The Price of Freedom

By: Jenny Schwartz

“He will,” vowed Mischa. “Yusef won’t grow up an orphan.”

If the engines couldn’t be fixed, she would resort to crude tactics. She wouldn’t be the first angel to physically hold an airplane in space and guide it to safety.

She stood, then frowned. Humans oughtn’t to be able to see her, nor to function in the stretched time within a second. Yet a man in Bedu robes at the rear of the cabin stared straight at her.

He smiled. Dark hair curled back from a wide forehead, above a beak of a nose. High cheekbones balanced the strong jaw. White teeth gleamed beneath a pencil moustache that defined the firm line of thin masculine lips. His eyes were topaz green.

Mischa took a step toward him. “Who are you?”

He was beautiful, but mere beauty oughtn’t to attract her. Angels were beautiful, yet she had no trouble resisting the wooing of those among them who’d be her lovers, nor in rejecting the hot demands of contesting demons. So why did she stand here, watching the stranger’s smile widen? If the plane crashed, they’d all be lost.

Ilias. Concentrate on him.

The call of duty focused her. She sank through the floor of the cabin, shook through the skin of the plane and felt the cold, dry air envelop her. She raised her hands above her head and pressed them against the underbelly of the fuselage.

Its fall halted.

“You’re interfering,” the stranger said beside her. He stood on nothing, with the skill of an angel, keeping pace with the aircraft’s glide. His robes stirred in a wind of his own choosing, revealing then veiling his face.

Mischa looked away, up to the plane she carried. “Interference is what I do.”

If the stranger was no man, what was he?

Time flicked over to the third second.

“Are you a demon?”

“My father was.” He stretched out a hand and stroked her face.

His fingers played like flame against her skin, calling desire in a bewildering surge of feeling. She turned her head away.

“I give you my name.” He slid his fingers into her hair, twisted and gripped. He forced her to face him. “I am Rafe.”

“Let me go.” She glared into his green eyes, defying the force of his answering fierceness. He wanted her to know him.

“Your name.”

Her mouth firmed, sealing shut.

The plane was gliding steadily with her assistance, but she’d have to land it soon—even a stretched second had limits. It would be easier without distraction.

“Go away.”

“Give me your name.” He let go of her hair, but the slide of his hand down her face and throat and over her breasts was no release.

Her breasts were high and taut from her upraised arms. They swelled under the slow, exploratory touch. Mischa kicked out.

Rafe sidestepped. “Tell me,” he said on a breath of laughter.

She hadn’t intended to amuse him. Rage fed on the unwanted burn of desire. If he’d been a Scotsman, she’d have set fire to his kilt. As it was…a wicked smile curved her mouth. Why not? Justice meant fighting fire with fire.

A wave of her hand, and his robes went up in flames.

Now, there was a good distraction. Pleased with herself, Mischa turned her attention back to the plane. She’d land it while the stranger beat out the flames of his clothing.

“If you wanted me naked, you should have said,” he purred by her ear.

Startled, she glanced at him. Her gaze traveled down from broad shoulders and muscular chest to the ridged stomach and lower. He was magnificent.

“I don’t want you.” But the lie stuck in her throat. She stared into eyes blazing with masculine triumph. He knew she wanted him.

“I need to land the plane.”

It was the flicker in the eyes locked with hers that warned her. The hint of regret gave Mischa an instant of warning. It wasn’t enough.

Rafe pulled her away from the plane at the moment he directed a storm of wind at it and thrust the nose downward.

“No!” She fought his hold.

He pinned her arms and wrapped his legs around hers. Surprise had given him the advantage and now she couldn’t break his hold. Her nose was squashed against his throat, and her every breath inhaled sandalwood and pheromones. The situation was desperate.

She dematerialized and plunged after the plane. As a stream of energy, she wove around the plane and dragged it out of its uncontrolled dive.

“It won’t work.” Rafe’s energy prickled against hers, prizing her away from the plane. “The jet’s fated to crash.”

“It is not.” Fate was not a god. The future was as you made it. But Rafe’s power disrupted her own.

Mischa rematerialized, placed her hands once more against the plane’s underbelly and pushed it up hundreds of meters before encountering a resisting force. She abandoned the last of the laws of physics and looked through the plane to see Rafe pushing down. He had gravity on his side.

In this battle over the plane, she feared she wouldn’t win.

“Time for a change of strategy.” She surrendered the plane to the skills of the pilot and copilot and dove through it to attack Rafe directly.

She hit him in the chest.

He tumbled backward and the lightning bolts zinging from his fingers broke against empty air rather than the plane itself. The air split in shrieking agony, but the plane was already gliding away.