Dwellers of Darkness (Darkness #3) : chap 1
“What the hell is going on here?”
Nothing is scarier than a mother’s fury, and I could feel my mom burning a hole into me; actually, it was boring into Eli’s bare ass. I had to give him credit; he did not flinch or scamper off and hide like I wanted to. He stood up grabbed his pants and slipped quickly into them with an amused grin on his face. I wrapped my arms around my bare breasts and willed myself smaller.
Stop smiling. This is so not funny, my eyes said to his.
You’re right... it’s not funny... it’s fuckin’ hilarious. He chuckled under his breath.
If my mother doesn’t kill you, I will. I shook my head, sliding off the table and grabbed any clothes within my grasp.
Kennedy mumbled apologies and was already half way out the door. Jared seemed caught between embarrassed and entertained. My mother was close to shooting fire out of her eyes.
“We will give you a moment, and then I want to have a few words with you.” Rage coated every syllable my mother uttered. She curtly turned, grabbed Jared by the arm, and pulled him out with her to where Kennedy stood on the porch. Eli’s eyes still ran over the last of my nakedness he could absorb.
“Crap, crap, crap,” I repeated, tugging on what garments I could find.
“Like she didn’t know.”
“Thinking you know is one thing; seeing it is different. Especially when you’re naked and on top of her daughter.” A flush of humiliation heated my face.
“Awww, look your ears are turning red.” Eli stood over me, his hand cupping the side of my face. He leaned down and kissed the tip of my ear.
My mother is right outside the door ready to murder us both. I looked up into his green eyes.
Let her. I am not afraid of your mother.
You should be.
You’re the only who can scare the crap out of me. I can handle her.
Where do you think I learned it from? My eyebrow arched.
Mom banged her fist against the door. “Ember, you better be dressed because I am coming in.” She only paused a brief moment before entering. I was relatively dressed... at least my sweatpants and tank were back on. Eli was only wearing his jeans, so he swiped his shirt off the floor and pulled it on as she entered.
Arms crossed, she settled herself in the middle of the room. “Elighan, I would like a word with my daughter.” Her commanding tone suddenly made me feel like a kid again. I gulped the panic in my stomach back down.
Eli turned to me. You’re right; she is scary. He winked before maneuvering his large frame around my tiny mother, who stood like an unmovable boulder, and left me. The sound of the door closing behind him made me wish I could follow.
Don’t leave me.
When Mom spoke, it was in the overly-calm, controlled voice which scared me more than if she yelled. “I knew I would have to deal with you having sex with boys, but I will admit not even I imagined you’d be with a Dark Dweller.” Her lips turned white as they pressed together. “I don’t want you seeing him anymore.”
“He is dangerous, and I mean it in the most extreme sense. Elighan is not someone you should be near. You don’t know how shady and terrible Dark Dwellers are.”
“I’m sorry, but are you telling me who I can and cannot see? The woman who disappeared, who lied to me all my life, who I thought was dead for the last seven years of my life? Really, you are going to stand there and tell me what to do?” I yelled. “What I’m doing with Eli is none of your business. You are a little late for the birds and bees talk. Your daughter isn’t a little girl anymore. I haven’t been for a long time. I’m an adult and capable of making my own decisions.”
“This is what you call making a grown-up decision?” she shrieked. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you during those years. You don’t know how much I regret the time I lost with you, but you will always be my daughter, and I will always want to protect you.” The stubbornness in her tone matched my own. “The Dark Dwellers are soulless killers. You do not want to be involved with them. I’m saying this because I love you. Please, trust me on this.”
“Trust you? Really? This is so incredibly ironic coming from you.” Anger layered thickly in my chest. Needing to move, I went to grab the knife still on the floor from when I tackled Eli. “The Dark Dwellers are not what they used to be, and neither am I.”
Mom shifted, keeping me in her sight. “Believe me they are, and they’ve done terrible things in the past. You need to believe me on this.”
“No. Tell me what you know besides what you remember of them in the Otherworld? I already know they were mercenary killers. Is there more to it?” The words fell out of my mouth in a storm of resentment. The two bulbs that still remained intact flickered with my impatience. I took in a lungful of air, trying to compose myself.
Mom’s jaw clenched, her eyes looking away.
“Okay, so tell me,” I demanded. “You obviously knew them or interacted with them in the Otherworld. Am I wrong?”
“No, you are not wrong.” Her finger twisted at the empty spot where her wedding ring used to be.
I could see her debating on opening up to me. She was still hiding things from me. “Mom?”
A crease shot across my mother’s forehead before she shook her head slightly. “I understand you are mad. But don’t let your anger at me cause you to make reckless decisions.”
For some reason this only infuriated me more. A small, crazed laugh erupted from my lips. “This coming from the woman who, when I was three, dated the most wild and dodgy men she could find... any male with a bike between his legs. Guess I take after you more than I thought.”
Her eyes narrowed. “This is different, and you know it.”
“Is it?” I slammed the knife on the table. Suddenly, I was a teenager rebelling against my parents. “Don’t tell me some of those guys you went out with hadn’t killed? The only difference is yours were human. Oh, right, not all of them were. You were married before, right? To a Fay who you cheated on with a Demon. Then you married Mark. Is it considered polygamy if you’re married to two different species?” I threw out my arms as I churned with resentment. “Yeah, I should really listen to you. I love how you are criticizing my choices when yours have not been so stellar.”
My mom gasped. “How do you know about Eris?”
“Eris? Was that his name?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Did you love him? Did he know about the affair?” I had so many questions tumbling around in my head.
“He did find out about the affair. But it was not as if he wasn’t having a string of his own.” Every word she uttered looked painful and forced. “Before the betrothal, he was a nice man, or so we all thought. After the marriage, his true personality came out. He was a cruel and abusive man, and he married purely for the title and status.”
I felt sick to my stomach. My mother’s past was full of hidden secrets and heartbreaking memories. Still, I could not seem to get past my own anger. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this? Why did I have to hear this from Lars? It’s sad and slightly funny a Demon has been more honest with me than my own mother.”
She flinched and took in a deep breath. “I did what I thought was right at the time. Don’t judge me. I am your mother.”
“Technically... but you haven’t been my mother for seven years. Mark has been my mother and father. You have to earn the title,” I bellowed. Her eyes filled, and she stepped away from, me, her face drawn and tired all of a sudden. Immediately, I felt guilty. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
She looked to the side, tears sliding down her cheeks. “Yes, you did, and you’re right. I wasn’t there for you.” She gulped and brushed the salty drops from her face. “I still want you to be my little girl. I want to pretend I didn’t miss all those years with you. But I did, and no apology in the world is going to get them back.”
My stomach twisted. “No, it’s not. But I know you did what you did to protect me.” Picking up the knife again, I touched the metal, focusing on the intricate design etched on the blade. I shoved it back into the slot in my boot. “We can’t just pick up where we left off. Things are not so simple.”
Mom’s head bobbed. “I know. But I want to try. Get to know each other again.”
“Yeah... that would be good.”
“But first we need to get out of here. We need to find someplace safe. Away from them.”
And there went those peaceful feelings that had begun to float down around me. “What?”
“Ember, we talked about this. I know you have feelings for Eli, but trust me. We need to get as far away from them as possible. I thought that was what you wanted as well? Or at least it was before this encounter with Elighan.”
“It was. But I came to my senses.”
“No. You were right the first time. We need to go.”
“Go where?” I threw up my hands. Even though I had agreed last night to leave, now I wasn’t sure if I would have gone through with it.
“Up north. I have connections in Canada. We can stay with them.”
She’d been planning for this, waiting for me to say the word. The night before I might have left, but things were different today. Maybe I was being more honest with myself. I would have gone out of spite, even knowing I was being stupid. My stubbornness knew no bounds, but neither did my mother’s. I could tell she’d made up her mind to go, despite of how dangerous it would be. It would take a lot to convince her otherwise.
“And then what? Aneira is not going to sit back. She will be coming for us. We are being hunted now. We wouldn’t even reach Canada. Also, I need to be here for Kennedy and devise a plan to get Mark and Ryan out of the Otherworld. Did you forget about them?”
“Of course not. We can still plan to get Mark and Ryan out up there only without the Dark Dwellers.”
“I know what I said in the note earlier. I was angry and not thinking clearly. We can’t leave, and you know it.”
“Maybe you’re not thinking clearly now. Elighan has you wrapped around his finger.”
My eyes contracted. “Don’t. I am not some silly girl. I never have been. So don’t turn me into something because it suits your argument.” I sucked in a deep breath. “My stubbornness, which I inherited from you, did not let me see the obvious. They are one of the most powerful Fae to have on our side. Having them with us only helps. I am not leaving.”
My mom’s teeth gritted together. “If it wasn’t for Elighan, would you be more willing to go?”
“It doesn’t really matter because Eli is a part of this... a part of me.”
“You may feel this way now, but—”
“No.” I cut her off. “You don’t get it. Stop making me feel like some daft, dreamy, teenage girl. When I say he is part of me, it is not hypothetical.”
Mom’s eyes locked on mine. “What do you mean?”
“I’m one of them.” My arms folded over my chest. “Eli’s blood runs in my veins. I am part Dark Dweller now. I won’t leave him, and besides, it would be pointless. There isn’t a place on Earth he wouldn’t be able to find me.”
Her head shook back and forth hastily. “It is not possible.”
“Yeah, everyone keeps saying that, but here I am. Eli saved my life. I was dying, and Eli gave me his blood. I wouldn’t have survived without it. Most thought I wouldn’t survive with it, but I did. Owen thinks Daes respond differently to foreign blood. Our blood doesn’t reject it but takes it on, molding it with our own.”
“Owen’s tested you? He knows this for sure?”
“Yes. He salivates every time he can get a needle near me. Last time he checked, I had thirteen strands of DNA. A normal Fae has around eight. I took on Dark Dweller DNA and made it my own. No one knows if this is a Dae-thing or me-thing because Daes keep ending up dead. No one I’ve talked to really understands or knows the full capability of a Dae,” I explained. It felt strange to explain this to the woman who gave birth to me. I guess even having a Dae didn’t make you knowledgeable of one. “Guess they didn’t have a parenting book on Daes when you were pregnant with me, huh?”
Mom’s mouth hung slack. Then she grimaced, looking away.
“Who was my father?” I pulled at my necklace. “Did he rape you?”
Mom’s head jolted, looked toward me, and then turned away again. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“You don’t want to talk about it? Don’t you think I have a right to know?”
Rubbing her temples, she sighed. “Yes, but not right now. Please, give me a little more time. Okay?”
My shoulders sunk, but I could see the pain on her face. “Yeah, okay.”
“You were not conceived in rape. It was purely from love, but it is complicated. I will tell you the whole story... someday. I promise.”
Nodding, I looked down at my boots. “So now what?”
“I don’t know. This is all too much to take in.” Mom looked as lost as I felt. “We’ll stay for now.”
The gully between us did not feel much narrower. So much divided us. Our once close, loving relationship strained under the weight of what our decisions and fate had dealt us.
Cole and Owen worked with Kennedy for most of the day. Jared was right next to her, also learning about the history of the Druids. I popped in to show my support, but after two hours of an in-depth history lesson, my mind went numb. I still hadn’t told Kennedy about Ryan or my dreamwalk. It never felt like the right time to say: “Oh, by the way, our friend will never be able to come back to Earth’s realm again.” I would tell her; I would. Right then I wanted her to focus on what she could change. She had to concentrate on learning how to be a Druid.
Eli had disappeared after our little morning encounter. Subtly, or not so subtly, I searched the grounds for him.
It was a beautifully rare and extremely hot summer day in Olympia. Cooper stepped onto the porch of the ranch house, a mid-day beer in his hand. The squeaky screen door slammed behind him as he exited the house. “He’s not here.”
“Where did he go?” To pretend I wasn’t looking for Eli seemed ludicrous.
“He’s out on a job.” Cooper took a swig of his beer. “Since I don’t have a bike yet, and all the others are being used, the bastard took Gabby and left me behind.”
“What do you mean a job?”
“We still have to survive here on Earth and earn money. We have to work.”
The Dark Dwellers went by another name on Earth, the RODs—Riders of Darkness. They were a local motorcycle “club,” which controlled Olympia and a lot of the northern coast line of Washington. They were feared by the average population and respected in the biking world. No doubt their Dark Fae aura helped people naturally fear them. At one time their club was larger, but with Lorcan taking some viable members, it had shrunk down to six. Jared didn’t go with them yet, but the four large guys and one fierce girl still held a strong presence in Washington.
“What does this ‘job’ entail?” I stepped on to the porch and settled on the rail.
Cooper sat down on the rocking chair. “You think I’m gonna tell you?”
“Yeah, I do.” I swiped the bottle from his hand and took a drink. Ugh. I hated beer. It tasted like skunk piss with week-old oatmeal added.
“Hey. Get your own.” Cooper tried to grab it back.
“Nah. I don’t actually like beer.” I finished off the last swigs of his beer trying not to gag and handed it back to Cooper. “Now talk.”
“Man, you are frustrating.” He rocked back in the chair, chucking the empty bottle into the recycle bin to his right. I smiled. “But remember, I grew up with Gabby. No one can break me.” He returned the smug smile back at me. “We have to get money, Ember, and it is better you don’t know how we do it.”
“Why? What do you guys do?” My stomach knotted. I had heard stories. A lot of different ones. I didn’t want any of them to be true.
“We are Dark Fae. At one time we were hired assassins, mercenaries by nature, and we killed for a living. We don’t do that anymore, which is all you need to know.”
My mouth opened to argue. Then it closed. Something kept me from exploring this further. A part of me wanted to know, but most of me didn’t. I knew it wouldn’t make me happy. Eli and the rest of them had been in jail more times than I could count. But to hear the actual words come from Cooper’s mouth could change things.
“If you keep hoping to see a nice, good side to us, you should walk away now. Eli is certainly not, and neither are the rest of us. This is us actually trying to be better. Leave it at that.”
“I know, but...”
“No buts. We have to make money.”
What did I expect? They were Dark Fae. Even worse, they were Dark Dwellers. Was I hoping they would act like good little human citizens? No, that wasn’t their nature, but it still bothered me. I couldn’t change them any more than they could change me. For better or worse, this was my family, and I would stick by them. I held my head, suddenly really tired.
“I need some water to wash this nasty taste out of my mouth.” I slid off the rail and headed inside the house. Cooper nodded and watched me walk off.
The coolness of the indoors eased a bit of the tension, but suddenly I wanted to lie down. Even though I was technically sleeping in the infirmary cabin, I didn’t want to go there. Mom would probably be nearby with an unhappy expression and biting comments about Dark Dwellers. I didn’t need that right now, especially after my talk with Cooper. Without much thought, I slunk down the hallway toward Eli’s room.
Knowing he was out, I slipped through the door unnoticed. I struggled to pull off my jeans since they clung to my skin, crusted with sweat and dirt. When I had grabbed clothes from my house awhile back, it had been cold. I hadn’t packed summer items. Feeling like I had dropped ten degrees by being in my underwear and tank, I lay back on Eli’s bed. His enticing smell had me curling deep into his pillow. I leaned across and switched on a fan. The cool air fluttered over my skin. My lids closed, and my muscles coveted the relaxation. It didn’t take long before I fell into a deep sleep.
Bodies were lumped in piles across the burnt meadow. Ash and smoke hung heavily in the air. Blood soaked into the grass, dyeing it a rich shade of burgundy. The sight of carnage and the smell of charred flesh bore down on my stomach, making me retch. I had been here before. I had stood in this spot. This time there were more bodies and more blood. Death hung in the air, drenching it. The sky was spotted with burning fireballs, the line between the worlds melted into one. Soon there would be none.
“Ember, you have to stop this from happening.” A voice spoke into my head. I whipped around, searching for the speaker. I recognized the hooded figure standing deep in the shadows. It was my mother. Even though she never showed her face, I knew. I could feel the unconditional love and connection between us.
“Mom?” I moved closer.
The nearer I got to her, the darkness seemed to close more tightly around us and shielded her even more from view. Her hand stretched out and gripped my hand painfully. “Find the sword, Ember.” Her tone sounded desperate and pleading. “Don’t let it fall into her control or all will be lost. This will be your future.”
I knew she meant Aneira. It was the only thing I was sure of. The figure turned and walked away.
“Wait!” I reached out to stop her. My fingers grasped for the fabric of her robe. “No, Mom, wait. How do I find the sword?”
“The answer is with you,” she said before dissipating, leaving me alone.
Only the wails of people dying and distant sounds of battle could be heard.
A light knock on the door brought me out of my slumber. My head jerked up. I looked at the door, then over my shoulder. The early dawn light filtered over Eli sleeping next to me. He was sprawled on his back, and one hand lay protectively on my bare thigh. I hadn’t heard him come in or felt him climb in next to me. I must have been tired if I slept through the rest of the day and night. The dream left a knot in my stomach. The more I reached to remember it, the more it evaded me.
Another set of taps rattled the door; the memory of the dream disappeared completely. Not wanting him to wake, I slipped out from under Eli’s hand. He shifted and turned his head the other way but remained asleep. Adjusting my tank, I tiptoed for the door and cracked it open.
Cole stood on the other side, his expression impatient. “Ember, you need to come outside.”
“Why? What’s going on? What time is it?”
“Please, come.” His tone conveyed this was not the time to argue or ask questions.
I looked over my shoulder at Eli. “Only you,” he interjected. “I’ll wait for you outside. Please hurry.” Cole turned away briskly.
The pants I had been wearing were in a dirty ball on the floor; heat and time kept me from putting them back on. Instead, I reached for a pair of boxer shorts folded on top of Eli’s dresser and hopped into them. They were big on me, but I didn’t have time to worry about my fashion style. I slipped on my boots and ran outside to where Cole was anxiously waiting for me.
“What’s going on?”
“You’ll see.” He motioned for me to follow him.
With me lagging behind, he headed toward the back end of their property. The sun was scarcely peeking over the mountains. We came to an open field, and in the distance I could see the tiny silhouettes of Simmons and Cal weaving through the air. It took me a moment to realize they weren’t alone. Three human forms trailed slowly behind them: two men and a woman. One of the men was being held up by the other two. His arms were around their shoulders as he struggled to hobble forward.
My gaze narrowed on one. All the other worries on my mind instantly dissolved. “Torin,” I screamed. My feet struck the dirt as I ran to him. He looked up, his face bloody and
I skidded to a stop in front of him, and the soil and rocks tore into my knees as I dropped. My hands automatically went to his face, picking up his head.
“Found you.” Torin smiled dreamily. He was struggling to stay conscious. His body and face were battered so badly he could barely move or speak, and I could hardly make out his features. One eye was swollen completely shut, and the other only opened halfway.
My gaze flashed and took in the others.
“Oh, my god, Josh. Are you okay?” He was not someone I expected to see again, but I felt so happy I had been wrong. His familiar, sweet face peered down at me with sadness in his eyes. Josh had a split lip, a black eye, and a deep cut on his cheek. Fortunately, nothing that wouldn’t heal.
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
I recognized the woman on the other side of Torin. She was from the castle dungeon. The one who came up to me, confirming I was part Dark Dweller. It was the only reason the Queen had not killed me on the spot.
“I remember you.”
“Yes. I am Thara.” She spoke formally, her voice elegant and regal. “Do not fear. I am no longer with the Queen. I helped Torin escape. She would have killed him.”
“Thank you.” My hands still held Torin’s head. He continued to slump further. He had been placed in this predicament and had been tortured by the Queen because of his attachment to me. Even though he was badly hurt, I felt overpowering relief he was away from her. Turning my attention back on Torin, my eyes really took in his condition.
“Dammit...” He was in bad shape.
“Mo chuisle,” he mumbled. I could tell he had no sense of reality and was fluttering on the edge of consciousness and dreamland.
“What the fuck?” A deep voice spoke behind me. Turning, I saw Eli walking to us wearing only a pair of raggedy jeans.
“Simmons and Cal led them here,” Cole said.
“We were on guard duty when we spotted them coming out of a door from the Otherworld. We came straight away to tell you, my lady. He stopped us,” Simmons declared, pointing at Cole.
“Thank you, Simmons. You did the right thing. Cole was only doing his job as well.” Simmons frowned but nodded to me.
There were so many things needing to be answered, but those could all wait. “Guys, we need to get him to the clinic now. Where is Owen?”
“I’ve already contacted him through our link. He will be waiting for us,” Cole replied, grabbing Eli’s shoulder and pulling him toward Torin.
Dark Dwellers and Fay were not friends. The term “adversaries” was putting it mildly. This showed even more so between Eli and Torin since they had more dislike for each other than the average Fay/Dark Dweller foes. This demonstration of concern between them was radical. Without question, Eli moved over to him, backing me out of the way. Torin’s entire body had gone limp. With help from Cole, Eli flung Torin over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Torin groaned in pain, but stayed unconscious. I didn’t care how he carried Torin since he wouldn’t remember anything anyway. Eli paused in front of me, his eyes moving over my body, a smirk hooked up his lip. “Nice shorts. Think I’ll want those back later.” Eli turned and headed for the compound.
Already burning on the outside with the oncoming heat, my insides joined in. This was so not the appropriate time, but my hormones didn’t seem to give a crap lately what was proper or not. I kept it to myself seeing him pick up and haul Torin to the cabin completely turned me on.
I act like such a girl sometimes.
Cal buzzed down to my ear, a bemused smile on his face and his gaze on Torin and Eli. “Oh, yeah, girlie, things suddenly got fun.” He laughed and flew off. Simmons followed, both returning to their posts.
“Yeah, fun,” I mumbled to myself and turned to locate Josh.
He stood in the same exact spot, his eyebrows crunched together. He looked vulnerable and preoccupied.
“Hey, Josh. Are you okay?” I moved to him. His gaze lifted. His soft hazel eyes searched mine. The light breeze rumpled his already messy, sandy-blond hair. It was several moments before he nodded and opened his arms. I engulfed him in a hug. “You scared me. I thought I lost you. I am so happy you are here. That you came back.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” he replied and pulled away. “I think you need to tell me what’s going on, and I mean everything.”
“I know. I will explain it all. Later. Right now let’s focus on you and Torin getting checked out. Make sure you’re all right.”
By the time Josh and I got to the cabin, Torin was already confined to a bed, still out cold. Owen was bent over him. Mom and Kennedy sat together on a bed still in their pajamas having been woken up by the entourage inundating their room. Cole stood at the end of the bed. Thara, on the other side of him, gripped his hand tightly. Eli leaned against the wall closest to the door; his attention was upon me as we entered.
“Josh.” Eli nodded to him.
“Eli.” Josh retorted and moved to the farthest wall away from him. Josh had never been a fan of Eli, out of fear or genuine dislike I didn’t know. It looked like nothing had changed. Strange. With Josh’s love of World of War Craft and the fantasy world, you’d think finding out Eli was one of the most feared and ruthless beasts in the Fae world he’d be in awe of him.
Shouldering my way through the crowd, I bee-lined it for the occupied bed. “Oh, Torin.” It was still a shock to look at him. The swollen, misshaped face was not one I recognized. His torture was on my hands. “I am so sorry,” I whispered hoarsely.
“He will heal.” Owen patted my hand. “Slowly, but he will mend.”
“You mean the visual wounds will heal.” The knot in my throat made it hard to swallow. The room grew hot and constricting.
Owen tilted his head, remaining silent. He didn’t want to say it. He was trying to be kind, but the truth was a boulder on my heart. I didn’t know what the Queen had done to Torin. Knowing about his past with her and what she was capable of, it had to be awful, degrading, abusive, and painful. Both mentally and physically, she would be sure he felt the betrayal and transgression he caused her. How could he get over all this?
“He needs to rest.” Owen hinted at everyone to leave. Only Owen, Thara, Eli, and I remained. My need to stay with him was overpowering. My muscles locked, pinning me in place. My heart and body could not leave his side.
“I will stay, too.” Thara’s words sounded like a challenge.
My eyes leveled at her, and I growled.
“Thara, I think you need rest and something to eat. He will be all right while you are gone.” Owen motioned for her to follow him. She held my stare for a few seconds more and then nodded but watched me the entire time she walked to the door.
Eli still leaned against the wall. His expression held no sentiment, but his presence was loud and consuming. His eyes delved into mine, his jaw set. He thrust himself off the wall, turned and left the room without a word. He didn’t need to. His cold, aloof expression told me everything. I ached to follow, but something kept me in place. Sliding a chair over, I sat down next to Torin. I placed his bruised, broken hand in mine. He let out a sigh, and his body relaxed further into the pillows.
Over the next twenty hours, I didn’t leave Torin’s side, even when they moved him into Dax’s old room for more privacy. The infirmary cabin was getting full with Thara, Mom, Kennedy, and me sleeping there. Torin was placed in the room furthest from the other Dark Dwellers, which seemed the best idea. It was built to hold eleven Dark Dwellers. Now only six inhabited it.
Thara’s dedication almost rivaled my own. Owen would get her to take breaks, to eat or rest, but he never could sway me. I would not leave him. The thought made something in me ache.
She had gone to take a quick nap an hour earlier, leaving me to sit vigil by his bedside. His swelling had gone down, but the cuts and bruises were slower to heal. For a Fay, his sluggish recovery was not normal, which only added to my concerns. How damaged was he on the inside that made it so slow for him to mend on the outside?
A figure moved beside me, reaching for Torin’s wrist. Blurry-eyed, I glanced up at Owen.
“You really need to at least eat something, Ember.” He frowned at me.
Refusing once again, I gripped Torin’s hand tighter. A small groan floated from his lips. My head turned to him and back to Torin.
“Torin?” I jumped to my feet and reached to touch his face.
“Mo chuisle.” The words barely made it to my ear. “Are you really here?” His lids fluttered but didn’t open.
“Yes. I’m here,” I squeaked.
A smile came to his lips, splitting the cuts on them. “I found you. I can now die fulfilled.”
My heart clenched so hard it became hard to breathe. The thought of him dying sent daggers into my core. “You are not going to die.” It was more to myself than to him. It was an idea I refused to accept. He did not respond, his head falling heavier onto the pillow. Tears burned, choking my throat.
Owen touched my shoulder. “This will probably happen for a bit. While he is healing, his body will only be able to stay awake for tiny increments before it needs to replenish.”
It was like a tsunami. Every moment of pain I caused him and the others careened into me all at once. The room began to teeter, and the floor moved under my feet. My knuckles turned white as I seized the bed sheets. My back arched forward, curling into itself. The walls closed in on me.
“Breathe, Ember. You are starting to hyperventilate.” Owen pressed his hand gently onto my back.
“She needs some air and food.” Another set of hands gripped my hips and pulled me toward the door. Eli escorted me into the morning air. When did he come into the room? I hadn’t even noticed. How long had he been standing behind me? Listening?
The ranch was silent and in the deep hours of night. Dawn was still a couple hours away, but during summer this far north it always looked as if daybreak was right there waiting for its turn. Eli moved in front of me. His hands clutched the sides of my face. “Hey, look at me. Calm down.”
“Oh, God. I did this to him. Me... . I only destroy and hurt people. . .” Another wave of panic swept me along a long river of guilt. I gulped for air. So many things hit at the same time: emotions of my mom, of Mark and West being stuck in the Otherworld, of Ryan never able to leave, of all the people I killed in Seattle. Torin was simply another on the ever-growing list. It was all too much. Hot, blinding tears pushed past my defensive boundaries and spilled over the walls. I hated crying in front of people and, at one time, Eli would have been top of the list. Things had changed. He now seemed the only one I could show my true feelings to. I pressed my face into him and felt his arms surround me, holding me tightly against him.
“It will be okay.” His voice vibrated through his chest against my ear.
“No, it won’t.” I shook my head, smearing my tears and runny nose over his chest. “Torin’s been tortured. Mark and Ryan are still stuck there and along with West.”
“Kennedy and Josh are back safe, Torin will heal, and Lily is with you again. We will get West, Mark, and Ryan out.” He held me out to look at my face. “I promise.”
Wiping at my nose, I shook my head. “Ryan will never be able to come back.”
“What are you talking about?”
I hiccupped. “I was in a dreamwalk... Ryan was dying... and Castien gave him Fae food to save him.” I didn’t need to say more; Eli frowned. He knew what this meant.
He cupped my face and brushed the tears away with his thumbs. “Have you told anybody about this?”
“No.” My head moved in concurrence. “Kennedy has been through so much, and she says saving Ryan keeps her going during the really hard moments. I can’t take this away from her.”
“You’re going to have to tell her.”
Sighing, I leaned into him. “I know. But not yet.”
He lifted my head and kissed me deeply. At first his lips were comforting and sweet, but swiftly yearning soared through my veins. He took away all the pain. Some might say this was not the best time. I disagreed. I needed him—all of him—a shred of happiness in the darkness. His hands slid up the back of my head, and his fingers tangled in my hair. He pressed his lips harder into mine, and his tongue discovered every inch of mine. This time the lack of air into my lungs was purposeful. The need to be closer to him was crushing. He nipped at my lip, which undid me. I grabbed his hand, and with determination of a bull, dragged him to the house and down the hallway to his room.
With the door closed and locked, we turned and faced each other. Our breaths faltered as we moved in closer. My heart thudded against my ribs. He leaned in, and I could feel his proximity encompassing my skin. Desire became so thick I stopped breathing.
His finger skimmed my stomach as he followed the band of his boxers I wore. I sucked back on my bottom lip; my eyes closed at his touch. “I like those on you,” he whispered in my ear. “But I’d like them even better off.” He gave them a slight tug.
My fingers reached up to the top of his jeans, unbuttoning them. “Ditto.”
With a deep growl, Eli picked me up and took me to the bed. We fell heavily on it as our lips ravaged each other. He slid in between my legs, and the friction of his movement against me made both of us grasp one another harder. I couldn’t seem to get close enough to him. Panting and clawing, I squeezed my legs tighter around him. Feeling him hard against me propelled my adrenaline to pound in my ears. It drove me into dizzy spells, leaving my mind completely void of anything but the present moment. His lips moved down my neck, making me gasp. My hands tugged his pants over his hips and onto the floor. A rumble emerged from his chest as my hands ran back up over his tight, bare ass. He slipped a finger under the tank I had on and ripped it over my head and threw it aside. Our breathing was short and heavy. I sat up and pushed him down, crawling over him. His hands ran slowly up my body. I let my head fall back with desire, as the shudders of his touch sent tingles rapidly through me. He sat up and brought his mouth to my neck and chest. The warmness of his kisses made me moan.
I smiled wickedly and pushed him back down. I started at his neck and meticulously kissed and nipped slowly down his body, not missing an inch. There were some areas I paid extra attention to. Eli continued to growl, which sounded more and more animalistic. The sounds of our deep breathing were the only noise in the room as we both touched and kissed each other’s sweaty bodies. Ripping off my underwear, he rolled me over onto my stomach. His tongue glided all the way up my spine. I groaned. His body pressed into the back of mine, his breath hot on my neck.
“Please.” I begged. “Now.” He granted my wish. Sliding my legs further apart, he pushed in deep. There was nothing else but him and me. Pulsating and pounding. Our energy bounced off each other and slammed into the walls.
By the end we blew up his fan and shattered a mirror. Even with the light switch off, the lights had flickered with charged power. I didn’t even want to think about what others could hear outside.
“Now I really need a shower,” I panted. A leer hitched his lips. He rolled off the bed and stood, heading out of the room. “Where are you going?”
He paused looking over his shoulder. “To take a shower. You coming?”
“Um, yeah.” I bounded out of the bed. “I’m all about saving water.”
“I doubt we’ll be saving water.” His eyebrow went up mischievously. I never moved so fast in my life.
“Eli, Ember, Torin is awake.” Cooper pounded on the bathroom door. “Time to take a breather. Cole wants you to join us down the hall in five minutes.”
Guilt weaved around my conscience. How could I not be there when he woke up? Torin had never fully left my mind, but Eli did an excellent job easing my tension and bringing me back from the edge. It did help knowing Thara was probably there.
“So much for saving water.” Long ago the water had turned to ice, not that we cared. We had been in there so long everything on me started to prune.
“Told you.” Eli mumbled against my lips and reached past me to shut off the spray of water. My tongue found his again, and his arms wrapped around me, kissing me till my toes curled. His hands trailed slowly over my skin.
The bathroom door thumped with knocking again.
“Not stupid enough to think you guys will come out the first time. I’m staying here till I actually see the door open,” Cooper yelled through the barrier.
Eli pressed his forehead against mine with a sigh.
“We better go,” I said as I watched droplets of water slide down Eli’s face and over his lips.
“Yeah, don’t force me have to come in there.” Cooper’s shouted. “Actually, scratch what I said. I’ve seen Eli’s bare ass enough, but Ember’s would be a nice change.”
“All right. All right. We’ll be out in a minute,” Eli yelled back and turned to me. “Not that you shouldn’t show your ass off. It’s an extremely nice ass.” His hands moved over it.
Smiling, I kissed him once more, taking his hands into mine. “Come on. Cooper will have plenty of other opportunities to see my ass.” I directed my words toward the other side of the door.
“You said plural, right? Like in more than once?” Cooper asked back.
“Go, Coop. We’ll be there in a few minutes,” Eli retorted back and pulled me out of the natural stone and slate shower.
“Five minutes,” Cooper said and stomped away.
Eli threw me a clean towel. After I wrapped in it, we hurried back to his room. I slipped on Eli’s boxers and a tank and smoothed my hair back into a ponytail. Eli threw on some jeans and a t-shirt and followed me out the bedroom.
The closer we got to Dax’s old room, which was on the other side of the extended ranch house, the more my steps became rushed. It was packed. Almost everyone was there. Josh, Gabby, Kennedy and Jared were absent, but the others were stuffed into the small space—waiting for us.
Josh... shit! In my narrowed vision of Torin, I had forgotten about him. I still needed to talk to him and make sure he was all right. I didn’t even know where he had been sleeping.
“About time,” Cole declared. A blush of embarrassment heated my cheeks.
Mom hovered next to Torin’s bed blocking him from view. At my entrance her eyes pierced into me. Disapproval, anger, and disgust darted from me to Eli.
“I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and say Mommy doesn’t approve of me or the fact her sweet daughter is sleeping with me,” Eli whispered in my ear.
“That would be an understatement,” I scoffed, turning my face up to him. “But in no way would I be considered a sweet daughter.”
“Not after what you just did. Didn’t know you were so flexible. You owe me a new fan by the way.”
I shoved him lightly. “Shut up.”
“You two want to join us?” Cole’s aggravated tone brought us back to the others. This time when I looked, Mom had moved to the side. Torin was now directly in my line of sight. Suddenly, he became the only one in the room. Not able to stop the pull I automatically felt toward him, I moved swiftly to his bedside. “Torin, how are you feeling?”
His one lid was still swollen shut so he craned his neck to look at me. His forehead wrinkled as his attention bounced between me and Eli, taking in our wet hair and the fact half my outfit was Eli’s. His lips pressed together tightly. “Because of Dr. Donovan, I feel much improved.”
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up.”
“I told him you never left his side, until I forced you to eat and rest,” Owen remarked. He was covering for me, although I’m sure everyone else in the room knew what I had really been doing. I nodded and looked away.
Thara sifted her weight. “I was here.” She stood on the other side of him. Her eyes darted to me and then back to Torin. Her expression was stony and tense.
I gave her a tight smile and turned back to Torin. “I really am sorry,” I said quietly. This apology had nothing to do with my absence.
Torin immediately shook his head, taking my hands in his. “There is nothing to apologize for. You did not do this to me.”
“Ember, I’ve told you there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to keep you safe. It is I who should apologize. I should have been more careful and ought to have realized she was on to us.”
“There was no way you could have known. She would have made sure of it.” I looked down at our intertwined fingers. “Are you still connected to her?”
Torin once again shifted his head back and forth. “No.”
“We questioned Torin while waiting for you to arrive,” Cole said firmly. “We cannot have him stay here and still be linked to the Queen.”
“She cut all ties to me and took away my position and title.” There was sadness and pain in his voice. He was born to be a soldier, and taking it away from him was like taking away his identity. “Thara saved me. She got me out of the castle.” He turned to her his gaze full of appreciation and admiration. She smiled back at him and squeezed his shoulder. Devotion to him was clear, but was it out of respect or something more?
“Through our union I was able to recognize what door to use to bring me closest to you.”
“Yes. We are linked because of the oath put on us. It connects us. It wasn’t until you came of age and out from under Lily’s protection I was able to feel it.”
The air stopped pumping into my lungs, and I tugged my hands out of his grasp. “Wait. What?”
Torin had told me we had been placed together by the Fae gods and goddesses, and we had been betrothed to each other before I was even born. This was before they learned I was spawned from a Demon instead of my mother’s Fay husband. I knew Torin still respected the agreement, but I figured me being a Dae would have made our union null and void.
“I was too weak to contact you through dreamscaping or our mind link. But our union helped me find you. You are my betrothed, Ember. Don’t you think I couldn’t find my way to you?”
The skin on the back of my neck prickled, and without having to look, I could feel Eli’s eyes burn into me. His voice was tight. “You are betrothed to him?”
Turning, I saw his expression matched his tone. I became suddenly conscious of everyone listening to each word being uttered between Torin and myself.
I faced Torin. “When you told me we were attached, you weren’t just speaking metaphorically, were you?”
He shifted uncomfortably on the bed. “No.”
I had always felt drawn to Torin. Safe. Deep inside I understood we had been meant to be together, even when my heart wanted another. Could all this be because of a bond? Were any of my feelings real? Eli’s blood connected me to him. Now I was being told my feelings for Torin were based on an arrangement out of my control. I did not like feeling manipulated or unable to make my own choices. Fear and fury jumbled within me