Ivory Guard - Sneak peek

ONE
She’d been followed again.
Lillian could feel eyes watching her every move as she closed the book, got up and walked over to the shelf she had taken it from. A quick glance through the big windows of the library confirmed her suspicion. There he was, standing in the shadow of a group of trees to the right of the parking lot.
Only the hint of a silhouette, though. She couldn’t really see him but rather sensed his presence. It was hard to describe, like having your eyes closed and yet feeling the warmth of sunlight dancing on your skin. The last three days he had never been far away, which should have freaked her out but instead she was annoyed as hell at herself for not confronting him, or even getting a good look at him. She didn’t feel threatened by the guy - there was nothing malevolent about his presence - but being sensible, she still carried her pepper spray with her just in case.
“Lillian, it’s time,” Mrs. Blackwell announced, coming around from behind her counter.
“Coming.” Strolling back towards the table where she had left her stuff, Lillian grabbed her light jacket and the backpack filled with as many books as she could manage to stuff into it. It was Friday and time for the Blackwell’s afternoon bridge game, so the library closed earlier. After fumbling for her car keys and wishing the librarian a nice weekend, Lillian slipped out the door. Her car was only a couple of steps away, but she looked around even though she knew that it was useless. He was already gone.
Blowing a strand of dark hair out of her face, she threw her backpack onto the passenger seat, got in and drove home. The empty driveway was evidence that her father was still at work. This was fine since she hoped to spend some alone time with her mother. She knew that her mother was a little sad, especially since Lillian was leaving for college in less than two months. Lillian, on the other hand, was thrilled. She didn’t really know what to do with her life just yet, but loved the possibilities that college represented.
She thought that maybe the two of them could watch a movie after dinner. Cooking had always been their thing, and ever since Lillian had been a child she’d wanted to know how her mother got the chocolate filling into her favorite cookies. As she had grown it had become their ritual, a time to relax or to talk about everything without judgment, only advice if it was necessary.
But when Lillian stepped into the living room all thoughts of mother-daughter time fled her mind. Not knowing whether she was going insane or rather the world around her, and wondering which would be worse, she blinked her eyes, once, twice and then some more. However, the woman and man standing in the living room didn’t disappear.
It wasn’t the first time she’d seen them.
The huge wings spreading from their backs and glorioles above their heads were new, though. So was the fact that her mom apparently found the sight of the two of them not the least bit disturbing.
“You have visitors, honey.” Her mother got up from the couch and approached her.
Visitors? Definitely not how Lillian would have put it.
“Uhm… Mom?” That was all she was able to get out. What was one supposed to say anyway when you found your mother chatting with two angels in the living room? Without taking her eyes off the two, Lillian let her backpack slide from her shoulder to land in a heap on the floor.
Her mother didn’t say anything, just looked at her, and when Lillian turned to her she saw a pride in those familiar, green eyes that she couldn’t find a reason for. What disturbed her even more - the threat of tears.
“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”
Confused and frowning, she started, “But…Mom?”
Her mom didn’t turn around and Lillian was left alone with the man and woman she now tried to avoid looking at. A cold fist of dread in her stomach made her hands clammy and her heart pound.
“Maybe we should sit down,” the woman said.
Trying to hide her growing unease, Lillian remained where she was, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest and a questioning stare directed at the intruders.
The woman nodded as if understanding, and grimaced in apology. “My name’s Amber. This…,” she jerked a thumb towards the dark-haired guy beside her whose bored eyes and whole bearing screamed could-we-get-this-over-with, “…this is Raz.”
Both seemed to be in their mid-twenties and were dressed like any other human being - in jeans and shirts and not some dumb white robes. Though Lillian doubted that if they had to wear them the guy, Raz, would do it, even if he was an angel. Contrary to Amber’s blinding white wings, his were dove-gray and his gloriole a silver thread barely visible atop his close-cropped hair. Hers was bright gold. They were light and dark, the two of them, the contrast between the soft, curvy woman and the tall man with the rugged features so stark.
Raz. So that was his name. He was the one who had been following her.
Amber seemed momentarily at a loss with where to start their story and so Lillian accused them. “You watched me.”
Lillian might have her nose in books most of the time, however, when she looked at the world around her she saw it clearly and she didn’t tend to forget faces easily. Even though she was focused on choosing a present for her father’s birthday, Lillian remembered the blonde pixie haircut, green eyes and straight nose of the young woman who had bumped into her.
“You were in the mall, and you,” she motioned with her chin towards a smirking Raz, “well, you did a lousy job of hiding behind that tree near the parking lot outside the library. I saw you nearly every time.”
Amber raised an appreciative eyebrow while Raz looked a little sucker-punched for a split second, and Lillian had to hide a gloating smile.
With something close to respect in her eyes, Amber explained, “Yes, we watched you. To see whether you are ready. We are angels. I’m Ambriel, the angel of communication and protection.  And you, you’re an Ivory.”
“Riiight.” Though Lillian had referred to them as such in her head, she wasn’t ready to believe that they were, in fact, angels.
Now it was the guy’s turn to snort. “What? The flashy crown and wings aren’t convincing enough?”
Ass. Opening his mouth only made him climb her least-favorite-person list higher and faster.
The soft rustle of feathers sounded through the room and Lillian’s eyes travelled to the wings in question. A somehow peaceful gray, they looked soft and yet powerful at the same time. Lillian swallowed. She was an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it kinda girl and yet had no idea what to do with the facts presented to her. She closed her eyes for a brief moment.
Amber, suddenly appearing not much older than Lillian, took a step forward, her eyes friendly and soothing. “Lillian, I know this is unexpected and difficult for you, but that doesn’t make it less true. We’re angels and you’re an Ivory.”
Lillian had heard enough. “You said that before. An Ivory, what is that?”
“A member of the Ivory Guard.” Raz’s deep voice answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which earned him a withering look from Amber before she returned her attention to Lillian. “Ivorys are half human and half angel, and they watch over the hellholes on earth.”
Riiight. “Of course.” Stepping a little to the side to free the doorway, she pasted on her most polite smile and made a sweeping gesture towards the door. “That’s really quite interesting but I think it’s time for you to go.”
How the hell had she stumbled upon these two loons? Or rather, how had they stumbled upon her? Had they brainwashed her mom with their crap? Her mother, a neat and tidy person, couldn’t possibly believe this.
Lillian was a good student, eager for college, and already tried to figure out how she could cram as many classes into a week as possible. She was a girl who liked to spend her days buried in books rather than, like most girls her age, prowling her surroundings for available or willing boys. So her logical mind tried to find all the possible explanations for these weirdoes’ behavior, but even Lillian had to admit that she had a hard time reasoning those wings away. She was ready to consider special effects and costumes, anything.
But all her theories came tumbling down like a house of cards when Amber stepped towards her while at the same time turning to look at Raz for help. Lillian’s hand brushed against a white wing in a movement beyond her control.
What she found was softness, silk – and peace.
Lillian stared, trailing the magnificent feathers with her eyes, trying to find some sort of harness or other attachment.
There was nothing. The wings were real.
Her mind struggled with the realization and the consequences.
Out of the mess of questions and doubts, one important one crystallized. “Why me?”
“I told you, you’re an Ivory. And we need you to fight.”
Despite the surreal situation she found herself in, or maybe because of it, Lillian snorted. “Fight? You want me to fight? Did you take a look at me? I’m not some kind of karate kid, but a full-blown bookworm.”
“Don’t worry about that, we’ve seen worse,” the guy cut in, earning yet another killing glance from Amber. He shrugged. “It’s the truth. In the end we make fighters out of all of them.”
The woman shook her head at her partner and then explained, “We’ll train and show you everything you need to know. You won’t be alone in this. There are others, and you’ll be their leader. You’ll command your own Ivory Guard.”
From the way Amber said it, Lillian understood that it was to be some kind of honor. But her mind grabbed hold of only one word. “Wait a sec. You want me to command, to lead? You guys are definitely insane.”
She paced through the room that, with its familiarity and normality, made everything seem even less real. But the wings, the feel of them, were quite real. “I mean, look at me. I’m not the prom queen who everybody listens and looks up to. I’m more like the girl that stumbles around because she has her nose in a book again. I’m –”
“An Ivory, and not a high school student anymore,” Raz’s commanding voice whipped through her desperate tirade.
It brought her to a halt and she faced him. “What I’m not is someone that others look to for guidance.”
“Your life will change and so will you. Have faith in yourself and your abilities. You’re only eighteen years old, so you haven’t discovered all of them yet.”
She was surprised that his words managed to calm her but was grateful for it. She wasn’t used to feeling this way: small and helpless while her life spun out of control as she watched.
“So what kind of a change are we talking about exactly? I mean, lurking around to train with you guys is one thing but…what the hell will my life be like?”
When Raz started to speak, Amber cut in and took a step forward. “We won’t train you here, Lillian. You’ll have to come with us and…you won’t be able to see your parents for a while.” An expression of ‘for a while might turn into a long time’ was written all over the angel’s face.
Lillian was stunned. She planned to leave her parents and had prepared for it, for college though and not some weird life mission. She counted on visiting them now and then, but not knowing when she would see them again was entirely something else. She swallowed.
“What about my parents? I can’t just...” She threw up her arms in desperation.
“You won’t have to. Your mother knows who and what you are.”
Lillian straightened, her head snapping up. “What?”
Those words bothered her, the way they were phrased, and Amber’s tone. She looked at the woman. New questions swirled in her head, followed by pain.
Lillian swallowed. “I see. My mother knows, but my father doesn’t. Because he’s not my real father, is he? An Ivory is half angel and half human, you said. Does that mean my biological father is…?” She let the question hang in the air, afraid that answering it aloud herself would prove that she or the world around her had gone insane.
“An angel, yes.”
At the voice of her mother coming from behind her, she whirled around. Tears in her eyes, a handkerchief in her hand, Lillian had never seen her mother look so miserable.
She struggled between relief and dismay. Relief that her mother was here and showed her she hadn’t gone completely insane yet, but also shocked to find out that her parents weren’t who and what they were supposed to be – nosy, opinionated, but honest pains in the ass.
Lillian’s mother took a step forward then stopped, seemingly unsure of how she would react, and a question filled her eyes as to whether her daughter wanted her embrace.
“Does he know?” It was important, the most important question of all, at least for Lillian.
Her mother nodded, and for now that was all that mattered, and Lillian ran into her waiting arms.
She drew away to look at the angels. “How much time do I have?”
Her eyes filled with sympathy, Amber replied softly, “We’ll be back the day after tomorrow. If you need us, just call out our names.”
Both took a step back, apparently ready to leave, when Raz added, “Oh, and don’t tell anyone outside of this family about any of this.”

For a moment Lillian only stared at him, speechless. But of course, it was only logical that discretion was his most important concern since it wasn’t his life that had just been blown to smithereens. Without another word and only the rustling of spreading wings, they vanished, leaving Lillian with her world turned upside down.

Copyright 2014 by Natalie Herzer

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