Sweet Evil (The Sweet Trilogy #1) by Wendy Higgins

PROLOGUE

CONVENT OF OUR MOTHER

MARY, LOS ANGELES

Nearly sixteen years ago...

The newborn wailed as the midwife wrapped her in a receiving blanket and quickly handed her to Sister Ruth. Even stooped with age, the oldest nun at the convent exuded a regal air as she shushed the tiny bundle, attempting to shield her from the sight of her mother’s last breaths.

In the corner of the sterile room a large man with a smooth, shaved head and goatee stood watching. Darkness fell over his face as the young midwife tried to resuscitate the woman on the bed.

Sweat ran down the midwife’s temples as she continued chest compressions. She shook her head and spoke in a panicked murmur. “Where’s the doctor? He should be here by now!”

The midwife didn’t see the soft shimmer of mist rise from the patient’s chest, then linger in the air above her body, but the man in the corner did.

His eyes widened as another vapor, even stronger than the first, arose from the woman’s lifeless form. It took shape: a winged being of blinding purity. Sister Ruth gasped in wonder, then shifted the baby from her shoulder and cradled her upward to let her face show.

The larger spirit swooped down and covered the infant girl in a kiss as soft as a breeze. It moved next to the man in the corner, who choked out a single sob, reaching for her. A tear escaped before he reined in his emotion.

The spirit remained in front of him for one moment longer before gathering the weaker spirit into her arms and floating away as if on a wisp of wind.

“I’m sorry. I—I don’t know what happened.” The midwife’s voice and hands shook as she pulled the sheet up over the woman’s small body. She crossed herself and closed her eyes.

“You did all you could,” Sister Ruth said with gentleness. “It was her time.”

The silent, fearsome man looked away from the bed and fixed his hard eyes on the baby.

Sister Ruth hesitated before angling the child outward for him to see. The newborn let out a whimper and her dark eyes opened wide. For the briefest moment his features softened.

Their shared gaze was severed as the door banged open and the midwife screamed. Police rushed in, filling the small space. Sister Ruth backed against the wall and held the baby close.

“Dear God above,” she whispered.

The man in the corner appeared unfazed as cops surrounded him.

“Jonathan LaGray?” asked the officer in front. “Also known as John Gray?”

“That’s me,” he responded in a raspy, gruff voice, lifting his frown-lined face into a wicked smile of defiance and danger.

He did not fight when they surged forward with handcuffs, reading him his rights.

“You’re under arrest for trafficking illegal drugs across state and international borders....”

As they pulled Jonathan LaGray from the room, citing a list of crimes, he turned again to look at the baby girl, giving her a tight, ironic grin.

“Just say no to drugs, will ya, kid?”

With that, he was yanked from sight, and the baby’s wail rose again.

“Pleasure is the bait of sin.”

—Plato

CHAPTER ONE

LIES AND LUST

I tugged the jean skirt down and tried not to fidget with the straps of the tank top as we stood in line for the show. My shoulders and arms felt naked. The outfit had been picked out for me by Jay’s older sister as an early sixteenth-birthday present. And Jay got us tickets to see a few local bands play, including his latest band infatuation, Lascivious. Their name alone was a strike against them, but I wore a smile on my face for Jay’s sake.

He was my best friend, after all. My only friend.

People at school assumed something was going on with Jay and me, but they were wrong. I didn’t like him like that, and there was no question he didn’t like me in that way either. I knew his feelings.

I could literally see them. And feel them if I allowed myself.

Jay was in his element now, tapping his fingers against his hips. He radiated excitement that I could see around his body as a blinding yellow-orange hue. I let myself soak in his good mood. He ran a hand over his thick, short-cropped blond hair, then pinched the square tuft of hair under his bottom lip. He was stout and short for a guy, but still a good bit taller than me.

A loud song with a thumping beat rang from Jay’s pocket. He gave me a goofy grin and began to bop his head back and forth to the rhythm. Oh, no—not the crazy booty dance.

“Please don’t,” I begged.

Jay broke into his funky ringtone dance, shoulders bouncing and hips moving from side to side. People around us stepped away, surprised, then began to laugh and cheer him on. I pressed my fingers against my lips to hide an embarrassed smile. Just as the ringtone was about to end, he gave a little bow, straightened up, and answered the call.

“’Sup?” he said. “Dude, we’re still in line; where you at?” Ah, it must have been Gregory. “Did you bring our CDs?... All right. Sweet. See you in there.”

He shoved the phone into his pocket.

I rubbed my bare arms. It had been a gorgeous spring day in Atlanta, but the air temperature dropped when the sun disappeared behind the tall buildings. We lived an hour north in the small town of Cartersville. It was strange to be in the city, especially at night. Streetlights came to life above us, and the crowd grew louder with the arrival of dusk.

“Don’t look now,” Jay leaned over to whisper, “but the dude at three o’clock is checking you out.”

I immediately looked and Jay grunted. How funny—the guy really was looking at me. Albeit with bloodshot eyes. He gave me a nod and I had to suppress a ridiculously girly giggle as I turned back around. I busied myself playing with a strand of my dirty-blond hair.