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1

I loved being able to say I knew a guy… Wait, that wasn’t right—everyone knew a guy. No, that wasn’t how the phrase went.

No, it was I had a guy. Yeah, that was it. Or wait, no, but that was better at least. Then I didn’t sound like a twenty-four-year-old loser virgin at least who might not ever get laid. But no, I didn’t have a guy in my pocket or something.

Oh shit, that sounded like I was bribing people or doing dark magic to shrink them to where they could literally fit in my pocket. I was the math teacher—I didn’t know any dark magic.

And I wasn’t hooked in enough to bribe… Wait, that was it. I had a hookup. That was the phrase. It even sounded perfectly dirty as if I was getting some when I went out to the loading bay instead of just extra chocolates or hooch I paid the delivery guy for apart from the school’s order because the line of people waiting for an angel escort shopping trip was too damn long. While it had been fun for them in the beginning, all of them even excited in some facet to engage in shopping and something so human—the charm had worn off.

So I loved saying I had a hookup and could get a few things here and there. But that was what led me to be at the loading bay before dinner that afternoon, earlier than scheduled, to get some fresh air and some quiet me time… And walk in on one of the students being abducted.

“What are you doing?” I shouted, launching myself off the concrete raise where the trucks back up to and trying to intercept the rescued soul over the driver’s shoulder. He turned and easily backhanded me across the face.

Yeah, in hindsight, yelling hadn’t been the best idea.

“Stay out of this, Sandro,” he warned as one of our normal delivery guys, the one who was my hookup, pulled a gun on me. “We don’t have a choice.”

“You always have a choice,” I growled as I wiped my mouth. I met the kid’s scared, tear-filled eyes and my heart broke. “He can’t be more than eight. Just tell me why?”

“They threatened our families,” my hookup admitted, his voice cracking. “Some guys with red eyes said they’d cut my wife and daughter if we didn’t nab one of the students from here.”

“Shut up and shoot him,” the driver bitched. “We can’t have any witnesses and we need to go, now.”

“You knew coming into this you’d be found out later,” I reminded him calmly. “We have security everywhere.” I held my hands up in surrender and made a snap decision as my heart sank into my stomach. “Take me instead. I won’t fight you, okay? Don’t take a kid to the demons.”

“There’s no such thing as demons,” the driver spat at me.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You felt how evil they were, the guys with red eyes. You seriously don’t believe me?”

“They said a student though,” he muttered, looking away. Yeah, it was hard not to believe once someone saw a demon. I knew it had been for me. “You’re one of the teachers.”

“They want one of the rescued souls. I’m one of them. One of the first. I’m more valuable than the kid because the archangels have something planned for us soon,” I revealed, mostly because I would have done anything to save a child. “You’ve already tied him up and gagged him. Just leave him here. Someone will find him and you’ll be long past the gates, okay? I’m going willingly. Don’t live with the blood of a kid on your hands.”

“We don’t know they want to kill any of you,” my hookup defended weakly. I shot him a look and he glanced away. Yeah, they knew but I had trouble condemning them.

It was one of us versus their families and normally I would have said go to the police… If they’d been dealing with humans. But they weren’t. The demons would have torn through the cops. Sadly enough, the demons were probably going to kill them and their families but I didn’t think I had any chance of convincing them of that or that we could help them.

“Fine, but tape his mouth,” the driver grumbled as he set down the kid on the ledge. “They said to tape their mouths so they couldn’t call out the names.”

Dammit. That had been part of my plan… To call out for any of the angels.

“Just let me check him out,” I hurried to say. I moved over to the student and stared into his eyes. “Anything hurt?” He shook his head. “Okay, someone should be coming to take out the garbage soon and they’ll find you. You’ll be okay and don’t worry. Tell Administrator Kellan I say you can have a Mountain Dew before bed even.”

His eyes went wide and he nodded. I leaned in and kissed his forehead before I was roughly grabbed and my mouth and hands taped. They threw me into the back of the delivery truck, closed the doors, and then I heard them get into the cab.

At least the kid understood my message. I let my head thump down to the metal floor. Mountain Dew was our code for demon trouble, the joke being instead of saying code red, there was Code Red Mountain Dew which any kid was much more likely to remember no matter the circumstances especially if it was something like they got to have a soda before bed.

The truck started moving and I felt tears burn at my eyes. What had I been thinking? This was a horrible plan. I didn’t want to go to the demons. I didn’t want to die.

I don’t want to possibly start the fucking apocalypse like the angels keep saying might happen if Hell gets one of our souls!

Then it hit me—if they get one of our souls. What if my soul was gone before I arrived at the demons? Then my eyes really filled with tears. I didn’t see any other way around it. They were going to kill me anyways and better to sacrifice myself at that moment than wait until I was used to hurt everyone else and possibly—um, the world.

I glanced around the dark truck, only gaps in the doors giving me light. I found some broken metal rivets on the side corner and scooted over there. Before I could think better of it or get too far off the property, I sliced my forearm open on one, screaming in pain behind the tape.

God, I don’t know if you’re listening or if it’s more like the angels where I have to say things out loud or you have to be close enough to read my mind, but I seriously hope you don’t count this as suicide and condemn my soul anyways because that would really be a waste of sacrifice on my part.

I took a couple of quick, shallow breaths and did the same on my other arm, spots forming in front of my eyes as my head swam. Wow, that was not fun.

I mean, I don’t want to die. You have to be able to see that in my head, right? I had just wanted the chocolates and Kinky vodka I’d bought as a mating gift for Ronan from me and Joel. And then I wanted to go watch the eye candy grill because now it’s getting hotter and they do it shirtless and that’s just worth grading papers outside with the bugs and sticky Tennessee weather. I don’t want to die. It can’t be suicide then. Please don’t let the demons get my soul and start the apocalypse. That would so suck as my legacy.

I couldn’t sit up anymore, everything moving off kilter for me, and I realized I’d done a really good job cutting myself and I wouldn’t have much time then. I was thinking what else I wanted to say to God as if maybe he might transmit my message to my friends… He did talk to the archangels after all.

That thought hitting me kind of upset me that he wasn’t telling anyone where I was. I mean, he could have stopped all of this. He could have gotten involved long ago and made sure none of the souls had been in danger in the first place.

I rolled my eyes but then freaked when they didn’t open back up. I had been thinking it wasn’t fair for God to get involved because then where would be the line of who He would save and who He would let go. Not everyone could be saved after all.

But then when I couldn’t seem to get my eyes to open again, I had other thoughts.

I heard screeching tires, and the truck lurched, throwing me into the wall by the cab. Then it was what sounded like the driver screaming in pain, a gun going off a few times, then some more screaming, and… Snarling?

I forced my eyes to open then. Was I being saved?

Not if you bleed out first. Good plan to sacrifice yourself, dumbass. I swear I wanted to almost argue with myself on the merits of my plan. How the hell could I have known there would be any chance someone could find me?

It had been a lot more likely the demons would be waiting just off the property to get me.

I flinched when the door was ripped open and off the hinges before it was tossed away. Blinking at the suddenly too bright light, I didn’t even have the strength to hold up a hand.

“Yep, I knew I smelled blood and lots of it,” a deep voice said before the truck shifted when he jumped up. Then the lightest ice blue eyes I’d ever seen came into focus and almost white hair fell into the face of the angel saving me.

He looked ethereal after all.

“But they didn’t do these wounds,” he muttered as he took in my condition. Understanding filled his eyes as he met mine. “What were they going to do to you that you’d rather die than risk?” I tried to answer but the tape was still on my mouth. “Right.” He slowly peeled it off with one hand as he put pressure on one of my gashes with the other.

The second I was free, I did what I knew I had to. “Ariel!” It actually wasn’t all that loud but it was the best I had.

“No, Dag, I’m Dagfinn,” the man corrected.

“What have you done to Sandro?” Ariel’s voice demanded as my eyes started to get heavy.

“Shit, an angel,” Dag cursed under his breath.

“No, he saved me,” I slurred.

That was the last thing I remembered.