. But the scowling was definitely implied.

I shouldered past him. “I’m always late.”

He followed me through the sparsely furnished living room—sagging couch, small TV on a rickety stand, scratched-up coffee table—into the surprisingly spacious kitchen that doubled as an office. Bing sat at the old-fashioned, chrome-legged table, his gangly elbows stretching toward the corners, papers spread out over the surface. He looked a lot like he had the first time I saw him, except then he’d been just an old man who was probably a criminal, worn-down and lonely. Now he had a purpose again, and he looked younger than his years.

Well, okay, he was really old, so he’d always look younger than his years. But he looked younger than the ninety-something he’d appeared to be when we met in May, and now I knew he was not only an angel, but also my great-grandfather. Maybe. Possibly. Unconfirmed. Because I was afraid to ask him.

He glanced up from the papers. “You did good work tracking down Andromeda,” he told me. “Lincoln and I will be traveling to Paris tonight to attempt contact.”

It was my turn to scowl, and I did it without restraint as I dropped into the chair opposite him. Lincoln leaned against the counter behind me, out of reach in case I wanted to punch him. Smart man.

“No fair. I do all the work, he gets all the fun.”

“You both have jobs to do. Yours means you can’t leave here right now.”

“Besides, your parents would have kittens if you tried.” Lincoln nudged my ankle with his toe.

Okay, so fine, both were true. I was kind of in the middle of my original mission, which involved my best friend, Jordan. I didn’t know what it was, actually, just that it involved being her friend. Which I already was. Mission accomplished, woo hoo! I was supposed to have come into this world knowing my mission and fulfilling it long-term, but there’d been some kind of collapse that cut us off from home. Lincoln was the last angel to pass through before the collapse, his mission to “fix” me, if possible. But now I’d been told that staying with Jordan was vital. She was kind of tailspinning since she hadn’t made it into Amherst, the college we’d both planned to go to. She had no idea what to do with her life, and I was kind of the only thing keeping her from falling apart and doing something stupid. I didn’t know why that was important, in the “big picture” the angels seemed to be most concerned with. And yes, that drove me batshit nuts.