Cole moved as smoke, his elements converted into a dark mass. The sweet aroma along the hillside orchards of Shilo Manor gave way to the pungent odor of east side sewage facilities. Though his speed made the encounter brief, he scoffed. How this dimension has changed over the last eight hundred years.
Pedestrians on Beggars Row East rushed from one shop to another, dodging the homeless who cluttered the walkway with their bundles. An engine groaned as a public bus rounded the corner and then paused, sending exhaust to wash along his essence.
His scowl deepened to a glower at the nauseating fumes. And the twentieth century seems to be the worst.
Jetting through an alley, he left the ruckus behind him and then emerged into a compacted neighborhood. Faded paint colored the row of townhouses. Tiny lawns sported more ruts and dirt than foliage. Children hopped from oil-stained curbs to asphalt as they played along the roadside. Fringe from the holes in their trousers flapped with each bound. Knitted caps tossed aside, the chill manifested in their cheerful cheeks.
Cole, an undulating vapor, paused beside a copse of honeysuckle. In a billow, he reclaimed his elements to solid form and then plucked a few of the blossomed twigs. How perfect to find Charlotte’s favorite flowers so near to their tryst—just the right addition for this special night. He stepped from seclusion and then grimaced as he scanned the area.
Weathered thresholds lined the motel cul-de-sac and bore dark smudges where someone scrubbed at obscene vandalism, but the effort fell short of the intent to hide it. Chunks of siding, broken or missing, left a snaggle-toothed appearance along the eaves. Cement walkways lining the structure crumbled at the curbs, worn down to join with the gravel lot.
He pulled Charlotte’s note from his vest pocket, double-checked the address, and then lifted his gaze to the flickering sign.
Correct location. His heavy sigh misted in the spring air. I told her to spare no expense and she chose this? No wonder the invoice was so low. Cole draped his overcoat on his arm. We will attend the next ball the noblemen announce whether she likes it or not.
He ran his palm over his scalp, smoothing back his hair, and then crossed the parking lot to the sidewalk. Tarnished room numbers led his way.
A door slammed. As he glanced in the direction of the sound, a dark head of curls hit his chest. Long ringlets bounced around her heart-shaped face as the young woman stumbled backward.
He grasped her arm, so she wouldn’t tumble off the failing curb. “Forgive me. I should have been watching my steps.”
She caught her breath and smiled at him with dark brown eyes. “Oh, my fault, really. I’m running late and…” her thick lips teetered, “…um,” she scanned him from head to foot.
Her emotions flew through him with a resounding wow, neighbored by the flush of her nerves and a distinct sense of envy. At times like these, he could do without the ability to perceive other people’s feelings. She couldn’t be much older than eighteen and to know what a child felt when she looked at him was uncomfortable to say the least.
Cole glanced at his tailored black vest and trousers. No doubt he was a conspicuous sight, given their surroundings. His snowy white sleeves alone declared he didn’t belong among the stained and faded. His gaze caught her attention from her more than thorough perusal.
Her caramel complexion flushed. “Wow. Even your shoes are polished like glass. You’ve got to be Tom.”
The comment caught him off guard, and he flinched. Few knew his name much less his alias. “Excuse me? Have we met?”
“I’m Amy.” She giggled and motioned down the way. “Charlotte’s my mother. She told me all about you. I thought she was exaggerating but,” she bit her lip, and her gaze flew over him again. “It’s so nice to meet you. I think it’s great Mother’s dating again. Oh, and I think it’s so romantic you have a special way of saying her name.”
Cole furled his brow.
Amy nodded. “Yeah, she told me all about it. Sh’létte. She says it makes her melt.” Her nose wrinkled to meet the tight arch of her eyes, and he thought she was going to giggle again. “You make my mother melt.”
He stifled a groan at the comment.
Her eyes flitted to the honeysuckle he held. “Oh, you gathered her flowers, too. You know she loves honeysuckle. You are so sweet.”
Her hand flew to his arm, and he started as she suddenly displayed a serious expression. “And don’t worry about the age difference thing. She said you were more my age, but you act like a true gentleman.” Amy nodded enthusiastically, and her curls bounced around her head. “Yeah, she told me everything. She’s worried it worries you. The age thing, that is. She’s afraid you might think she’s too old to, you know, have any more children. Since you don’t have any of your own.”
She rolled her eyes and blushed. “But she’s not. And I’d love to have a little brother or sister. I’d baby-sit anytime you two wanted to—well you know—have private time.”
Cole cleared his throat.
Amy leaned close. “She really, really likes you, Tom. She finally admitted it to me. But I’ve known for months. She even bought a new dress to wear tonight.”
She held her hand up, palm facing him as if to stop him from what…listening? “Well, I bought her the dress. I just got paid. She’s worried the style is too young for her, but I insisted ivory eyelets just aren’t what women my age wear. It’s beautiful on her, really.” She winked. “So you might mention it. Of course, as gentlemanly as you are, you’d probably mention it anyway.” This time she giggled, and Cole smiled, realizing Amy’s genuine concern for her mother.
“I’ll be sure to notice.”
She shrugged her shoulders and squealed. “Mother is so lucky. The way you two look tonight you should be in a horse-drawn carriage going to a ball.” She sighed. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I only took a break to run and get her some champagne. She wants tonight to be special.” She waved a hyper hand. “I have to get back to work.”
Turning to leave, she called to a woman across the lot. “Oh, Megan, grab that bus! Hey, you’ll never guess who the new mail clerk is…”
Cole watched her bound to the woman. The girl definitely had her mother’s free-flowing spirit. Still, the topics covered left a twinge in his cheek. He straightened to regain any dignity he’d lost through the discourse and continued down the path.
The number twenty-nine hung with the nine threatening to become a six. As he slid the key in the lock, it jammed half way home. Unwilling to wrestle the rusty thing, he waved his finger to the right and it released with a clunk.
As he peered inside, he found his date sitting on the floor. “Do I have the right place? I had to double-check the address.”
Charlotte looked up from her seat in front of the imitation fireplace. Her dark curls cascaded down her back, leaving her tan shoulders bare. Tiny buttons ran up the bodice of her ivory dress. It hugged her while the gathered skirt flaunted layers of light ruffles that emphasized her feminine nature. Pulled up to her lap, her knees peeked from the hemline.
Amy was right, a beautiful choice, perfect for a ball and an embellished horse-drawn carriage.
She held out her hand. “Come sit with me.”
He tossed his coat on the bed and then sat behind her. As he wrapped her in his embrace, he couldn’t resist pressing his lips to her collarbone.
“Mmm, you feel good,” she hummed.
He presented the honeysuckle, and as she smelled them, he had to ask. “What are you doing on the floor?”
“I’m watching the fire.” She glanced over her shoulder, brown eyes twinkling. “I’ve always wanted to stay here. The fireplace makes it romantic.”
Cole looked at the rolling screen of flames. Faux bricks of the hearth curled at the corner for lack of adhesive and the cardboard mantel dipped where someone sat a heavy object on the visual setting. A tiny creak sounded each time the rotating fire made a slow round.
“I see. Yes, fires are romantic.” Shifting his gaze back to his reason for being there, he nuzzled her ear. “Is this a new gown?”
Her smile crinkled her eyes, and she cuddled closer against him. “Do you like it?”
“It’s lovely.” He leaned his head to her dark curls. “Did you have me in mind when you picked it out?”
Her cheeks flushed as an answer.
“Definitely a romantic evening.”
The joy of holding her, having her heart touch his, coursed through him as none had in decades…in centuries. He yearned to hear her soul speak to him, and widened his perception to read her tender emotions as he brushed his lips along her shoulder. A hint of cotton candy met them when he reached the hollow beneath her ear. His smile stretched against her skin.
Flavored body spray? A youthful notion, no doubt encouraged by Amy. Pleasure rode his breath.
Combing her fingers through his long hair, she held him there. Her heated whisper fell to his palm as he reached to caress her cheek. “I love that. I love your lips on me.”
Her words spurred his wish. “Talk to me, Sh’létte. Share everything with me. I want to know.”
“The way you feel, Tom.” She splayed her fingers over his head, holding him tighter. Her want echoed through his nerves, and he sucked a breath as his teeth raked down her neck.
“The way you—move…all of it,” she exclaimed.
The tiny buttons down her bodice popped from their eyelets as he released them one by one. Easing her back against the carpet, his lips caressed the soft skin of her cleavage. “I find joy in you. I want to hear from every part of you. Tonight, I want all of you.”
“I want you too, Tom. My heart…”
A rumble sounded in his throat as he led his kisses to the heavy beat in her chest. “Your heart what?”
She cried with delectation.
Cole lifted his gaze. “Look at me.”
Her lids fluttered open, and her mouth moved with quiet breath. “I love you.”
Pure acceptance radiated from her, and he knew she did. But he needed to know this relationship would be more than those he’d ended in the past. He pinched his lips together. Gazing deeply into her wide irises, he focused intently to hear her response.
“Open to me, Sh’létte,” he whispered, sending his telepathic voice with his words. “Speak to me with your soul.”
Her lips parted, and astonishment flashed in her brown eyes. “Did I just hear you—in my head?”
He listened eagerly as her feelings poured through him in waves of confusion, adoration, thrill… Her gaze darted around his face, brows curling into question.
If only her soul would offer some form of communication. Please don’t be silent. His voice came forth as a plea, but he didn’t care. “Call to me, Sh’létte. I don’t want this to end.”
Her eyes flew wide. “What? End. No, Tom, what do you mean? You have my whole heart. I couldn’t be more open to you—ever.” She twirled her fingers in his hair. “What is it? Is there something you worry about in our relationship? Is it my age? Are you worried I can’t give you a family? It’s not too late for me. I’d love to give you a child. I’m as open as I can possibly be to you.”
An ache wedged deep within his chest. Her emotions flowed inside him like a tidal wave. Surely, her soul would speak soon.
With final hope, he called upon his foreign nature to share the most seductive gift of his home realm. The scent of licorice and cream fell from his lips as he released the sweet Breath of Zephyr. “Oh, my love. Let me help you.”
He kissed her gently, caressed her tongue with his, and sent his entreaty to bathe her senses. As his breath became hers, she gasped as if she couldn’t quench her thirst. His muscles tightened with expectation as her love coursed through his veins, singeing his nerves.
“Call to me!” he bade with shared thought.
Her head pressed into the worn carpet as the sensation overpowered her, and he framed her face to keep the connection. Every fiber of his being watched for a sign, heart ramming against his ribs. Anticipation sizzled down his spine. “Please. Call to me.”
A hum rose in Charlotte’s throat, and as she released her breath, her hands slid down his arms. Cole peered into her hooded eyes as she drunkenly looked up at him. “Oh, Gods, Tom. I love you.”
Fact pierced Cole’s thoughts, lodged reality into his mind, and forced him to see the truth. Tiny tremors rode his muscles. It wasn’t her. A true soul mate would have responded to such a call. His lips teetered into a smile to hide his disappointment.
Their relationship was a small moment in his very long life, and the knowledge bit at his heart. How can this be our last night together? A vine of thorns tied his gut in knots. Leaning on his elbow, he traced the heart-shaped curve of her face from cheek to chin with his fingertips. But it must.
~ * ~
The morning chill followed Cole through the cherry-wood door of Shilo Manor. Apricot blossoms rode the breeze and danced across the hardwood floor. His brothers stood beside the marble staircase sentinel and looked his way, attention drawn from their conversation.
James smiled, his dimpled cheeks forcing his eyes to grin. “How’s Charlotte? I trust things went well.”
Cole glanced at him as he hung his coat on the gold rack. His voice came forth flat. “Yeah.”
Vincent set his hands at his waist, and his chiseled features leered. “Don’t tell me. You dumped another one.”
James held up his large hand to halt further comment as his smile faded.
With a heavy step, Cole crossed the hall to the parlor and glowered at the smiling cherubim that lined the wall. From the doorway, he glanced at his youngest brother. As if I need reminding that my soul mate is lost to me.
Vincent glared at Cole. “I had real hopes for this one. You’ve seen her longer than any of the others. It’s been what? A whole four months?”
Cole turned, entered the parlor, and then slammed the door behind him.
He stepped to the cherry-wood bar and stared at the wide variety. An entire wall displayed the finest liqueur this realm had to offer along with a few choice Ambrosias brought with them to this post. He consciously avoided the ancient keeps, unwilling to recall the joy of that era.
He smoothed his hair with his hands and then grabbed the nearest bottle. Brown liquid filled his glass to the brim. As he downed half the bitter take, a tap came from the door. James entered and then closed it quietly. “Don’t mind Vince.”
Resentment filled Cole’s throat like bile, and he was sure his expression displayed it.
His brother sighed and then looked out over the room.
“I wanted this woman more than any since…” Cole frowned and slugged his drink. “Her soul was silent.” He didn’t bother hiding the disillusionment in his tone. “I couldn’t reach her.”
“Don’t do this to yourself, Cole. You can’t expect another Mianna.”
“I can’t settle for less than a soul mate, James. Not now.”
“The fact that you found a soul mate in her is phenomenal. But she’s gone. Rebirth doesn’t exist here. You have to let her go and move on.” James looked at him, and a well of compassion hit Cole’s senses. “Let yourself love Charlotte for who she is.”
Cole lowered his glass to the bar and closed his eyes. The sting of reality pierced his heart. “I can’t, James.” He looked at his brother and forced a swallow past the lump. The waves of sympathy didn’t help. “I try. But my soul always pushes for more.”
James lowered his gaze, and his voice softened. “You know cross dimension mating is limited. Chances are you’re not going to find that kind of connection again. Not here.”
Cole turned away, knowing it was foolish to allow himself the hope for that kind of love with Charlotte. But something pushed him, urged him to keep trying. Reincarnation doesn’t exist on Cornerstone Deep. He closed his eyes and saw Mianna’s cherubic face framed with dark ringlets. No. I can’t give up. She has to be out there… Somehow.