PART I – Darkness
The near future…
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, princess.”
While he had been momentarily sidetracked 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 and curvy figure. “And, believe me…it will be my pleasure to do so.”
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 beautiful 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 Shelise 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?
“Behold, I offer you a kingdom, princess.” 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.
Ethan ran to the ledge and looked down, but the thick shrubbery prevented him from spotting any glimpse of her.
“You can’t hide from me, princess!” He yelled, more furious with himself than with her. Fool. He was a fucking fool to let her bewitch him so easily. He tossed a ragged curse into the open air, before hurling down his next raging sentence into the darkness that cloaked Shay. “Run anywhere you like,” Ethan growled out. “I’ll find you! I’ll always find you!” He howled with anger at the peering moon. The veins in his neck flooding with blood boiling with desperation. He had to get her back. She had been gone only a few seconds and already his body was started to thread with an obsession to have her near…to feel the sense of peace and wholeness Shay had brought to him. “You belong to me now!” And forever, were the last unspoken words of his oath.
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