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First pages

Preface

I was going to die.

I knew my death was coming. I knew my time was up.

So how did I let go and say goodbye?

There’s a brief point in everyone’s life when you think, is this all? Is this the best my life is ever going to be? I had been here, in that mindset for weeks, months. Maybe since I graduated high school. I kept waiting, as if I could sense the change on the horizon but I never thought it would be this…

Just ending. All at once.

Do I shut my eyes and hope my death comes quickly without too much pain and suffering? Do I pray? Do I cry? Do I brace myself and hope for life after death?

In my twenty years of normal existence, lacking in excitement and passion, all I wanted was a chance to experience something real and tangible, something deep and life altering, and now I would never have the chance.

When I see my life is racing toward an anti-climactic finish, the thoughts continue to dance in my head. Would I ever know? Would I live and be given a second chance? Or was my fate already decided?

We were too close. The car was spinning out of control. My friend, a guy from work, had offered to give me a ride home and save me from the torrential downpour. Right before the force of the impact threw my body from the car, seconds before the crunch of metal and the shattering of broken glass, the horrible truth hit me in the chest with a brutal punch, pummeling me in the gut, with the undeniable finality of my mortality.

There was nothing I could do. As the car slid in the heavy rain, spinning and gliding along the wet pavement, the tires moving too fast to find traction on the blacktop, I braced myself for impact. If I had been the driver, perhaps I could have swerved the vehicle in another direction or slammed my foot on the break, or pushed down on the gas pedal in the hope that the acceleration would pull me from the spin, but I was not.

The red semi-truck was careening in my direction, sliding unhindered at a fast speed, unable to prevent the inevitable crash. In the front seat, my body stiff and afraid, a surge of adrenaline spiked in my veins. A flicker of something moving fast stood out in my peripheral, eyes glowing like silver stars met my gaze but I did not have time to wonder what it meant.

I closed my eyes, certain that my life was over, and inhaled a deep shaky breath. In the second it took to release the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere I felt a sudden jarring, and then searing, mind numbing pain.

So much pain…

 

 

A destiny that began millennia ago…

Part One

“I cannot fix on the hour,

Or the spot, or the look, or the words,

Which laid the foundation for my love.

 

It is too long ago.

 

I was in the middle before

I knew that I had begun.”
 

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Chapter 1

My eyes snapped open wide in a panic. I sat up, confused and devastated, my trembling hands pulling at the IV stuck into my left arm. Frantic, half mad at the sudden shock of returning to the brightly lit room, I pulled at the tape that had somehow adhered to my skin like glue. Why? Why was I here?

I should have been with him.

Why did he send me back? Why did he let me go? Tears filled my eyes and spilled over, rushing down my cheeks as a heated blush rose to stain them crimson in the low humming buzz of the hospital lighting. I raised my trembling fingers to my lips, brushing across the soft surface. I could still feel his kiss. The warmth of his breath. The bulging muscles of his forearms as he held me in a tight embrace. His touch.

Oh God.

“No!” I screamed. “No, take me back, please. Bring me back,” I pleaded.

Rolling over on the springy mattress of the bed, I lowered my head to the stiff pillow and began to sob, pouring my broken heart into the starched linen, devastated, half in disbelief, and half in agony. He really sent me back. After all that had passed between us, he still sent me back.

“Emily?” I heard a voice call to me from the doorway. “Oh Em, you’re awake. Thank God.”

My fiancé Jarrod. My high school sweetheart. The only boy I had ever kissed. Ever loved. Ever wanted. The only boy I thought I would ever care for. The only one I thought would ever own my heart completely…

 

Until him.

Until the handsome dark stranger who entered my life in the pouring rain, who knelt and stood before the truck that careened into us on the side of the highway, who stopped and stared and held my gaze with eyes that glowed a terrifying silver in the static moonlight. Long black shoulder length hair and a dark brow combined with broad shoulders, a muscular physique, and a smile that could kill. It was that hot.

His gaze was thunderous, penetrating, and nailed me to the spot. For a moment neither of us moved, caught up in a moment of profound, earth shattering connection, and then he ran for me. His strength lifted me from the pavement as if my weight was nothing, cradling my body close within arms as strong as beams of steel. His ebony wings spread out wide, unfolding like some dark specter who haunted the night as he lifted into the air.

Warmth flooded my body. It was his healing touch that saved my life. It was his seductive embrace that soothed my fear. It was his protective presence that kept the reality of my near death at bay. He had saved me, in every way that I needed saved that night, in every way a soul could be saved, and I would never see him again.

If not for my dark angel, I would no longer exist…

 

I continued to cry, despite Jarrod’s attempts to try to calm and soothe me.

“It’s ok Em, you are fine. You’re alive baby. Everything will be fine,” he repeated, rubbing my back in soothing circles and smoothing my hair.

I would not be alright. I would never be alright ever again, because he was gone. My dark angel was gone. The love of my life, my destiny, the man who held my heart in his hands had let me go. He sent me away and I would never recover from that devastation. I would never feel that kind of completeness in my soul again. I would never know the pressure of his lips against mine in a passionate kiss or the belonging that sucked my entire soul into his saving light.

The more Jarrod spoke, the harder I cried. He did not know it yet, but we were over. We were done the moment that truck hit me, when my dark angel arrived and saved my life, the second his silvery gaze met mine. The moment my heart stopped beating…until he started it again.

I had been struck like lightning, shocked to the core, rooted to the spot.

I had found my reason for living.

My soulmate.

The one who would complete me.

And now he was gone, long gone…

 

I was held overnight for observation and released the next day. Jarrod picked me up from the hospital, making no excuses for my parents as they traveled to work. I did not say anything or begin a conversation that would only end in my disappointment. My parents were good people, just not very affectionate. They worried little over me and my life. As long as I went to school, received good grades, and did not make any trouble.

Mariah – my best friend – and I had that in common. Parents who would rather not have us around. We cramped their style. Mariah was an only child. Spoiled and pushed aside, she was left to fend for herself, and she thrived on it.

I did not.

Perhaps that is why I latched onto Jarrod so young. We started dating freshman year, but only became exclusive and serious my junior year. He was a great guy, one that I could always count on. In my normal and lonely world that meant something. He helped to fill the void my parents left behind, an empty ache that craved affection and inclusion, and my loyalty to him was as concrete as the foundation of my house.

Jarrod’s personality was a complicated mixture of so many interesting subjects, like the layers of an onion ready to be peeled back, and I loved that he was as complex as he was humorous. Jar had gone through a long punk/emo phase in high school but was now on the other side of that. His tall lanky frame was as familiar and comforting as his big brown eyes. Jar was smart, maybe more than me. He was doing well in college and majoring in engineering. He would be successful and make some girl quite happy in the future.

Just not me.

Not anymore.

He led me into my two story stucco house and dropped my bag from Mercy Hospital on the floor as I flopped down onto my living room couch. Silence stretched between us. I felt his perusal but I did not meet his stare. Jarrod could always sense my mood, without much effort, which at times frustrated me. I hated being so easy to read. An open book. I guess I don’t have much of a poker face. Mariah’s told me at least fifty times. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. Once anyone meets Mariah, they know why.

Jarrod sat next to me, tilting my chin up until our eyes met. “What’s the matter baby?”

He always called me that. A nickname that never bothered me until this very moment. I am not sure why it did, only that the softness of his voice made me feel guilty…and left me thinking of another man.

I should not feel bad. I did not cheat on him, at least I did not think so, but my heart had latched onto another and the idea of the truth was enough to make me edgy.

“Maybe it is the accident. I don’t know. I just feel…emotional,” I whispered, my throat tight.

“Do you want me to stay? We could watch a movie or play some games, whatever you want Em. Anything at all,” he offered.

The love in his eyes calmed me. Jarrod had been there for me through years of neglect by my parents, hormonal teenager breakdowns, and the ups and downs of life. Maybe I was being silly. Maybe I had let my heart be led astray for nothing. For no one.

No one who wanted me.

“Stay, watch a movie with me Jar,” I pleaded and he smiled.

“Sure thing, baby.”

We spent the afternoon together. He stayed late, even after my parents came home, eating dinner on their own without saying anything, and leaving us to our own devices. I had already anticipated that. Jarrod ordered pizza for us. Hawaiian. I was a sucker for pineapple.

“You know, you haven’t asked but Charlie was torn up about your injuries. He sat with you for a few hours when you were asleep. I think he didn’t want me to mention it but you should know. He’s been a good friend to both of us.”

“I know that,” I admitted, tucking my hair back behind my ear. “I’ll text him.”

He nodded. “I still can’t believe he did not end up with more than just a few bruises and scratches, while you…”

“Got banged up?” I filled in, knowing he was blaming himself for not being there. “You had the day off. Why should you feel bad about it?”

“If I was there, it would have been the two of us in that car together.”

“And?”

“Maybe it never would have happened.” His eyes didn’t meet my face but stayed focused on the ground.

“Life happens. Things out of our control happen. Let it go Jar.”

I could tell he was struggling but when I gave him a wink he smiled. “Come here, Em, show me out.” He stood and reached for my hand, pulling me toward the door. We leaned against the front porch beams, gazing out into the dark sky, full of bright white twinkling stars. The quiet of the night seeped into my skin, relaxing the tension of moments ago, enough that I let my thoughts wander and concentrated only on the sound of my gentle breathing.

Jarrod’s arms slid around my torso. “I’m here. I always am you know.”

“I know.”

“Em,” he whispered, turning my body so I faced him, “let me in. Don’t push me away.”

How did he know what I was doing?

His lips met mine. The kiss was soft and gentle, controlled, as it always was. Jarrod never kissed me without restraint. He never lost control. He never did anything without calculated and premeditated effort. It was his personality – not a flaw – but as his lips lingered against mine I realized this was not the kiss I wanted for the rest of my life. It was not what I desired.

Craved.

Needed.

Dreamed.

I wanted more.

I would never have that level of passion with him. It was not us, not our relationship, not our past, and certainly not our future. Maybe it was us. Maybe Jarrod and I were broken, or maybe we were too comfortable, or maybe too familiar. There were many reasons, too many to point out. All I knew was that I was going to have to let him down easy…and I was going to have to let him go.

As I looked into his eyes I saw the easy, happy, carefree guy I had always known and I was afraid to hurt him. He did not deserve that. But did he deserve to stay in a dead end relationship with someone who did not love him back or reciprocate his feelings? At least not the way he desired?

I hugged him close, squeezing his waist lightly. He held me, his hand running the length of my back, as his fingertips grazed the bare skin of my neck and arms. “What do you want for the future Jarrod?”

“A steady job, my degree, a family someday, marriage at some point, with you Em,” he answered immediately. He never hesitated.

I studied his expression. “Is that the truth?”

He seemed startled. “What do you mean?”

“Is that what you really want?” I pressed. “Is marrying me what you really want to do?”

“Why are you asking me this? Do you think I would ask you to marry me and not want to be with you, for the rest of my life?” His voice was a little strained.

“I don’t know,” I answered him honestly. “We have been together a long time. Did you ask me because you wanted to…or did you ask me because you felt you needed to?”

He frowned. “Who has been putting ideas in your head? Mariah?”

I cringed. He was quick to blame her whenever I doubted our engagement.

Twice now.

“Nobody,” I sighed, which was true, “I just want to make sure we are getting married for the right reasons, that’s all.”

“Is that what all of this is about?” He laughed lightly. “Sweet Em, all you had to do was tell me you had a case of the wedding jitters.”

Typical Jarrod response. Humor. I was not going to get the answer I wanted. “I’m being serious Jar.”

“I know you are baby, and yes, we are marrying each other for the right reasons, without a doubt,” he insisted, “I know this because I love you with all my heart and I have since I was fifteen.”

He kissed me again, a little deeper this time, and I was surprised. There was actually some passion in that kiss. “Alright. If you are sure.”

“I’m sure, Em, I’m very sure.” He squeezed me close and chuckled, like he was amused with the whole conversation when I was not.

“I’ll see you later, sweetie. Sleep well. Text me if you need me.”

Jarrod had been saying that since we were in middle school. Back then I used to be afraid of the dark and being alone in my big empty house. He would sneak over and camp out on my floor, just to keep me safe. It was sweet and endearing, another reason why we fell for each other. We had a past. A history. A connection that had been forged out of trust and affection.

“I will,” I assured him, “night Jar.”

I watched him walk away and slip into the front seat of his green nova. He loved cars, a total gear head. He loved that car. It was his baby, besides me, at least that is what he always says. I smiled and waved, watching as he drove away. His taillights slowly disappeared as I leaned against the beam, staring out into the dark empty night.

Tears filled my eyes.

I let them fall, the hot wetness lingering on my skin. For the first time I spoke the name aloud of the man who saved me. My thoughts returned to him the moment I was able. The second I was alone. Instantly.

“Bash.”

I closed my eyes. For just a moment I swear I could feel him. Feel his touch. Feel his presence. Feel his heart beating beneath my ear. Feel the love that had filled me, however briefly, and sent my heart soaring. I even felt the gentle caress of his fingers drifting across my skin.

Oh God.

My eyes opened.

All that greeted me was the lonely empty night.

Chapter 2

The evening was exceptionally dark outside, so black I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I walked through the empty city streets, increasing my steps, until I was running. I wanted to escape, to leave the agony of reality behind me. All I wanted was the man who sent me away, who forced me to return to reality and a life I no longer wanted.

I heard footsteps behind me. Fear, flashing through my veins like an icy river, made me tremble. I ran faster, until I finally found the gate of my property and entered, slamming it shut behind me. My chest was heaving. My heart thudding violently in my chest. The sound of footsteps stopped.

Silence.

A heavy fog rolled in, covering the ground, and making visibility even poorer than it already was. I felt, rather than saw, that I was not alone. Someone lingered in the dark. Someone hid, out of view, but I knew they were there. I could hear their steady, low, even breathing.

“Hello?” I whispered.

“Do not be afraid,” I heard his voice say behind me, “I would never let anything harm you.”

My heart fluttered.

I closed my eyes and inhaled. He was here. Bash was here.

How?

His presence drew close. The faintest hint of his touch as he stood behind me, his fingers brushing along my right arm, sent little volts of electricity climbing across my skin. I could smell the fresh scent of him that mixed with warmth, like sunbeams, and the briefest hint of a cool minty aftershave. Such a strange combination, the warmth of the sun and the cool balm of mint.

An extreme contradiction.

I loved the mixture. My new favorite.

“How are you here?” I asked, but it was not the question that lingered in my heart, not the question that I really wanted the answer to, nor the one that never left my thoughts since I awakened in the hospital.

“I can…come to you, see you…in your dreams,” he whispered.

I turned around slowly, facing him. “Why did you send me away?” I wish the hurt was not so evident in my voice but I could not mask or stop it. Hiding what I felt was not in my nature. At least from him, there was no point. He noticed and grimaced, taking another step closer.

“I had to, it was not my choice.”

I could only stare at him in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I must perform my duty. I must do as I am bidden,” he answered with a hint of bitterness, “that is the requirement of my kind. The obligation of those who are entrusted.”

“I see,” I said aloud but I really did not understand at all.

Bash took another step until he stood right in front of me. “I missed you.” His hand swept aside the curl dangling over my shoulder, his palm resting against my throat. When my eyes met his, that intense silvery gray stare was already locked on my face.

“I missed you too.” My voice was low and quiet. I could not speak louder. I was afraid he might disappear.

“Emily.” He said my name like a caress, and I think I literally melted on the spot. Before I could respond his arms were around me. “I crave the feel of your body next to mine, the softness of your flawless skin, your beauty…” His embrace tightened. “Tell me you are not angry with me,” he begged, “tell me please.”

“Bash.” When I said his name he closed his eyes briefly and reopened them. They glowed a brighter, molten silver that shimmered in the hovering mist and fleeting moonbeams. “I am not angry. I am hurt,” I admitted.

 “I am sorry to hurt you. I would never want that, please believe me.”

I wanted to believe him. “You sent me away,” I accused, unable to get past that. He sent me back after he rescued me even when I did not want to go. It was the same as my parents who also wanted to be away from me as often as they could. Discarded. Not important enough. Not necessary to bother with details.

I took a step back, out of his reach. He frowned.

“Do you wish me to leave?” A hard edge entered his voice.

I stared at the ground, shuffling my feet. “No.” I was ecstatic to see him. He was here. Now. With me. All I wanted was to throw my arms around his neck and hold him tight, so he could never let me go, not ever again.

“Emily, look at me.” Something about his voice was more than a request, it was like a command. I could not resist even if I wanted to.

I raised my eyes to his, knowing he could see all that I felt lingering inside them. “Yes?”

He closed the distance between us swiftly. His lips met mine in a kiss that nearly scorched me with its heat and intensity; his body crushed mine to his, and I molded into him, a perfect fit, like we were created for only one another.

Like two jagged edges that had been perfectly aligned.

My hands pulled him closer, feeling the strength of the muscles in his neck and shoulders. I have no idea how long that kiss lasted or how long his mouth stayed pressed to mine. I only knew the second he leaned back and those silvery eyes shone with a depth of feeling I did not expect. I wanted nothing more than to stay in his arms but then the reality of what he had said moments ago hit me.

This was only a dream. He would visit me when I was sleeping. Walk with me in the night. Hold my hand and whisper sweet words. Nothing more. And then I would awaken to the reality that he was gone.

I raised my hands, pushing back lightly against his chest. “This isn’t real.”

“It is,” he insisted. I shook my head. “It is Emily.”

“No, it can never be real, because you don’t want me in the light of day.”

His large frame trembled. “Is that what you think?”

“Yes,” I admitted. I was frustrated and I did not know how to explain the mixture of feelings swirling inside me.

“I want you,” he insisted, and a darkness settled over him that was both terrifying and magnificent, “I want you, I need you like oxygen to your mortal soul,” he ground out through his clenched jaw.

“What does that mean? I do not understand.”

He seemed frustrated as much as I was. “No, you do not. I am not sure I can explain well.”

For a moment we only stared at each other.

“Try,” I demanded and a hint of a smile played upon his full lips.

“Are you commanding me?” There was definite humor in his tone.

My eyes narrowed. Why did he seem like he was amused? “Are you making fun of me?”

He leaned his head back and laughed; a deep, rich, full bodied sound that vibrated my chest as he held me close again. “Never, but if you continue to look this adorable, I may have to kiss you again.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes, I like kissing you, holding you, having you near. I never knew how sweet it was, how soft and warm, how precious the act of touch can be. I have never been tempted, before now,” his hand caressed the side of my cheek, “before you sweet Emily.”

“Bash,” I leaned my cheek into his hand, “I am afraid.”

“Tell me your fears,” he commanded softly as his lips lowered to the column of my throat, “tell me so I may banish them forever.”

“I am terrified…that I may never be able to love anyone else…” My eyes met his. “But you.”

“Is this why you pull away from me?”

“Yes,” I confirmed, leaning in and placing my head over his heart, “I want a love like this, a desire like this, an intensity like this. I…need it.”

“How can you want one such as me?” Disbelief was in his voice.

“The heart chooses, it’s as simple as that,” I whispered, “and I know my heart has chosen you. That is why I am frightened. That is why I pull away. That is why I am devastated when you leave me and why I will run to you, always, whenever you are near.”

He scooped me up into his strong embrace and walked into my house, dark and closed off from the world, and into my bedroom. The door shut with a click from the toe of his boot as he pushed it closed behind us. Gently he pressed me back against the coverlet, his lips falling to the delicate ridge of my collarbone. My fingers lightly traced the strength of his muscular chest, and then rose higher, into the ebony waves of thick hair that fell to his shoulders.

My thighs parted as he nestled between them and my heart rate picked up in response. He belonged here, his body pressed to mine, as if it had been destined by fate as she decreed us lovers. “Bash,” I half moaned, his name falling from my lips like an echo in the deepest cavern, and resonance of my heart, and he raised his head.

“I love you, sweet Emily, I love you and I cannot get you out of my head,” he admitted as he placed his palms flat against my cheeks, “I love you like the sun loves the moon; like he yearns for her, how they kiss each other twice a day, every day, longing for the moment when they can embrace, for the few stolen seconds they can stay locked within each other’s arms until they are forced to separate. I love you like the stars love the sky and cannot help but dance around before her because of her glorious beauty. I love you my Emily,” he repeated, and his voice caught, “I love you and no other, forever, as long as I am willed to be, it will remain so.”

My breath caught in my throat.

“I love you Bash.” As I told him the tears slipped down my cheeks, sudden emotion rising up within me, because I loved and wanted him so fiercely, so intensely, that I could not fathom the depths that contained it.

“I commit myself to you, my darling, and I will find a way to keep us together. I will find a way to stay near you. I promise you, it will not always be this way.” He lowered his lips to mine softly. “For love, for this, I would give up everything.”

I did not understand what his words meant. He spoke of a world I could not fathom. Even though I knew he was an Angel, his words left me confused about his meaning. “Give up what Bash?” Something in his tone unnerved me.

“A discussion for another time,” he answered, his lips hovering against mine. “All I want, right now, in the few stolen and precious moments I have with you, is your soft lips pressed to mine.”

His kiss melted any resistance I might have had, any uncertainty, because the second we touched I felt a shudder run through him and his embrace tightened, like he was overcome with emotion. Then a sudden piercing pain burned along my forearm, searing my skin almost to the bone. Screaming, I jumped as if scorched and pushed him back. Tears filled my eyes.

“Ouch. What was that?” I held up my arm, astonished and at once frightened.

Bash grabbed my arm. “Emily, are you alright?” His voice shook, an edge of something fearful and sinister lingered, like he was shocked, and he could not hide his reaction.

“What is it?” I could not see in the dark. I had no idea what had burned and branded my arm but I felt the searing heat. A single terrifying tingle ran along my forearm, up across my shoulder, and then down my spine, hinting at something dangerous and forbidden. Something that altered my fate. I could not keep the shiver from racking my body with a few tremors. “Bash?”

Why was he so silent?

“I’m sorry Emily,” he apologized. His voice was calm, too calm, which let fear and doubt take root and plant in the deep soil of my heart. “I have placed you in great danger. The fault is mine.”

“I don’t understand,” I whispered, terrified of his tone, and even more afraid when he stood and pulled away from me. “Where are you going?”

“I cannot be here. It was wrong of me to visit. I should have stayed away. The temptation was too great. I was a fool. Forgive me,” his voice sounded anguished, tortured, and I could only stare at him, confused. “I must leave you. Now.”

“Bash,” I called to him, but he was already gone.

In the silence that followed I was left bereft. Alone. Abandoned.

And utterly in despair.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Nikki Landis is the award winning author of over a dozen novels. Her recent book Refugee Road is the Gold Medal Winner of the 2017 IPPY Award for Best Romance/Erotica. Nikki grew up sneaking her mother's romance novels intrigued with the characters, the stories, and the historical settings. She is also a fan of the classics and adores Jane Austen. Nikki holds two degrees in Dietetics and Nutrition. She's a wife and mother, spending her free time reading, writing, and enjoying the outdoors.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I've always been fascinated with angels and demons, light and darkness, and the fight for good vs. evil. This story comes from a lifelong obsession of romance and the forbidden passions of the heart in addition to the attraction we find in dark fantasy and stories of supernatural phenomenon.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I LOVE the cover. I wanted to show the extreme contrast between good vs. evil, light and darkness since they both play such a heavy role in the story. The light portrays all that is good, pure, and noble while the darkness conveys the heavy, sinister, and malevolent intentions of demons.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I have always written and scribbled words since a child although I never became serious until I was an adult. My stories and characters are as real to me as family and I enjoy sharing their journey with readers. I also love the creativity and the freedom of expression I find whenever I write.

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