Angel fire, p.11
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       Angel Fire, p.11

         Part #2 of Angel series by L. A. Weatherly
Page 11


  “I need to teach you how to use this,” he said, thinking aloud.

  He saw her start to protest. Then she looked away and took a sip of coffee, her green eyes troubled. “Yeah, okay,” she said finally.

  Alex’s eyebrows flew up. “Really? I thought you’d hate the idea. ”

  “I do,” said Willow. “But I can’t not do something just because I don’t like it. I don’t have that – luxury, any more. ” She shrugged. “I mean, all I have to do is look in the mirror to see how much things have changed. And I can’t depend on you to protect me all the time. ”

  “You protect me too,” Alex pointed out. The memory of Willow’s angel flying above him, shielding him while putting herself in mortal danger, flashed into his mind. It had been the moment he’d first realized he was in love with her, though he’d been too much of an idiot to admit it to himself. He gulped down his coffee and tossed the empty cup into a trash can.

  “Okay,” he said. “You ready to become an illegal alien?”

  Willow shook her head with a smile and threw away her own empty cup. “This is the ultimate bad-boy date, isn’t it? Breaking into a different country. ”

  “Hey, it makes a change from hot-wiring cars together. ”

  “Been there, done that. . . Alex, seriously, are you sure no one’s going to shoot us?”

  “Don’t worry – if anyone’s around, we won’t cross,” he said. Border guards weren’t exactly his number one concern just then, but he still had no intention of taking any risks.

  They sped down the highway again; the southern New Mexico desert stretched out around them, silvery in the pre-dawn. A ghostly-looking coyote loped alongside the motorcycle for a few seconds, as if they were running a race, and then veered off on errands of its own. To Alex’s relief, he found the dirt road easily, leading off from the highway a few miles further on. He took it, leaning into the turn and feeling Willow’s hands tighten on his waist as she shifted her weight behind him.

  The border wall came into view. In some places this was a concrete barricade with razor coils glinting at its top; here it was just a tired-looking barbed-wire fence separating the two countries, as if they were neighbouring ranches. The fence cut across a dried-out riverbed; where it came up one of the banks it gave up for a few feet, collapsing onto the ground with its posts sagging.

  There was no one around; it was still almost dark. Alex trundled the bike to a stop, and Willow helped him manoeuvre it over the slant in the riverbed, into Mexico. “I thought the wall would be more. . . wall-like,” she said.

  “It is, in some places,” said Alex. “But in others, it’s just like this. And look. ” He nodded at a rusty metal sign. It said, You must enter the US by a designated entry point. This is not a designated entry point. If you enter by this route, you are committing a felony.

  Willow stared. “But – it probably cost more to make the sign than it would have to repair the fence. It’s almost like they want people to sneak in. ”

  “They do,” said Alex. Pebbles skittered down as they got the bike up over the edge of the bank. “Or at least the angels who live around here do. Illegal immigrants mean fresh energy supplies, without them having to go looking. ” He remembered when Juan, one of the other AKs, had first showed them this route – and how he and his big brother Jake had encountered a border guard here once, smiling with angel burn and talking about how important it was to do the angels’ work.

  Kara had been with them that time, too – an exotically beautiful AK with nerves of steel; both he and Jake had had crushes on her back then. “Idiot,” she’d said as they’d driven away, shifting gears with a tight, angry motion. Sitting in the back of the jeep, Alex had taken in her profile. And despite the easy banter the AKs usually shared, in that instant he could think of nothing at all to say to Kara – but had instinctively understood the mix of fury and sorrow that made her mad at the guard, as if getting angel burn were his own fault.

  Now Willow looked slightly queasy at the thought of the predatory border angels. “Oh,” she said. He saw her throat move. “That’s – that’s really. . . ”

  “I know,” said Alex, understanding exactly how she felt. Unfortunately, there were plenty of angels in Mexico too, and had been even before the Invasion. There was hardly anyplace on earth now that he thought he could take Willow where she’d be really safe.

  But he’d do his best – or die trying.

  Nearby, he could just see the rough dirt track he remembered, heading off to the east. “Okay, that connects up with the highway eventually,” he said, climbing back onto the bike. “Or at least, it used to. ” He hoped it hadn’t been washed out; struggling the Shadow over miles of no road at all seriously wouldn’t be his idea of fun.

  Willow started to put on her helmet, but hesitated, playing with its straps. “Alex, are there any really big cities in Mexico? I mean – really big. ”

  He looked at her in surprise, taking in the worried lines that had appeared on her forehead. “Yeah, Mexico City. It’s one of the largest cities in the world. Why?”

  She didn’t reply immediately. “I’ll tell you later,” she said at last. “But maybe we could find a place to stop soon, where we can talk. ”

  Apprehension tickled his spine. Whatever this was about, he didn’t much like the sound of it already – but hanging around a few feet from the border wasn’t the place for a long discussion. “Yeah, okay,” he said reluctantly, and pulled on his own helmet.

  The dirt road seemed to last for ever, but as the sun came up they finally turned south onto Highway 45. This part of Mexico looked almost identical to the New Mexico landscape they’d just left behind: hard, dry ground scattered with juniper bushes and cactuses, with rugged-looking mountains rising in the distance. Alex grimaced as they passed a billboard: the familiar image of an angel with wings and arms outspread. La Iglesia de los Ángeles, it read.

  Dusty pickup trucks passed by, driven by men with dark hair and white straw cowboy hats. Though no one gave Willow a second glance in her helmet, Alex knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until they were holed up in the Sierra Madre, as far away from the Church of Angels as possible. It was a lot more remote up there, in what they called el monte: the wild.

  And then he could start trying to recruit people, and train them.

  The dread Willow had sensed the night before touched him again with its clammy fingers. Get a grip, he thought, irritated with himself. You have to do it; you’re the only one left. If he didn’t get some other AKs trained – didn’t somehow get a camp set up and then hopefully other camps too, until they had a network of them up and down the continent – then humanity could just kiss itself goodbye in a few years.

  Even so, Alex’s hands tightened on the Shadow’s handlebars as the wind rushed past. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to fight the angels – god, apart from being with Willow, it was the only thing he did want. He’d willingly give his life; he’d do it a dozen times over, if it meant defeating the angels in this world. He just didn’t want to be responsible for the lives of a whole team too. His brother’s death shuddered through his mind. Yeah, he’d already shown how great he was at covering someone’s back, hadn’t he? And if one of his decisions killed someone—


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