"Mrs. Mortensen," he greeted me, when I reached him. "Congratulations." He wore worn gray suit pants, a longsleeved white shirt with the first couple buttons open, and loosely knotted gray and pink silk tie. A jacket matched the pants and looked like it was two sizes too big. I nodded in approval.
"Nice of you to dress up," I said. "I don't think I've ever seen you in anything so formal."
"I should've checked with Peter to find out your colors," said Carter, running a hand through his hair. It didn't look like it had been brushed for the occasion. "Sorry if I clash."
I smiled. "You look great. Thank you for coming."
"Well," he said. "We left off kind of abruptly."
"That we did," I murmured. This was the first time I'd seen him since the trial. "Jerome's not with you?"
"No. You won't be seeing him anymore. Well." Carter paused a moment. "Let's just say, I hope you won't be seeing him anymore."
"I plan on staying off Hell's radar," I said honestly.
He nodded, turning serious. "That's good. That's kind of why I'm here. I've got two gifts for you. Gifts of information."
"You were checking my registry," I said. "How sweet."
We didn't have much light, but I swore, I could see his gray eyes twinkle. "You said you'll stay off their radar, but believe me, they're going to still have their eyes on you. Hell doesn't lose many souls the way they lost yours. If they can get it back, they will. They'll try. I know how close you are to them. . . ." His gaze drifted back toward the reception. "To Hugh, Peter, and Cody. But it'd be better for you - and for them - if you stayed away from them. If you moved away from them, to someplace where you don't know any of the local immortals."
I stared in astonishment. "Are you saying one of them might try to get my soul? They're my friends."
"I know, I know. And I don't think they would, exactly, but it's an ugly position for them to be in. You should really think about leaving Seattle. You'll make it easier on everyone if you just remove that temptation."
"I love Seattle," I said, turning back to look across the dark water. "But I love Seth more. I'll talk to him. Andrea's been doing better, so we can go. I don't know where, but we'll figure it out." I sighed and looked back at him. "Is your other piece of information less depressing?"
The smile reappeared on his lips. "Yes. It's a big secret." He leaned toward me and said in a stage whisper, "You're going to have a baby in December."
A matching smile came over me. "That's no secret. Not to me, at least." Seth and I had known for a little while and had decided to keep it under wraps until after the wedding. We weren't going to be able to hide it much longer. I was three months pregnant, and without shape-shifting, I was subject to the rules of nature. It was a wonder I still fit in this dress.
"Okay," said Carter. "Then try this: it's a girl."
I felt my smile grow. "That I didn't know."
Or did I? A sudden flashback to the dream Nyx had shown me played through my mind. I hadn't thought about it in a very long time. Why did I need to? I was living my own dream. But in a flash, I saw it again, me holding a small girl as we waited outside for her father to come home. And it was snowing....
You should really think about leaving Seattle.
"What are you thinking?" asked Carter, studying me.
"I'm thinking there might be a short list of places I'll be moving to." I shivered, both from the cold and the memories, and he draped his worn suit jacket over my bare shoulders.
"I'm moving too," he told me.
I blinked away from my memories. "You are? Where? Why?"
He chose to answer the last one. "Because my job here is done. Time to go on to another."
It took me a moment to follow. "You don't mean . . . I was your assignment? I'm why you came to Seattle?"
He answered with a shrug.
"But . . . no," I protested. "There must be other things you do here, right? Other angelic tasks?"
"Weren't you enough?" he teased.
I was still in disbelief. Carter had been in Seattle for as many years as me. Surely there must have been more to it. Admittedly, no one in Hell ever really understood how the angels worked on their assignments. They didn't have the same level of micromanaging as my former employees. "I'm just one person. One soul. All your work and energy . . . I mean, it can't all have been just for one soul. An angel can't be solely dedicated to that."
"Well," he said, clearly enjoying my confusion. "It was actually for two souls, since you and Seth were both saved. But even if it wasn't, it still would've been worth it. Do you know the price of one soul, Georgina? It's beyond rubies and diamonds, beyond any mortal reckoning. If it had taken me centuries, if it had taken a dozen more angels to help me, it all would have been worth it."
I lowered my head, feeling tears come to my eyes. I thought about how often I'd disparaged Carter, how many times I'd scoffed at the silly, hard-drinking persona he put on. Yet, no matter how much I dismissed him, Carter had always been there in the background, always showing interest in Seth and me. He'd protected me and given me advice, and I spent most of my time mocking him.
"I'm not worthy of that," I said. I might be human now, but I understood how powerful a heavenly creature Carter was. "I don't deserve that much regard."
He reached out and tipped my chin up. "You do, Georgina. And if you don't believe me now, then strive to be. Live your life. Be kind. Love those you know. Love those you don't know. Be worthy of your soul."
A tear escaped, rolling down my cheek and probably messing up my mortal mascara. "Thank you, Carter. Thank you for everything."
"There's nothing to thank me for," he replied. With a sigh, he glanced up at the starry night. "I should be going. And your guests are probably looking for you. I'm sure they've been banging on glasses with their spoons this entire time."
"Wait - before you go . . ." I hesitated. Carter had already told me so much, but I had to know one other thing. "What happened to Roman? Is he dead?"
Carter's amused expression faded. "Ah. I don't know."
"Carter - "
"I mean it," he said. "That's the straightest answer you'll ever get from an angel. I don't know. I don't think his outcome was good, but I don't know for sure."
I swallowed back more tears. "He shouldn't have gone."
"It was his choice, Georgina. He wanted to make a point to Heaven and Hell . . . that, and well, there's more. He did it out of love, and that's no small thing. A sacrifice born of love is almost as powerful a thing as a redeemed soul. Both of them are blows to Hell."
"I wish . . . I wish I could've said good-bye. Told him how grateful I am."
"I think he knows," said Carter. "I think he knew exactly what he was getting into and deemed it worthwhile. The best way to thank him now is to do what I said. Live your life to its fullest. Take care of your husband and daughter, and let your soul shine."
I nodded. "I will. Thank you." I almost asked about Yasmine too but had a feeling the answer would be the same: she'd made her decision. I could only be responsible for my fate, not everyone else's.
"Bless you, daughter of man," Carter said, his eyes luminous and almost silver now. He leaned down and kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes and caught my breath. His lips were both burning hot and icy cold. A sense of peace and power flooded me, and for a moment, it was as though I were right on the edge of comprehending all the beauty in the world. I opened my eyes.
He was gone.
I stood alone on the windswept hill, with the moon starting to shine on the water. In the distance, I heard the laughter and chatter of those I loved and sensed the warmth they held. Picking up my skirts, still wearing Carter's jacket over my shoulders, I headed off toward my husband and the rest of my life, off to be worthy of my soul.