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Cardinal Sins: Sinners & Saints, #7

Cardinal Sins: Sinners & Saints, #7

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Cardinal Sins: Sinners & Saints, #7

Lunghezza:
381 pagine
5 ore
Pubblicato:
Aug 27, 2019
ISBN:
9781393106012
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

After two millennia of avoiding conflict, he's gone and fallen in love with the antichrist.

Daughter of a prominent politician, Lily has spent her life trying to keep stories of her unusual abilities from leaking to the press. With her mother running for president, though, Lily finds herself under more intense scrutiny than ever before. And restraining her powers becomes more difficult with every nasty headline.

Ace, the Sin of Sloth, has kept a close watch on Lily ever since he left her on her adopted mother's doorstep. Now, posing as her secret service protection, he knows there are truths about his feelings that he can no longer ignore. No matter that he knows who her real mother is, and what that makes her.

When Lily loses control of her abilities, she makes herself the target of those who believe she is the key to ending the world. Her only hope is Ace, whose determination to keep her safe, even from himself, takes them on the run from all of Heaven and Hell. But as she and Ace grow closer and the stakes grow higher, Lily must grapple with the fact that she might just be the antichrist after all, capable of ending the world…whether she wants to or not. 

___________________________________________________________________________________

Buffy meets Good Omens. A tale of devils, angels, demons, and everything in between. Product may include sacrilegious humor, irreverent beliefs and explicit, too-hot-for-prime-time adult scenes.

This series is best enjoyed when read in order.

Pubblicato:
Aug 27, 2019
ISBN:
9781393106012
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Rosalie Stanton is an award winning erotic romance author in the paranormal and contemporary genres. A lifelong enthusiast of larger than life characters, Rosalie enjoys building worlds filled with strong heroes and heroines of all backgrounds. Rosalie lives in Missouri with her husband. At an early age, she discovered a talent for creating worlds, which evolved into a love of words and storytelling. Rosalie graduated with a degree in English. As the granddaughter of an evangelical minister, Rosalie applied herself equally in school in the creative writing and religious studies departments, which had an interesting impact on her writing. When her attention is not engaged by writing or editing, she enjoys spending time with close friends and family.

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Cardinal Sins - Rosalie Stanton

thing.

1

Two to go.

Reminding herself of this made her feel better for about three seconds, but those were seconds she needed. Lily ran her hands through her hair and blinked her strained eyes at the last sentence she’d written, hoping like hell it made sense because she honestly couldn’t tell anymore. It would be a freaking wonder if she managed to not completely lose her shit before graduation.

Granted, working on a final while her mother politicked in the background wasn’t conducive to a job well done, but she couldn’t help herself. If she knew her mother was going to be on television, she put it on.

Only had two more finals to go. Two finals and then she’d be a graduate. She could finally get on with her life.

That had been a stipulation of her mother’s presidential run—Miranda wouldn’t hear a word of Lily taking another prolonged break from her studies to help with the run for the White House. The eighteen months she’d lost during the last Midterm campaign had nearly cost her her education, as it was. It was damned difficult going back to school after having indulged in a taste of life outside it.

Senator Fielding waving at supporters in Peoria, Illinois, three days ahead of the Illinois primary, one of the talking heads was saying on the television. She just got through speaking about education reform, immigration, and the economy. Did we learn anything new, Dan?

I think we’ve seen the senator establish a clear pattern whenever an election date draws near, another reporter—Dan, presumably—replied. The senator is quite skilled at rallying her base while on the road, but the closer the voters get to actually casting their ballots, the more likely she is to go back to the middle. Not sure if that’s a smart strategy.

It’s definitely safe, the first guy observed.

But it draws heavy criticism from her base and builds the case for Secretary Buchanan when he points out the tonal inconsistencies in her campaign. She is much more reserved here than we’ve seen her in the past, and when you compare the platform she’s running on to her voting record, it’s difficult to reconcile the ideological difference, and that plays to Buchanan’s advantage.

As we’ve reported previously, the first guy interjected again, this is the first time we’ve ever seen Senator Fielding on the campaign trail without her daughter.

Lily’s fingers halted over the keyboard, her heart pounding hard.

Turn it off. Focus.

Right, replied Dan. Liliana Fielding, pictured here alongside her mother—

Lily swallowed and twisted in her seat. The press had a handful of photos they liked to use on rotation whenever she became the subject of a newscast. The one this program had chosen was one that, at the time, had been a favorite. She was standing beside her mother, who had one hand on a copy of the Constitution of the United States and the other in the air as she was sworn into office by Vice President Blanc. The photo dated to her mother’s first term in the Senate, which meant Lily had still been in the awkward teenager phase. Hair a frizzy mess due to one too many failed experiments. Mouth full of plastic Invisalign trays which, contrary to the ads, were perfectly noticeable in this photo.

Lily shook her head, the anchors’ voices filtering back in as the on-screen image transitioned to a more recent photo. As in, really recent. Judging by the fact that Agent Aveira was in frame…

God, the vultures had infiltrated campus. Again.

The screen changed once more, this time cutting to some on-the-street interviews with people who were eager to tell the cameraperson just how weird it was to see Senator Fielding without her faithful mascot.

Turn it off. Turn it off.

But Lily didn’t turn it off. She couldn’t. Aside from the fact that she felt rooted to the spot, she wasn’t sure she could trust herself not to pitch the television out the freaking window. A familiar burn lit inside her stomach and began to spread without warning, warming her nerves until her veins themselves felt like they had been set on fire. She was breathing hard, gripping the back of her seat so tightly she expected it to pop off.

Calm down. Calm…

Official word from the campaign is that Liliana intends to join her mother on the campaign trail after she concludes her coursework, the other anchor said. Another photo flashed across the screen, this one also featuring Agent Aveira. It appeared that it had been taken the same day as the other one. Aveira was glaring at something off camera as Lily gazed blandly at her cell phone, looking about as bored as a person could. The poster child of the disaffected generation, more interested in screens than people. Never mind that she had actually been doing some last-minute cramming before one of her finals. Reporters didn’t bother with pesky things like context.

Prior to this year, Miranda Fielding was seldom seen on the campaign trail without her daughter.

Liliana’s notable absence only further fuels the rumors regarding tension between the senator and Ms. Fielding, the other guy said. Did your source indicate what might be behind these rumors?

You know, Lily drawled, tightening her grip on the back of the chair, aside from bullshit.

The lamp on her end-table flickered, the ball of energy in her stomach pulsing and growing until the underside of her skin seemed to hum.

Get it together. Come on.

Nothing confirmed, of course, Dan replied, but one of the stories coming out of the campaign is the senator is displeased with her daughter’s dress.

The view shifted to split screen, one half consumed with an enlarged photo of Lily on Copley Lawn on campus, her back against a tree and a book in her lap. She wore a distressed sweater, frayed in the front and with an overlarge neckline that slid down her left shoulder, bearing her bra strap. She had her hair in a messy bun and a pen pressed to her open lips.

Dammit, that looked downright suggestive, even to her.

She remembered that day. It was right before the incident, the one that had resulted in Agent Aveira inserting himself into her life. Someone had called the campus threatening to blow up one of the halls unless she agreed to go on a date with the psycho. Presidential candidates didn’t typically qualify for Secret Service protection until four months before the general election, but the incident had been enough to get the Treasury Department to assign her someone twenty-four/seven.

Her heart gave a lurch and she swallowed. The lamp on her end-table flickered again.

What do you think, Steve? Dan asked, nodding to the photo. Too provocative?

Definitely something I wouldn’t want my daughter to wear if she had been the subject of threatening letters, the other anchor—Steve, presumably—agreed. I can see why the senator is displeased.

"That was before, you assholes!" she screamed at the television, the strands of her hair starting to rise, which was never a good sign. Nor was the lamp which was blinking like mad now. The air itself had grown thick—a familiar thick that preceded her dreaded episodes, but fuck, knowing she was close to losing control did little more than push her toward the breaking point.

Obviously, nothing justifies a death threat, Dan said sagely, but with her mother in the public spotlight—

Lily pressed her eyes closed and focused on the sensation of her breaths. Deep breath in. Hold. And out. Deep breath in. Hold.

—and the safety of others, mind you, Steve said. You must wonder how secure her classmates feel. To say nothing of how it reflects on Senator Fielding’s run for the White House.

The television blinked off a second before it ripped from its place on the wall in a colorful arc of sparks. Lily shot her eyes open just in time to watch the flat-screen hurl itself through the window with a deafening crash.

Oh no. She bolted for the window, but it was too late. The collapse in energy sent the television hurdling toward the ground. Lily grasped the broken sill, heedless of the shards of glass cutting into her skin, and watched helplessly as the set twirled toward the pavement where it promptly shattered.

No, no, no, no, she cried, her voice hoarse. Then, panicked, she swept her gaze up and down the sidewalk.

No one there.

A series of hard knocks thundered against her door. Lily?

It was Aveira. Of course. The government had rented out the apartment across the hall from her so he could be near at all times.

Lily drew in a ragged breath, her gaze falling to the pieces of glass protruding from her palms. The sickly sweet aroma of blood filled her nostrils, making her gut twist even tighter. Oddly enough, she didn’t register any pain—at least, not the sort of pain she would have expected. It was a dull, throbbing sensation, though one that seemed to grow in intensity the more she thought about it. Lily pressed her lips together and exhaled through her nose to keep herself from crying.

Lily! Aveira yelled, pounding harder. Then he swore and the next thing she knew, the door exploded inward, revealing her surly protector on the other side. The second his gaze landed on her hand, he released a long stream of profanity and stormed over. What the hell happened?

I tried to open the window, she said.

And? He seized her by the wrist and lifted it to get a better look.

I was unsuccessful.

Aveira narrowed those wonderfully expressive brown eyes of his and threw a glance at the shattered window. Cute.

I’m fine. I barely even feel anything.

That’s because you’re still high on adrenaline. It’s about to hurt like a motherfucker.

That a technical term?

Aveira glowered at her again, and this time she let herself enjoy the view. Even angry, he was a thing of beauty. One of those guys that seemed too pretty to be real. He was tall and built—like she imagined most guys in his line of work had to be. Broad shouldered with a truly impressive chest, strong arms and stronger hands. His eyes were dark, like his hair, and alarmingly intense. He had a smattering of facial hair that was too thin to be a beard but too thick to be five o’clock shadow.

And he was currently leading her down the hall of her own apartment to the bathroom.

Want to tell me what happened for real? he asked as he knelt to rummage under the sink. A second later, he straightened, a first-aid kit in hand.

No. There was no way in this world or any other she was about to tell him what had really happened. For starters, he wouldn’t believe her. Hell, she barely believed her, and she was going on twenty years of freaky shit she couldn’t explain happening around her. This wasn’t even the first time she’d lost control around Aveira, but it was the first time he’d had reason to notice.

Well? Aveira said, motioning for her to take a seat on the counter.

Is this really necessary?

You have glass sticking out of your hand, so yes. He waited until she was seated, then crowded in on her, gaze intent upon her wound. This is going to hurt.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

He scowled and pulled the first and—thankfully—largest shard from her hand.

Fuck! Lily hissed and lifted herself off the counter, only to be forced back down again. Blood bubbled and began a slow trickle down her wrist. Fuck fucking fuck.

Aveira smirked. That’s what you get for being a smartass.

You’re mocking my pain now?

I thought you said it didn’t hurt.

Well, asshole, it hurts now!

Well, maybe next time you won’t throw your television through your window. He pulled out another shard, ignoring her when she jumped.

H-how…how did you—

The fact that your television had been yanked off the wall didn’t escape me. I’m trained to observe. Aveira pulled another shard free. Just one more left now. You know what you shouldn’t do?

Throw TVs out windows?

Just a thought. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. He tugged on the last shard, then directed her hand under the faucet. Now we’re gonna clean this and take you to the ER.

The ER? Lily’s heart thumped and her hairbrush zoomed off the counter to crash into the opposite wall.

Aveira frowned and looked down. Did you move that?

I didn’t touch it. That much was the truth. She released a deep breath, willing herself to calm. Why do I need to go to the ER?

Stitches.

I don’t need stitches.

Aveira arched an eyebrow. You don’t need stitches.

I heal fast. Like, freakishly fast. It had been one of those things that always managed to keep her out of trouble as a kid. Riding bicycles in areas she’d been told to avoid, sneaking in after meeting her boyfriend for an illicit rendezvous, and that time a classmate had called her mom a liberal cunt and she’d responded by pounding her fist into his teeth. Scraped knees, hickeys, and bruised knuckles had a way of fading in less than an hour. Lily didn’t even know when she’d noticed this ability, but it had gotten her out of all kinds of adolescent jams.

Like her ability to throw appliances out of apartment windows without lifting a finger, it was just part of her.

Aveira didn’t look convinced, so she held up her palm. Indeed, even now the cuts weren’t as deep, and the pain had started to subside.

See? she said, her voice trembling. She really could not afford a trip to the ER. Aside from the usual shots and occasional check-ups, she’d never been to the doctor. She’d certainly never bled around them and she wasn’t about to start now.

They might discover there was something wrong with her—like seriously wrong—and she couldn’t let that happen.

Aveira studied her palm for a moment before shifting his gaze to hers. And it occurred to Lily, for the first time, that this was as physically close to her as he’d ever been. This was enough to set her heart on another obstacle course, which meant more accessories might start flying through the air and she didn’t think she could explain that.

And the last thing her mother needed was for the story to break that her daughter was some kind of telekinetic mutant.

Could you…back up a little?

Aveira frowned before seemingly realizing how much of her bubble he’d invaded. Sorry, he said, moving back, his gaze flicking to her hand again. You do heal fast.

Yes. Good genes. Strong genes.

Okay, but I’m bandaging you up.

Fine. Bandage away.

I will. He took a step back. After I pack your bag.

She blinked. Am I going somewhere?

Across the hall, until I can get your window fixed.

Lily drew in a sharp breath. Agent Aveira, that’s really—

It’s happening. You know what my job is? He waited until she nodded. Do you think I’m bad at that job?

What? No, of course not.

Then why would you think I would let you stay by yourself in a place with an easy entry point?

We’re on the fourth floor!

Does it look like I care? Again, he waited, then pushed toward the door. I’m going to pack you a bag, then you’re coming with me across the hall and I’m bandaging your hands.

Lily waited until he had stepped into the hallway to let out the breath she was holding, her gaze falling on the brush that had clattered to the floor.

Tonight had been the first in a long time she’d lost control enough to cause actual property damage. The past few years had been an exercise in restraint, particularly with her mother moving up in the world of professional politics, and therefore increasing Lily’s exposure to the limelight. The first attack ad that she’d seen leveled at her mother had nearly brought the house down; she’d been so upset. And while local seismologists had chalked the incident up to an inexplicable earthquake, she’d known better and had vowed to toughen up.

That it had taken so little to shatter her tonight had her balancing closer to the edge than was comfortable.

Because if her mother got the nomination, even the semblance of Lily’s old life would be completely gone.

And if Miranda Fielding won the White House…

The hairbrush on the floor began vibrating. Lily squeezed her eyes shut and focused on her breathing again.

If her mother won the White House, this was going to be a long four years.

2

So you saw it.

Lily snorted. How’d you guess?

Well, Eden drawled, her arms crossed and her gaze fixed on the spot where the television had been. The Samsung-shaped hole in your window pretty much gives the game away. What have I told you about watching that garbage?

Not to.

And yet.

I know. Lily sighed and dragged a hand through her hair, which reminded her of the brush she had inadvertently sent zooming around the bathroom earlier. Believe me, I tell myself that every night.

Turns out you’re not the best listener.

What?

Eden opened her mouth, then favored Lily with a narrow look. Funny.

Let’s focus less on the fact that I’m out a TV and more on the amazing job I did in not hurting anyone.

Except yourself.

Lily held up her wrapped hands. In truth, the bandages were pretty much for show at this point. Agent Aveira would ask questions if he saw that her skin had knitted itself back together overnight—questions she couldn’t answer. And since he dogged every step she took and had an eidetic memory on top of being hella observant, there was little chance he’d forget that he had found her bleeding the night before.

I’m going to hazard a guess, Eden said, navigating her way across the room to peer out the window, that the fact you managed to not injure anyone apart from yourself was not a result of quick thinking and more a matter of dumb luck.

That would not be incorrect.

Eden released a long breath and turned, sunlight playing along her golden hair in such a way it gave the impression of a halo. Which would have made Lily snicker in any other circumstance—Eden being far from angelic—but she had the distinct impression she was under a lecture storm warning.

Her only hope was heading Eden off before she really got going.

Lily—

I’ll be careful.

You keep telling me that, and yet there are appliances being thrown out the window.

In my defense, GBC has really crappy reporting.

Lily. Eden sighed again, her shoulders dropping. Do you know how lucky you are?

In general, or—

Don’t get smart with me. Especially since this situation is so dumb.

I know. I have the bandages and everything.

"It’s just going to get worse. Your mom is going to be the nominee, and if you think the reporting is unfair now, just wait until it’s two weeks before election night. Eden turned her gaze back to the window, frowning. You’re going to be in the public eye from now until forever. They’re never not going to be watching you. You need to tell her now if you don’t think you can handle it."

Lily’s face fell. Don’t go there.

She would drop out in a red hot minute if—

What did I just tell you? This is not up for discussion.

Well, I’m sorry, Lily, but it has to be. Eden gestured at the window again. Because if you don’t get control of yourself, this might be the leading story on GBC someday. And that kind of stuff doesn’t go away. Once it’s out there, that’s it. That’s your life. That’s all you are forever.

Lily drew in a calming breath to combat her rising irritation. She loved Eden, she really did. Eden had been her one constant—the thing that stayed the same in a life regularly reshaping itself to complement her mother’s career. More than that, Eden was the only person in the world who knew this part of her and would sooner chop off her tongue than let the secret slip.

But that also meant she was a little on the psycho side when it came to surrogate big sister duties.

You’re talking like these are things I don’t know.

You just don’t seem to be taking this very seriously.

I’m out a new flat-screen and my secret service agent probably thinks I’m psychotic, so I think I’m taking this about as seriously as a person can.

Eden swallowed and shook her head, the worry on her face deepening. This is the easy part. It gets worse from here.

I know. Lily fished her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. So is this a today fix, or should I plan on camping out at Agent Aveira’s again?

She held her breath, willing Eden to take the hint and drop it.

It’s a today fix, Eden murmured. Then paused and tossed her a smirk. "Though I can go extra slow if you want another co-ed sleepover."

Lily stuck her tongue out. They’re not as much fun as they sound, sadly. He slept on the couch.

It is criminal to be so close to that man and not be allowed to touch him.

I can try to put myself into a vaguely threatening situation so he presses against me all bodily.

Eden shrugged, her eyebrows lifting. Not the worst idea ever. She paused. You know I say all of this out of love, right?

There it was. The guilt that came with every Eden lecture. It wasn’t that she didn’t take her friend seriously—she did. After all, if anything regarding her inhuman abilities came out at any point, it was her life that would be forever fucked. Eden had always been overly protective, taking the vacant older-sibling spot with fervor. And it had always been this way—ever since Eden had first knocked on the door of the Fielding residence for her inaugural night as Lily’s babysitter. Ever since Eden had ducked to avoid a flying gallon of milk Lily had sent hurtling across the room in the heat of a temper tantrum. She’d known, and she’d made it her mission, at the age of fifteen, to ensure no one ever learned the truth.

There had been many heart-to-hearts over the years, especially as Lily had blossomed to an age where she understood the sometimes not-so-nice things said about her politician mother. As Miranda Fielding had climbed the ladder of public scrutiny, Eden’s visits and pep talks had become more regular, and her worry more pronounced.

On some level, Lily understood she was being careless. Watching the news last night—even having it on as background noise—had been a stupid gamble. But when she forced herself to refrain from watching the news, checking the internet, and scouring the soul-killing cancer that was the comments section of any article, her nervousness peaked and the world around her became a little less stable. Not knowing what was being said left her feeling vulnerable and on edge—if she had an idea of what was going on, she could at least be prepared the next time a reporter shoved a microphone in her face.

I know, Lily replied at length, forcing herself to meet Eden’s gaze. I know and I know you’re right, but that doesn’t make it any easier to… Well, anything.

Have you been practicing mindfulness?

Yeah, that was another thing. Eden was all about meditation—particularly, sitting with thoughts and allowing them to be present rather than jumping to a reaction. Or casually identifying the thought as negative, positive, or neutral but otherwise not engaging. It was a tactic that worked to a degree, though Lily couldn’t seem to keep herself from wandering off on internal tangents and forgetting that she was supposed to be concentrating on her breathing or whatever.

I’ll take your silence as a big fat no, Eden said wryly.

I feel like my head is too full to be still that long.

You know that’s the point.

Yeah, but… Lily trailed off, knowing perfectly well she had no excuse. Instead, she heaved another sigh and forced herself to nod. I’ll do better.

Eden’s expression remained skeptical, but she didn’t push the issue. Okay, she said, offering a tight nod before looking back to the window. I’ll have this fixed by the time you get home.

Lily knew she would. Over the years, Eden had become one of the most proficient DIYers of the modern era. She’d had to.

Has anyone ever told you that you’re the best? Lily asked.

Not nearly often enough.

Well, you are. Lily crossed the room and tugged her friend into a hug. Thank you. I’m sorry I’m such a pill.

There are times when I am, too. Eden squeezed her tight, then took a step back. What time’s your class?

In forty-five. I better jet, actually. Sorry to leave you with this mess.

There was a knock at the door before Eden could reply, followed by Agent Aveira’s brusque voice that so did not send pleasant shivers down Lily’s spine. Nope. She was shiver-free.

Time to get a move on, Hellion.

Even when he called her names.

Eden smirked. Hellion? she asked.

Knock it off. It’s my code name, Lily said, heading for the door.

Agent Aveira greeted her with his usual no-nonsense nod, giving her a once over so clinical she practically felt asexual, before raising his gaze to Eden. Lily entertained a rush of something a little too close to jealousy for her comfort. Eden had the kind of good looks typically only seen in the movies, which made her damn near impossible to ignore. Plus, she had the whole blonde bombshell thing going for her, complete with an ample rack and a sweet smile. Not to mention anyone who spoke with Eden for more than five seconds realized she was whip-smart and had an empathy streak a mile wide. She was essentially a Disney princess in real life, waiting for someone to notice that she was royalty.

And yes, this made Lily jealous. In her defense, it hadn’t been until Aveira had introduced himself as her security detail that she had become even remotely concerned with her own appearance and how it paled in comparison to her best friend’s.

But none of that mattered anyway because Aveira wasn’t her date and he never could be. He was the guy her mother’s campaign had sent to her after her school had received a bomb threat. He was the guy who was paid to die protecting her. Relationship material that did not make.

Aveira shifted that dark, assessing gaze of his back to Lily. Are you ready?

Yeah, she said, turning to grab her backpack. We better go.

Aveira nodded and stood aside. Lily flashed Eden a grateful smile, then made her way out of the door.

Knock ’em dead, Hellion, Eden called after her.

Yeah, it would be a while before she lived that one down.

Ever since Aveira had entered her life, Lily had been aware of him in ways she hadn’t been aware of anyone else. At first, she’d thought it was due to the fact that he was in her space because of the gravity of the threat the school had received. Which was terrifying all on its own, but Lily did her best not to consider the fact that someone out there might be watching her every move and trying to determine how best to take her out. This had been easy enough to avoid before the wacko had demanded a date in exchange for not blowing up a building, but Aveira was a living reminder that her life had taken a dramatic left turn and she could take nothing for granted.

Fortunately, he was also a giant placebo. Whether or not she was actually safer was irrelevant—she felt safer. It helped that the guy was built like a brickhouse—gave the allusion that he could deflect bullets just by giving them a dirty look.

But the more time she spent around him, the more she believed that her hyper-sensitive awareness was due to more than just nerves. And she didn’t know how to feel about that,

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