Tải bản đầy đủ

Upon a tide of wintry morn


UponaTideofWintryMorn


AnAshenTwilightShort


RaeLori
OtherbooksbyRaeLorinowavailablewithintheseries:
AKISSOFASHENTWILIGHT(BOOK1)
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Agreaterthreatloomsoverthethreehousesastheymovewestwardforabetter
life.ShadesofthepastreturnasAriyasensesaconnectionbetweenAlexandru
Dragoandhisprince,VladTepesIIIakaVladDracul,assherelivestheir

conspiracytotakethethroneofWallachiausingasecretarmy.Atthesametime,
Jacereliveshisfather’sburialintheHighlandsofScotlandandmusesover
livingwithAriyaintheAzizafairyrealm.
Copyright©2009byRaeLori
Allrightsreserved.
Ariyafelttheworldslipawaylikeadustyhaze.Thedroningofthecarengine
andthelowwhooshofthepassingcarsalongthefreewayofferedan
unconventionallullabyratherforeigntoherears.Thelastimageshe
rememberedwasJace’sstrongprofileashefocusedontheroadahead.Yellow
shadowspouredaroundhisvisage,wrappinghiminasheetofshadow,outlining
hissharpnose,softlipsandstrongchin.Hisazureeyesstaredintothedistance
despitethefocusonthedrive.Hislargeyetsoftmasculinehandsgrippedthe


steeringwheel.
Shefellasleepwithasmileonherface,thinkingofhim.Theworldsuddenly
slippedawayandanothertime,anotherworldsoonreplacedit…
Visegrád,atownlandlockedintheCarpathianBasinofCentralEurope_-1462_
Thecastlestructurestretchedacrossthelands.Thenormallytranquilgreen
bladesofgrasswereoffsetbythefadingbrownstonesagainstthenaturalgreens
andbluesofthetown.Thismorningtheearthbasedshadeswerecoveredunder
asheetofsnowthathadfallennotlongagoAlexandruDragosawthe
magnificentstructureupondivingdowntowardentranceway.Thebrightwhite
flashedinfrontofhisfacewithstreamsofbloodhealreadyknewhadbeenspilt.
VladislavTepesIII,TheSonoftheDragon,hadbeentakenbyforcedowninto
thelargecastlestructure.Thesubjugationofhisenemieshadearnedhimthe
nameofTheImpaler.Hewasthirdinthelineofhisforefathersandthushad
carriedthefamilynameofDraculea(orDracula).Bothtitlesheworeproudly
likeawellwornsuitofarmor.
NowtheprincelayinthehomeofKingMatthiasCorvinus.Thehallswithinthe
VisegrádpalacelaybeforeAlexandruashelookedahead.Themassivestructure
wasstilllinedwithguardsdonningtheirimpressivearmor.Thelargesabersat
theirsidesheathedinlargescabbardsofgildedmetalwouldhavesentanyother
manintoaheightenedstateofpanic.Alexandruhimselfknewhowtodisperseof
themwithawaveofhishand.Itwasbettertoremainundertheirwatchful
eyes…fornow.Soontheywouldbeabletoemergeasthetrueleaderstheywere.
WithVlad’s“changing”soonatthehandofhisconquering,therewouldnotbe
longtowait.
Rightawayhemadeuseofhiskeensenses,seeingtheguardsnearandsmelling
thefamiliarscentofVlad.Itwasathicksmellofpowerlacedwithsweatand


gruel.Thescentofbloodwrappedaroundhimlikealayer,butthiswasn’t
humanblood.Itwasanimals.Thelinesofthehardstonecelldidit’sbestto
blockthefamiliarscentuniqueonlytotheprince.Aroundofguardshad
gatheredaroundthestonerimmedwelloftheinnercastlecourtyardofthelower
castle.ThebanksofthebeautifulblueDanubeRiverstreamedwithinthewall,
connectingtothetowertofuelthepalacewithitswatersupply.Alarge
watchtowerofferedaviewoverthemutedazurewaterstoanyintruderswho
mayseekthesoilofVisegrádontheirdesperatetravels.


Theprincewasnottoofarnow.
Alexandrufelthisbodythreatentochangeashewalked.Theclankingmetal,
warmtunicandsoftrobesdrapedaroundhislargeformashewalked.Thebitter
coldworkedtoreachwithinhisfoldsandifhehadchanged,athickhidewould
dowell.Patience.Oncehegottohisdestination.Hewoulddowelltobidehis
time.
Thethickwallsofferedsolacetohimashedodgedtheguardsatthewalkwayup
tothecitadel.Hewasnearlysurprisedatthesparseamountofguardssprinkled
outonthewaytothecellwithinthecastlewalls.
Alexandrupeeredupatthemassivetalltowerpeekingoutfromdeepgreen
forestrypeekingoutfromlargeflakesofsnow.Hedrewcloser,carefulnottobe
seenbythesurroundingguards’watchfuleyes.Fromherehecouldseethe
youngboyishvisageofoneofthetwoguards.Theyouthfulgazewaspresented
bydimgreyeyesstaringaheadasifinatrance.NotonlydidAlexandruholdthe
powerofageoverthisone,hecouldalreadytellthementalcapacitywas
limitingaswell.Thiswasgoingtobeeasy.
Thedispatchtookafewseconds.Hegotridofthelargerofthetwowithacrush
oftheneck,tossinghimtotheside.Theyoungerraisedhisswordindefense,
freezingoncehemetAlexandru’shardenedgaze.Thedazedlooknowwas
replacedbyatruetranceoncetheolderRomanianhadholdoverhim.
“TheprinceofWallachiaisbeingheldwithinthisstructure,ishenot?”
Alexandruaskedwithaslightliftofhislips.
Theyoungguardloweredhisswordwithanod.“Heis.”
Alexandrusteppedforward,fullyawareofhisheightovertheyoungguard.
“Youareunderstrictorderstotakemetohim.Aspecialassignmentweshallsay
thatisblessedbyourfairKingMatthias.”
Theguardledhimupthecitadel,carefullyexplaininghissituationtoeachguard
thatstoodattheheadwithaquestion.Alexandruwouldkeephisgifttohimself,
makingsuretokeephisfaceblankashenoddedandwanderedthrough.The
smellofblood,thickcrimsonandbittercopper,filledhislungswiththedank,
rustyagedstonestructure.Themomenthewandereduponthecellhousinghis
prince,hestopped.Thecoldwintrymorningwasvisibleundertheriseofthe


newdayoutsideVlad’swindow.Thebrownwoodedslopes,deeplychiseled
grayishrussetvalleysoverlookingtheDanubeRiver.
Thewindowsill,carvingtheviewliketheframeofapainting,satdecoratedwith
thedeadcarcassesofspiders,roaches,andmice.Theirbodiesproppeduplike
smalltowersonthicksplinteredwood.Alexandrufollowedthedarkshadows
movingagainstthestoneground.
“Printulmeu.”Alexandru’sdeepvoiceelicitedaslightmovement.Thehunched
overfigureturnedtolookoverhisshoulder,leavingbehindatwitchingmouse
againstanothersplinter.
Theelongatedfeaturesofasharpnose,widepenetratingeyesandathinmouth
beneathathickmustachestillheldasemblanceoftheroyalcurtain.Themonths
thatpassedhaddonewelltowearonhimbutstillheheldthestrongdetermined
gazeofarulersettoreclaimhiskingdom.Alexandruwasproudashelooked
uponhim.
“Myrefugehasturnedintoasortofasylum,”Vladsaidpeeringaroundhimas
hestretchedouthishands.“Raduhasovertakenmymindaswellmyhome.”
Alexandruloweredhisheadslightlyatthenameofhisprince’shalfbrother.
RaduthehandsomehadusedhisarmytoreclaimWallachiashortlyaftertheir
leave.Despitethewelcomingofthepeasantsinthearea,Matthiaswasnotso
eagertohouseandalignwithadethronedprince.
“ThewallsofPoenaristillstand,”Alexandrusaidsoftly.“Butyourwife…”He
thoughtbacktothefrailbodythatfellfromtheopenwindowdowntowardthe
ArgesRiverandloweredhishead.“Shedoesnotlive.”
Vlad’sthinformbeneathhistunicstiffenedbeforehefellintoapace.“Andthe
creatures?”
Alexandrudismissedtheslyremarkwithasmile.“Death.Fewescapedwith
reinforcementsbuttherewerenotmany.”
“Theystillroamthecountrysideinnumbers.Youknowthevastnumberofthem
thatwalkthisEarth,doyounot?”
TheshorterRomanianofthetwonodded.“Ido.Thegiftthatwasbestowedupon


meislikenoother.Therearecertainstrainsofuswithvariousabilitiesthatwill
dowelltoyourliking.”
Vladturnedandapproachedthegatedironsstandingbetweenthetwo.Histhin,
spindlyfingerswrappedaroundthemdespitethenearlyfrozenbars.Hisdeep
eyesboreintoAlexandruasheleanedforward.“Youwillcontinueforward.”
“Myprince?”
“YouwillcontinuewhatIhavestartedandgatherthem.Myimmortalitywillbe
enoughtoregainmythroneforeternity.Anarmyofmyownimmortalcreatures
todomybidding,tomakemeoneofthem.”
“Acreatureoftheundeadthatwalksthenight?Oronethathauntsthemoonin
itsbeastlyform?Or…”Alexandruliftedhischinslightly.Orsomeonelikehim.
“BringmemyarmythatImayriseagain.”
“Myliege,webringyouthethrone.Anarmyundermyorderswilleasily
overtakeRaduandhisOttomans.Ifyousochoose,Imayraisemyarmy-”
Vladwavedhishandwithahuffandturnedaway,silencinghim.“Iwillbethe
onetotakebackmythronefrommybrother’sdeceitfulacquisitionsonceIleave
thesecaptivebars.Youshallformyourarmyunderaleaderofyourchoosing.
ChooseamanyoutrustwithyourlifeandinWallachiayouwillawaitmy
return.”
Alexandruwasn’tsureabouttheprince’swishes.Heknewhecouldbringhis
ownarmyofimmortalsandtakedownRadu’smenasswiftlyashesawthe
reinforcementsbreakthroughthePoenariwalls.Butashelookedathisruler’s
determinedgazewithinastrongsetvisage,heknewtotrusthim.
“AnarmyIwillgathertoawayyourreturn.”Withabow,heexcusedhimself
withthepromise.
Aloudhornawokeheronceagain.Ariyasatupinherseattryingtofocusonher
surroundingsandseparateimaginationfromreality.SheturnedtoJacewho
lookedatherwithaslysmileonhishandsomeface.
“Sleepingprettyheavilythere,huh?”hesaidreachingovertopullhimcloseto


her.“Musthavebeenprettyexciting.”
Shesettledintotheconcaveofhisarm.Normallyhiscoldskinwouldhave
botheredherbutthesoftcottonfabricofhisshirtofferedacomfortalongwith
theuniquefeelofhim.Sheslippedherhanduptohischestandimagined,for
justamoment,thesoundofhisheartbeatbeneaththecoldthickskin.Asoundor
feelingthatwouldsayhewasalive.“Whydoyousaythat?”
“YouweresayingVlad.”
Anotherblaringcarhornbrokeintotheatmospherefromtheoppositehighway.
Theloudsirencranedtoahighpitchbeforedyingtoastrainedsoundwithinthe
distance.Whatexactlywasshedreaming?Andwhydiditfeellikesomeone’s
memories?
“Jace?”
“Mmmhmm.”
“DoyouknowAlexandruDrago?”
Hisbodystiffenedandhisgriponthesteeringwheeltightenedasheshiftedin
hisseat.“Wheredidyouhearthatname?”heasked,clearinghisstrainedvoice.
Ariyaslowlysatupandlookedathim.“HewasinthedreamwithVladislav
TepesIII.IthinkitwashimwhoseeyesIwasseeingthrough.”
“Whatdidyousee?”
Sheshrugged,sittingbackinherseatandstaringatthelineofcarsahead.“The
past.HewasworkingwithVladtosomehowbringhiminanarmyagainsthis
brother.Irememberreadingaboutthat.ApoliticalpushandpullbetweenVlad,
hisbrotherandMatthiusCorvinus.ButwhyamIdreamingaboutitnow?”She
sighed.Astrangepressuregrewinherforeheadandsheclosedhereyes.
“Hey,relaxAriya,”Jacesaid,reachingovertoher.
Thepainbegantosubsidewhenshefelthisgriponherback,massagingthe
tensiongrowingwithinherbody.


“Lower.”
Sheleanedbackintohismassageandfeltthepressuredroptoherlowerback.
“Mmm,lower.”
AsoftchucklefellfromJace’slips.Despitethepainslowlylessening,shefelta
tingleofpleasurespreadthroughherbodyfromtherelaxingmassage.
“Lower?”ThistimeJacehadsaidit,andfromthedelightfullyhopefulsoundof
hisvoice,shewassurehewassmiling.
Beforeshecouldanswer,hishanddippedbelowtoherskirtcladhipandpulled
hercloser.Shegavein,leaningintowardhisopenfreeneckandplacedasoft
kissonit.
“Youtryingtomakemeforgetmydream,Archane?”sheaskedsoftly.
Hislipsroseinasmile,makinghimseemmorehandsome.“Isitworking?”
Ariyachuckledsoftly,brushinghisshoulderlengthwavybrownhairawayfrom
hisnecktogivehimanotherkiss.Shethoughtaboutwhatitwouldbeliketobite
someonethere.Todrinktheiressenceandtastetheirbloodonadailybasis.
“Youdon’thavetothinkaboutit,dear,”Jacesaidtakingherhandandkissingit
softly.“You’vealreadydoneit,remember?”
Shesighed,fallingbackintoherseatagain.“Iremember.”Ithadbeenthefirst
timetheysharedeachother.Jacehadtakentoomuchintheheightofthe
excitementanddroveherovertheedge.Hethoughtshehaddiedbutthankfully
hegaveherhisbloodtoreviveherjustintime.Ithadbeenthesweetesttasteshe
everhadandithadsealedJacetoherforever.Atthesametime,ithadmadeher
slightlyuncomfortable.Theydidn’tknowwhateffectsitwouldhaveonher,but
theyknewtokeepwatchinthemeantime.Wouldherpeopleknowwhatshehad
done?Wouldtheysensesomethingdifferentaboutherwhenshereturned?
“Hey.”Jacewrappedhisfingerswithinhersandlookedather,swingingalook
attheroadaheadfromtimetotime.“Don’tworryyourself,Ariya.Everything’s
fine.Sofaryou’reallright.OncewesettleinLosAngeleswe’llgeteverything
sortedoutwiththeHousesandwecanhaveaquickcheckuponyouthere.


MaybeDaoinecansensesomethingstrangebeforeithappens.”
Ariyaleanedontheheadofthebackofherseat.Shebrushedadarkcinnamon
curlawayfromherfaceandsmiledatJacethroughthedarkness.“Yougathered
allofthatfrommysinglethoughtandyoudidn’tsenseanypartofmydream?”
“Iwasthinkingaboutsomethingelse.ThoughtI’dgiveyouyourprivacy.”He
peeredatheragainandgentlytappedhernosebeforegrinning.“Howmuchfun
woulditbeifweclimbedintoeachother’sthoughtsallthetime?”
“Mmm.Howmuchfunindeed.”Shegrippedhisfreehandandgentlyranher
fingersalonghispaleskin,contrastingwithhersmoothdarkchestnut
complexion.“AlexandruDrago,”shesaidsoftly.
“Hasn’tbeenseenforcenturies.Ifiguredhewasdeadafterhetriedtowipeus
out.”
“He’sanimmortal?”
Jacenodded.“Notreallysurewhattype.Heseemedtohavethetraitsofallthree
houses.SomethinkhemaybelikeDaoine.Who’samysterywithinhimself.”
“Whywouldhetrytotakethebloodofhisownbrethren?Atthemercyofa
mortal,abloodthirstyruler,likeDraculnoless?”
Jaceshruggedandreachedovertoscratchwithhisfreehandtoscratchhis
shoulder.“Don’tknow.Perhapsthebondofmanandcountryisstrongorhehad
anotheragenda.Wenevercrossedpathsaftermyfather’sdeathinWallachia.”
“Whatdidyoudo?”
“WewentbacktoScotlandtoburyhim.”Jace’svoicefellsofterandasullen
smilecreptuponhisface.“Hewould’vewanteditthatway.Returntothelandof
hiscountrytoremainforever.”
AriyasnuggleduptoJaceagain,listeningtothesoundofhisvoicelikeadistant
memory.Hisarmgrippedherashespokeandsheclosedhereyestoimaginethe
worldthatwas…
Highlands,Scotland_-1462_


Whenlatelyweparted,howsadthefarewell,
Ourwordswerebutfew,butourthoughtswhocantell?
Whenlosttomyvision,afaronthebrine,
Idranktheesuccessinthegobletofwine.
Jacestaredatthemoundofbrowndirtagainsttheseatofgreenthatheldhis
fatherbeneaththelands.HisUncleJulian’svoicestretchedacrossthelandinthe
ScotsGaelictonguesingingasonghehadheardfromfuneralsgrowingup.The
languageswelledhisheartwhichstillstung.Apartofhimdiedasheheldhis
father’slifelessforminhisarms.Theoncebrighteyesthatstaredathimashe
wastaughthowtotamethelands,tofight,toloveandtobeamanhadnow
dimmedtoruin.Theycoulddie.Ithadhithimthen.Thebloodflowoflifethat
beatwithinhisveinscouldperishjustlikemortals.
Hiscallousedfingersgrippedthewarmhiltofhisswordagainstasweatypalm.
Thepartofthesongendedwiththecapturedlyricsstillfloatingwithintheair.
Heliftedhisheadslightlytowatchhisunclereachoutandshakethesaltandsoil
ontothelargemound.BeforeplacingJace’sfatherGerardbeneaththepileof
burialrocks,Jacehadwatchedhimdothesameuponhisbrother’schest.The
lastvisagehesawofhisfatherwasthatofpeaceasthesoilwouldretakehim
onceagainwhilethesalt,arepresentationofhissoul,wouldremainforever.
Histall,strongformnowworethesamegreenshadedquiltedarmorgarments
thatmatchedJaceandhisuncle’s.Thickpaddedquiltsofcottonservedasarmor
asafronttowhatevermortalscrossedtheirway.Iftheirspeedydefenseswould
fail,thethicknessofthematerialwouldsurelyblockanyswordcutstheirway.
Alongbrownleathertunic-likecoatreachedbelowthekneesandquilted
vertically,worndrapedoveranover-coatofmailarmor.Peacefulluponthe
handsomefacelinedwithadarkshadowofabeard.Darkbrownwavyhairfell
overthelargebroadpairofshoulders.Largecallousedhandscrossedoverhis
chestholdingthebroadswordhisfather,Jace’sgrandfatherCaileanArchane,had
madeforGerard.Theshinymetalwasbroadnearthehilt,taperingintoalong
designthatstretchedthelengthofhisbodytowardapointedend.ThecrosssectionofthebladeofferedanindentationlikeJace’sownGaelicinscriptionon
hisblade:Nasir’snaseachainnancath.NeitherSeekNorShuntheFight.It


wasamottohisfatherhadtakentohisdeath.
JacefinallyarchedhischinupwardtowherehisunclestoodnexttoDaoine.
Theirfaceswerestill,grimwiththeeventsoftheday.Thetrekhadbeenlonger
thistimeasJacewishedtocrossthelandsbyfootratherthanmakeuseof
Daoine’slargeeagle-likeform.Heusedtheswordtopullhimselftostanding.
Withabrushofhishandtowipethegreengrassclingingtohistrewshestepped
forwardandofferedahandtohelpplacehisfatherinhisfinalrestinghome.
“Alas,deathfinallydoesclaimus,”Jacesaidsoftly.
“Yes,Jacinus,”Daoinesaidmovingtowardhim.“Thehandsofwarcanstilltake
livesnomatterifrunbymortaloroneofourown.”
“Gerardshouldn’tha’todielikethat,”Juliansaid.Hepeeredaheadatthevast
moundsofgreen.“Welostthebattleandwelostmyonlybrathair!”
Daoineheldhishandup.“Peace,Julian.Ididnotforseethisoccurrence.”
“No,youdidn’t.Youcanshiftyourbones,changeintoagreatanimalofyour
choosingbutyoucannastopamassacre.Whatisthepurposeofmakinguslike
this?Alifeofimmortality…whatreasonifyecannastopdeathfromclimbingup
andseizingyourlife?”
JacepeeredupatDaoine,awaitingtheanswerforhisowncuriosity.
“Thehandsofdeathstillstalkus,watchingfromthedarkcorners,”Daoine’s
darkeyesfocusedonJulianasheapproachedhim.Thelongdarkbluerobesthat
seemedtofloataroundhisbodybrushedagainstthegreengrass.“Butitdoesnot
wearthecloakofageanylonger.Itkills…morediscriminatelynow.It’suptous
figureouthowtoliveunderitswatchfuleyes.Thatisthepointofallthis,Julian.
Thatiswhytheyneedaleader.Therearemorelikeyououtthere.Somelike
myselfbutnotofthesamebloodandsomeotherslikethewolvesthatstalkthe
night.Theywillneedahome,asanctuarytocometowhenthewarscontinueto
wipethemout.”
“Andthusisourpurpose,”Jacesaidcausingbothmentoturnhisway.Hepulled
hiseyesawayfromhisfather’sgraveandlookedupatthem.“Isthatnotcorrect,
Daoine?Thepurposeyouhavebroughtustogether?”


“Yes.Itwasmygoal.”
Jacefelthisjawtightenedashesighed,tryingtocomposehimself.Hismother
waslosttohimyearsagointheplagueandnowhisfatherhadfollowed.What
lifewoulditbeifhelosthisUnclenowandthenewallytheyhadbothtrustedto
makethemintothecreaturestheywerenow?Lifewasfrivolousandthefearand
doubthehadaboutlivingitslowlyslippedaway.Nowhewouldlivelifeasit
shouldbeandwhileheremainedwithinthisimmortalshell,hewouldmake
othersanswertohim.
“Protectionwouldbescarcenowthatwearehuntedcreatures,”Jacesaidaloud.
Hesheathedhisswordwitheaseandfoldedhisarms,standingtall.“Iagreewith
Daoine,Uncle.Tisbettertojointhanletournumbersfallinitsdivision.”
JulianturnedtoDaoinewhomerelynodded,closinghisalmondshapedeyesto
enhancehisagreement.Aftersheathinghisownswordhemovedbetweenthem
toheadbacktoGerard’sgravesite.Hekneeled,placinghishandonthemound
andbowinghisheadoncemore.
“Julianagreedthenthatitwouldbebettertostaytogether,”Jacesaidashe
continuedtodrive.“Hetookhisrapieroutandweeachtookturnsbreakingthe
skinoftheiropenpalmstosealtheiroathwiththeirlife’sblood.Andfromthat
dayforwardtheHouseofBloodbeganundertheArchaneline.”
“Andhereweare.”Ariyalookedahead,thinkingaboutwhatbroughtthemhere
tothispoint.ThemomentshemetJace,shecouldn’tbelievehewasa
Nightwalker.ToomuchliketheAsimanblooddrinkersathomeinherlandsin
theAzizarealm,shedeemedhimathreatdespitesavingherfromtheShifter
Rens.Strangelyenoughhedidn’tbelieveshewaswhoshewas.Afairyfrom
anotherrealm.HeknewstoriesofherkindfromhishomelandinScotlandbut
herandherpeoplewereafarcryfromthemischievousFeyherselfasshewould
cometolearnfromhisstories.Afterdodginganelementalundertheguiseof
LiamBlakedon,aformerguardintheArchanehousealongtimeago,shehad
facedherowndeathtwiceandwasbroughtbackbyJacebothtimes.
Andyetuntilthen,shehadn’tfeltlovebeforeinitstruestform.Shereadabout
it,sawitashersisterswerepairedoffwiththeirpotentialhusbandsanddreaded
thetimewhenshewasgoingtohavetofacethesame.Butithadn’tbeenuntil
nowthatsheactuallyfeltaromanticloveforaman.Jacehadbeenherprotector


sinceshearrived.Suretherehadbeenthatonetimewhenhecastheroutafter
disbeliefthatafairyhadbeeninhisverylivingroom.
“Heyyoucan’t-”
Ariyaquicklyreachedupandcoveredhismouth.“Iunderstandwhyyoudidit,
butdon’tthinkIwon’tmakeyoupaylater.”Withherotherhand,shepokedhim
intheside.
“Sothen.Aboutthislovething.”
Shesqueezedhisarm.“Yes?”
“Inevergraspedtheideaofafeelingwrappedupinoneword.It’sbeentinkered
with,abused,used,overusedandoutdateditselfmoretimesthanIcanfocuson
atthemoment.Butthefeeling…thefeelingitselfhasneverbeensomethingto
describe.WhatIwillsayisthat…everytimeyouleavemyside,Ifeellikeapart
ofmehassomehowdied.Andwhenyou’renearIcan’tthinkofabetterplaceto
be.OnemomentIfeellikeholdingyouandthenextIwanttomakelovetoyou,
feelyoubeneathmeuntilwe’rebothexhaustedfromtheact.”
Ariyachuckled,pokinghissideagain.“Jace!”
“Imeanit.You’reapartofmenowAriya.AndI’mapartofyou.Icansense
whensomething’swrongandwhenyou’reindanger.Yourbloodisalways
callingouttome.”
“Mmm,Ibetyou’vesaidthatbeforetomanyfemaleacquaintances,”Ariya
mused.
Heturnedtoher,notahintofasmileoramusementonhisface.“Partly.Butthe
thingsI’vetoldyouaboutmeandthethingsyouknowareonlyknownbyyou.
Myfeelingsaretrue,Ariya.JulianknowsthisandIwantyoutoknowitafter
everythingwe’vebeenthrough.”
Ariyareacheduponimpulseandpulledhisfacetoher.Sheplacedahard
passionatekissonhislipscausinghimmove,takingthecarewithhim.
“Ariya!”


“Oh!”Rememberingwheretheywere,sheslidbackdownintoherseatand
watchedJaceswervethecarbackintohislane,despitethemanyangryhorns
thatblewofffromthesurroundingcars.“Sorry.”Shesmileddespitefeelingher
facegrowhot.
Jacelaughedandleanedbackbeforereachingtopullherclose.“BelievemeI
wouldhavedonethesameifIweren’tdriving.It’sagoodthingwearebecause
you’dbeintroubleaboutnow.”
Ariyagiggledthinkingabouthiswords.“Andwhatsortoftroublecouldweget
inifwestoppedbetweenhereandCalifornia?”
Jace’ssmiledroppedforamomentintoseriousness.Heturnedtoforamoment,
theslysmilereturningasanideahithim.“Waitaminute.I’lldoyouonebetter.”
Hecheckedhisrearviewmirrorbeforeblinkingandpullingintothelanenextto
him.Withaquicklookoverhisshoulder,hegrinnedandwaitedamomentfor
thecarbehindtocatchup.Onceitwasintow,hetookadriveoffthesideofthe
road,leadingashortsuccessionofcarsbehind.
AriyarememberedGaelAlmadovarcomingtothemearlierthatevening.With
theAshenTwilightHouse’souting,allofthePatriarchsfeltitwasbettertomove
everyoneWestforbettersafety.Theyhadpackedeverythinginandstarted
together,butsoonGaeltradedcarswithaprettyladyfriendofhisAriyahadn’t
seenbefore.SheimaginedshemayhavebeenanotherShifterElflikehim.That
leftAriyaandJaceinonecartogetherforthedurationofthetrip.Notthatshe
wascomplainingoranything.
NowJaceleadthelineofcarsoffthesideoftheroad.Sheimaginedtheywould
havealotofexplainingtodowhentheyclimbedout.Theridehadbeenonabit
ofascheduleandthesoonertheygotoutoftheSouthwestareaofAmerica,the
better.
SheheardandfeltJacetakeadeepbreathashestretchedhisarmsforwardon
thesteeringwheel.Rightawaysheknewwhyhehadbecomenervous.Whatever
itwashewasgoingtotell,shehadafeelinghehadtofacehisUncleJulianfirst.
AlthoughtheNightwalkerwasindeedhisUncle,perhapsmoresohewashis
Patriarchandanymajordecisionswouldhavetogothroughhim.Shecouldn’t
decipherwhatexactlyJacewasthinkingduetohiscloudedmindtowardher,but
whateveritwassheknewitwas,touseacontemporarymortalexpression,


heavy.
Ariyasuppressedthequestionscroppingupinhermind.Insteadshewatched
Jacepulltothesideofthedarkroad.Absentofthecalminglightofthehighway.
TheenginediedbeneaththemandJacepushedthedooropenwithoneshove.
Heturnedaroundandpeeredather,grinning.“Comeon,”hesaidwithanodof
hishead.
Shefeltherownheartracingassheopenedthesidecardoorandstaredintothe
blacknight.Alreadysheheardthechorusofcardoorsopeningandclosing
behindthem.
Julian’shandsomebroadfeatureswerestern.Averticalcreaseformedinhis
foreheadandashislargeframegrewinsizeashedrewcloser,hebecamemore
imposing.“Jace,whatisgoingon?We’lllosetoomuchtimeifwestopatevery
turn.”
“Wewon’tbegoingrightaway,”Jacesaid,peeringupathisUncle.
AlleyesfellonJace,especiallyAriya’s.
“What?”Juliancockedhisheadtothesideasifhedidn’thearright.
Jaceheldhisground,straighteninghisbacktodeclarehisstancewasset.“Ariya
andIwillbetakingadetourbeforeheadingtoL.A.I’dliketoseeherworld.
She’salreadyseenoursandIthinkit’stimeforalittlechange.”Heturnedtoher.
“Ifthat’salrightwithyou.”
Ariyaquicklyclosedhermouthandslowlylickedherlipsoncesherealizedall
theeyeslookinguponher.IfRich,Jace’sbestfriend-andalsoanewlymarried
Lycan-washere,shewassurehewouldbegrinningandsilentlynoddingforher
togoforit.IfJoannawasn’tnudgingherinthesidefirst.ShepeeredupatJace’s
otherbestfriend,Gaelwhoselargearmswerefoldedasheidlyleanedagainst
thecar.Hisdarkchocolateeyespeeredatherandeventhroughthedarknessof
thenightshecouldtellhewasnodding.
“Ah…yes.Thatwouldbefine,”shefinallysaid.Herheartskippedabeatonce
shefeltJace’sarmsaroundher.Aquickthoughtflashedinhermindandshe
madesuretocloakitwithotherthoughtsofhappiness.Butstillshewondered
howherpeoplewouldwelcomehim.IfshethoughthewasanAsiman,how


wouldherpeopleaccepthimknowinghesharedthesametraitsasthose
demoniccreatures?Andevenmoresohowwouldshegethimacrosstherealm
intothebrightnessofthedaywhenhisskinshunnedit?Despiteallthat,she
didn’tknowhowherownpeoplewouldtakeher.Afterdrinkinghisblood,there
wasachancethatshehadbecomepartNightwalkerherself,iftheslightly
elongatedfangsandslightpaleblushofherdarkskinprovedso.
ShefocusedonJulian’shardgazeathisnephew.Rightawaysheremembered
thatsametenseflexofhisjawhesharedwithJaceashetriedtokeephimself
undercontrol.Shedidn’tdaretrytoreadhisthoughts,knowingfromJace’s
experienceinfearingthesame.Thestoictingeofemotionsrunningacrosshis
hardexpressionwasmorethanenough.Shehalfexpectedhimtogooffinarant
thosenextmomentsbutinsteadhenoddedandturnedawayfromthem.
“You’llreturnsoon,Itrust,”hesaidoverhisshoulder.
AfewmonthsintheAzizarealmequaledafewweeksinthemortalrealm.She
hadafeelingJuliandidn’tknowthis,butstillhedidn’tstandaroundtoaskany
questions.GaelpushedoffthesideofJulian’scarandwalkedtothem.
“IguessI’mtakingbackmycar,”hesaidwithagrin.AslighthintofhisSpanish
accenttrickledintohiswordsbeforehechuckled.Heheldouthisdarkhandand
waitedforJacetoplacehiskeysinhisopenpalm.GaelturnedtoAriyaandgave
aslightbow.“Itrustyou’lltakecareofourNightwalkerRegentinthemean
time?”
Heheadedforthecarandagainthechorusofenginesstartedagain.
JacewrappedhisarmaroundAriyaandpulledherofftothesidetododgethe
carsheadingbacktowardthehighway.Thedarkblotchesofredlightssoon
disappearedintheblacknessaroundthem.Andthentheywerealoneinthe
silence.
AriyapeeredupatJace,feelingastrangewarmtharoundthemdespitehiscold
skin.Shelookedup,forcingherselftostrainandseethedeepblueofhiseyes
focusedonher.
“You’renotangry?”
Sheshookherheadandsmiled.“Iwashopingtherewouldbeachancetotake


youbackhomewithme.”
“Notimelikethepresentthen.”Beforeshecouldrespondhereacheddownand
kissedher.Shemeltedagainstthehardlinesofhischestandstrengthofhis
body.Herhandscaressedhisshirtandtrousers,hismouthbrushingagainsther
coaxinghimforentrance.
Thewarmthgrewaroundherandshefeltitmakewayforhimasifitwerea
stronglightsource.Hiskissgrewpassionate,wantinganddesiringherasheheld
her.
Ariyaclosedhereyes,heldhimcloseandgaveintothedesiringheat
surroundingthem.
WithintheShadowsofMortals(Book2intheAshenTwilightSeries)
ComingNovember2nd2009
VisittheAshenTwilightSeriespageat:
http://www.raelori.com/akoat-main



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