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.