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Inundation

Darkness was just starting to fall on the ruined street around them as Graciela walked with Jules toward where the block party was starting soon. The solar lights on the skybridge above them flickered to life, brightening the area around them. Graciela glanced up as they passed under it, watching the window panels fade to transparency and offer a view inside. The bright metal offered a strange juxtaposition to the two crumbling buildings it joined on opposite sides of the street. In the distance, she could barely see the remains of the skyscrapers that loomed in what remained of Manhattan. The view of what had once been a bustling metropolis never failed to make Graciela wonder about the people who had inhabited the world those giant buildings were a part of.

Jules peered into an alley as they passed. "Have you ever seen one?" She asked the question in a low voice, as if she was afraid that something might overhear them.

Graciela turned to look at her. Jules was a little taller than her, with a tower of chestnut curls piled high on her head and absolutely flawless makeup. She could so rarely follow the threads of conversation Jules engaged her in. "One what?"

"A demon," she said louder, exasperated. When she realized her elevated volume, she looked around again, relieved when nothing jumped out of the swiftly growing shadows around them.

Graciela blinked a few times. Demon sightings had been on the decline all over Old Nueva York for the last several years. Almost no one Graciela had spoken to had even seen one. "What? No. Of course not. Have you?"

"Only for a second. Last year."

Graciela slowed her pace a little, fascinated by the turn the conversation had taken. Jules mostly just talked about guys and where the next party was going to be, so this was a nice change. "Really?" Graciela made sure her voice reflected her interest. "What happened?"

"A bunch of us went closer to the water over by where the old airport used to be. Dominic said it was safe, so of course everyone believed him." Jules shook her head, exhaling a laugh. "Girl, it was not safe."

She hadn't known Jules for very long, but she had met Dominic a couple of times. It didn't surprise her in the slightest that he was the architect of such a colossally bad decision. "Why would you go down to the water? It's closed down ten blocks from there for a reason."

"I dunno." Jules waved a hand dismissively. "Some stupid bet. Anyway, we were down there looking for a building we could get into when two of the Children from St. Joan's came barreling down the road, yelling for us to clear out. Holy shit can they move."

If Graciela had been fascinated before, she was doubly so now that the Children were involved in the story. She should have asked about this earlier. "What happened?"

"They were so damn loud. That's what I remember most. I couldn't believe we hadn't heard them roaring before they came charging out of a building halfway down the block. They looked like the fucking devil come to earth, all claws and teeth and death."

"How many?"

"Don't know for sure, because we hauled ass out of there the moment they came busting out the door."

Graciela tried not to let on how disappointed she was at the lack of details. "What did the Children do?"

"They jumped in front of them, like the absolute fucking badasses they are." She grinned. "We got to see the new one up close as he ran by. Super hot."

Graciela didn't let her sigh escape. Of course Jules wouldn't be able to tell her anything relevant and could only report on the attractiveness of Jayden Issacs, who didn't interest her in the slightest. She tried to figure out another way to get more valuable information about the Children of St. Joan's out of Jules. "Did you get to see them fight?"

"No. We beat feet. We kinda didn't want to be there for them to find after. You know? We weren't supposed to be there."

Graciela added the conversation to the pile of pointless ones that wouldn't offer her anything she needed to achieve her goals and decided to change the subject. "And this party? Is this another bet situation, or is this actually safe?"

Jules grinned. "Safe as can be, just like I promised your mom. It's miles from the water. And Children are supposed to be checking in all night to make sure. Neighborhood puts them on a couple of times a year."

"Seems like a strange risk to take, putting so many people all in one place." Graciela wasn't from this neighborhood, and most of the others she knew about didn't take chances like this. The people of this neighborhood were confident in the capabilities of those who guarded them, most especially Camila Lopéz, who led the Children of the parish.

"Hasn't been a problem so far," Jules said with a careless shrug.

"Nothing is a problem until it is."

"You sound like my mom." Jules rolled her eyes. "There hasn't been a demon around here in years."

The capacity for people to put dangerous things out of mind the instant they couldn't see them never ceased to confuse Graciela. Less than a decade ago, people had been scared for their lives going out anywhere near dark in this very neighborhood. Taking a walk like the one they were on would have been unheard of as little as five years before. "You really think there's nothing to be afraid of?"

"Wouldn't be out here if I did." Jules showed her another bright smile.

Graciela wondered where that confidence came from. "Do you think we'll see any of the Children?"

"Probably." Jules narrowed her eyes. "Are you a secret fangirl?"

Graciela almost choked. One thing she definitely was not was a fan of the Children or their entire deal. "No. I'm just curious about them. Aren't you?"

"Nah. Went to school with one. She was just a regular kid until she got tested when we were thirteen."

"What happened to her?"

Jules slid her an incredulous look, like she should know the answer to that question already. "They took her off to train. I've only seen her once since then, that time we were down by the water. I don't think she even recognized me."

Graciela frowned. That seemed like a harder transition than she'd ever imagined it might be. No wonder the Children of a parish were so close-knit; they didn't have any choice. She would have to remember that.

They made the final turn to the party's location and saw other people walking for the first time. Small groups of people came from various directions, converging on a well-maintained brick building halfway down the block. When she saw what some of the others were wearing, she was glad she'd let Jules talk her into borrowing the sequined top she had on under her coat. This was an occasion where everyone brought out their best because they didn't otherwise have reasons to dress up.

Jules bounced up on her toes and waved, shouting for one of her friends. There was a flutter of noise as they joined with another group of excited young people and hasty introductions were made. Then they continued toward the building. Through all of the excitement, Graciela kept glancing toward the door where people were entering because posted up on one side of the door was a Child.

The tall woman with long braids pulled back into a knot wore a patient expression as she waved to anyone who greeted her, but kept her eyes moving over the street, searching for threats. Graciela consulted her knowledge of the Children of the parish and came up with a match: Dahlia Santos.

Dahlia's perfect-fitting Seraphglass armor was mostly a very boring gray so dark it was almost black except where the light over the door hit her torso. There it refracted multihued bright jewel tones shaped like a flower whose petals spread and bloomed when she moved.

Jules elbowed Graciela to draw her attention. "You're totally a fangirl."

"Nah." Graciela shrugged. "She's just gorgeous."

Jules laughed. "And completely unattainable."

Not if Graciela had anything to do with it. She had plans to be in that woman's arms before the night was over.

 

***

Camila crouched on the edge of the rooftop, searching the dark street two stories below. The slowly disintegrating brick building across the street was abandoned and silent, the green roof overgrown and wild without the regular tending of residents. Part of the roof had collapsed inward, and the prolific moss had taken advantage, growing over the entire second floor and climbing out broken windows.

Even this far away, the fetid scent of standing water collecting inside was enough to make her not want to spend more time here than she absolutely had to. She pulled up the projected screen of her datacom with a gesture and made a note in the patrol log that someone from the parish should mark the building for demolition before it became a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the spring. They did not need another outbreak right now. The last insect-borne plague had finally subsided when the weather turned cooler, and the neighborhood was still reeling.

She panned over the quiet street again, letting her eyes unfocus slightly so that movement in the shadows would be more obvious. When nothing drew her attention after another minute, she stood. She used the mostly intact fire escape to return to street level, her eyes drawn to the warren of cracks that had become a flowing creek amid the crumbling concrete.

The roads in this area hadn't been regularly maintained since this sinking city stopped being the problem of the United States government. Like the remains of the tall buildings along the skyline, they were a relic of an earlier time, when excess and fossil fuels had brought this planet to the brink of ruin.

Around the time that all the rich people had left Old Nueva York for safer places farther inland, the people who had remained in the poorer neighborhoods realized that the ones who were fleeing were to blame. All over the world, poorer people in the abandoned areas finally rose up and rallied against the glut of petroleum that was killing them. They stopped working on rigs and refineries and, most importantly of all, they stopped buying the products. They abandoned the cars and ships of the old world, scavenging the bones of them to forge a new world, one that might actually survive. It hadn't taken long after that for the economies that were based in them to crumble into nothingness, along with the governments that had supported them.

She'd heard just a few weeks ago about the 'scraper that they'd finished in New New York, far inland. People just couldn't stop making the same mistakes over and over again. She thought they'd only been reckless enough to do that because they didn't have the constant reminder hovering on the horizon like the folks here did. Dios los bendiga, as her mother would say.

With a shake of her head, she turned toward the meetup with the rest of the patrol. Camila hadn't found any sign of demons on her sweep, and she assumed that none of the others had either, or she would have heard about it.

She jogged two blocks and rounded a corner before she heard the throbbing bass line from the building at the end of the street. She checked the roofs and alleys as she continued toward the source of the music, but didn't find any sign of trouble. Camila was glad to see that the place buttoned up tight despite the fact that there was a block party happening inside. There hadn't been an attack on a gathering of more than a handful of people in years, but it paid to be careful. That was why the Children were meeting here at the end of their patrols tonight.

Camila climbed three stories to the roof of the building next door. On the other side of the roof, Dahlia crouched, looking down into the adjacent alley. Clad in dark gray with her hood pulled up, Dahlia was so still that if Camila hadn't been looking for her, she might have missed her.

Without turning, Dahlia signaled that Camila should approach quietly. Camila moved slowly, footfalls absorbed by the well-cropped greenery, until she stood even with Dahlia's shoulder. Uncharacteristically, Dahlia had her gorget buckled and her armored jacket buttoned all the way up, without a stitch of skin showing from her chin to her toes aside from her fingers. She must have expected a fight any second. That set Camila on high alert.

The lights were out in the alley, and more than half of it was cloaked in shadows so deep Camila couldn't see anything. Bad sign. On a normal night, there were definitely lights in that alley. The question of who or what had disabled them hung in the air between them.

Demons hiding at the back, Dahlia signed. Very still. Maybe four. Was about to call it in.

Got it, Camila replied. She pulled up her datacom and sent a message to the rest of the patrol, letting them know where demons had been spotted.

With a bang that echoed much too loudly in the narrow space, a woman stumbled out of the building's back door into the alley. She was dressed in a halter top that sparkled silver, sending a shimmering pattern of light and shadows spilling out onto the walls. The demons at the end of the alley that Camila still couldn't see scuffled with excitement. The woman in the alley didn't seem aware of them. The door thudded heavily closed behind her, trapping her.

Camila took two running steps along the ledge and jumped off the side of the building. An instant later, she hit the pavement right in front of the woman who had almost drunkenly stumbled into her own murder with only a twinge of pain rising from her ankles into her knees from the force of the impact. Three demons burst from the darkness and sprinted toward Camila, their inky forms hard to track, even in the dim light slanting in from the street.

They seemed to collect the shadows around them as they moved with a sinuous gait, like an optical illusion. One of the beasts screeched at her, fanged maw gaping. The nightmarish teeth dripping with dark, viscous venom were definitely no illusion. The grotesque eyeless face focused on Camila, zeroing in on her position with no trouble.

Camila twisted her fighting stick to deploy the Seraphglass blade from one end and jabbed for the closest demon. The blade hissed as it sank into the demon's body.

The demon let out an ear-piercing shriek and tried to withdraw, but ran into Dahlia, who was just hitting the pavement a pace closer to the building. Dahlia used one of the curved swords she favored to carve a limb off of the demon and kicked what was left of its body to the side of the alley, where it writhed. Black blood dripped from the glittering edge of her weapon.

The second demon saw its brethren killed and turned to attack Dahlia. She dodged out of the way and lowered her center of gravity, shouldering the third demon into the wall of the alley. Camila focused on the second color-shifting form that was just reorienting for another lunge toward Dahlia.

Camila blinked, and everything around her slowed down until the world seemed like a series of still images. She reached for the power that always slept inside of her. She called it Holy Fire because she knew Father Barnes hated the name, but she wasn't sure it was actually holy or any kind of fire. What she did know was that it made demons burn up from the inside, but only when she wanted to protect someone else. For her, the burning seemed to take a very long time, and the demon shrieked and vibrated as it burned, but she knew for everyone around her the effect was more like flash paper, consumed in an instant.

When the world sped back up to normal, she watched Dahlia carve up the remaining demon. The remnants of the first demon had already dissolved into a sticky puddle of black blood, and the last one was swiftly on the way to becoming the same. There was nothing left of the one Camila had killed but a fine ash that floated away on currents of air. Dahlia backed away from the remains of her demon, tugging at one of her sleeves to straighten it and scraping some of the black blood from the bottom of her boots.

Camila did a quick visual assessment of Dahlia to make sure she hadn't been bitten and saw her do the same in return. Camila signed that she was fine. None of them had even gotten close.

Dahlia nodded and then moved to where the woman had collapsed near the wall. Camila hadn't seen what had happened when the woman fell. She'd been too busy with the demons. She was younger than Camila had first thought, barely more than a girl. A brief flare of anger accompanied the question of how the girl had been allowed into the party in the first place, but she already knew the answer—anyone with breasts wearing that halter would have gotten in.

Camila checked both ends of the alley while Dahlia looked the girl over, then hunkered down beside her friend. She okay?

That would depend on your definition of okay, she signed back. She's been dosed with Bliss.

Camila leaned closer, needing to see confirmation of it with her own eyes.

Dahlia thumbed back one of the girl's eyelids. Underneath, her pupil had expanded to encompass almost her entire iris, leaving only a razor-thin ring of brown. Dahlia then turned the girl's arm over to expose her wrist, where a subtle golden glow showed through her skin from her veins beneath. With her free hand, Dahlia signed, She's a Child of the Angels, just like us.

Jesucristo, the poor girl probably didn't even know, or she would have been assigned to a parish and patrolling, not hanging out at a party. She was going to have one hell of a rude awakening from this nap. How in the hell did she get dosed?

Dahlia gave a one-shouldered shrug. No idea. Seems hard to believe that someone knew and did this to her on purpose.

Camila signed back, Seems harder to believe that an unknown Child accidentally got dosed with a highly engineered drug that only affects us and also coincidentally almost ran into a trio of demons, doesn't it?

Dahlia blew out a breath. I don't know. We can't leave her here like this though. She'll be out of it for hours.

Father Barnes is going to flip his lid. Camila bounced to her feet.

Dahlia grinned. Your excitement at getting under his skin is a constant source of amusement. Dahlia dug into the medical kit in the cargo pocket at her thigh and removed a vial of golden liquid. She pressed the end of the antidote vial with the dispenser into the girl's carotid under her jaw.

Shaking her head, Dahlia pushed to her feet. She's going to have such a bad night.

That was a huge understatement. The poor girl was going to wake up in a whole new terrifying world, one that she had probably never seen up close and personal. Yup. She didn't do anything to deserve it, and now she's stuck with us.

I, for one, don't mind being stuck with you. Dahlia winked. Thanks for cooking the one that was coming for me.

Camila grinned. I've always got your back.

They hit the sides of their fists together.

Shoot for who carries her? Dahlia signed.

Camila rolled her eyes. Not going to bother. You always win.

Dahlia grinned. Suit yourself.

Camila pulled up her datacom to update the rest of the patrol, instructing them to rally at the party as planned, just to make sure it stayed quiet there, and then head back to the church. She hoisted the unconscious girl up onto her shoulder.

Dahlia watched with amusement and then turned on her implants since Camila wouldn't be able to sign effectively. She squeezed her eyes shut as though in pain. Dahlia shook herself, and her face relaxed a few seconds later. Good to go, she signed.

"Taking her down the street is going to bring a lot of attention we don't want." Camila gestured toward the darker end of the alley with her chin. "Rooftops will be easier."

Dahlia nodded and then ran ahead of Camila and up the fire escape. She kept a watch around them from above while Camila climbed.

Luckily the girl wasn't very heavy, or this would have been a much more awkward climb, even for one of the supernaturally strong Children. Climbing a metal ladder with dead weight over your shoulder was no easy task. She wished she had another hand to respond in kind when Dahlia signed that she was bored after about thirty seconds. Instead, she just kept climbing.

What should we tell Father Barnes? Dahlia signed just as Camila was reaching the top.

"Second coming of Jesus."

Dahlia laughed so hard she almost fell from the roof. I can't wait. She led the way to the flyover bridge that crossed the street. She got to the ledge and then pointed down to the street below them.

When Camila leaned over to look, two other members of their patrol were heading toward the building housing the party.

"Keep going," Camila said. "I want them to clear the area and make sure there's no more."

Dahlia nodded and brought up her datacom. She swiped a quick message and then closed the interface. She dashed across the bridge and waited for Camila on the other side, watching the shadows for movement.

The bridge was a series of metal arches enclosed with carbon-glass that reacted to the ambient light level. At night, the walls were clear so you could see to the next bridge a few blocks over, glowing softly with solar lights, and the street below.

When Camila joined her, Dahlia signed, You want me to take her for a bit?

"Nah, better if you keep watch."

 

***

Camila kicked the bottom of Dahlia's boot, and she jolted awake. She'd fallen asleep in one of the mission control chairs with her feet out in front of her, as she often did when waiting on something. She glanced up at the mission clock and stretched, shaking out her braids.

You've been out around an hour, Camila signed. Surprising considering how uncomfortable these tiny chairs are.

Dahlia grinned. You know I can sleep anywhere. Any excitement yet?

Nah, about to start though. Camila made the gesture that meant she should turn her implants on.

Dahlia grimaced but reached up and toggled them. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and then shook her head.

As if on cue, the girl they had rescued earlier stormed into mission control. She glanced around, taking in the expansive metal walls and more tech than she'd probably ever seen in one place with curiosity. It wasn't likely she'd seen anything like the cold modernity of the command center in her entire life. She was a cute kid, with a couple of inches of coarse curls poofed out around her head and a quirk of the lips that made her look like she was up to something.

Father Barnes had insisted that her immodest attire be covered, so one of the young ones had offered a T-shirt that was about five sizes too big for her and fell almost to her knees.

The girl stopped next to them, hands on her hips. "How the fuck do I get out of here?"

Camila shrugged.

"Bitch," the girl spat and turned to find someone else to accost.

"Oh, I like her." Camila chuckled. "Nena, come back here."

The girl whirled around, furious.

"You can't leave right now."

"Why in the fuck not?"

"The boss is talking to his boss. He'll be right with you."

"Who the fuck are you people?"

"I'm Camila López." She indicated Dahlia with one hand. "Dahlia Santos." Dahlia nodded in greeting.

The girl looked shocked that Camila had answered. She took a slow breath and looked them both over. "Graciela Pérez."

"Nice to meet you, Graciela. Seriously though, you need to relax for a minute. Father Barnes will be out to talk to you and probably ask you a shit-ton of annoying questions, but it'll all become clear real soon."

"Father? Is this a church?" She glanced around even more suspiciously. "It doesn't look like a church."

"Our Lady of Eternal Boredom. It's on F Street."

Dahlia scoffed.

"Camila," Father Barnes bellowed as he entered mission control.

Camila shrugged and then parked herself next to Dahlia, leaning against the wall. Dahlia lifted her fist for Camila to bump, and she winked as their hands touched.

Father Barnes spared one more icy glance for Camila and then turned to Graciela. "I'm sorry, child. Waking up here must have been a frightening experience for you."

"You're damn right."

"Your situation does not excuse blasphemous language, young lady."

Graciela stammered for a moment. "Perdóname, Father. I just don't understand what's going on, and I kind of have a headache."

"That's an aftereffect of the drug you were dosed with at the party. It's called Bliss. Have you heard of it?"

Graciela shook her head. She was starting to look scared rather than pissed.

"Did you take anything?"

"No, I swear, Father. Just a couple of shots."

Father Barnes made a humming sound. "Might someone have put something into your drink?"

"I don't think so. We went up to get our drinks together, me and my friend Jules, and a guy said he'd make them for us, but we turned him down, and we did it ourselves. Jesus, is Jules okay?"

Father Barnes glared, and Graciela mouthed that she was sorry again. "We don't know anything about your friend."

"I have to get back there right now. She might be in trouble. Where's my datacom?"

"First, it's been hours since your, ahem, event at the party. Second, she is unlikely to have been affected. And third, your datacom is off and safe."

"Je—" Graciela caught herself and coughed instead of finishing. "My mother is probably going crazy. I need to call her."

"We've sent someone to talk to her."

Dahlia and Camila shared a look.

We have a procedure for this? Dahlia signed.

No idea, Camila replied. It was unusual for Children to come to the facility as old as this girl was. And it was a situation they'd never seen before.

Graciela looked around again, slower this time. "What is going on here?"

"There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to go the direct route. You are a Child of the Angels."

Graciela laughed. She laughed so hard Camila thought she might sprain something. When she realized no one around her was laughing, she froze. "You can't be serious."

Father Barnes clearly hadn't expected that response; he looked taken aback. "I'm quite serious."

"There's just no way. My mom said my dad was a jerk who left when I was a baby."

"It is somewhat common for women to not know they were Blessed by an angel until the child is a bit older." Father Barnes looked her over, a frown creasing his mouth for a moment. "Not quite as old as you, generally."

"So you're saying my mom forgot to mention that she fucked an angel?" Graciela asked, deadpan.

Camila burst out laughing. When Father Barnes sent a withering look her way, she waved a hand. "Come on, that was funny."

"You need to go to confession, Camila. This week or you're benched until you do."

Camila settled herself against the wall, grumbling. That wasn't an idle threat. Last year she had been benched for more than a month and stuck on kitchen duty because she wouldn't go to confession when Father Barnes had sent her. She'd never done so many dishes. Her hands might still be chapped from the experience.

Just go, Dahlia signed. I hate going out on patrol when you're not out there.

Fine. Camila huffed. Only for you.

Father Barnes returned his attention to Graciela. "Bliss is a powerful concentration of demon venom. Only people with angelic blood are affected by it. You were found in an alley under the influence of this drug."

Father Barnes held out his hand. When Graciela tentatively reached out, he turned her arm over so the inside of her wrist showed before he continued, "This is your body's reaction to try to fight off the drug."

The blood in her veins still glowed faintly gold. She stared at her wrist as if she had no idea how it had gotten attached to her arm.

"When infected with this venom, those with angelic blood become uninhibited to the degree where they put themselves in dangerous situations purposefully." Father Barnes gestured toward Camila and Dahlia. "If they hadn't found you, something truly terrible might have happened to you."

Graciela hugged herself around her middle. "I don't understand. I didn't even know I was…" She couldn't bring herself to say the word, so she went on without saying it, "How did someone else know to give me that drug?"

"We don't know the answer to that. I've been instructed by the Bishop not to investigate further for the moment." When Dahlia and Camila both started to object, he quieted them with a gesture. "He's sending a specialist."

Camila suppressed a shiver. Specialists gave her the willies. They were who the diocese sent to ask uncomfortable questions when they wanted information. It was like they could see through you. "We need to find out what's happening there, Father. There were demons waiting for her outside."

Father Barnes rounded on Camila. "Why didn't you tell me this?"

"We tried to. You ran off to call the Bishop to tell him about your latest acquisition and told us you'd finish the debriefing after."

"Yes, well, I thought it prudent to inform the Bishop that our parish had been blessed with yet another Child of the Angels."

Camila rolled her eyes. She didn't at all understand the inclination to crow about something they had no control over rather than trying to figure out what had happened at the party. The other Children who had checked in there hadn't reported anything out of the ordinary, and there was no sign of more Bliss. But so much about the situation was all wrong.

Graciela finally looked up from her contemplation of her toes. "My mother…"

"Ah, yes. Someone has been sent to speak with her. We'll give you your datacom back in a few days. It's best that she have some time to think about how to approach the conversation while you start your training."

Graciela blinked at Father Barnes slowly a few times. "Training?"

"You're a Child of the Angels, hija. You will train to fight demons, like all the others here."

"I don't…" Graciela shook her head. "I think I need to lie down."

"Yes, of course. You've had quite a night. Let me show you to a guest room where you can rest. Tomorrow, we'll set you up in your quarters." Father Barnes put an arm around Graciela's shoulders and steered her toward the hallway.

Dahlia blew out a long breath. "Poor kid."

"Yup. Her whole world changed, and she didn't even get a say in it." Camila sighed. "How old do you think she is? Eighteen?"

"Around there somewhere, yeah. How old were you when you found out?"

"Twelve." Camila smiled. She hardly even remembered anymore what her life had been like before her training had started. "Feels like forever ago now."

"Yeah, same. That seems like the average."

"Sometimes the powers don't manifest until later. Marcos was sixteen." Camila swallowed back the sadness that wanted to creep into her voice when she thought of him and hoped that she managed.

Dahlia saw through it like only a best friend could. "You planning on getting over him sometime this decade?"

"Nah, I figured I'd just wallow forever. So much more fun that way."

Dahlia wrinkled her nose. "I like Jay better anyway."

"You mean you like his mom's cooking better."

"Well, yeah." Dahlia's face grew more serious. "He's also better in a fight. Marcos's heart was never in it."

Camila sighed. "You're not wrong."

"I would say forget him, but since he moved in next door I guess that’s probably hard."

"Yup. The diocese dropped him right back in my lap like the world's worst Christmas present." So far, she'd mostly avoided him, and he seemed inclined to stay in the rectory of St. Joan's, but that couldn't last forever.

Dahlia bumped her with a shoulder. "I bet Sister Luisa stashed something sweet in the cooler for tomorrow. Wanna go look?"

Camila smiled. "You know how I love racking up the deadly sins before bed after spending the night virtuously rescuing people."

"Gotta have balance." Dahlia winked. "We can eat it in bed in our pajamas and hit two sins at once."

"Deal." Camila took off at a run. "Last one there has to take the new girl tomorrow."

Dahlia's footfalls thumped behind her, already closing the gap.

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