After the Fall

© 2015 Inger Iversen

All rights reserved.

Published by: Inger Iversen Books, LLC

All of the situations and characters in this novel are fictional. Any similarities to actual people or situations are completely coincidental and wholly unintentional.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

Editing done by: Crimson Tide Editorial

Cover Artwork, Cover fonts, Spine, and Back Cover done by: Cover Me, Darling

Inger Iversen

**It is recommended you read the Few Are Angels Series before starting After the Fall.** 

     THE SCENT OF jasmine filled the air, heady and sweet. Rolling over I kicked my foot out from under the thin sheet to cool off. The heat was oppressive in Virginia during the summer months and our AC was on the fritz. Maybe NOIR should look into global warming instead of the outbreak of the new virus effecting only Chorý. The damn disease was now rendering the cure ineffective in some of its hosts.

     The first two years had been great. Creating a team and joining with the Italian Council had taught me more about Italy than any college class could have ever managed. I’d even become fluent enough to speak to Anacleto without needing a translator, as long as he spoke very slow and annunciated each syllable. Kale already spoke Italian and there was nothing sexier than hearing Italian words come from his mouth in times of passion.

     I rolled over again, looking for a cool spot on the bed only to come up short. Sighing, I sat up and looked around. We still hadn’t unpacked since arriving home from Italy three months ago. In our defense, NOIR always needed us—leaving very little time to ourselves as newlyweds.

     Okay, so we weren’t so newly anymore, but it still felt as if the wedding in Italy was five seconds ago versus five years ago. Our plan had always been to set up NOIR and leave it in the capable hands of Jace, Sola, and Alex, yet things always seemed to happen.

     I threw my legs off the bed and headed into the bathroom. The same routine was getting old. Kale waking up at four a.m. to head over to the lab to work with Yuri and Caron on a new cure to counteract the virus’s side effects. Then me, waking up ten minutes later—the alarm brayed, echoing throughout the bed room—so I could head to Sola’s office to talk to a family in Monaco who’d all been changed without their permission. I turned on the shower and hopped in, narrowly escaping freezing cold water.

     Over the years, I’d learn Aleixandre had been right in a way. Some Chorý were worthless pieces of crap who deserved no less than death. On the flip side, NOIR had recruited nearly two thousand upstanding Chorý, a few hundred humans whose loved one or friends had been changed, and we’d also formed an alliance between the Italian Council of Immortals and the original Council, which was now headed by Servitto.

We had hubs in France, China, a few places in South America, and we were making headway in the Middle East. All in five years this had been created, leaving little alone time with my husband. I was proud of what we’d made and how far we’d come, but I did have the need for a bit of normalcy in my marriage. Unfortunately, being immortal didn’t equal needing little to no sleep, so working late nights meant coming home and crashing.

After showering and dressing, I headed out of the door praying that this anniversary would be met with some alone time. I realized as soon as I got to the office that the big guy upstairs wasn’t answering prayers today. The office was in utter chaos and the T.V. blared the news of an attack on a small child in some town I’d never heard of.

     Sola’s smooth voice sounded from beside me. “This is what we have spent five years training for.” She motioned to the T.V. news broadcaster who was interviewing some small town hero about how he had saved the child from what he called, “a vampire attack”. Cue an almost indiscernible eye roll from the broadcaster. “And this.” She waved a hand to the office personnel who seemed to be in a hurricane of work and phone calls.

I overheard one say, “This is unacceptable. This story could create utter chaos.”

      I smiled. That it had done, but solely here in Sola’s office. I shook my head and ran my fingers through my new haircut. My head felt light as I ruffled the short Spanish style bob.

     “Sola, can I talk to you?” Observing the room I added, “Somewhere in which the world has not threatened to come to an end.” An office worker caught my eye. Her panicked expression prompted a quelling stare from Sola. Sola turned to me and sighed. Her husky laugh sounded tired as she led me to her office and closed the door behind us with a soft thud. Glancing at her Cambridge diploma on the wall, and the picture of her and Jace arm in arm in Italy—then the one I took of them in Paris.

      Sola came waddling in, her rounded belly nearly large enough to be holding two babies instead of the one little boy Jace had been calling Ben. They’d recently gotten married and with Sola as a new Chorý, they didn’t have to worry about her aging. Plopping down in her seat, she sighed and smiled. “What’s up?”

      I lowered my voice, even though she and I were the only people in the room. “Can I ask you something personal?”

      She sat back and placed her hands over her belly, rubbing affectionately. “I think I can guess what this is about. Jace and I were actually just talking about it.” I waited for more. “With the baby coming, we decided that one or both of us would have to step down for a bit.”

      I already knew this and had met Inés, who would be taking over for Sola until her return. We’d been lucky enough to steal her from the Federales. She’d worked for the Mexican Federal Police, but had graduated to the Mexican Federal Army. She was good at her job, spoke a few languages and took no shit. She was pretty much a Mexican Sola and I think Jace was weirded out by it.

She continued. “We also talked about how you and Kale haven’t been able to stop since we started five years ago.” She eyed me with a contemplative stare.

     I held my hands up in defense. “I’m not complaining, but I do feel like this venture has stolen a piece of me. I thought I’d have a honeymoon, a dog, free time, a few days off, and a house I had time to unpack.” I stood and paced, too restless to sit still any longer. “But back then I was this nineteen year old kid with a dream and a husband.” Gently I traced my fingers over the sonogram Sola hung on her wall of baby Ben. I wasn’t ready for children and at this point I was glad that I was immortal, because it’d probably take fifty years to get NOIR completely under control. “I was naïve to think that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice—”

     “You don’t have to sacrifice anymore, Ella.”

     I turned to look at her in disbelief. How was she even saying that? Did she know what she, Jace, and Ben would have to sacrifice to be a part of NOIR?

     “Look, you and Kale can have the life you want, but you have to stop throwing yourselves into this as if you have no other choice.”

I threw my hands in the air. “What other choice do we have, Sola? The cure is not working properly, this new virus is insidious in nature, and Yuri has mentioned several times that a new cure could take years to create.” I took in a deep breath. I’d placed myself in a situation that seemed without a solution.

     Sola stood and wobbled over to me. “You need a break.” She placed a hand on my shoulder tenderly. “And I have a surprise for you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I can’t eat any more of that Swedish chocolate.”

     She and I had been sneaking sweets, even though Jace had been on her to lay off the sweets. Sola was still thin, she actually looked as if she swallowed a huge damned marble, but after Jace had read the section about gestational diabetes in What To Expect When Your Chorý Is Expecting written by Yuri and Zed, he’d been on a diet craze; even after Yuri explained that gestational diabetes would and could never be an issue for a healthy Chorý and the section was just for reference to those who were already sick. He hadn’t cared and that was when the great chocolate embargo of twenty-seventeen occurred. It was also when Jace decided it would be best to sleep on our couch for a week, well, it was that or be murdered by his chocolate needing wife. I think he chose wisely.

     She rubbed her hands together conspiratorially. “No, but now that you said the “C” word, I need a piece.” She hustled over to the drawer faster than I’d ever seen her walk while she was big with baby Ben. Reaching in the drawer she pulled out a little gold nugget and unwrapped it. Her attention was dedicated to that little chocolate candy from the moment of its unwrapping until she placed it in her mouth. Eyes closed, she savored the semi-sweet nugget.

     I cleared my voice. “Um, you have news for me?” I asked feeling a bit out of place as Sola had a rapturous moment with her candy.

Her eyes popped open and her cheeks turned a rosy shade of red. “Jace is still panicking about gestational diabetes.” She threw her wrapper in the trash. “Can you believe that fool thinks a Chorý can get gestational diabetes?” She threw a hand on her hip. “I mean I live off blood, his yummy blood of course, but how in the heck does he still think the Chorý physiology is the same as that of a human? I swear he is a lunatic.” She said all of this while shoving three more chocolates in her mouth. I didn’t want to remind her that sick a Chorý could in fact get gestational diabetes or a rare form of it.

     I cleared my throat again. “Sola,” I sighed. “Eat all the chocolate you want since we know it won’t hurt you, just pretend that you don’t.” Her smile faded. “Jace loves you and worries about you. You have to consider the fact that you aren’t going through this alone. He worries and annoys you. I get it.” I smiled and returned to my chair. “Now, what is this news?”

     She opened a piece of candy. “I found an Eternal and all I need is a sample of his blood to find a cure for this new virus.”

I replayed her words over and over in my mind before I realized what she’d truly just said. “I’m sorry, did you just say you had the answer to all my problems?”

     She nodded with a cheesy grin. “Yes, and also you should know . . . back when we thought to search for these people, we assumed they didn’t want to be found, that there were safeguards keeping them out of the light and all that jazz. But that wasn’t true.” I hedged closer, my butt nearly off the chair. “The Cured Ones, as they are called, are actually the nomads who started this whole damned thing to begin with.”

     I sat back astonished and confused. This made no sense. If Aleixandre and his men had truly met fallen angels, then how did Sola’s research come up with the fallen being cured vampires?

     “I’m lost. Were they fallen angels or cured vampires?” Kale and I had researched the nomads for a year—or as they were often called, Eternals—but we’d learned nothing new. Sola and Zed had made it their mission to find out more.

     “Okay, they are both and this is how. When the fallen were cast from heaven, they were called Demons. Why?” she asked and I racked my brain for the answer.

      I scrubbed a hand down my face. I was already sleepy, but the thought of re-hashing the exhausting information Kale and I had scored over for a year brought a tear to my eye. “Um, didn’t we learn they ate human flesh and blood, and in turn were called demons? What does that have to do with anything?”

     She opened the laptop and turned it toward me. There was a drawing of a man with long blond hair, shockingly cold gray eyes, and black-scaled wings jutting out of his back.

     “Who or what am I looking at?” I asked, still mesmerized by the sight. He was quite handsome with sharp features.

     “Oh, this guy?” she said nonchalantly. “He is an Eternal and has granted you a meeting in Paris.” She smiled. Sola was like that. She would say huge things in a tone that made you think she was speaking of the mundane.

     I WAS A jetsetter. That term I used loosely because I was reluctant to get on any jet. Sitting on a jet usually meant there was a problem to handle, something that would take my time away from Kale. Not this time, since half of the Council was on the jet along with a representative of the Italian Council and Tamsin from the Council of Immortals.

     Kale and I sat so close the coolness of his skin seeped through my clothes and clung to my body. He needed to feed, but in the rush of heading to the jet we hadn’t had the chance. I leaned in and whispered as the jet started its descent, “Are you hungry? We could stop for a bite.”

     He positioned his cool lips on my neck, placing a feather lite kiss on the spot he often drank from. “I can wait.” His voice was no more than a soft whisper. “There is much more I’d like to do than just stop for a quick bite.” His purred words produced a heated blush. Blood raced for my face and neck, causing him to inhale deeply.

     I closed my eyes, imagining his fangs sinking into my skin. In the past, fear had stopped him from doing so, but now I was his main source of food. He’d called me delectable and I thought he was insatiable.

     “But now is not the time.”

      My eyes snapped open at his words. A pout planted its self on my lips and I sighed. “When will our life start?” I meant this as a thought but my lips had other plans by speaking them aloud.

     Kale looked surprised and even wounded. His eyes met mine, fierce and resolute as he took my hand. The jet landed and the door opened. Kale stood before anyone else had a chance to move. A tug later and he and I were off the jet, heading into the hanger. Armed guards made way as we walked through the hangar.

     We were in Paris, Kale’s headquarters and homeland. At the heavy double doors leading out of the building, he threw a command in French over his shoulder. As soon as we walked out the doors, they closed behind us with a firm slam.

     I was given only seconds to adjust to the cool night as Kale lifted me in his arms. Cold air whooshed over me until he stood in a wooded area. I eyed him as he placed my feet on the ground. The grim line to his lips and dark expression told me something was wrong. Perhaps I should have held my comment back, but why? He needed to know that I felt as if we were going through the motions and not really living.

     Kale’s sharp hawk-like eyes tracked my face as if he could see each thought as they raced through my mind. “How long have you felt this way?” he whispered, pushing us until my back hit the rough bark of the nearest tree. Cool air wafted up my skirt, leaving me with a chill. I shivered not only from the cool Paris night air, but also from Kale’s piercing stare. He waited for me to answer and I feared the truth would hurt him.

     I closed my eyes, thinking back to the last passionate kiss we’d shared, then felt hot tears burning the backs of my lids. How was it that I missed my husband when he was rarely ever more than just a phone call away? Opening my eyes, a warm tear slid down my cheek—a hot contrast to the cool air.

     Kale’s eyes narrowed, intensifying his penetrating stare. “How long?” His mouth barely moved as he gritted out the words. His body melded with mine, pushing me deeper into the coarse tree trunk. His hands glided down my body, resting on either side of my hips.

     I opened my mouth to speak, but was only able to take in a shuddering breath as Kale used his feet to widen my stance. After glancing around for any voyeurs, my eyes met his searching gaze. “A few months now.”

     Kale cursed, then turned away shamefaced. In a marriage, there were two very important things: honesty and communication. We had both failed on the communication part. These issues were there long before our marriage and I feared we should have completely worked through them before saying I do. However, my love was so deep and consuming, my very soul cried out to him. He found me through death and time and I’d offered my life just to be with him.

     I placed a hand on his cheek and guided his face back to mine. His eyes held such a soft and disconsolate glow, I nearly melted at the sight. “I couldn’t find the time to tell you, and when we did have free time . . . I didn’t want to ruin those scarce moments together.”

     He placed his nose in the crook of my neck and placed a tender kiss at the pulse spot—his spot. He fed from that spot and other places, but this seemed to be his favorite. His lips pressed harder until he could undoubtedly feel my racing heart. My breath caught as he raked his sharp fangs across the delicate flesh, my pulse hastened when he placed his leg between mine, lifted me slightly, then placed me down again. I teetered on his leg, my feet barely touching the ground while his arm held me tight in his grasp.

     Kale’s tongue darted out, warm and hot over my skin. “I’ve been a very cruel husband.” His voice held neither mirth nor laughter, but words meant as an admonishment for himself and his actions.

     I pulled back swiftly. “This is not your fault. We made a promise and we must keep it. We have done so much good.” With a success rate of ninety-seven percent and an annual growth rate of nearly ninety, Kale and I had been very busy with NOIR.

Kale rocked his body into mine. The sensation ripped a moan of decadent pleasure from me. “No,” his voice a whisper in my ear, “I told you from the start . . . it is you . . . you before my very own life. What will you have done to me?”

    I sobered a bit, not following. “Hmm? What are you saying?” A shuddering breath came seconds later as he rocked into me, fingers inching down my sides until one rested at the split in my dress. He halted his movements and whispered my name. I glanced up and opened my eyes, not realizing I’d closed them. I didn’t dare answer; I knew I needed to save my breath for what was to come next.

     Wicked dark eyes stared down at me, full lush pink lips beckoned me, pearly white fang tips peaked out at me warning me of the pleasure to come and I still couldn’t speak. I waited in hopes that Kale would see what he’d done to me. “How would you like to punish me for such inadequate behavior? My ignorance to your needs is inexcusable.” He pushed his body against mine again. Heat surged up my spine as he placed warm kisses up and down my neck. “Would you have me beaten, bruised and broken? I deserve as much. I assure you.”

     This was the Kale I knew and loved. Over dramatic, sensual, and panty-meltingly hot. I knew there was nothing I could do to convince him to allow me to share the blame, so I didn’t try. “I heard flogging is pretty painful.” Lips pressed firmly against my skin he grunted his reply. “Or perhaps waterboarding . . . quite a miserable experience.”

     He nipped my skin, causing me to jump. Beautifully sweet friction caused me to shudder. My comfy boy shorts were no match for his coarse jeans. It was if I’d gone commando. I bucked my hips again, in chase of the cliff I needed to throw myself over. But Kale gripped my hips and stopped my movements.

      Through gritted teeth and unrequited need I said, “I feel as if I am being punished.” I moved as much as his hands would allow. “Death by denial of passion.” I pouted, puffing out my lips in a serious I need you pout.

     Taking the bait, Kale leaned in and nipped my lip before kissing me deep and hard. His tongue mated with mine in a wet slide of flesh against flesh, his hands inching further down until rough callused digits met smooth skin. I began slight movements against his thigh, reveling in the heat blooming between us.

     Kale’s kiss turned into a passionate exploring of my mouth and lips, and I fought desperately to keep up. He grasped my hips again, halting my movements just as I felt myself dangling over the cliff. Breathing as if I’d run a marathon, I growled incoherently until I felt his thumbs reach the hem of my boy shorts. The incoherent babble turned into begging. Kale chuckled darkly as he lowered them.

     Whipping my jacket off in one swift yank, I grinned as my face heated in the cool air. Taking a quick browse of the immediate area, I reached out and unbuttoned his jeans. He shrugged off his leather coat and lifted his shirt. I stared, amazed at the smooth expanse of his chest.

     The milky moonlight illuminated the solid muscles of his chest and my need to caress them was nearly unbearable. Instead, I lowered the zipper to his jeans and pushed them down his legs along with his boxers. He kicked off his boots and stepped out of his clothes. Completely naked, he reached a hand out to me and pulled me flush against his body. Pulling my shirt over my head, he made quick waste of my bra. Cool air met heated fleshed and I shivered as he pushed my skirt down my legs. Months . . . it had been months since Kale touched me like this, and I nearly wept in relief as he lowered me to the damp earth.

     Reaching between us, I gave him a few pumps. “It’s been too long.”

His eyes flew to mine as I completed the long awaited connection. He closed his eyes and moaned as I took him deeper. Wrapping my legs around his waist, I sighed in pleasure when he thrust forward. His lips met my chin, then my mouth, lazily moving against me. This was not enough. I tried moving my hips to create a faster rhythm, but Kale’s hands stopped me. With a frustrated groan, I pulled my lips away from his and put them to his neck.

     The first bite was soft and tentative. He sighed and increased his pressure and speed. Taking his reaction as a cue, I bit harder, provoking a guttural groan and yet another spike in speed. Trying one more time, I bit him as hard as I could and Kale jerked his movements, becoming more sporadic.

    Tangling his hands in my hair, he pulled my mouth away from his neck. He looked down at me, eyes darkening into liquid black pools, fangs peeking through his swollen lips. Without breaking eye contact, he reached up and raked his nails across his neck, little beads of blood appearing. My stomach clenched and my mouth watered at the sight. When in the hell had I become thirsty for blood?

     As if hearing my question, Kale leaned in and turned his bloodied neck to my mouth. “Only my blood. Crave only my blood.”

Without a second of hesitation, I struck; wrapping my lips around the bleeding wound. A robust, dark and heady flavor burst on my tongue. Kale tilted my hips and suddenly I was free falling. An explosion of sensations and emotions raced through my body. I screamed against his neck until I felt his body stiffen and release. He threw his head back in ecstasy, the movement releasing my lips from his neck. Blood seeped from the wound and down his chest. My body went limp and I closed my eyes, mind cleared and frozen in a sweet state of satiated bliss.

     Kale’s weight shifted as he moved to stand. I wanted nothing more than to lay in the damp earth with him for all of eternity, but his firm hands lifted me up and propped my wobbly-legged self against the tree. With ease, he picked up all of my clothes and dressed me, taking time with each article of clothing before dressing himself.

     He adjusted his belt then wiped the grass from his shirt. His graceful movements were spell binding and my body roared to life. For the first time ever, Kale had allowed me to take his blood. I eyed his neck even though the scratch was gone.

He picked up my coat and handed it to me. “What have you decided?”

     Confused, I looked away from his neck and frowned. “Decided?” What was he talking about? Taking my hand, he guided me through the woods. My lust-hazed mind couldn’t quite grasp his meaning.

     Kale’s fingers tightened around mine. “My punishment for failing to be a good husband.” Sincerity laced his words.

I weakly slapped his chest. “Why would you be punished?”

     He stopped. “I felt your longing and sadness, yet I didn’t act on it.”

That was surprising. Kale normally catered to my every need, no matter how small. And I did the same in return. Why had he failed to acknowledge them this time? My heart ached a bit at the thought.

     “Each day I believed I was doing what was best for both of us, by placing all of my energy into NOIR. I thought the sooner it got off the ground and soared, the sooner we could have that vacation we planned in Bali.”

     I balked. “Bali! That was planned four years ago. I let that go, along with the dream of a normal marriage.”

Kale’s eyes found mine. They held such despondency. He took my hand and placed it to his lips. “And that is why I should be punished.”

     “And what of me?” I was as much to blame as he for not trying harder, and for not speaking out. He could not take all of the blame; I refused to let him shoulder that burden. “I have to take some culpability as well.”

     He was already shaking his head. “No, I made you a promise on our wedding day, that you would never want or fear a thing as long as you called me your husband.” I started to speak, but he placed a finger over my lips. “I promised you, did I not?” He had and so much more.

     I nodded once.

     His lips sat in a grim line, yet his touch was soft and sweet. He caressed my face, lips and nose before falling to one knee, bowing his head in a romantic yet solemn gesture. “Again,” his voice was strong and resolute, “I pledge my undying love to you. Today is the day we start anew.” He glanced up, his eyes full of light and love. “What say you?”

    I smiled. “Another proposal?” He nodded and I kneeled down with him, placing a tender kiss on his lips. “Then I say yes, Kale. I say yes.”

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     NONE OF THE Council was too pleased with being on lock down in Kale’s private hanger while we’d had a wild romp in the woods. Yet Kale hadn’t seemed the least bit self-conscious when we walked back into the fray of annoyed Council members. Addressing the group, he’d said in a brisk tone that he and his wife had some long overdue business to handle.

     I’d never felt more mortified in my life.

     “Well,” Tamsin eyed her buffed nails in interest. “If we can get down to business then?” Her tone sounded bored and disinterested, but I knew better. Even after our fun in the woods, I was anxious to meet this Eternal.

     Kale turned and signaled with his hand. “Lead the way.”

     Tamsin let out a rather unladylike snort and pushed past him. The scent of her floral and spiced perfume was the only thing left behind as she stormed out of the hangar, speaking in a Nordic language under her breath. With Deacon and Alex in the field, Sola heading up headquarters, and Jace unwilling to leave his very pregnant wife, that left only Kale and I from NOIR, Tamsin from the original Council, and Signore Agostinelli from the Italian Council to meet with the Eternal. The rest of our group was here solely for protection.

     I leaned over to Kale. “How are we getting there?”

     He pointed to a limo driving up.

     I guess we were headed to the catacombs of Paris then. Were we fools to trust this man? Yes. Did we have a choice? Hell no.

Signore Agostinelli carried a small wooden box off the jet. Apparently, it was a holy weapon; a sword of the purest silver, blessed by the pope, and its bearer sanctified by the pope as well. Signore Agostinelli would be our battle weapon if things went south.

     Luckily for us, the ride to the catacombs took less than twenty minutes. Exiting the car, I reached for Kale. The need to protect him grew inside and was piercingly fierce. He wrapped his arms around me as I touched him. With a glance up, I saw worry in his eyes. Did he feel what I’d just felt? The cold sensation wrapped around my heart. I gasped hard and audible, feeling an angry presence. The power was so great, my insides trembled in revulsion and fear.

   “What was that?” I whispered for his ears only, yet Tamsin’s ice-cold eyes turned to me, a knowing smile on her lips. Her disinterested stare belied the angst I felt coming from her in waves. What the hell? I’d never felt any sort of emotion from her before, yet now, I felt if strong and whole as I felt the cold air whip around me.

   She swept a hand lovingly down her new Council uniform. The black leather held tight against her thin frame, showing off her graceful curves and small frame. She reminded me of Barbarella. Blonde and petite, yet her eyes had a wildly dangerous quality to them. She wore her past pain and suffering due to Chorý in her expression. In that moment I wanted to comfort her, yet the cruel smirk on her lips and the gun on her hip dared me to try.

    Her lips thinned and her bored tone grated my nerves. “And I’ll ask again, who allowed the Eternal,” she spat the word, “to decide on this disgusting tomb as our meeting place?” She gave me an accusatory glare before heading off toward the entrance.

    I stared at the back of her head as her blonde hair flew from side to side, dancing in the wind. Her words rattled in my mind; her biting tone resonating, allowing my anger to grow until the thought of hurting her put a smile on my face. What the hell is happening to me? Where was this violence coming from?

    Kale grasped my hand and squeezed. “Let’s get this over with.” He pulled me alongside him to the entrance where the group waited.

    Tamsin raked her blood red nails through her glossy mane, pushing a few locks behind her shoulder. “I would suggest we all go in, but can only assume that would upset our little fallen?” Her mocking tone grated, setting my skin on fire. She glanced at me, a sly smile on her face.

     Ezekiel had set up the meeting and made it clear this would be under his terms and his terms alone. So Tamsin’s inane whining more than pissed me off. I wanted to rip out her neck and drink her blood. Wait, what? My fists clenched at my sides. Something was wrong with me.

     Kale’s voice pulled me from the darkness of my thoughts. “Calm down.” He leaned away as soon as he spoke. I turned to him and he looked back at me. That is when I saw it—fear. His eyes roved over me, as if checking for wounds. Clearing his throat, he looked to the group. “You’ll have to give us a moment.”

     Restless murmurs rumbled through the crowd as we moved further away. Kale lifted me and sped down the road. When he finally placed me on my feet, I felt lighter and like my regular self. I was no longer angry with Tamsin. As a matter of fact, I felt as if I agreed with her. Why the hell did I let the Eternal call all the shots? My head felt fuzzy and hollow. Reaching up, I placed my hand on my temple and lightly massaged the ache that seemed to be fading.

     Kale’s cool fingers caressed my face. “There’s an evil aura surrounding that place,” he whispered. “I feel as if it is amplifying the evil in my blood—blood that you ingested. I shouldn’t have let you taste it. It’s dark, bitter and filled with sickness. I was weak, it will not happen again.” His voice sounded conflicted and a bit fragile.

     His words hurt me, but more than that, they terrified me. I needed his blood. The tangy, sweet flavor was now tattooed on my taste buds. I would never forget its satiating honeyed quality. I closed my eyes giving way to the memory.

     “And you are not to ask for it again.”

     My eyes popped open and I was sure I radiated the rage simmering beneath my skin. “And why not? I give you mine freely.” Crossing my arms over my chest, I moved away from him, the distance damn near unbearable. What was happening to me?

     His eyes softened and his tone lightened. “You know I would give you anything, but my blood has negative effects on you. I felt it as you watched the Council member,” he said, referring to Tamsin. “I have had more than a century to hone my skills and control my emotions. You, on the other hand, wear them like a shroud covering your entire body.” He moved toward me slow and steady as if he feared I’d run away.

     I planted my feet into the soil and observed him. “I do not.” As soon as the words left my lips, he quirked a brow and a realization hit. “Back there, when you asked me to calm down, were those emotions yours or mine? I’ve never hated Tamsin, so why did I have such a visceral reaction to her?”

     He moved again, taking me back into his arms. “I have had more than a century to grow to hate the Council of Immortals, it will take much longer than a few years to grow out of the habit of waiting to kill one.”

     I sighed. “They are on our side now.” I heard the whininess in my own voice, but was too annoyed with him to mask it. “You can’t want to kill them, they are helping us.”

     He gently moved me away from him. “I know. And as you can see, she is alive and well. We need to go. The others are restless and our meeting takes place soon.” Before I could protest and tell him we were going to talk about this now, he wrapped me in his embrace and used his preternatural speed to place us back at the group.

     Tamsin raised her lips in disgust. “The honeymoon is over. Let’s go!” She pivoted and entered the catacombs. My chest ached with the need to grab her by the back of the neck and show her that I was in charge.

This is going to be a long day.

     ANYONE WHO TELLS you the catacombs of Paris are interesting has a morbid sense of the word. Standing in front of the western pavilion of the former Barrière d'Enfer city gate is where the entrance of the catacombs was located. I glanced in and balked. “What is this?” I pointed to the steps.

Kale took my hand and entered the stairwell. “This is how we get down there.”

     There was where we were to meet with the Eternal known as Ezekiel, who we believed to be the son of a priest named Buzi, and one of the captives taken to Babylon in six hundred seventeen BC. He’d been a prophet to the Jews, not a fallen angel, which negated claims made by Aleixandre.

     After a hundred and eighty-six feet down a stoned spiral case in complete silence, we arrived at a long winding hallway made of old dark stone. I reached out, allowing my fingertips to lightly graze the cool stone. The only sounds were the light scraping of our feet against the rock floor.

I wanted to reach out to Kale, pull him to me and cradle him in my arms. Whether it was to protect him from the cold or the arctic dread seeping into my bones I didn’t know, but it was odd that I would try to protect him. He didn’t need my protection. While he wasn’t infallible, he most definitely could take care of himself.

     Kale’s hand snaked up my back, gently applying a soft pressure to the base of my spine. He pulled me into the warmth and protection of his body.       “Stay close to me.” The soft touch of his lips to the shell of my ear sent my heart into a flutter.

    At the end of the hallway stood a sculpture of France’s Port-Mahon’s fortress in beautiful colors of beige and green. Carved into the ossuary’s heading were words in what looked to be French. Kale leaned in and translated the words to me. “'Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead.” He looked to me and held out his hand.

     Tamsin suddenly stopped as a side door slowly crept open. “This is where I am sure the boogeyman will jump out and scare us all.” Her jaded attitude shifted to interest as a tall man made his way out from the door.

     In a soft, reedy voice the man spoke. “This way.” His skull trim hair cut revealed a red and black curving tattoo etched into his skin.

     I swallowed hard. His stony, bottomless eyes flew to mine as we were ushered into the small area. Unable to take my eyes off the tall well-built man, I stumbled, only to be righted by Kale’s firm grasp.

     “Do not look him in the eyes again.” His harsh, firm words snapped me out of whatever hold I was under. Bile rose in my throat as we walked through a room lined in human skulls and various other bones—human bones. We arrived at a darkened room and the door shut behind us. Panic gripped my chest, my heart beating rapidly.

     A light emerged from the middle of the room. A deep, smooth and smoky voice spoke as a figure came into solid shape at the center of the light. Thick, large black wings jutted up, stretching high into the air as if the owner was lazily stretching them to work out the kinks.

     I followed the black feathers until they met and fused to smooth tanned skin. Thick muscles bunched and coiled, releasing as the man stretched again. My eyes roved over his nude body, flickering back to his considerable manhood more times than necessary. I watched as his lush lashes fluttered until they slid open. Eyes so cold and unfeeling stared ahead, unseeingly past me.

     Tamsin inched forward, an expression of pure and utter reverence on her face. She spoke in a low lilting voice. “My God.” She spoke again in her native tongue. Slow and sweet words left her mouth. How I knew she was complementing him I’ll never know, but her voice held such a worshipful tone, I took a wild guess.

     The Eternal’s eyes focused and moved to her. “Thank you, princess.” His voice held no inflection. It was an emotionless tone, as if he’d come to expect worship. He crossed his legs, hiding his manhood. I glanced away and soon after felt the weight of his heavy glare. “Does my body offend?” I heard a rustle of clothing before he spoke again. “I meant not to offend. My sincerest apologies to the Arc.” His tone was not apologetic, nor was it mocking. His voice held an odd calm and his words seemed stilted and forced.

     I cautiously turned, making sure to keep my eyes away from his giblets, as well as his captivatingly cold eyes. He’d clothed himself with a long white robe. Perhaps he wanted to sooth my nerves and appeal to the part of me that couldn’t fear an angel.

     Tempted to take a step back, I planted my feet firm into the ground. “I’m not offended, but I’d prefer if you’d keep yourself clothed from here on out.” I swallowed, hoping I hadn’t offended him. Sorry I’m so rude, but I don’t want to have this meeting while blushing the entire time.

     Around him shimmered a miasma. “You need not apologize, I was not offended by your unspoken request.”

My eyes widened. “Can you read my mind?” Absentmindedly, I took a step forward, only to be stopped by a strong hand. Kale was not letting me get any closer to the Eternal.

     He moved in slow languid movements as he adjusted his big body in the small chair. “No, I cannot.”

    “Then how did you know that I’d apologized? I didn’t say it aloud.”

     Kale’s hand moved up my arm tenderly. His other snaked around my waist, pulling me away from the Eternal. The nearly imperceptible movement of his eyes tracked the movement of Kale’s hands. The grey orbs moved back to mine.

     “The same way I know that you are no longer pure.” Heat laced my face. The Eternal moved a mere inch to lean over and eyed Kale. An impassive mask, a detached voice and cold unnerving eyes kept my nerves on edge. “The way he touches you in places only meant for a lover, the way his eyes track your movements as if you’re his property and his alone, and his scent is buried so deep inside you, perhaps a babe could be—”

     “Stop, I get your point.” I bit out.

     He nodded. “I can sense many things, yet reading minds was not a power imparted to me during my creation.” Large winds fluttered his robe in a breeze felt only by him. He inhaled deeply. “My time here is limited. What need do you have of me?”

   “Why were you so easy to find?” While Sola and Zed were a force to be reckoned with, I didn’t for a second believe this Eternal was easy to track down.

    “We are only found by those we want to see.” His eyes held mine in an intense stare. “It was you I waited for. So many centuries . . . now you have need for us and I am here.”

    “So you’ve waited for Ella?” Kale asked. His words were slow as if he were choosing what he said wisely. “And not another Arc.”

    The Eternal’s response was immediate. “I waited for the Arc who possessed the will to find me. I had no sense of which Arc it would be, nor could I have deduced when it would occur.” There was a small shrug of his shoulders before he turned to me. “You come in search of my blood to create a cure for a disease I started near a millennia ago.” He looked to Kale. “Son of my blood,” he nodded and addressed me once more. “Unfortunately, this I will not do. Is there anything else you need from me?” His voice was so robotic and cold.

     Did he know the fate Chorý would suffer if he refused to help us? And did he say he created the Chorý race? “Are you kidding me? You won’t help us?” I felt close to screaming.

     “Won’t help? You have come to me and asked for nothing. I’ve only told you what I wouldn’t offer and nothing more.” He watched me; his concentrated stare burning through me.

     I stepped back, unsure of what he meant until I thought on it further. “Maybe I don’t need your blood.” I was grasping at straws now.

     He smiled and leaned forward eagerly, holding his large hand out to me. Kale made a noise, but I shifted fast enough to reach for the Eternal’s hand without Kale’s interruption. It was warm and electrifying. He pulled me close, my feet floating across the ground. A massive amount of movement and bright light pulled my attention away from his gray eyes. He gripped me tight as I turned in his embrace to see Kale’s eyes wide with shock and terror. I glanced back to Ezekiel and watched as his black wings beat behind him. We were at least twenty feet in the air and rising. Holy shit. 

     FOR FEAR OF falling to certain death, I wrapped my arms around the Eternal as we soared up into Paris’ dark night sky. “What?” I squealed, realizing we were no longer under Paris, but in the freaking air. How in the hell had that happened? Did we dematerialize through the earth’s surface? My body felt whole, warm even as we soared through the cool air. My legs and arms were wrapped tight around the behemoth of an Eternal and my face buried deep in his chest. I ventured another glance down at the cityscape to see blinking lights that looked like stars in the night. With a frenzied yelp, I threw my face back into his chest, squeezing my limbs so tight around his body that my legs went numb and my shoulders ached.

     “Be not afraid.” He placed his lips gently on my cheek—a kiss so light and fast, I was still shocked by the gesture.

      I opened my mouth to speak, but the rush of his sable wings against the cold night air seemed so loud I wondered if he’d hear me. My voice quavered as I asked, “Is Kale okay?”

     “I am able to control time for the others.” The tone of the word others made me think there was much more to its meaning. But I let him continue; one question at a time with this one. “At this moment, he is suspended in time.”

      I waited for more, but he was silent. His large muscles bulged with each flap of his wings and I wondered just how long and far he planned to take me. Peeping down again, I noticed the landscape had drastically changed. “That doesn’t look like Paris.” I turned to the other side and squinted, hoping to see something familiar other than the deep black ocean. If he dropped me now there would be nothing I could do.

      “You are safe,” his soft voice traveled over me like a velvety caress.

      I knew compulsion from dealing with Chorý and this wasn’t it. I actually believed his words.

      “Do you have a chill?” I nodded against his chest and his body suddenly radiated the sweetest heat. He smelled of mineral and earth.

The descent was gradual and slow. I was thankful it didn’t feel as if we were plummeting to the ground. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I pulled away nervously, straightening my skirt that had ended clear up around my waist. “Next time we could just take a car,” I grumbled, but it was only when I glanced around that I realized my mistake.

      The Eternal walked towards a clearing in the distance. “How would one drive to an island? There was a rather large body of water to traverse. I understand modern technology, but,” he turned to me eyes searching my face, “have they perfected a car with the ability to navigate over water other than a ship?” And there it was. Emotion . . . albeit confusion, but it was there on top of that there was a slight accent. It sounded as if it were mixed with a bunch of European accents and I couldn’t pick out anyone in particular.

      “Well, no,” I said sheepishly. He looked slightly disappointed. “But I hadn’t known that you were taking me to a big island.” I whirled around throwing my hands out in ire. Even as the annoyance bubbled up in me warm fragrant air filled my lungs wrapping me in its temperate embrace. What was up with men kidnapping me and taking me to islands? And now he looked offended. I wanted to apologize yet I held my tongue. At least this island wasn’t a winter wonderland like where Laurent took me.

      He gestured to the surrounding area. “It is warm, you are on the coast and the air is clean and sweet.” He moved toward me. “I know your soul, your needs, and your desires. I know you on an elemental sense because after all, I made you. Everything that you are I poured into Agnes. I breathed life into her after she left into the ether. You believe that you are your own, that your wants and needs are solely yours.” He threw his head back in laughter so great and loud I had to cover my ears. “Your need for solace is mine, your need to forget pain and suffering is mine, your need for a life that is uneventful and droll is also mine.” His last words came out in an ominous hiss.

     I backed away from him remembering who I was dealing with, but still his words enthralled me. Was I his creation? “Are you telling me you killed Agnes and placed something else in her body?”

     He eyed me. Gone was all the emotion that was there before and back was the detached expression and disinterested voice. “In the laws of the Otherworld, you belong to me.” He watched me with a level stare. His eyes roved my face as if waiting for a bad reaction. I wasn’t his, but saying so would surely anger him. “You have used your powers for good, never wanting to kill, maim or murder. You have created this group to cure my disease and now you come to me and ask for my blood. I will not give it to you, yet I will help in your endeavor.”

     “And I will owe you something.” The comment was low and quiet. Immortals were known for wanting boons, I was just very bad at negotiating.

He looked at me from under his lashes and smiled. “I want your power.” He stood and headed toward the ocean.”

      Numbly, I followed behind him. “You want my second sight?” What good would that do him? What harm would it do me?

      He palmed his chin, eying me oddly. “Yes, I would strip you of it. You have done your part. I want my power back.” The odd tone in his voice made me nervous. If I gave him his power back, what would I be unleashing onto the earth? A demon? An Eternal? Would he start the process all over again if a human went in search of eternal life?

     “I see the indecision on your face. Speak.” If he had been any other man, I would have thought his tone to be worried.

      I kicked off my shoes and stepped into the warm water. “I am always given options to choose from without knowing the damage that choice might cause. I always say yes and I never think past what I want.” He placed a hand on my shoulder, a shockingly gentle gesture. A current raced through my skin from his ardent power. If giving him my power made him stronger, I feared what he could do. “But I won’t do that. I allowed Laurent to take me and that was selfish. I allowed Aleixandre to try and steal fifteen years of my life in order to become and immortal because I was too afraid to convince Kale to change me and look where that got me.”

      “The leader of your group. Pretty far.” He said in a reserved tone.

       True, but at what cost? When was the sacrificing going to stop? When was my fear going to stop guiding me down the wrong path? “Yes, but every choice I’ve made has been based on fear. The fear that someone will die, the fear that I will die, or the fear that I will lose more than I can live without, but you know what?” He eyed me curiously. His lips lifted in a small curve. “Not this time. I fear the virus will kill Chorý, but I also fear what you will do when your power is whole.”

      He smirked. “You trust me not?” Placing a hand over his heart his face fell revealing a wounded expression that I easily ignored.

     “No, I do not. You can’t have your power back and I assume you can’t create another Arc unless you are at full strength.” This was just a guess, but from the annoyed expression on his face I knew it to be true. “Good. Now take me back. We found the cure to blood lust without you, we will find a cure to this new issue without you as well.” I kicked on my shoes and held out my arms waiting for him to lift me in the air.

    “I have something for you,” he said.

     “No, thank you.”

     His eyes shone a bright white and a thick coiling fog surrounded him. Soon he was gone and all that was left was the empty space. I didn’t freak; I mean I was just stranded alone on an island with no means to call anyone. Not to mention, my husband and Council members were suspended in time in the catacombs back in Paris. Yep, Tamsin was right. I was a big old fool and this was stupid. A little light shimmered a few yards away. It floated, shimmering and bouncing as if it were connected to a person. A flashlight, I thought. As if someone was coming toward me through the dense population of trees at a pretty fast speed.

     I surveyed the area for a weapon. I could make a weapon out a damn near anything these days, but a voice stilled my heart and I abandoned the search.

     “Ella?” The voice was so familiar, so warm and comforting that I fell to my knees unable to turn around and face the ghosts that were surely behind me.

      “My parents are dead.” I whispered over and over. I would not fall for his glamour.

      “Honey, is that you?” my mother’s voice still held the melodic tone that had soothed my fears so many times in the past.

      I placed my hands to my eyes and cried as the vault I’d created burst, freeing the memories I’d worked hard to encase. My mother and I sitting on the back porch in Virginia, talking about boys while swatting mosquitoes away. My father and I raking the front yard and then jumping into the piles of leaves, watching them fly into the air and float down on a gentle breeze. I grasped my head wailing, pleading and begging for the memories to stop. I hadn’t thought of them in so long and I’d worked so very hard not to cry or break down. I didn’t have time, so much was happening in my life.

     “Face your fears and say goodbye.” The Eternal’s voice ebbed in my mind.

      “Get out!” I screamed. There was no way I would allow him to break me and that was what he was trying to do. Break me and convince me to give into him. I would not. I was stronger, wasn’t I? I screamed over and over each time his voice sounded in my head, until he was gone and all was silent.   There was nothing left but my shuddering breaths and beating heart.

      “How can you start a new life when you haven’t faced old fears?” He was close to me again and no longer in my head. I whirled around, ready to kill him.

     “Who are you?” I screamed. “Don’t lie!” This was a mistake. He wouldn’t help us. He’d pull me into the depression I’d fought for so long.

His eyes narrowed and he rushed at me, grasping my arms and pulling me so close I could feel his breath on my lips. “Little child you are! You think strength is denial and avoidance?” He laughed, the sound grating my ears. Tracing his hands up my arm, he grasped my neck.

      I fought and fought hard. Had he been a normal man, my defensive moves would stop him from fathering children in the future. However, he was not affected by my attacks.

     “You come to me for help and I’ll give it to you. Just not in the form you think.” He placed his hands over my eyes and warmth seared me. “I will unlock your memories and I will flood you with them. You must understand, this is not to harm you, but to clear your mind and free you. It is so full and stilted. You cannot move on to the future by running from your past.”

    And then there was darkness.

 I AWOKE CHOKING on a scream, a phantom hand over my lips, keeping my screams at bay. I reached up clawing and searching for air in the darkness. My chest burned and my lungs ached. A bright light shone above, illuminating the room around me. White paper lilies hung from the ceiling dancing above my head, a familiar haunting sight. I knew this place. It was home and everything I’d longed for, yet had lost. Tears blurred my sight just as a figure leaned over me, placing a cool hand over my brow.

     A whimper escaped my lips. “No,” I moaned. “I am strong! They are dead!” I remembered what I was fighting for and whom I was fighting, but as soon as I heard his voice, I froze.

     “Ella, wake up.” My father’s voice was strong, but held a current of fear. I knew it well. I’d heard it the moment he’d thought I’d broken my leg at the park while I was roller blading, and again when I had a near miss with a semi on the interstate as he taught me to drive. He’d been terrified, just as he was now.

     His voice was filled with urgency. I closed my eyes, not ready to see the world around me.

     “What happened, Alex?” My father’s deep voice resounded throughout the room, commanding attention and answers.

     “I don’t know, I was asleep on the floor and she awoke, choking. I tried to help but she punched me so I just ran and got you.” There was a moment of quiet and Alex said, “She seems calm now.”

     I’d stopped struggling and was able to breathe. The familiarity of their voices had calmed me, lulling me into a comfort zone. Slowly, as if waking from a deep sleep, I opened my eyes. My father leaned over me, his eyes soft and questioning.

     He smiled. “There you are, Ella Bear.” His nickname for me brought hot tears to my eyes. He reached up and wiped them away. “You had another nightmare.”

     My mother suddenly rushed in with a hot steaming cup of what I was sure was tea with honey and lemon—her fix all. “How is she?” her voice warbled.

     It all came back to me. Before my parents’ death, I’d had nightmares of my death. Even as I woke up remembering that it was most likely the Eternal who’d sent me here, I knew this wasn’t a dream, but a remnant of the past. I could guide the dream in whatever way I wanted. I sat up and placed my arms around my father’s neck. Smoothly, he wrapped me in his large arms and squeezed tight, pushing the air from my lungs in a bear hug.

     My mother moved forward with the steaming cup. “Here, baby. Sip this.”

 I leaned away from my father and took the cup. Sipping lightly, I watched each of them from over the rim and through the steam as they observed me. The hot, fragrant liquid hit my tongue with a sting. Everything felt so real. My parents’ love for me, Alex’s fear, the sensation of the silken covers beneath me. I closed my eyes, wishing I could stay forever. “Sorry to scare you guys,” I whispered.

     My father’s hand met mine in a gentle fatherly caress. “It’s fine. Are you okay?”

     I opened my eyes and nodded. “Yes, now that you guys are here.” The room shifted and I nearly jumped out of the bed and grabbed my father, fearing he’d disappear. With my movement, the walls melted away, revealing a graveyard. Alex was gone and I was now dressed in all black. The same dress I’d worn at my parents’ funeral. My mother and father stood on either side of me, their hands in mine. I nearly fell to my knees at the sight of their tombstones.

     “Tell me that you haven’t forgotten us.” My mother’s sweet voice called to me.

     My father squeezed my hand. “Tell me that you will always remember us.” He led us forward toward the stones.

     I hadn’t been back here since the day they were buried. I was too weak and afraid. My heart raced and bile collected in my stomach, threatening to spill. I tried to pull away but his hand tightened, pulling me closer.

     “It’s time to truly say goodbye, Ella.” My father’s voice sounded distant though he was right beside me.

     I snatched my hand away. “No!” I screamed. “We can go back. Where’s my room and Alex?” I searched franticly for a way to go back to where we’d just been. “We can stay there.” It was an irrational request. How the hell did I plan to dream forever? I couldn’t and I knew I couldn’t, but here it seemed I was offered a chance to let go, to say goodbye.

     I turned, my parents were holding hands watching me quietly. “What happens when I say goodbye? What happens if I let all of those memories loose in my head?” I moved closer. “I’ll tell you what will happen. I will think of you both and it’ll hurt. I won’t be able to control it and memories shouldn’t hurt. They should warm and heal the soul.”

    Tears streamed down my cheeks. “Something is just wrong with me that I can’t remember the good times without feeling an emptiness, so I cut your memory out and placed it away. I didn’t mean to, I never wanted to, but with everything that started with Kale and my crazy life . . .” I took a deep breath and shook my head, trying again. “And then there was the guilt. It was my fault that you were killed.” When I reached them, my mother reached out and stroked my face.

     “You think we blame you?” Her gentle voice held a tender tone as if she were trying to coax me off a cliff I’d threatened to throw myself from. She spoke softly, as if one wrong word would send me hurtling over the edge. “You have been pulled through the ringer and it wasn’t your fault, baby.” My father moved to my side. “We asked Ezekiel to bring us to you. He told us that you weren’t truly living and we cannot rest until you live your life.” Her eyes glittered in the night. “I see that you are married and your life still hasn’t started.”

     Now that I knew. It stung that my mother knew it, too. “I have so much to do.” My voice sounded panicked to my own ears. “There’s a virus and it’s—”

     “Stop.” My father spoke in a tone that shut me up. “Live, Ella.” He grabbed both of my shoulders and pulled me close. “Live and remember us. The pain, if you face it, will fade and you will be left with all the good memories.” He kissed my forehead. “Remember when Tobi died?” Tobi was my pet bunny when I was ten. “I’d told you that just because Tobi died, it didn’t mean that you had to die too.”

     I had been a dramatic kid. When Tobi died, I’d wanted to die right along with him.

     “It may seem trivial, but that goes for life now that we are gone. You fight for the Chorý to give them a life and now it’s time for you to live.” He lifted my hand and kissed it. “Now, go Ella. Live.” Darkness ensued and everything that I knew was gone—my parents, the graveyard and even the island.

     I woke up with a gasp and Kale was there cradling me in his arms. I looked around, noticing we weren’t in the catacombs or home.

     “Peanut butter and banana toast,” he whispered our safe words over and over. We had established these words a few years ago when I would wake up from memories, unsure if I were still in a memory or reality for days.

     I turned my head into his neck and inhaled deeply. “What happened?”

     “We are in my apartment in Helzear Rive Gauche. I kept it just in case we were ever here alone.” He pulled the covers over me and wrapped me tightly in his arms.

     I peeked around the room, taking in the rich chocolate brown colors on the walls, pristine white curtains billowing in a small breeze, and on the nightstand sat a vase of blood red roses. I kept my eyes trained on them as he spoke.

     “The Eternal returned with you unconscious in his arms and placed you in mine.” His voice sounded confused. “He did it so gently, I didn’t know what was happening. He caressed your hair and watched you as if you were a part of him he was letting go.” He touched my hair. Maybe in the spot the Eternal had caressed. Kale’s touch always sent me soaring and this time was no different.

     He pulled me closer to his body and away from the plush comforter on the bed. I arched my back when his lips met my body, his touch shocking my senses. His tongue traced my collarbone down to the center of my chest and I took a deep breath as his hands roamed over my skin. I softly giggled when he reached my rib cage, lightly tracing his cool fingertips up and down.

     “You smell so good.” He sighed and lightly nipped at my chest. His fangs softly scraped against my skin, sending my blood rushing as my heartbeat sped up, causing Kale to chuckle at my response to his touch.

     I untangled my fingers from his hair and moved them slowly down his taut back, enjoying the light quiver of each muscle I touched. “What are you waiting for?” I moved my hand from his back and smiled as the diamond ring and white gold band on my finger caught the light from the moon and glimmered. It was a token, a promise of forever; a promise that I would die to uphold. I would look at no one the way I looked at him, touch no one the way I touched him. I’d given him my heart and my soul and merged it with his so much so that they wouldn’t survive apart.

     “Say it.” Kale’s voice shook with emotion and his eyes closed.

     “I love you.” In one moment of my life, I had been left with nothing—everything had been snatched away from me. Then Kale burst through the loneliness, and my hardened heart cracked into a million pieces, revealing a need to be loved that I hadn’t known was there before. “My soul and heart have known it from day one.”

 “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that.”

     Before I could respond, Kale lightly brushed his lips against mine then lowered them to my chest again. It was then I realized I was only in a bra and panties. I looked to Kale, a sheepish grin on his face.

    He bit his lip. “You were soaking wet when he brought you back.” His eyes traced my figure. “I didn’t want you to catch a cold.” His voice told me his concern for me becoming ill was far from his mind right now.

     I took in slow breaths trying to steady my heart. Kale lifted slightly and reached beneath me for the clasp of my bra. I rose to help him remove it and took a deep breath as he pulled it from my body. My heart strummed and my breath caught as Kale threw the bra onto the floor. I wanted so much more from him, I needed to feel him.

     He leaned in again and kissed me with more passion, stealing each breath I attempted to take. I allowed my hands to travel down his body, were I unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans. My hands shook with sheer need. I loved and missed my husband. We needed this.

    “Your heart is beating so fast,” Kale kissed me again. “I love you.”

     He moved his hips up to allow me to push his jeans and boxers down. Once they were off, he slowly removed my panties and threw the covers off. Taking in my nude form, a blush crept from my face to my chest and Kale’s nostrils flared. He brought his left hand up to mine and intertwined them, allowing our wedding bands to click together. “Forever.”

     “And ever,” I whispered.

     Kale hovered above, my nipples grazing his chest as he situated himself at my entrance. With one push, he joined us physically, completing our emotional connection. I closed my eyes at the sheer pleasure of his body moving inside mine. My body shuddered and my pulse quickened.

Kale leaned in and let his fangs slightly graze my neck and I jerked in response. Searching for purchase, I released Kale and grabbed the fitted sheet on the bed, pulling it from the corners. He reached for my hand and took it in his, holding it above my head.

     I could see nothing but Kale, hear nothing but his sighs of satisfaction, taste nothing but his breath on my lips, and feel nothing but his warm body against mine. Each sensation detonated and I split in two. Squeezing my eyes closed, I screamed out in ecstasy. Kale picked up his rhythm and started making noises, letting me know he was close.

     Sticking my finger in his mouth, I pricked my index finger on one of his fangs and rubbed the bleeding digit to my neck. Kale growled deep in his belly and I felt it as it vibrated through him and into me.

     “Shit.” His voice was rough and I smiled. Kale was different when it came to blood. No longer was he the gentle man who held me when I cried. He struck like a coiled snake. A moan was ripped from my throat and I reached up to cradle his head. Growling against my neck, he jerked his hips hard into mine, spilling his seed deep within. Before we could come down from our high, Kale rolled us on our sides, still connected.

     “I can’t take too much. There’s something I need to tell you.” He licked the wound then pulled me into his arms. My body sated and relaxed, I went willingly into the cradle of his arms. Kale caressed my face as he spoke. “He told me you were the cure.” He pointed to the nightstand to the vase of roses. I glanced at them again finding them strangely familiar.

     Turning away from the roses, I eyed him. “What does that mean?” If it were something easy, I would flip.

     “Your blood is his blood.” Kale motioned over to the red roses.

     I eyed them and watched as a thorn appeared, glistening and new. I blinked twice and more appeared. The roses were calling to me, their sweet scent crying my name. I untangled myself from Kale’s arms. Pushing my feet off the bed and stood. His appreciative groan pulled my attention to him.

I shook my head at his wolfish grin, wiggled my hips, and listened to his deep admiring growl. Flicking my hair over my shoulder, I glanced back at him. “We’ll get back to it soon, I promise.” My voice was low and husky. Pushing my thoughts aside, I headed to the red roses. “So, my blood, huh?” I pulled the vase closer and watched as more thorns grew.

     He got up and stood behind me, his warm breath caressed my cheek. “What’s wrong?”

     “I’ve seen this before, and I know I reach out and grab them.” I looked back. “I suppose that’s how I’ll donate my blood.” Reaching out, I grasped the stem and yelped as thorns extended, threading themselves into my skin.

Kale acted fast, trying to remove the flower from my hand.

     “No, I’m okay. It doesn’t hurt anymore.” He didn’t look convinced. “Talk to me. Tell me what else the Eternal said.” The pain had stopped, but Kale still looked worried. I didn’t want to rile him up and let him know that I felt my energy draining. It wasn’t something I needed to fear and I knew that deep within. It was the cure we’d been searching for, I was the cure.

     Kale took my free hand in his. “He said you were the cure. And these flowers appeared as soon as you woke up. He said you’d know what to do.” He eyed my bloodied hand gripping the stem. “And I guess he was right.” The rose illuminated a bright red. It flared and pulsed, then stopped.

I released the rose and lay it on the table. My hand still bled, crimson drops falling to the floor. The vase and the rose shimmered a vibrant white, then disappeared. In its place sat a vile of gold liquid.

     Kale picked up the vile and headed around the corner. I followed behind him and watched as he went to the door and cracked it open. Pushing the vile out, he whispered to the person he’d handed it to. I heard Tamsin’s voice right before Kale slammed the door in her face.

     I walked around the corner. “What was all that about?”

     He came close and wrapped his arms around me. “How do you feel about Paris?”

     His question confused me. Paris was beautiful, but we had the cure and it was time to head back to the states to see it tested and dispersed. I threw my arms around his neck. “I adore the city of love.” He repeated my words in French. They sounded so damned hot, I nearly forgot the cure.

     “I mean, how would you feel about making a life here with me?”

      I blew out a sigh. “What are you talking about?” I tried to move from his arms, but he held tight, pushing us back to the leather couch seated under a large window. I squealed just before Kale took my lips in a bruising yet spine-tingling kiss.

      His hands wrapped around me, pulling us closer together. “We quit NOIR and stay here.”    

      I pulled back as much as I could. “Wait, how?”

     “I called Anacleto and demanded your release.” He smirked and drawled out the word release. I grinned. “I also called Sola and told her you wouldn’t be back. She laughed and asked me if I was kidnapping you.” Kale lightly ran his finger in a little pattern over my stomach. Sparks of electricity exploded over the skin he touched. “Imagine coming home to me every day.” He nodded over to the small kitchenette area. “I can see you over there, cooking for me in a pair of French panties.” I giggled. “I see you dancing to French Pop as you make your peanut butter pancakes.”

     “You’ll come out of the shower wrapped in a towel, water dripping from your body,” I added to the fantasy. “I’d tackle your ass to the ground and ravish your body.”

     “See? Now that is what I’m talking about.” He eyed me intensely. “Can you give me that?”

     I thought back to my father and remembered his words, his plea for me to live my life on my own terms. Never in a million years did I think a normal life would consist of a home in Paris, with my husband and maybe a kid or two. Wrapping my arms and legs around him, I nodded. “Yes.” I wanted nothing more and needed nothing more than Kale in my arms and a true future together. “I will give all that other shit up for you—for us.”

He kissed me so hard I felt it in my toes. The realization I got to live the rest of my life with the man who owned my soul, coupled with his warm touch, sent me reeling. The earth shattered, allowing the heavens to open up.

My world as I’d wanted it had finally arrived.