If time is the distraction, then the moment is not the joy.Q. Lenise Lee
Sometimes distractions serve the purpose of calling our attention back to details we overlooked the first time.
Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.
The moment when I realize writing makes me happier than anything else in the world..even chocolate ~lenise
“Amongst the sea of stars, beyond the cloak of darkness, let the lighthouse lead the way.”
The whisper faded, as did the blinding light. She blinked once, twice, trying to refocus her vision. Yet there was only milky white stretching across her sight.
She was not alone, the presence of someone was all around; yet the keeper of this realm she was constantly thrust into to had still not been unveiled.
By some instinct, Shay curled her bare toes, and they were buried in a substance both soft and silty but also firm. Looking down, she lifted her foot and saw that the lightly tanned grains trickled between the spaces of her toes like heavy water, leaving only the very tops of each digit covered.
What is this? She asked, mostly speaking to herself, but an answer spoken aloud was returned to her.
She jumped, startled by the voice, which seemed to have bounced in from all directions. Looking all around she saw nothing and everything all at once.
With one flutter of her lashes, the milk white scene was instantly filled in with brilliant colors of all shades and shapes of all kinds. This sand was everywhere, as far as her eyes could see. And water, so much of it, blue-green, roared in from some unending horizon, taking giant laps at the sand before it retreated just as quickly and ferociously, leaving a moist trail in its wake. And then the cycle repeated again and again. The sound of the water crashing into the sand was like a great beast, but it was also like a sleep-song.
Her mind wandered then trailed off to flashes of memories that were not hers. Children playing in the sand, near the water, adults sitting nearby, in perfectly relaxed poses, staring off at some unknown, unseen point in the far distance.
And then a light touch on her bare shoulder. Soft, gentle, too quick to know if it were that a man or a woman.
She turned fast, but still no one in sight. But what was in her sight was a tower, spiraling up hundreds of feet into the air, piercing the azure blue sky above. Every few seconds, a flash of light from the very top circled back around toward where she stood. The tower itself was stark white with a midnight black swirl wrapped around it from top to bottom. At the very base, a closed wooden door.
“Lighthouse.” This time Shay did not move or flinch. She wasn’t sure if was because she were becoming use to the voice or because she was hoping not to scare away its owner by her own movements of fear. Still no one appeared.
But one parting phrase, not spoken aloud, pierced her mind.
“In darkness, become Light.”
Then the whole scene folded in on her, as she tumbled far away and back into her own consciousness, where a more familiar voice called her further into awareness.
“Shay!” It was Ethan, his words filled with heavy worry, with a barely contained hint of fear, “Shay! Wake up!” She felt his strong hands grip then shake her shoulders, once then again. “…please,” he pleaded.
It was the desperation in his words that called her completely back into their world. Her lashes fluttered, and she was home. Back into a world living existing on the fringe of twilight and dawn.
But something had changed, some deeply rooted seed had been planted. Within her, within the air around her. She sensed it within the center of her being.
She focused and looked around. Faces began to appear in her vision. Ethan, of course, his forehead strained with worry. Dakken, his shadowed features twisted up curiously. Was that concern? Or some obscene enjoyment? And the children. Who weren’t really children. Somehow, Shalise understood this now. They were others. Not from the realm she was being pulled into at random, but definitely not from this reality.
“Welcome back,” as always, the pair spoke in unison. Each smiled, the boy, his darkly tanned cheeks lifted high, and the girl, her freckled face glowed with excitement. “You have learned a secret.” The spoke the words not as a question, but as a fact.
“Yes,” Shay answered. “I have. I have seen the world before this one. I have seen the beforetime. When the world still glowed with possibilities.”
She looked up at the sky overhead. Then used her own strength to stand. Her companions cleared back, giving her space. “The storm has cleared. We know our powers. Now we begin.”
By Moonlight: A Post-Apocalyptic Fairytale. By Q. Lenise Lee. Copyright Lenise Lee Publications. All Rights Reserved.
There is light a flash engulfing darkness overwhelming stillness absolute silent Time is frozen. I am frozen. Or do I exist anymore at all? I do not know All I have is this thought I am I am here somewhere nowhere everywhere or Am I the thought that someone else is having? You are You are there and so am I A pop a flash then there is light blank soft light Everyone is gone but I am not alone. . . . . . from By Moonlight: A Post Apocalyptic Fairy Tale by Q. Lenise Lee. Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
From below, Ethaniel and Shalise watched as the high blue sky disappeared behind the descending chaos. Dakken hovered nearby, a silent shadow beneath the long barren branches of the ancient elm tree. The children sat in the dust near a dilapidated car, rusted nearly to only strip metal and bolts. They held hands and kept their eyes closed tight, as if in deep prayer and meditation.
A reckoning was upon them all. Elder gods do not die, they are only reborn darker and more powerful.
Ethan and Shay moved closer and pressed their shoulders together. The pale skin of Ethan’s broad shoulder pushed into the warm flesh of Shay’s slim brown one. On instinct, they touched hands and held tight to each other. Electrified chaos began gathering all around them. But they had defeated the dark once before. Together . As one force, united. And they could do it again.
Always in season
Never out of style nor taste
Haikus flow through space
Lost in dreams,
I dare not, awaken
lest I forgot, the memory,
of true life, lived
Hints of warmth, tease souls
Dreams float, on daises
Summer vibes, reborn
a blank sheet,
There was, no veil,
there was never, a veil,
Only, a blank,
a very blank,
creation is, a blank canvas
my mind is, the brush
I must paint.
To see, the patterns
In all, things,
To understand, them
To be wise, with them
To find, the way, through them
To see, the Mysteries
To fear, Myself, no more.
My third eye opens to a fourth, dimensions unfold and expand
I must not allow, these things
to infiltrate, my heart
disrupt, my mind
distract, the movement, of my spirit
All things pass, expect, those which are
Right and true.
I choose now
which I stand, in the midst of
…I do not dream.
I have never dreamed. If I did so as a young boy, I no longer hold those memories anywhere in my mind.
Even when I was still like the others, trapped between the chains of the dusk and dawn, I did not sleep. I prowled. I wandered. I tormented and tortured. I stalked. I fed the pleasures of my flesh. I starved the want of my soul. Because it was my destiny, it was my right, it was my heritage.. or at least, that is what I had been taught.
During those long, dull hours, just after the sun touched the sky and before the howling packs were set free after twilight, I roamed the castle halls.. In search of.. I had no idea what.. I did not hunger.. for food, anyway… I did not need sexual gratification, but I would take it if the thought plucked my mind.. most of all, I did not sleep. My handlers, Mother and Father, ensured that I was always always ALWAYS at my prime. In peak physical and mental condition at all times. When I was a boy, a lashing for every time my eyelids fluttered close. They watched watched WATCHED me constantly. Looking for any flaw or any reason to punish me. Training. That’s what they called it. For what glory is to come. When the dark ones return. But it was just relentless torment of a child who become a monster. A monster who needed to feed on… whatever his wicked heart desired.. until. That night.
The moment she burst through the doors, running from some unknown creature of the night… I sensed her… I smelled her… I craved her… I knew she belonged to me. It was a rush more intense than anything I had every experienced. It was the most perfect moment I had ever felt. The pull of destiny.
She fought. She fled. She didn’t back down from the strength of my former… companion… There was no fear in her. Even with death’s blade barreling down upon her, she was already a true queen, ready to face the end with eyes open, a brave heart, and a steady hand.
I do not sleep.
Yet, here I am. In a dream. Shay’s dream.
The feeling is uncomfortable. Surreal. Not being in control. I am always in control. Except that is no longer true.
My will is no longer my own. It is hers. To protect her. To watch over her. To follow wherever she leads. I am hers, more than she is mine. Is this what the ancients called, Love?
I have no time to contemplate this question. We are not alone.
Though all is ink dark on every side, I know they are there. I can see them; even though they are the unseeable ones. No mortal may lay eyes upon them. But I am no mortal. I never have been. I am something new. I am what they had hoped to spawn. For untold eons, my arrival was foretold. Yet, I am not what they had expected. I am a disappointment. I can sense their anger… and fear. My potential has been wasted. My purity tainted. Because of… her. They loathe… and fear… her for what she has done to me. She has turned my vision away from them and on to something more. Something outside of their control and influence. My eyes are looking at the dawn, but not their dawn. Hers. And those like her.
I am five steps behind her. She does not know I am here. But she does sense their presence.
They circle. They plot. They watch for a moment of attack. But they cannot.
She is more powerful than they had anticipated. They come so near, only to have to retreat. She… or something else… is blocking their path.
And then. Then it arrives. Descending like a raging storm. They all shriek and fall back. They know not to interfere. They have done their best, it will do the rest. It will end her.
On instinct, I react. My heartrate accelerates. I feel my pupils dialate. My body begins its change. The change that was once the harbinger of doom for all that lay unfortuneately in my sphere. But I am no longer confident. Is this transformation to harm? Or to help? But harm who? Help who? The answer is no longer clear. I am no longer their servant, so is my change to fight it? Or assist its deadly rampage, about to break a terrible wave upon Shay?
I would never harm her. Never.
I will myself to choose. Choose now. Choose who I will serve. Choose who I will… Love.
I chose her over all else before. I can…I will… do so now.
I will fight. I will die, if need be, for her.
The air turns dark… much darker than before. An electric rage swirls around us.
It is closing in. She stops moving, and so do I. We do all things in sync. It is an instinct we have now, undeniable, and unchanging.
I move my arms forward. I am trying to grab her. Pull her back, behind me. Although I know we are strongest when we fight together. It is my own instinct to want to protect her, to take on the hardest hit from this storm first.
But I cannot reach her. She is only five steps in front of me, but in this nightscape it may as well be five hundred.
The atmosphere charges to its highest peak. Our thoughts are one. She is not ready. She cannot stand against this enemy. Perhaps later. But not now…. I can. Because I was spawned from the will of this creature. But I cannot position myself to save her.
My heart syncs. My muscles tighten. My nails dig deep into the palms of my fists. I feel my teeth grinding down hard.
I cannot save her. And this is the first time, ever in my life, when I am afraid.
The world around us goes motionless, soundless.
A grey dawn descends.
Shay and I are whipped from the nightmare.
Remember these things.
The message is for her. I think. I am not sure. Are they speaking to me also?
My eyes blink open. Dusk is rapidly descending. The monsters will be on the move soon.
And then I think… Where are the children?
From By Moonlight : An Apocalyptic Fairytale by Lenise Lee
Copyright Lenise Lee Pubn, All Rights Reserved.
I am, trying, to be, poetic. Which only, makes this, harder. To let time, slip by. But, it never does, really. Instead, now, more than ever, I am, wandering, away, with my thoughts. Circling. For there are, no more, corners to turn, nor, places to be, and, be unseen. We are, all where we are, and, nothing more. Somehow, is this, a herding, ultimate dulling, of the masses, of the mind, of the will. For when, we willingly, become prisoners, no escape, is possible, and, no bars, necessary. What, oh, what, are we, truly, becoming.
Standing in the delicious chill, early morning fleeing elsewhere Grey dawn overhead, hot mug in hand Birds worshipping the new day, squirrels restless with play Awake, awaken, awakening, I am. . . . . Q
borrowed and blue
fleeting and fickle
anxious and amazing
wandering and wanting
exciting and ethereal
…the energy and magnetism, of life unfolding
…I am being watched.
I can feel their presence, just out of view. The corner of my eye catches movement.
I had not dreamed in many years. Not since I was a young child. Not until that night.
The night when everything changed. The night when Ethan stole me away from my life. The night when I realized that I was so much more than an unknown, barely surviving server in some gawd-awful bar.
This is a dream. I have had so many times since then. I almost have it memorized.
I am being watched….
From somewhere in the darkness, they are there.
This is a dream, I reassure myself. But I know, at the core of all that I am. This is not a dream. This is as real as any other moment in my waking life.
I am wandering through an ocean of dark oblivion on all sides. Yet, I am not alone.
They watch. They study. The observe and take note. Some dare to come too close. And that is when I sense them.
I am not supposed to know that they are there. But I do. My bones stiffen. My muscles tense. My mind’s awareness goes razor sharp. I am aware of all things, everything, even them, all at once.
Somehow, I can see them also. Flickers of shadows only. But they are definitely within my visual perception. And they are the unseeable ones, this I know on instinct. They are never meant to be observed by mortals; their presence is only to be a mere passing thought. A shudder, a chill. A superstition to be shushed and shamed. Never spoken of aloud, only by children, who have not yet learned the closed-mindedness of the adult world.
But I am no mortal. I never had been. Neither am I like them. This worries them the most, I can tell. I am something new. Something they had not expected. At least, not so soon.
It was Ethan who activated this dormant gene within me. It was his sudden appearance in and disruption of my world that forced to me to become what I had always doubted and denied. To become my truest self. The self within the self. The highest self. Needed for a specific purpose, to win a very specific battle in an eons-long war.
His nearness. Even before we had laid eyes upon one another, we were instinctively aware and bound to each other. This is the call of fate. The pull of destiny.
In a blanket of black, I wander. Confused. But not frightened. I feel my breathing pick up pace, my eyes widen as I search deeper into the dark. Something is coming. Fast and furious. The prickle in the air is electric. And I know, as my heart sinks, I am not prepared for what approaches. It is too soon. I am not ready to face the fight coming my way.
And then, suddenly, my awareness lifts. A new presence has arrived ahead of the enemy on the dark horizon. A grey dawn quickly descends. And I am in the land of the dark no longer.
Before I am yanked from the world of dreams and nightmares, where the true veil is lifted, four thoughts are planted in my mind.
Remember these things.
My eyes flicker open. There is still some daylight left, and then the animals will be out soon, prowling the open night. Hunting season.
Then I remember them… Where are the children?
from By Moonlight, An Apocalyptic Fairytale by Lenise Lee
Copyright 2020 Lenise Lee Publications, All Rights Reserved
Love the sound of the morning,
where peace and anticipation reign free
must not change, who I am
nor stear me, clear of
the call of Destiny
For all things,
small and great, weak and mighty,
can become moments
of the true Spirit
that drives, the evolution of
I was sleeping, and now I must awaken
A Queen among men
A Goddess among mortals
I will Rise again
Q. Lenise Lee
A sudden noise from near a broken down wooden pushcart caught there attention.
All three turned toward the sound of terrible creaks and crackling, the sound of old wood being disturbed after a long sleep.
Their instincts kicked on high, each awaiting the moment to attack whatever hid behind the dusty barrier just in front of them, less than five feet away.
Shay and Ethan touched minds, silently powering up. It was a natural instinct now, to unify their abilities as one. They would always be more powerful as one.
Drek held deathly still. His shadow long and lean, as though he were not there, merely a piece of the scenery. No words of magic were as powerful as deluding the mind into believing there was nothing there to be afraid of, never preparing itself for the attack that strike at any moment. This was his greatest strength, stealth.
And then they appeared. The children.
They stepped from behind the cart and stood in the full light of the overhanging sun, which should have been impossible. They were hand in hand, calmly composed with serene looks upon their young faces, as though the world around them were not made of ash and dust and dirt and creeping things waiting to kill all who chanced near them.
The boy, dark-skinned with thickly coiled light brown hair, was about ten years old; close to Ethan’s age when Mother and Father, his handlers, had taken him from his home, had pulled him from the arms of his dying mom, the last survivor of his real family.
The girl, fair-skinned and red-headed, was slightly younger, perhaps eight, around the same age as when Shay realized that the world she was born into was somehow not right. Though she had known no other life, she had always sensed the way things were were not how they were supposed to be, that something at some point, long before she was born, had gone terrible wrong. A twist set in motion by the Fates, if there were such beings.
For a moment, all were silent, all stared, none moved. They were like an aged portrait from some forgotten nowhere, left to dry and droop in the harsh sun.
It was the boy who spoke first. He spoke, clear and to the point, yet his thick full lips never moved. “We are alone.”
The other three knew this was not true. Though there was no other living thing to be scene at this high-day hour, except the five who stood here, there were sleepings – or hiding – beings all around them, sheltered in place til dark.
The girl was next. It was the same, her voice was perfectly pitched, but her pink mouth did not open as she said the words. “You do not need to fear us.”
Still the other three made no attempt to reply. This could easily be a trap. The Elders were not done with them. Perhaps they had rallied and returned sooner than anticipated and were not using some illusion to get Ethan and Shay – and even Drek – to let their guards down. All eyes stared, all minds remained focused.
Then, finally, it was Shay who took a chance, against Ethan’s wishes.
No, he warned her across their mental bond, don’t. They are not true children. There is no way they would be able to survive standing in full sun like that.
That is the reason why I am doing this, Shay replied, they Elders cannot do this kind of magic. Not even they are powerful enough to override the power of the sun on human skin. We thought only we could that. And since that’s not true anymore, we need to know who they are… they could be allies, Ethan. And we need as many as possible now… even Drek.
There was still hesitation in his mind, but he understood her points.
Ethan nodded toward Shay and then she turned to the children.
“Who are you?” She spoke with real words this time, so that Drek could also hear her.
The tiny pair in unison this time, aloud using their lips to release soft and flowing words that touched the ears of the other three ever so lightly as though a breeze had gently floated near them, wrapping them in both calm and unease at feeling such a quiet calm.
“We are your friends. We have come very far. We are here to help you.” They stepped forward a few more feet, flooding their faces in even more bright midday sun, nearly illuminating their beautiful and delicate features. “We must be quick to move,” they continued as one, “There are enemies on the way. And they will arrive ahead of dark, clothed in the energy of the dark storm.”
from By Moonlight, An Apocalyptic Fairytale by Q. Lenise Lee. All Rights Reserved 2020.
Sometimes, I am a free spirit, flowing with answers, the purest lake filled with living water
I capture the essence, harness the power, imagination, creation is born,
and I know, truly know, I have become, what I am, truly.
Q. Lenise Lee
I want to, Create
and by creating, Live
and by living, Become
and by becoming, Find You
by finding you,
I, Find Myself
Q. Lenise Lee
balance and energy.
the call of the universe,
pulling us to greater heights.
the spirit of the universe,
pursuing us into our wildest dreams.
Q. Lenise Lee
A small moment in the vastness of all that is.
But, most assuredly, it is Glorious.
Q. Lenise Lee
As we learn
in between moments,
moving as one
with the Universe,
establishing the course,
Q. Lenise Lee
I listen to the morning,
to the morning song
be careful, be vigilant, be aware but
be bright, be amazed, be present
in the moment
Filled with love and laughter
words of encouragement
ears eager to embrace
heart of pure energy
spirit radiant and divine
movements right and true
A gift, a blessing,
focused and refined
(against the creeping darkness)
Bright, piercing Light
Q. Lenise Lee
against the creeping darkness,
A bright, piercing light
Q. Lenise Lee
Reborn in the morning,
settled at eventide.
with the Universe.
All things that were.
All things that are.
All things that will be.
Art and artist.
Creation and creator.
Q. Lenise Lee
I have a vision in my mind, of
things in between, and
them. And then
Q. Lenise Lee
I see the
and the possibilities
of the All
I want to
to the nothingness
and fullness of
to the brim of
I want to lose time
is least binding
Q. Lenise Lee
I believe in the ether
and the void
and the light
and in everything in between
I have the day in my head
and in my hands
caught up in my heart
and in my spirit
I believe in rest
and in motion
I believe in small, carefully planned steps
I believe in giant, careless leaps
I believe in the impossible
I believe in the infinity
of this moment
I was made to create
One in All, All in One
Q. Lenise Lee
Queen of Heaven
Lady of Light
Goddess of the All
Arise and Ascend, your throne
Like stars and moons, heart and spirit, expand, then collide
What force beckons them forward, toward dust, toward destiny?Q. Lenise Lee
My words are
the beat of my heart
the movement of my spirit
the stirring of my soul
without them, I am in silence
within them, I am set free
~Q. Lenise Lee
Enthralled in rapture. Yet remain quietly serene.
Wanting to chase the rush of pure energy. Yet sitting perfectly still.
The universe conducting a symphony before me, expounding on the dissertation of the secrets of the universe. Yet I calmly sip my coffee, distracted, while tapping a random beat against the curve of the mug.
All that is offered, infinity upon infinity. Yet my eyes are watching numbers across a fading screen.Q. Lenise LEe
Tho I forget to breathe,
breath still flows within me,
First fast, then gentle
Always, Strong and freeQ. Lenise Lee
I walk thru the center of Creation
At the heart of Existence
And I live.
And I breathe.
(I breathe deeply).
And I am.
The spirit of the Universe surrounds me
I am Loved.
I am Love.
All, and the All in All, is revealed.
I dwell within.
~Q. Lenise Lee
To walk thru infinite worlds
Dwelling within The Wholeness of The All
A promise in my mind
~Q. Lenise Lee
Every moment, You are Living.
You are Living, Every moment.
~ Q. Lenise Lee
PART I – Darkness
The near future…
“The queen is missing.”
Whispers from a fading dream ripped through her body, startling her from a restless sleep. Sitting up in the middle of the stuffed cot, she used the back of her hand to swipe away a heavy layer of sweat and oil from her brow. She looked down and saw that her hands were shaking. Her breath was ragged and she could barely breath. Her chest was heaving high with deep sobs that refused to release from her lungs. Silent screams were the worst. The burning behind her breasts was nearly unbearable, like the flare from a blowtorch was crisping her skin to shriveled shreds. When she realized what was causing the pain, she immediately recoiled. Her thin legs lifted from the edge of her shabby mat and yanked them back so that she could hug them to her chest and pin herself at the head of the bed.
With her back against the cool plaster of the wall behind the bed, her eyes watched the cause of her mania. The last beams of daylight were slipped through the thin slit used for ventilation and slid across the tiny single room quarters. Even the muted illumination of the pale orange was strong enough to cause a gnawing pain behind her eyes, forcing her to coward deeper into the darkness of the corner she was now trapped in. She shut her eyelids tight and buried her head between her knees, seeking desperate relief from the glow spilling into the assigned room of the apartment building. There was at least another full hour of torment to endure before the last drops of late twilight disappeared from the sky then sweet relief would finally come.
This was not the same world she had been born into. Somewhere along the way, everything had flipped. Night was day, and day was taboo – forbidden, dreaded, to be avoided at all costs…even lethal, like now. After so many years of hiding in the shadows, even the darkest skin was white as smoked ash and the palest skin was nearly transparent. A society of vampires? Hardly. A pack of ravenous heathens condemned to dwell in darkness? Very possibly that is what they had all become.
For the next hour, while the last embers of sunlight slid into a merciful twilight, she fought off panic and tried to ignore wispy strips of pain ebbing across her skin. The moment purple overtook gold in the eternal struggle for dominance of the sky, the first howls pierced the air. Strangled high-pitch screeches fill the early night. Time to move. And move fast.
After a quick birdbath from a small basin of chilly water stashed in the opposite corner of the room, she pulled on her work uniform – a tattered black halter top, battered mini skirt, tall leather spike-heeled boots, and elbow-high leather gloves with the finger coverings removed – and made a dash for the dive hall she called home seven nights a week.
Rule number one: Never let your guard down.
Keeping to the center of the cracked asphalt streets, she kept her steps small and quick. She set her pace so sleek and stealthy that she could barely hear or feel the soles of her boots tap against the hardtop. Her path was straight, never steering too far left or right of the nearly blackened nightscape stretching out before her.
Her eyes darted swiftly in all directions. Small barrel fires flickered every few hundred feet. Whenever she came within ten feet of any of them – and their unseen keepers – her pace quickened and she diverted her path slightly to the opposite direction. The more space, the better. She could feel the gaze of wicked wraiths peering at her from the cover of blackness just beyond where the flames licked the cold night air. Even at night, light could signal death. She could sense that she was always only one breath shy of merciless torment at the hands of whoever might be cloaking themselves deeper within the inky blackness of the shadows crawling behind the shimmering veil the red and orange flames created.
A woman’s worst nightmare was being dragged away into the shadows, never to be seen or thought of again. Scream. Scratch. Struggle and fight. None of it would matter. No one would come to your aide. No one would care that you’re gone. No one would remember who you were when day broke. The moment the greasy hands clutched your skin, you became a twin with death. When your meal card goes inactive for twenty-four hours, it would be canceled and the credits cycled back into the ward’s general account. Whenever the monitors took note that your quarters were empty, they get reassigned. The crack of a neck. A push of a button. Like you never existed. In reality, you could be in the wasteland keeping company with dear agony.
Three steps past the last fire barrel and a whistle breezed past her ear. Low snarls soon followed. Flight or fight. Instinctively, she kept moving. To freeze for even a second too long could be one second too long past permanent midnight. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as the patch of skin covering that spot began to prickle with terrible anticipation. She sensed too much heat hovering behind her. Nowadays, probably for the last fifteen or so years, human – Could you still call them that? She honestly wasn’t sure – body temperature ran a little lower than the previously standard ninety-eight point six degrees. Even though she and everyone else in this forsaken land had banished by the light, a small part of her hoped that she wasn’t a complete monster. But now was not the time for such silly thoughts. Whoever or whatever was hovering behind her, not more than twenty paces away, was spilling enough heat for it to warm the full fold of her neck and shoulders. Even weres don’t spit out that much heat, and especially not from that distance. The creature was at perfect stalking range and closing in.
Her legs flexed into a run. She made quick work of bounding up the stairs that led to the entrance of The Lare. The open palm of her right hand and the clenched fist of her left pounded on the frosty metal door.
“Hey!” She yelled with every breath in her body. “Open up!”
She paused only long enough for a quick listen. No answer. No turn of the complicated locks. She resumed her banging.
“Open up! It’s me.”
The second the jury-rigged door swung open, she pummeled over whoever had just unlocked it and dashed into the safety of the dark cavern on the other side. Before she could disappear into the thick mass of writhing bodies stuffed into the wide gallery ahead, big arms grabbed her by the shoulders, causing her to tumble back against the bristly hairs of a massive, fur-covered chest.
“What’s up with you, Shay?”
“Hey,” he said sharply then shook her slim body, rattling her back teeth and bringing her back to reality. “You in there?”
“Let go’a me,” she hissed through clenched teeth. While spitting the short bristly hairs from the mat plastered on his chest out of her mouth, she tried to snatch her arms out of his grip, but it was useless. He was stronger than a bear and twice as hairy.
His dark, glazed eyes glared down at her. When he flicked his pink tongue across his dark lips, a violent shudder raced down her body. A wicked gaze slid down to her exposed cleavage. She wasn’t ashamed of her body – no one ever was, not anymore – but that didn’t mean she wanted anyone to have free range over it either. So far, she had kept her intimate secrets to herself. How long that would last was anyone’s guess. She had been lucky, but one day that well would run down to the mud and she knew when that day finally came, it wouldn’t be pretty. Thankfully, it wasn’t today.
“She’s late,” another male voice boomed in. “Just let ‘er go. We need drinks in hands and tongues wet. New boss in town and we don’t want him t’see an unhappy crowd. She’s the fastest bar maid we got, so just let ‘er be.”
A nasty grin smeared across the bear’s fat face. Now that he had her scent, he would be on her…constantly, so she needed to watch her back at all times.
After he unhooked his grimy nails from the sensitive skin on the underside of her upper arms, she took off like a race hoarse, making sure to lose herself into the thick crowd. No looking back, just ahead.
Rule two: Never look back. Always meet the end face forward.
The moment he stepped into the dismal arena – The Lare, his new dominion – the scent hit his nose. Impossible. Above the stench of human sweat and body oil, plus heavy doses of alcohol and excrement, a lovely aroma wafted into his senses. His body was immediately drawn toward the trail. The further he moved toward the crowd, the more intense the taste became. A delicious flavor floated across his pallet. He licked his lips, nearly panting to inhale a deep, overdosing whiff of that smell, that intoxicating aroma that was driving every muscle in his body toward ravenous heights. The source was so close now. Maybe a yard away, no more. He paused as he honed in on his target. Again, he had to question the reality of this moment. How? After so long, how was this happening?
Naked bodies moved in-sync with the blaring, bass-heavy music, grinding sweaty, filthy flesh together, swaying in hypnotic rhythms. Only one caught his eye. She wasn’t in a drug-induced trance. She wasn’t being consumed by the raw energy of the live band’s performance. She was running…fleeing through the mass of tangled human corpses. A hand reached out to grab hold of the thick braid hanging down her back. Her head arched back with surprise. She was trapped. Or was she? The man tried to pull her back into his lecherous grip. A big palm reached down to jerk up her thin mini skirt. Right after he palmed her ass, she whirled around and used a small fist to push the tip of his nose in an upward direction. He could almost hear the bone crack from where he stood admiring her foreplay. Blood spewed down the punk’s face. Agony washed over his features. She watched her handiwork. Her hard scowl transformed into a…smile. Even under the dim flicker of the house lights, he saw her dark eyes light up with excitement. She enjoyed the pain she had caused. He felt her rush flow under his skin, experiencing the thrill as though it were his own. Pure delight spawned from deep fright.
When she rushed past him, he froze. His blood blazed in his veins. Her scent sparked an unfamiliar shiver inside the dark recesses of his black heart. Right then, he knew. As sure as he was destined to extinguish the power of the sun forever. It was her – the keeper of its paralyzing flames. And she would belong to him.
With only five steps until she could reach safety behind the bar, a vice grip wrapped around Shay’s upper arm.
This was the third time in less than five minutes that she had been grabbed and she was getting sick of this shit. She whirled around, fist balled up tight to deliver another painful bomber, but a giant palm opened and caught her blow mid-air. The stunned girl froze, her dark eyes widened with surprise.
In one gasping moment, her mind and body were suddenly sucked into a stupefying haze. Crisp, electric eyes pinned her in place. Her slim weight went limp under the intense pressure of his gaze. With one hand still gripping her arm in a brutal grip, the towering barbarian’s other arm snaked around her small waist, catching her before she dropped to her knees. He lifted her until the tips of her toes dangled on the floor. Trapped by his brute strength, with her breasts pressed against his hard chest, her insides began to twist with bizarre pleasure. Unable to break free of his hold, Shay had no choice but to allow him to take free range to rake his eyes over the length of her body. The cold tip of his nose dipped into the curve of Shay’s neck then pressed deep into her cool flesh causing her nipples to pebble against her will. The air lifted from her lungs as he inhaled a long whiff of her scent.
“Mmmm,” he breathed out. His warm breath sent licks of hot flashes scattering across her prickling skin.
When he pulled back with unnatural quickness, hair the color of tinted wheat fell forward and slipped down to cover most of his face. Only the tips of his ears and the glow of his eyes were visible behind his long wavy locks. Chilly, ice blue eyes peered down at her, causing Shay’s thin blood to run as cold as the color of his powerful stare. Wickedly sexy lips curled into a sensual grin.
He moaned again, sending the heat of his breath trailing down her neck. “Mine.”
With one word – one demanding command – Shay knew that she had received the death sentence she had always dreaded. She was doomed, soon to be condemned to the fate she had been running from for most of her young life.
He bought his face closer to hers. The tips of their noses touched, sending a shiver down her spine. The ice pouring from his eyes made her body shudder. Heat radiated between her thighs and spread up into a heavy pool at the center of her flat belly.
The arm he had her pinned with gripped tighter, bruising her sides and squeezing her ribs until her lungs began to empty of precious oxygen. His head angled to the side, as though he were leaning in to capture her trembling mouth and steal a flammable kiss. Not once had his eyes blinked, and the power pouring from them filled her with conflicting emotions of horror and lust beyond thought.
Just before those crimson lips bruised her own, her eyes caught a flash of midnight. A tall, dark-haired man rushed by their frozen bodies and abruptly shoulder-checked her captor. In that one blessed moment, the spell he had wrapped around her was suddenly broken. As he turned his full attention away to seek out who had dared to touch him, Shay used the opportunity to wiggle free of his grip. While she fled from his presence, she stopped only long enough to witness one swift motion. The stranger reached his hand out and grabbed for the first throat nearest him. After one quick, devastating yank of his folded fist, he twisted the other man’s neck at a sickening angle. A nauseating crack hit the air and then the body of his victim hit the floor and crumpled beneath the pulsing crowd, never to be thought of again during the frenzied rave.
Returning her attention to escape, Shay’s legs carried her to what she hoped was a sanctuary from the mob and from the villain who had nearly stole her last shred of decency in the middle of the dance floor. After three quick bangs on the security gate, she dashed through the enclosed bar’s iron gate as soon as she was buzzed in. She didn’t stop to allow herself a breath of air until the door slammed shut behind her and the thick bolt slid into place.
With her back pressed against the cold iron of the bar’s metal cage, Shay finally exhaled the breath she had been holding. Her lungs were begging for oxygen, but all she could draw in was one short ragged sip of stale air.
Jimmy raised a dark, bushy eyebrow in her direction.
“ ‘Sup with you?”
Without sparing him another glance, she walked over to the warped hard wood counter and started setting up her station.
“Drunken bastards tried to take me.”
“And that would have made me late,” she snapped at him.
“You’re late, you’re fired,” he grunted.
“Exactly.” Her jaw clenched.
His lack of concern didn’t surprise her. It wasn’t unusual for a man to strip a woman naked and force himself inside her – even if she had already refused. In fact, toward the close of every night in this putrid little establishment, right after the crowd had reached a fevered frenzy and just before the alarms blared a warning signal to announce the approaching dawn, several brutal violations might occur all at once. No one cared. No one stopped partying. Everyone pretended they didn’t see a crying, bleeding, naked woman crawling across a gritty tiled floor. And Shay was no exception. How many times had she turned a blind eye to the sight of weak arms flapping around, desperately seeking salvation from someone – anyone – only for that poor girl, whoever she may be, to realize, with what must have been sickening horror, she was all alone in a room crammed with people?
What did stun Shay was that, after all these years of working here, for one brief, unforgiving moment, she was stupid enough to think he might have cared even a little if something bad were to happen to her. Then it occurred to her. Nothing bad every happens. Anything goes. If there was no hope to balance despair, no rules to forbid depravity then everything was as it should be. Evil did not exist and violence was instinct…it was the air they breathed every moment…it was survival. So why was she so upset?
“Order up,” he said gruffly.
Dragging her thoughts back to the present, she slammed a shot glass upside down on the counter. A crackling sound signaled that she had probably splintered its rim. By the time she stomped her high spike-heeled boots toward the new arrival, her nerves had calmed somewhat. Remembering that she was standing behind the heavy rusted metal bars restored her sense of dominance over the chaotic atmosphere. No matter what, the bar was always secured. It’s valuable contents were to be protected at all times from the shitty riffraff that filled this dank and dismal place. The House had to ensure that no one robbed them of their precious supply of euphoria-inducing liquids.
Without looking up at the stranger standing on the other side of the counter, she reached for a glass. All drinks were served in only one size – small – so whatever he wanted was a perfect fit for the container she was grabbing for. Afterward she nudged her chin in his direction. When no response came, she was forced to look up. The last thing she wanted was to have to look into another pair of cruddy eyes, but since the cat ate his tongue and she didn’t have all night to learn sign language, Shay smothered her aggravation and gave him the attention he seemed to desire so much.
He held up a single finger. It was long and broad, and she was suddenly imaging what deadly arts he might be able to do with that stiff digit. But that wasn’t all that held her attention. Even under the twirling strobe lights she could see the faint tan clinging to the skin visible below the cut-off sleeve of his black fitted tee. Even though the shirt was grungy and ripped in all the right places, revealing teasing flashes of the corded muscles he was hiding beneath the thin material, it only served the purpose of making him look severely overdressed in a building crawling with nude bodies. She couldn’t see him below the waist, but she already assumed his manhood was probably also well-concealed. She, too, was dressed – in the barest threads – although she didn’t stand out as much as him, because it wasn’t out of the ordinary for bar staff to have on more clothing than guests.
She resisted the urge to study him further. Instead, she filled his glass with a tonic – a mixture of a mild aphrodisiac and tap water. It was the House special. If you didn’t specify what you wanted – and most people were too wasted to even slur a single word well before they arrived at this spot – that’s what you got. House special mandated by House rules. So chug up and get back to the usual groping and sexing.
After slapping the bottom of the drink onto the counter, Shay held up the scanner and waited for him to show her his wrist. Instead, he tossed two gold bits down. Another quick glance at him, directly into those scowling hazel eyes, and her sense of dread returned. His steady gaze revealed a self-discipline that kept his face stern and unrevealing. Her next move should have been to hit the silent alarm, but she didn’t. Without cat-like quickness, she reached out and discreetly scanned the three-striped bar code tatted on the wrist of the guy that was shoved uncomfortably close to the wastlelander’s right side. The dark stranger didn’t visibly exhale a sigh of relief, but she saw the hard edges of his eyes relax ever so slightly.
You’re welcome, asshole, is what she thought, but what she said out loud, clear enough so that he could hear her above the drone of the bass and drunken revelry of the club, was “Get out.” While you can, was how Shay silently ended that command.
He gave a barely perceptible nod then grabbed up his drink and turned to leave. A bang on the bar’s gate halted his movement and pulled Shay’s eyes toward the noise. Two patrolman were waiting at the entrance of the locked gate. Jimmy buzzed them in then nudged his head in her direction. Her eyes darted toward the man again. Who knows why she looked. For help? Out of frantic desperation, most likely. Since she had just done him a huge favor, she supposed she was hoping he might do the same for her. Cause a scene. Yell. Scream. Anything to give her an extra second to think of an escape. When patrol dragged you away, you were never seen again. At least, not alive.
To her surprise, in place of dark eyes, ice blue ones flashed at her. The stranger had vanished into the heavy mass of bodies that surrounded the bar. Her captor from earlier had taken his place. His cherry lips stretched into a sneer. Gotcha. That’s what his grim, slightly appeased, stare spoke to her.
Seconds later she felt the brush of massive, brick house bodies on either side of her. No escape. She never thought it would end like this. For some sad reason, she never thought it would end at all. Her granny had instilled such hope in her that she would be a survivor. That she would be one of the last ones to see the dawn again. Could is be so simple to steal her last dream?
A casual nod of his blond head in her direction sealed Shay’s fate. Take her, was his silent command.
Big hands wrapped around her thin upper arms, holding her in place before she could struggle against their brute strength, then a bolt of shocking electric stung the side of her neck.
Could it really be so simple? Her last thought before the end came. Darkness and silence followed her into the tunnel to nowhere.
Ethan stared at the slender frame lying on his chamber floor.
When his men had arrived to deliver the girl, they didn’t feel a need to carry her any further than a few inches past the door. And, for the moment, neither did he. The pretty package would remain exactly where they had dropped it.
His eyes studied the sleeping figure. It was impossible for him to drag his glare away from her. The desire to touch her was undeniable. Just like earlier, a magnetic pull drew him closer to the living doll. Without any conscious effort on his part, he bent down to kneel beside her. Posing with her back curved and her knees pulled up to her chin, she looked like a discarded angel. Her face was peaceful, calm. His fingers reached out and ran a slow pace down the length of the thick braid hanging down her slim back. With the tips of the dark strands tangled around his fingers, Ethan leaned in close and used the tip of his nose to trace a line along the curve of her neck.
There was no need to distance himself, she wasn’t filthy like the others. She also didn’t reek of liquor and sex. Even if she did, he probably would have been helpless to resist the impulse that was dragging him so near. Her scent was achingly familiar, yet his mind was having a hard time remembering what it reminded him of. So sweet…too sweet. She didn’t belong here, not in this broken and filthy hellhole. Rat City. That’s what the natives called it. A wayward finger found its way to the cool skin of her leg then floated over her outer thigh. When the roaming digit reached her hip, Ethan’s fingers slid beneath the hem of the thin cloth wrapped loosely around her waist. He stopped his motion and hovered at the soft pad of flesh covering the bone there. As he pressed his fingers deep, a sliver of excitement raced through their tips. His manhood instantly hardened. Like a man in a deep trance, Ethan’s eyes slid closed as he allowed himself one free moment to revel in the sharp, sensual electric pulses flowing over him.
The bolts of energy flowing between them must have awakened her. In an instant, the girl’s lips twisted, her features wretched, and her lashes flew open. Wide eyes stared up at him. Fear. Mixed with…something more…something like…Before he could figure out the depth of the last emotion splashed over her face, the terror resurfaced. She shuffled to her feet like a pussycat trying to scramble away from danger. For her, danger was inescapable.
The more she tried to scurry away, the more urgently a sudden and possessive need to control her swept up from the pit of his stomach and forced him to react to her attempt to flee. Her very essence riled up a desperate lust beneath his hard skin. The fevered frenzy pushed him forward until he cornered the frail female. Her back pressed against the bolted door while the weight of his body pinned her in place. She was trapped exactly where she should be…under his complete dominance and control.
The conflicting emotions raging within him were surreal. Ethan could feel her inner light flowing from her pores and trying to sink into his. He wanted to possess her power and extinguish it forever. He wanted to test her strength, bombard her willpower with his own. How much of his torment could she resist? He needed to see if she was worthy of him and of what he would eventually demand of his queen. Strangely enough, he also felt compelled to prove that he was worthy of her as well.
He had to feel her, to mold her within his grip again. His hand instinctively wrapped around the soft skin just beneath her chin. With the width of one palm, he cupped the underside of her face and the curve of her small throat. With ease, Ethan used his giant’s strength to lift her small body from the floor. Barely retrained terror filled her eyes – her gorgeous, dark eyes. The innocence hovering in the gaze glittering beneath long lashes sent a chaotic pulse running through his veins. His lips parted. An urge to kiss her was unbearable. Time…slowed…to nothing. Watching you…watching me…Wanting you…wanting you to want me. When he was close enough to feel the warmth of her weak breath sweep across his open mouth…Thud…his heart slammed inside his chest. The pounding became so hard, he feared it might suddenly stop beating altogether and he would be dead and forgotten before ever claiming her.
Her struggling against his hold broke the trance. Fear, not attraction spurred her reaction to him. Her whole body shuddered at his continued touch. Ethan could see that she was afraid of what he would do next. Had he really discovered such a rare treasure on the first night of his reign over his new kingdom? It made the question running through his mind inescapable…How had she kept herself pure for so long? He shook the concern away. It didn’t matter. She belonged to him now…to please him in every wicked way that he so chose – but not just yet. There was no such thing as coincidence. Timing was everything, and her appearance signaled only one event. One final sunset stood between him and consuming his sweet caramel temptation.
To stop her useless floundering, Ethan tightened his grip around her throat, forcing the girl to lift her legs and wrap them around his waist. When she did so, he settled his muscular frame further between her thighs. Later, when the time was right, this is the position he would use to finally claim her body. Again, he had to calm his raging lusts and remind himself that his passions would not – could not – be satisfied tonight. If he made that mistake, everything would be ruined and he would, quite possibly, be dead before the next nightfall.
With her tangled around Ethan’s much-larger body, the female’s movements paused. Once she stopped fighting him, he released her airway. When she drew in a gasp of much-needed air, their eyes locked. The curious expression from earlier resurfaced. What was it she was feeling? And why was he so frantic to uncover the truth and match her gaze? Like her scent, those eyes, the color of onyx, stirred up a tempest from deep within. The closer Ethan moved his face toward hers, the more he began to tumble into the pull of a distant memory. Where had he seen this face before? The fingertips of his free hand trailed down the side of her cheek. A layer of light moisture from her skin slid beneath their tips.
Then the connection finally struck him. Like a hammering shock, it reached out, punched past his black heart and revived the last spark of life swirling within his deadened soul. In an instant, he was child again, barely seven years old, sitting in the front row of a church of all places. The word caused Ethan to shudder inside, but he resisted the urge to physically cringe. He refused to allow his concubine to see any weakness within him. In the waking dream, the wandering eyes of the boy-child floated to the next row and were met by a pair of bright, flashing eyes. A girl, not much younger than him, met his gaze. They silently studied one another from across the aisle.
An uncontrollable shiver ripped through his convulsing torso. Ethan’s mind blacked out the rest of the horrible tale. With his attention returning to the present, his eyes flicked up and locked with hers. Hate and brutality had become his first reactions to any feelings of vulnerability. His grip tightened, causing her legs to release his hips. She thrashed wildly. After a moment, when her air supply went short, her legs went limp and dangled a few inches above the floor.
He released its grip on her throat and she dropped to the floor then crumpled into a pile at his bare feet. At the sight of her injured form, a frightening urge to lift her up and cradle her within his arms scratched at the surface of his burning palms. Frozen and undecided, Ethan continued to glance down at her. The tingling need to feel her skin again filled him with dread. Protect the dynasty. The razor-sharp whisper settled the matter. He balled his hands into tight fists and forced himself to turn away. Without further delay, he destroyed the impulse to comfort her before it could work its way any deeper beneath his skin.
After a very long and dark pause, Shay finally reemerged into the world.
He moved one foot forward, away from the door and closer to where Shay remained in a stiff sitting position. At the sight of him approaching her, and with feet as nimble as a wood nymph’s, she jumped and ran toward the furthest corner, far away from her captor. Her chances of escape were narrow. The man who had arranged her kidnapping barred one path while the raging monster who had nearly slit her throat probably still hovered near the rear exit. For the moment, Shay stood perfectly still, her back against the chilly wall, muscles coiled and thighs ready to sprint. She waited…watched…tried to anticipate the blond’s next move. Bright blue eyes twinkled at her, but Shay saw no smile accompany the shimmer hidden within them.
“There’s no need to fear me.” There was amusement in Ethan’s tone as his voice trailed off. Ironic words from someone who had attempted to strangle her a few moments ago.
His words touched Shay’s mind and caused a soft echo to bounce in her thoughts. A curious way to address her. Instead of advancing toward Shay, as she was anticipating, the blond turned away and moved toward a large bureau at the opposite end of the room.
“I have so much to share with you.”
As he turned to face her again, a small gasp escaped Shay’s mouth. Ethan stretched open the palm of his hand and held out his first offering toward his future bride. Shay’s eyes locked on the crimson object. The apple was so red that her eyes nearly deceived her into believing its skin had been dipped in blood. The dim light from the chandelier hanging overhead glinted off the curve of the delicacy. She had not seen or tasted fruit in many years, not since she was a small girl. The saliva was already starting to pool on her tongue. In truth, she could not recall the last time she had eaten…An hour? Two? Twelve? A quick glance around the room revealed nothing that would hint at the time or if darkness still cloaked the outside world. It must. Her veins still pumped furiously, there was no weariness weighing down her bone and muscle. Still, it could simply be that the adrenaline racing through her body was overriding the effects of the sun, which had the power to drip its debilitating rays into even the darkest crevices. There was no way, however, she had been asleep for more than a day. Even so, her stomach grumbled in protest. The sight of the rare treat had sparked an insatiable demand to feed. The instinct bubbled up from deep within her and threatened to overpower her sanity. The true question was which would satisfy her more? The taste of the apple? Or the feel of her handsome host’s rose-pink lips tasting her own?
Without another thought, her hand jerked. One step. Then two. Then four more paces brought Shay dangerously close to returning to within striking distance of the entrancing figure watching her so intently. The barest trace of a grin touched one corner of his sensual mouth.
Remember the garden.
A whispering voice snapped into her thoughts and broke her strides. Faint remnants of a myth her grandma once told her began to circle her mind, but Shay could not pull the full memory together. A sudden rush of hunger, stronger than the fear and trembling the clipped memory tried in vain to evoke in her, urged Shay to accept what her kidnapper presented to her. After all, how dangerous could he be? The more she considered her circumstances, the more she realized how much the odds were in her favor. Instead of being assaulting her and then tossing her into the wastelands, he had brought her to a suite, arranged for her to be pampered – albeit by a maniac – and was now giving her a peace-offering. Against the nagging warning to refuse his gift, her desperation betrayed her willpower to resist. Reaching out, her fingers within a teasing inch of their goal, Shay let her guard down – and, in that one vulnerable moment, Ethan sprung his trap.
The apple dropped from Ethan’s hand and landed with a soft thud against the carpeted floor. Without giving her time to flee, he pulled the female into his grip then twirled her until her back was pressed flat against his stomach and chest. The dampness of her wavy hair caressed the delicate skin of his nipples causing a low hiss of arousal to tumble from between his lips. The sensation urged him to hold her tighter. The need to feel every soft inch of her skin covering his own nearly overwhelmed him. Their connection sent a sharp jolt zipping through the thick muscles of his tense biceps and flooded Ethan with the heat of a primal need to claim her here and now as his bonded mate. Her shiver of fear only served to drive his lust to boundless heights – All Ethan could sense was Shay’s presence. The only sound he heard was the beating of her pulsing heart. The smell of her sweet innocence flooded his nostrils, drowning out any other scent. The feel of her slick skin skimming across the tip of his tongue as he used it to lay a delicious path along the curve of her neck made his manhood instantly harden.
Danger. Her instincts crept in again, on highest alert.
Another current, nearly as intense as his thirst to devour the feminine essence of his woman, disrupted his thoughts. With great reluctance, Ethan pulled his lips from her quivering skin. He had to wait until the cycle of the moon was completed before taking her to his bed. The temptation to taste her, to arc his back and shoulders so that he could wrap his full form around her frame and consume her within his spiraling passion was dizzying. Never before had his attraction to a female compelled him to disobey his masters. No woman had every tempted his lust, his mind, his body and willpower…his heart…so thoroughly, nearly to the point of madness. He was so close to succumbing to the pressure of wanting her so badly that Ethan had no choice but to push the female away from him with one strong thrust.
One moment she was shivering with erotic anticipation from being held so tightly within the bulging strength of his arms, and the next she was being expelled from his hold and shoved forward. The motion was too sudden, causing Shay to lose her balance. Just before she tumbled down hard, a pair of hands caught her by the waist and lifted her to a standing position again. When her bare feet were planted firmly on the floor, one of the big hands that had just saved her from her fall moved in search of her fingers then twined both pairs together.
“Come with me,” Ethan said, as he gently pulled her across the room with him, “I have something to show you.”
The blond ushered Shay through the back entrance of the cavernous dressing room and into a connecting bedroom that was more massive than the last impressive space they had just exited.
Shay followed his lead, unsure of what witchery he had cast upon her. This was her third encounter with him, and each had a more unnerving effect on her than the one before. One moment he was seducing her with blazing eyes on a crowded and smelly dance floor. Then later she had awaken to him pinning her against a door and trying to strangle her back into unconsciousness. And now…now the swirl of warmth his touch caused in the pit of her belly worried her the most. Instead of her mind plotting an escape, she found her thoughts drawn toward basking in the mild currents passing between the tips of their interlocked fingers. Sharper than an electrical pulse, more arousing than the deepest kiss she had ever tasted. What was this magic he was weaving around her? And why was she reluctant to fight it off with every ounce of her strength?
Ethan led her through the vast space of his new master bedroom, which would soon become their bridal suite. He kept the details of their arrangement to himself for now. There was no need to reveal all to her in one confusing rush of explaining requirements and rituals. Soon, she would understand her place by his side. However, not as fast as he desired. For the time being, he would appease his impatience with one more small pleasure…another grand gift for his bride-to-be. He yearned to see a smile, even a tiny one, lift her full and lovely lips.
Pulling her along beside him, Ethan’s strides were as casual and confident as those of the king he would someday become. Still mildly surprised that she followed him without resistance, Ethan crossed the threshold separating his personal quarters from the garden terrace beyond its walls. The glass doors that separated the two spaces remained open. The time of year was very early spring, so sunrise would not come for a few more hours. He and Shay were still both very safe from its devastating effects on their skin and muscles. When the first rays of sunlight peaked in the distant horizon, a barrier of heavy iron and thick curtains would seal the room like a tomb and prevent the sun’s intrusion until the next moonrise. Once they had walked into the cool night air, he released her hand and watched with silent pleasure as a small twinkle sparked in her eyes as scanned the lush beauty surrounding them on all sides.
Green. So much green. Shay’s first thoughts as she stepped outside into the crisp pre-dawn air. Everywhere she looked, blooming life overflowed. Trees, just saplings, really, but still real and flourishing, not the burnt remnants of bark and stump she had grown accustomed to seeing scattered throughout the city limits, were reaching out to touch her. Not just trees, hanging vines, overgrown wildflowers and plants filled the arching outline of the stone balcony. Wandering away from her captor’s reach, her mind in a haze of amazement, Shay strolled the full curve of the wide terrace, making sure to run her fingers along the surface of every fresh leaf and to inhale the aromatic scent of every multicolored flower her eyes and her curiosity drew her toward. Her mind was so fixed on absorbing the refreshing essence of the lost oasis, Shay barely noticed the sting from the cold stone beneath her toes. Her eyes glanced down at her feet, and so did the blond’s. She could have easily dismissed his reaction, because he was yet to cease at watching her with unblinking blue eyes. Yet, she did not. There was a connection hovered between them. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but Shay was convinced that, somehow and in some strange way, he had shared her sensation.
Her mouth opened to question him, and Ethan quickly clipped her words. Not too much. Not too soon. He needed to gain her trust, her complete obedience before telling her any more than necessary.
“You’re not that fast.”
While he had been momentarily side-tracked with thoughts on how to woo her into submission, Ethan suddenly realized Shay’s gaze had shifted and her attention regarding the depths of their bonds had slipped toward a new focus. He had chosen to sit, as he allowed her the freedom to wander around and explore his terrace of delights. This meant that he was several feet away from the open door leading back into the bedroom. From where she stood beside the apple tree he had picked her earlier treat from, Ethan saw that Shay’s eyes were now firmly locked onto that route of escape.
“I’ll be on you before you take two steps.” His eyes dragged along the silhouette of her body. The light of the three-quarter moon cast a surreal glow all around her slim figure.
Shay kept a poker-face and tried to remain unaffected by her surprise at being caught eyeing the call of freedom that beckoned to her.
“I wasn’t gonna’ -“
“Your thoughts betray you, Shay. And so do your eyes.”
“How did you know – ” She stopped short. There was no need to ask a silly and unnecessary question. Of course the three-striped bar code tattooed on her wrist and the tag, implanted deep beneath the tissue there, would give him access to her public record.
He sat in an oversized chair with a high back and covered in what looked to be thick, overstuffed dark cushions. Her gaze fell to his wrist. His hands were laying on the armrests, so his wrists were turned down and there was no way she could see whether or not he was branded. Even so, Shay decided to take the bait he was laying down, she thought of a way to keep their discussion flowing. Her host seemed so intent on making conversation with her that she knew, eventually, his curious friendliness could work in her favor.
“You’ve got the advantage,” Shay said in a calm voice, trying to disarm his suspicion. Actually, he had several, but there was no need to howl over trivial details. Besides, she was tired of calling him ‘the blond’ and this was the perfect time to ask the bastard to supply her with a replacement. “You had me snatched so fast, I didn’t getta’ chance to grab my scanner from the bar…so I don’t know your name.”
He didn’t respond. He didn’t blink. His lips remained as tempting and as sensual as the very first time she laid sight on them. There was no doubt he had heard her, yet Shay wondered if she should make another, more subtle attempt at coaxing the answer from him. She poised her mouth to speak then nearly crumpled to her knees as a heavy pounding sensation made a blunt stab at the temples of her brow. Her hands immediately flew up to try to shield herself from the invisible invasion that was trying to stamped through her mind. When the pain became too much, she felt her legs about to buckle. It was then, from the corners of her blurry and watery eyes, that she saw him react to her agony. In seconds, he was there holding her up within the sturdy embrace of his arms. Burly biceps tensed and balanced her while the mental assault continued, though each wave came with less and less discomfort until Shay began to hear a distorted murmur behind the pounding. The towering man pulled her closer, held her tighter, bonded their bodies until not a slip of space existed between their two forms. Leaning his solid figure down, he pressed the smooth surface of his forehead against hers, as though he were willing her to accept some part of him. At the exact moment that their skins touched, the pounding ceased. The echo grew louder – eeee – stronger – eeeett – much clearer – eeetthh – than before. Glittering and hypnotic shades of azure from his eyes mixed with silver from the overhanging moon and pinned her into a deep trance, until finally the fluttering static became a bold announcement within her thoughts – ETHAN.
Shay snatched in a sharp breath. What the hell had just happened? With her balance now restored, although her mind remained in confused tatters, the blond – Ethan, his name was Ethan, she was sure of it, as sure as she felt the quickening of her pulse at how she had received the knowledge – released her and stepped away.
“Now you know.”
Yes, now she had gained more understanding than she could be trusted with. Nonetheless, his slight bending of the coven’s strict rules that governed a rare pairing such as the one he shared with Shalise was the least of Ethan’s concerns. Their bond was stronger. She was stronger. From here, after receiving her first round of conditioning, their minds, their thoughts and spirits would link and entwine so deeply – one in unbreakable sync with the other – that it would be as if they shared one voice…even one heartbeat. Ethan had always supposed he would dread this day, when he would have to surrender the last portion of his soul to another. But, it was not the case. Strangely, he strained to keep himself from forcing the connection faster than she could handle their bonding. He wanted…no, needed…approaching the borderline of obsession…for this invisible line to bind them together. He wanted her. And he wanted her to want him with the same fierce intensity. He sensed it within her. The power to raise him to the heights of a living deity, far superior to any other man roaming the earth, and the power to bring him to his knees with crippling desire from needing her touch. It was all too much for him to consider at the moment. All too soon, they would be overwhelmed with crowds of people coming to celebrate their union and, for a little while longer, Ethan wanted to keep her just for himself.
Grabbing her hand within the grip of his much larger one, Ethan pulled Shay over toward the edge of the terrace. She allowed him to position her body in front of him, while he placed his arms on either side of her on the ledge of the cobblestone balcony. Upon looking out at the scene, she held back the shudder that threatened to rack through her. This was the very first time she had ever seen Rat City from this point of view. One glance and she received the confirmation she had been seeking. They were no longer at the bar. Instead, this compound stood far away, no less than a mile from the center of the urban wasteland. How had she never noticed this place before now? Probably because she had always been so focused on keeping alive and unharmed by keeping her attention trained no further than twenty feet in every direction all at once. From this position, no more than one story high off the ground floor, she could see that his property was circled by meandering paved pathways lined with large fruit trees as well as wide hedges and bushes that exploded with crimson long-stemmed roses. She also noticed many other details from her vantage point. One of which was the devastated city scape that lay beyond the perimeter of her kidnapper’s fortress, which was surrounded by a very high steel gate. It was then that Shay realized she was being held prisoner in a garden among ruins. What cruel trick of fate was this?
“Your kingdom.” As if to answer her unspoken question, the cool breath from Ethan’s whispered reply caressed the tip of Shay’s ear.
Ethan moved his hand from the stone railing of the terrace, and used it to brush Shay’s long, dark hair away from her right shoulder. The feather soft tresses had dried in to lengthy spirals that his fingers ached to run through over and over again during lovemaking. Without hesitating, he laid a kiss as soft as the wings of the butterflies he had once chased after as a boy on the curve of her delicate shoulder. After several more, she turned toward him with such teasing slowness that he was sure she felt the same heated desire now filling the expanse of his chest and the growing bulge of his groin. He thought she would loop her arms around his neck and bring him down to her for a searing kiss. He thought he saw a glimmer of affection reflecting back at him in the onyx-colored pools of her irises.
He had thought all wrong. With a sudden swiftness Ethan had not expected, Shay lifted her crooked arm then used the bony tip of her elbow to send a devastating blow to the bridge of his nose. He had not anticipated the hit and had not been prepared to block it, so the shock of the crackling pain prevented him from immediately reacting to block her daring escape. With cat-like agility, he watched in blinding rage as she hopped up on the edge of the balcony and tossed her legs over and, with one smooth swoop, disappeared into the blackness below.
You belong to me now…and forever, words whispered into her mind as she tumbled into her destiny.
©2018 Lenise Lee Pubn. All Rights Reserved.
Note: Revised and Reposted from Original version 2013
Shay lept into the dark.
The pitch black that awaited her was blinding. The swoosh of air jetting past her ears and the pressure against her cheeks were the only indicators that she was indeed falling.
Fast and far.
Ethan’s tower had been much higher up than she had anticipated. Ethaniel. Not quite the cold-blooded monster she had envisioned him to be. Pale, yes. An uneasy coolness to his skin, absolutely. But not a monster, this she knew for sure.
The ground was much closer now, she could sense the sudden dread of its nearness. Her stomach lurched at the inevitable end that was awaiting her less than four breaths from now. If the oxygen had not already been sucked from her lungs the exact moment after she swung herself over Ethan’s balcony, she would have surely been screaming by now.
Three. Her belly tightened. Bracing for an impact she would never feel.
Two. Though she saw nothing through the cole blackness, Shalise felt her eyes close and tighten from the terror awaiting her.
One. For some reason, her lips moved. Prayer? No, she knew nothing of it. At least, not anymore.
Her fall stopped so close to the ground that Shay felt stiff, dry blades of grass scratching at her forehead, cheeks, and bare stomach.
Was this what death was like? An eternal sense of hovering within your final moments of life.
No. She was alive.
The only reason why she knew this is because of the quick snatch of breath that flooded her chest as she was violently tugged backward and up into the air.
Something had caught her. Something had saved her less than a moment away from certain demise. Something that had grappled her tumbling body with such force that she could feel its claws still digging deep into the flesh of her mid-back.
Wait. Not claws. The texture was too flesh-like. Not warm, but not bone-chilling, as she imagined talons to be.
Fingers. The nails were deadly sharp, enough to rip her skin. Though she could not see the blood, she felt it crawling down the sides of her back.
Up, up, up, her weakened body climbed. It was like the entire scene was reversing itself. The higher she was pulled, the less intense the darkness became. Slowly, her eyes began to grab at points of reference. Once she spotted the gray slabs of stone that lined the walls of his fortress, a shudder racked through her, from shoulders to toes. Fresh scratches opened across the flat of her stomach as she was dragged over the edge of the abrasive stone.
Finally, the fingers released their grip within the flesh of her back, and Shay was dropped into a crumpled pile at the center of the open balcony.
As Shay lay there, breathless and broken, she squeezed her eyes tight, hoping for a death that she had been wishing away only seconds before. Finally, she opened them then released a weak, silent whimper.
Bare feet. Muscled calves. She dared not look up any further. What was he? Perhaps she was wrong. Maybe he was a monster. How else had he been able to save her?
“I can never let you go.”
Harsh. Raspy. Booming. Ethan’s voice.
He didn’t bother to force Shay up from her crumpled fetal position.
The feet moved away, with a regal stride.
She knew, he was right. They were bound together, forever.
If he had a heartbeat, it was moving in sync with hers. Like a stalking phantom. She had sensed its presence within her chest as she tumbled down the side of the wall.
Wild. Erratic. Afraid. For her. For himself.
What had he done to her? And why?
Out of the dark, into the light. Shalise would never return to the life she had known.
Wherever she went, however far she fled, Ethaniel, her beloved, would always pursue and would always bring her home.
Copyright Lenise Lee Publications 2018. All Rights Reserved.
The soft and steady tone whispered into her sunken thoughts, pushing her mind forward, resurrecting Shay’s consciousness from the oblivion it had tumbled into.
Her lean upper body shot up from the bed. Soft. The first tangible thought she was able to grab on to. Her hazel eyes blink open and take in the scene around her. The bed is huge, and she is but a tiny sketch amongst an ocean of white linen, buttery soft against her hot skin. Beyond the bed, peaks and mountains of archaic yet opulent furniture crouched into the dark shadows spread throughout the palatial bedroom. Piles of thick pillows cushion her surrender as Shay’s energy is suddenly wiped clean, forcing her to collapse backward.
Though her body is drained, she refuses to close her eyes, for fear that the dark will pull her down into its depths once more. Dreams within dreams, within nightmares hoping to be born as dreams. How long had she been unconscious? There had been no rest in those caverns of sleep she had just escaped from. If she had been out for a single day or even an hour, it had felt like she was under siege from unseen forces, running for her life, for no less than ten thousand times that.
Who had been there with her? Who had pushed her back up into the surface world?
“You’re not the first.”
A female voice. Flat, but with a dash of spite just so that the seemingly blunt words would cut the ears of the listener just a little.
Shalise turned her head to the right. A small, curvy figure wrapped in sheer white linen that hugged her feminine outline stood at a long wooden dresser along the side wall with her back facing Shay. By the motions of her arms, she was busy preparing something on a porcelain tray. Her arms moved calmly, with smooth motions so that the glass texture made no noise while she worked.
“What?” Shay’s voice was frail. She hated how she could not conceal her weakened state.
“You’ll be on the street before the next dawn. Left to shrivel and die.”
Anger began a slow burn at the center of Shay’s chest. Had she the strength, she would have jumped from the bed and snatched the girl by the ringlets of dark hair that fell just past the roundness of her dark toffee shoulders.
“Jealous?” The word materialized from Shay’s lips like a incantation. A secret place within her spoke, knowing the exact moment to strike and how to lay the best wound, even if it was only a verbal blow.
For the first time since the two began their exchange, the fragile porcelain clanged. The sound was loud and sharp, as if something, a cup perhaps, had been suddenly dropped on to the delicate surface of the tray. The moment after the sound hit the air, the girl on the other side of the room froze.
Shay watched cautiously from her position on the bed. Though she was weak, a girl who had spent so many years on her own, defending her body and mind from this mad world always had one final reserve of energy that could be summoned when needed.
The girl’s shoulders stiffened then pulled back in confidence, she used her thin brown hands to flip hair from her shoulders and then straightened the folds of her tunic, even though they were already perfectly positioned to reveal the sensual frame of her body. Her head cocked slightly to the side, enough for one striking blue eye to cast its cold stare upon Shalise.
“Of you?” Full, glossed lips lifted into a seemingly casual, absolutely dangerous grin. “Never.”
She turned her attention back to what she was preparing on the tray.
“Liar.” Shay pushed back; her words filled with defiance.
The girl kept her air of calm.
“He says that you’re different. But he says that about every gutter baby that he drags home after one of the communal orgies.” As she spoke, her elbows motioned as though she were stirring something. “Honestly, the only difference I can see is that you came in with clothes on and you also made it to the second floor. Most of the trash stays downstairs, near the door. For easy disposal.” Shay heard the amusement in the girl’s voice.
“Talking shyt from the other side of the room is easy.” Shay’s fingers dug into the sheets as she tried to force herself up. There was a very thin line between anger and fury. And her limits of tolerance had been breached.
The girl turned unexpectedly causing Shay to pause mid-sentence. Her breath caught in her mouth and nose. Her lips pursed with unfamiliar uneasiness, as she faced her newfound enemy.
Beautiful. A smooth, round face with deep set almond shaped eyes were outlined with a thick charcoal colored liner, which perfectly enhanced the bedazzling effects of the girl’s sapphire blue eyes. Rich mocha skin, highlighted at the cheeks with a light dusting of golden glitter, was nearly flawless, except for the long, thread thin scar that traced the outline of the left side of her face, from brow to chin. Apart from this one imperfection, from body to face to grace of movements, even the most sane person would believe the girl to be a goddess reborn on earth.
“The prince says you will become his wife,” her words were layered in ice, “sovereign royalty of this fortress and the lands beyond.” She smiled, full, confident, and absolutely regal. “I call you trash, and there aren’t many times when I am incorrect.” The smile quickly morphed into a knowing smirk, full of secrets and pleasures. “There also even fewer time when I don’t get my way with Ethan.” She stepped forward. A slender hand lifted and the tips of her fingers beckoned Shay forward, dared her to make the next move. “But at the moment, none of that matters. Rise, future queen, here’s your chance to prove me wrong.”
Without hesitation, Shalise sprung from the bed. Arms out, fingers and nails aimed like daggers. Ready to defend her honor. Ready to tear this witch to shreds. Ready to be defeated before the first strike could make its mark.
Copyright 2018 Lenise Lee Publications. All Rights Reserved.
Shay launched at the girl and was immediately smacked back by a wave of energy. A force powerful enough to send her crashing into the wall on the opposite side of the room.
She hit the barrier with a thud then slid to a stop at the baseboard, feeling crumpled and broken. Despite the unseen beating she had just taken on, Shay struggled weakly to scramble to her feet. Yet, the more her limbs fought to find balance, the tighter her joints contracted together. Closer and closer her arms and legs bent at the seems, until she felt bound into a folded sitting position. It was as though someone had slowly tied a heavy rope around her slender body and then pulled the slack to rigid tautness.
Her hazel eyes lifted toward the source, in the direction of her new enemy. Through blurred vision – the invisible binding was squeezing the air from her lungs, suffocating her slowing and painfully, bringing tears of frustration to sting her eyes – Shay saw how the girl smirked in triumph, with one side of her lovely glossed mouth lifted high. The fingers on the girl’s right hand were sticking out, fixed in an unyielding and unnatural position, with the tips nearly straight up against the angle of the knuckles. She was using some dark spell to hold Shay captive, refusing to release her to allow even one small breath, delighting in watching her prey slide into a horrible semi-consciousness.
“Enough.” A booming voice pierced the tension in the silent air.
Still the girl held her unseeing grip on Shay tight…tight…tighter.
“Mouse, let her go.” Ethan’s hulking shadow slid soundlessly from the door that led from the hallway and into the oversized master suite.
The girl’s trance remained focused on pulling the life from Shay’s drooping body, which was nearly flat to the floor by now.
“TIFFANY!” His words shook the room, causing the boards of the wooden floors to creak and the plaster embedded within the walls to crackle in fear. “I said, enough! Release her.” His words were like a truth which the girl could not obey.
And just like that, the once constricted blood in Shay’s veins finally began to flow again, and she drank in a long, raspy gulp of bitterly sweet air.
From her position on the floor, with her head touching the wood and beads of sweat dripping slowly on the polished amber slats below, Shay saw the girl – Tiffany – Mouse, as Ethan had initially called her – turn silently on her bare heels and stalk from the room.
What followed was a dark blurr crossing Shalise’s vision, and less than a heartbeat later, Ethan kneeled beside her.
A pale hand, large and smooth, reached toward her, and with her lifeforce suddenly restored, Shay had the strength to immediately jolt upright and push herself against the wall. With her heart racing in full gear and eyes wild with adrenaline, she smashed her palms flat against the barrier that kept her trapped and tried to slide her body further away from him. In one motion, faster than a blink, Ethan moved both his arms so that she was pinned between the space of them on either side of her head.
Nearly two feet taller and no less than fifty pounds heavier, Ethan was a menacing figure standing guard over Shay’s every breath.
The moment their eyes met, her hazel touching his blue, her fear melted away into nothingness.
Instead, an eerie calm fell over her entire being.
Deep at the center of his cold stare, with irises the color of winter ice, there was a fire burning. Rhythmic…enticing, hot like a flare from the sun. Ready to consume all in its path, including Shalise.
One large palm slid down and moved toward her cheek. Though her natural instincts screamed for her resist, a more carnal calling held her steady and even moved her face closer into his touch.
The sensation of his skin against hers was like being embraced by what she imagined pure peace to be. She felt whole. Calm. Balanced. Powerful. Capable of pulling the sacred moon closer to the earth if it were called upon her to do so. At that moment, she felt one with her innermost self. And with his too.
As they stared endlessly into one another souls, they became wrapped tighter into an unending bond. Beyond words. Beyond time. Beyond understanding.
She sensed a kiss coming. He angled his face closer. Lips the color of the softest pink moved toward her own light caramel ones. Shay had never kissed anyone. This would be her first, and the anticipation of it sent an electric wave through her body to her most secret places.
And then the mighty spell was broken. Without warning, Ethan turned his head, pulled himself away and walked – slowly, heavily, one long footstep at a time – toward the open door.
Without looking back, or even peering over his shoulder, he spoke in the smallest tone.
“Your bed maids will help you dress. Dinner will be offered soon.”
Offered. What a strange way to announce a meal. The thought stung Shay’s mind.
Then he was gone.
Once she was all alone, or assumed that she was, Shay allowed a low gasp to escape her throat.
Sobs crowded her voice and thick tears clouded her vision. She collapsed onto the floor, somewhere near one of the four massive bedposts. Cries racked her into violent shivers.
For the first time since she was a small girl, watching her parents’ lives end in front her, Shalise was afraid. More than afraid, terrified to her core.
What was going on? Why was she here?
Why had she, of all people, been taken from the party? There were plenty of girls who would have willingly sacrificed themselves for a night with the prince. Why her? Why now? She had worked at the bar dozens of times, seen him from a distance at least half as many.
The most frightening unknown of all – What did he plan on doing to her?
Offered. The word bit her mind once more.
There was no doubt, before the next setting of the moon, she would know what path was sealed into her fate.
If needed, could she end her own life to save herself from some worse agony?
Before Shay could answer the question, a sharp tap, tap rapped on the wooden door, and the remainder of her night of imprisonment began.
Copyright 2018 Lenise Lee Publications. All Rights Reserved.
It was a sensation that Ethan was unfamiliar with. It had taken him a while to sort through his thoughts and experiences to finally pinpoint the exact emotion that was plaguing him.
Watching Shay struggle in silence, trying to understand the scene playing out before her, had evoked this strange feeling within him.
Looking at her now, sitting across from him, on the other side of the large circular table, he hadn’t realized how small she was, and the oversized high-back chair she was seated in made her appearance even more doll-like. An underweight and frightened doll, maybe a year and or so younger than the seventeen surreal ones he had lived through.
His attention faltered for a moment. He could sense Tiffany enter the room. She was the youngest priestess, just shy of sixteen, still learning the ancient ways from the elder sisters of The Dark Order. Even with the scar, she was the most lovely vision he had ever seen, that is, until Shay appeared before his eyes. Dressed in all white hooded cloaks, the silent parade of twelve females aligned themselves next to the towering marble columns in the shadows surrounding the circular table at the center, each behind one of the twelve seats at the table. Without having to turn around, Ethan knew that she was standing behind him. Her thoughts were faint, stirring echoes; their dance was nowhere near as bright, brilliant, or as loud as Shay’s excited thoughts that were constantly bouncing around inside his mind, and within the quiet place deep within himself that he had sealed off long ago.
The room was deathly silent, there were no mortal breaths to be heard filling the spaces in the air. Every face was ghastly serious, and held an unearthly and unnatural beauty.
Shay’s fright-filled eyes had shifted again, from hazel back to coal black. Without having to peer into a mirror, Ethan knew that his had done so also. It was the awareness of the moment that was causing them all to semi-morph into their otherly forms. Ethan also knew that Shay had no idea that the change had already begun within her, possibly even before they had encountered one another last night. He had seen her in the dive bar before, but his attention for her was always in passing, a few moments of his time and nothing more. But last night, there was a definite difference in her scent. His attraction to her was uncontrollable, and infinitely more powerful than any other time they had been within each other’s presence. Her evolution had begun, and she hadn’t even notice, but his primal instincts had.
From some distance place in the darkness surrounding all those present, a clock chimed, chimed, chimed, chimed – sharp and quick. It was immediately followed by a heavy rumble as the floor beneath their feet lurched and shifted. Ethan’s eyes quickly moved toward Shay; he felt her wanting to scream in terror but managing to keep quiet, for now. The whole of her eyes were black now, no white to be seen, as was the same for all the others.
“Bring it forth,” an adult male’s voice calmly proclaimed.
Ethan sat directly across from Shay, as was tradition. On all side between them were the current elders, if you could call them that. In reality, if actual years were counted, they were more like the ancients, Yet, by appearance alone, not one of them, of the five males and five females, looked more than twenty-something years of age. They were all frighteningly appealing to the eyes, the mind and, most dangerously, the soul. A closer look within their gaze, and one could easily see their truest nature, but very few dared to look on them for that long or stare that deeply within them. Not even Ethan, and he was to be their future sovereign, or so they had been speaking of since he was a child, before the world – his world and the real world – turned upside down and inside and began to hate itself with a seething, alluring passion.
Without delay, a pair of milky white arms, seemingly detached from the rest of the human owner, pushed through the dark backdrop and swiftly placed a bound animal at the center of the cloth-covered table. What kind it had been, Ethan could not tell, because the fur had been removed, as had other identifiable parts. He supposed it to be a coyote, as it was customary for a medium sized prairie roamer to be offered on a holiday. For this particular day, an animal, and not another type of offering, was acceptable. A part of him was glad for this, because he was sure that Shay would have died from horror if she had to witness what took place on high holidays, not low ones like tonight’s feast. The life of the city-dwellers below was dreary and dangerous, but what they lived through was like a sad dream compared to the nightmare of what could – and did – happen within the walls of this mansion.
“Give her the knife,” the male spoke again.
A second pair of detached arms, yellow-tinted this time, appeared and placed a long dagger in front of Shay. The tip of the blade gleamed bright from the unseen light that was hung above the table. The moment her eyes finally landed on it, and her mind clicked as to what was expected of her, she jumped from the seat, the slight weight of her body barely able to gather enough power to force it back from the table.
On instinct, Ethan nearly rose too. If not for a sudden sting at the corner of his mind, he would have. Mother. She was trying to bind him, to keep him from reacting. For now, he gave in. His large hands clamped down on the arms of his seat. The wood groaned slightly under the pressure of his grip. He had to control himself or he would unintentionally rip them off.
“No,” Shay’s voice had lost all of the fury and fight from earlier. It was soft…childlike…frightened to the point that his heart ached for her. In a tone barely above a weak whisper, she spoke her decision again, “I won’t.”
No one spoke; a strange silence hovered on all sides.
He felt her confusion, her fear, her hope that this was all a terrible dream that she would awaken from shortly.
She tried again to speak her objections. “I don’t care that it’s dead,” she began, her tiny hands twisted and rolled nervously over one another, “This doesn’t feel… right….” She paused to reword her thought. “This is all…wrong.. It feels…wrong.”
It was at that moment that Ethan realized how stunningly beautiful she was. The bed maids had styled her long, thick hair into elaborate braids that entwined around her head into the likeness of a crown. Her pure white tunic, slanted across one shoulder and dropping down to her ankles, fit perfectly, so much so that it added the hint of a budding feminine frame to her slight figure. Her light brown skin glowed from the oils and honeys they had added to her bath. She sparkled with a regalness that trapped Ethan’s thoughts in adoration. But it was her eyes, those supernaturally bright hazel eyes – they had shifted back – that held his breath within his chest.
“Youngling,” a female voice this time – still calm, still filled with the same amount of dreaded authority as her male counterpart – pierced the air, “Do as you are directed.”
A quick, low breath escaped his lips – relief – when Shay picked up the dagger between her thin fingers.
At first, Ethan thought the request of a female – his mother, or so she called herself – had convinced Shay to partake. She only had to cut the thing, which was still raw, and one or two other symbolic steps and that would be all, for tonight at least. It was a light induction for the newcomer of the sacred clan, and the elders seemed to be taking the fact that she was totally uninitiated into consideration. Or were they? The more he thought on this, the more Ethan realized what was actually happening. These beings were not capable of kindness, and this time would be no exception. He just didn’t have enough time to stretch his mind far enough ahead to see how this would all play out. The cooling of his blood spoke volumes. Nothing good would follow from this moment.
He hated that she had to partake in the sacrifice, but he felt relief that she would finally be one with him and he would no longer dwell in this darkness completely alone. Ethan did not understand love or happiness or why it was tearing Shay apart to have to cut into an already dead and skinned animal, but he knew loneliness and all of the miseries that it offered too well for far too long.
He pulled in an equally sharp snatch of air as she raised it an inch or two, appearing to aim it at the twisted carcass. One swipe and then should be his bride. His queen. His one bonded and eternal mate. The other half of all that he was. Some long-buried part within him told him all of these things were true.
Then, in that one quick move which followed, she destroyed them both.
With obvious defiance, Shay lifted the knife higher and threw it down onto the hardwood floor. The sound of the sharp tang-tang sound confirmed that the tip of the sacred object has most likely shattered from the violent impact.
“Kill her,” the male said, and before a heartbeat passed, a darkly cloaked figure appeared from the blackness behind the head of the ceremony and lunged at Shay.
She moved to flee the ax head aimed at her, but it would not be necessary.
The assassin dropped to the center of the table and bounced very slightly after the hard thud of his weight smacking the solid object bit the air. His eyes had glazed over into a milk-clouded and lifeless grey.
Mistake. That was the first time he had ever heard Tiffany’s thoughts so clearly.
Ethan replayed the reflex over again in his mind.
The king’s assassin made his move, and so had Ethan. Using the power of cold thunder and biting shadow growing ever more powerful within him, he struck the killer dead with a single thought – END – before he could fully raise the sharp edge of the ax against Shay.
It was a mistake, yes, and Ethan would soon pay heavily for what he had done. But the fear of existing another moment on this dark earth without Shay’s presence somewhere upon it was greater than the fear of the punishment to follow. Besides, he had known that this is how this scene would end. A split second before Shay threw the knife, his mind had finally foreshadowed the next few minutes after that point. And he also knew what was approaching next.
His disorderly conduct would not go free from correction, even if he was due to become the ruler of the gathering new world. There were still many lessons to be learned, and this would be counted as one more sewn deep into him.
A heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder and squeezed till Ethan felt his bone quiver from the strain.
He stood, turned from the table without making eye contact with anyone – especially Shay – and silently followed his tormentor from the room.
Copyright 2018 Lenise Lee Pubn