Gates of Paradise - By Melissa de la Cruz

Chapter One



Blood and fire are too much for

these restless arms to hold.

- Indigo Girls, "Blood and Fire"

Chapter One


he fireworks burst into a dazzling array of color and sound, shooting a rainbow above the London skyline as the crowd on the Victoria Embankment cheered lustily for the beginning of the new year. Schuyler Van Alen watched the festivities from the balcony of a town house across the way in Primrose Hill, admiring the spectacular view of the London Eye glowing silver and lavender against the night sky, bordered by a glittering framework of blue lights from the row of trees surrounding the park.

"It's almost midnight," said Oliver Hazard-Perry as he appeared with two champagne glasses and handed Schuyler one with a smile. He was wearing a crisp black tuxedo with shiny silver cuff links, and she was struck by his grown-up manliness - the gravity in the way he carried himself, the newfound confidence in his step. His sandy brown hair was combed back from his forehead, his hazel eyes crinkled with a few fine lines. The London girls couldn't get enough of him - his phone beeped constantly with texts to meet them for drinks at Loulou's or to join them for yet another Pimps and Hos party at "Harry's." Oliver had told her all about his love affair in New York, with the witch who had healed his heart and cured his blood of the longing he used to carry as Schuyler's familiar. He was back to being just her human Conduit, but he was still the dear boy who had been her best friend since the beginning.

"Cheers," she said, accepting the glass and clinking it against his. She had agreed to the party despite her mood, and was wearing a black velvet dress that suited her. A mourning dress, she couldn't help but think as she had slipped it over her shoulders earlier that evening. It was cut with a deep V-neck, sleeveless. Against the dark fabric, her clavicles were sharp lines, and she knew her arms looked painfully thin. She was wearing her bonding ring on her left hand, and a silver circlet on her forearm that Oliver had given her as a birthday present years ago.

Her friend appraised her thoughtfully. "You look beautiful and tragic, just the way a heroine should on the eve of battle. Like Joan of Arc in her silver armor."

"Nice of you to say, although I don't feel particularly brave," Schuyler said, fiddling with her new short haircut, a pixie with a bit of a "fringe" - what the Brits called bangs. "But maybe the champagne will help." She smiled even as she felt a strange chill, not from the cold breeze, but from an inexplicable, unshakable feeling that she was being watched. Standing on the terrace, she suddenly felt vulnerable and exposed, but she refrained from telling Oliver. She didn't want him to worry any more than he already did. But still - it was there - the feeling that someone was watching her. Watching and waiting.

She shook off her nerves, and they watched in companionable silence as the fireworks popped and the Ferris wheel spun. In the months they had lived in London they'd had yet to visit any of the usual tourist spots. Not that they were there to have fun - although with Kingsley Martin around, fun was never far from the agenda.

"There you two are!" Kingsley boomed, joining them on the terrace with a jolly crew of guests. The party was his idea - rounding up what was left of the London Coven, rallying the troops for one last hurrah before the end. His color was high, and he was handsome and dashingly disheveled in black tie - the bow unknotted and dangling roguishly from his shirt collar. They had Kingsley to thank for the formal costumes and the vintage champagne. "Let's meet the new year with style!" he'd insisted.

Kingsley and his friends were wearing conical hats and tooting brightly colored horns that shot out crepe paper tongues. He handed Schuyler a sparkler, and she waved it off the balcony, sharing a smile with Oliver as the sparks flew in the night air. The countdown began and they joined the Venators in chanting, "Ten, nine, eight, seven...three two one..."

The noise was deafening as the orchestra blared Beethoven's Fifth and the fireworks exploded with cannon-sized booms.

"Happy New Year," Oliver mouthed.

"HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!" Kingsley yelled, giving each of his friends a sloppy drunken kiss