Cole dragged the towel down his face and then smoothed it over his wet hair. Exhaustion racked his body, despite the long shower. He sighed and smeared the steam from the mirror to catch his distorted reflection. His onyx eyes stared back at him, filling the hollow of his heart with guilt.
The rest of my soul’s life. The unbinding failed. When she dies, so does her… His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he turned from the mirror to avoid the sight. An eternity of honoring her memory. But, he supposed he should be grateful for the chance of serving her that long. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his torso. Stepping into his room, he peered at the old clock on his dresser.
Time. There wouldn’t be enough.
Raking his fingers through his damp strands, he took a deep breath to steady himself. He’d begin today, making her life everything it could be. Anything she desired would be his pleasure to fulfill.
She was an artist now. He’d have a studio fashioned. Every tool imaginable would be available.
Her apartment was papered in yellow.
Daffodils, forsythia, roses… He scratched his chin. What other flowers were yellow? Whatever they were, he’d have the topiary sculpted with them. A smile crept onto his lips. At least he knew she liked roses.
Shedding the towel, he grabbed his robe and tied the belt tight. His fingers bunched into a fist as he swung open the door and marched into the hall. He’d fill her room with all the yellow roses he could find in the gardens. That would be a good start.
His newfound enthusiasm revitalized his steps, and for the first time in centuries, true happiness filled his heart. The sense of beginning anew colored his outlook with possibilities of the present.
He had Anna’s life ahead of him, and time be damned, he’d revel in every moment. She was his, and she knew despite all the displacing developments, he was hers. Whatever lay beyond the present could wait.
A door opened to the left, and he halted with a step. “Anna.”
A hint of insecurity played on her lips as she held to the latch.
“I thought you were resting. Do you need something?”
“You were gone and… I can’t stop thinking. I lay in bed and all these memories keep running through my head.” Placing a hand on her chest, she twisted her gown strap around her finger. “They make me hurt…inside. Nothing makes sense. I looked…and you weren’t here. So…”
Compassion swelled in Cole’s heart and etched across his brow. All her memories had been restored: Her motherless childhood, daily uncertainty of shelter or food, loss of the one parent who struggled as a street sweep to provide what little they had. Then, receiving free will—a gift granted at birth but stolen, ordered by a man who’d pursued her and ultimately abused his power to have her. From bliss to pain and then left without a soul’s ability to comprehend it all. How he wished he could relieve her ache.
He stepped inside and brushed his fingertips across her temple. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t there, but I’ll always be near.”
Her arms wrapped around his waist and then she bunched his robe into her fists. She laid her head on his chest, and he rested his cheek on her dark hair, stroking the soft locks. With a sigh, Anna cuddled closer.
He longed to know exactly what she was feeling. With James’ potion still in effect, he felt crippled.
“Everything is okay, now,” he whispered.
Anna tilted her head back, peering at him with the most beautiful blue eyes he’d seen. The call of her love echoed deep in his soul, just as it had in the alley, the shower, the time he’d comforted her after Kid’s tantrum, and during her plea before the attempted unbinding. Truth drove understanding deep, and he comprehended eternal union anew.
Framing her face with his hands, Cole gazed at the cherubic face of his love: Every curve of her bow-tie lips, each lash that made up the thick fringes on her lids, the gentle slope that led to the rounded crown of her nose.
His words flowed from his tongue, thick with affection. “How I love you.”
“And I you,” she breathed. “Promise me forever.”
“Forever and always.” The whisper sent licorice and cream, the musk of love’s promise.
Her tongue met his, a silky feather rounding its tip. He relished the sweetness, losing himself in each gentle caress. His breath became hers.
Anna’s grip tightened as she gasped and rose to her toes, inhaling the Breath of Zephyr as if it held her life.
Fanning his fingers, he braced her as the gift intensified. She’d endured five long lifetimes of searching, waiting to taste the scent of his love, and he would let nothing break the bond until she was ready to let go.
Delectation coursed through Cole’s veins as his sensual gift fed her need. His head hummed, palms and soles tingled. He drew tiny circles on her temple until a gentle pull led him further into the room.
No hesitance entered his mind. No warning of harm battled with his heart. Only the blessed consent from the gods filled his soul, and he welcomed the moment unrestrained.
He rolled his shoulder, sending a command to the door. It swung closed with a soft click.
Light peeked into the shadowy room from the vanity. The wide dresser mirror reflected the glow, bathing them in its wake.
Anna slowly released the kiss. Unable to abandon the pleasure, Cole traced the curve of her mouth, its gentle arc, delicate slope. Her head tilted back, and a soft sound rode her sigh as he trailed kisses along her jaw to the supple skin beneath her ear.
The song of morning birds drifted from a distance. The clamber of tunes wove together until a distinct chorus emerged. Cole’s senses heightened as he recognized the melody. The Song of Meridian filled his soul. Had James summoned the fowl in honor of a fortunate outcome? Surely, not. A gift from Arylin? Most likely, considering her call for mercy in light of ancient devotion. He awed at the Goddess of Love’s grace.
Allowing the music to fill him, he moved with the instinct of his soul. He stepped wide, leading Anna into the most seductive dance known to the realms. Pulses flowed from his heart to hers as he relayed impressions of movement.
Across the floor of her guestroom, their steps echoed a measure. A spin turned as a pressing trill, and Anna’s breath hitched as Cole halted and pulled her back against his chest. Flattening his palms to her hips, he grazed them across her lower abs, over her apex, and to her thighs. His lips trailed her shoulder, nudging her gown’s strap aside. It fell to her arm.
Cole’s hands dropped to his sides. Stepping back, he paced around Anna to stand before her. She watched him, breasts heaving, fists bunched. The twelve inches that separated them seemed like miles, but he held his position, gazing deeply into her eyes, her soul. He could swear he saw the dance continuing in her wide pupils.
Anna slowly lifted her shoulder, and the remaining strap dropped from its stay. The gown whispered to the floor. His robe tie loosened as she parted the panels and then trailed her palms up his abdomen. Slipping them under his arms, they traveled his torso to his shoulder blades. Her nails grazed his skin with a downward stroke.
Thrill charged Cole’s senses. A growl rumbled low in his throat. Her lips traced the planes of his chest, and fire erupted in his core.
He pulled her into an embrace, palms relishing the dip of her waist, the curves of her hips. His muscles quaked with need. Greed overtook finesse, and he grasped her thighs, lifting her to straddle his waist. Hot breath fell to his neck as she clung to him. The sensations nearly blinded him.
He clenched his jaw, and his plea came forth as a raspy whisper. “Anna…”
Her fingers tangled into his long hair, and her husky voice rounded his ear. “My heart. My soul, make love to me.”
Salvation sang at her bid, and he reached the bed in three long strides. Her hooded gaze swept down his torso as he laid her on the downy comforter. Leaning onto his elbows, he looked at the angel beneath him. As much as he wanted to join with her, her pleasure had to come first. If he had to tantalize every part of her, he would force himself into submission.
A quick breath punched from her lungs, and she flung her arms around his neck. Desperation tinted her tone. “What’s taking you so long?”
Her legs tightened around him, hips rose to meet him. Taking her lips with his, he united with the woman who owned his soul. Delirious rapture coiled with each heated caress. Withholding completion edged unbearable.
For Anna. His mind willed to prolong but his body barely obeyed.
Pleasure rode each breath as Anna closed her eyes and pressed her head into the mattress. Her fingers grazed his back and then met.
Anticipation drove Cole to the brink as he recognized the sign of the triad. His skin sizzled. Adrenaline surged through his veins. Fire blazed in his groin, fighting against containment.
She inhaled a sharp breath. “Unsigh, Colhart!”
Energy flew through him like a bolt from past ages, sharing Anna’s passion, joining it with his own.
Cole exploded. Triumph consumed him. Waves of rapture shot through his core, legs, arms. With every surge, he sent his love through the enchanted gift given long ago: Every dream of her, every touch he’d savored, every moment of joy they had shared, he sent to her heart.
“All my love.”
The years he’d searched and failed dissolved.
The grip on his back tightened and then slowly loosened. Her hands slid down his side to the blanket. Her stare wavered and then settled on the air over his shoulder. Her mouth fell slack, and then her head lulled to the side.
A chill washed over him. “Anna?”
He brushed the hair from her face, framing it so her unfocused gaze would meet his. “Anna?”
His throat clenched. He brushed his fingers down her neck to feel her heavy pulse. Then lowering his gaze, his hand followed to rest over her bosom.
No lift. No sigh.
“Anna, breathe! You have to breathe.”
Regret littered his confusion. He’d never expected their joining to cause her distress, not after the gods had allowed their love. Bracing her jaw, he pressed his lips to hers. The Breath of Zephyr filled her lungs.
Anna gasped, and a quick quake shook her body. A wail ripped from her lungs. Cole scooped her into his arms and held her tight as cries punctuated her short pants.
“Oh, my love. I never meant to hurt you.”
Her trembling arms wrapped around him, and she buried her face in his chest. “Oh, Sweet Arylin.”
He rested his cheek on her tousled hair. “I’ll find a way and nullify the spell.”
“I’ll see to it this never happens again.”
She peeked up at him from the tops of her lashes. “Wait. What?” She gasped a quick breath and released it unceremoniously. “Cole, that was the most amazing experience of my life. It better happen again.”
The frank statement held a touch of humor, and Cole furrowed his brow. “What?”
“Although,” she held up her finger, swallowing with the little dip of her head. “If Father knew exactly what we did, he’d be irate, married or not.”
“I can hear him right now.” She lowered her chin, and her tone mimicked a deeper voice. “Mianna Newton, of all the fool things you’ve done. What about your heritage? Shilo is no place for a Newton. That young nudnik won’t be able to protect you in that city of sin.”
Cole’s mind reeled, and he leaned back to study her face. He hadn’t been called a nudnik since… “Nudnik?”
She laughed. “Oh, you know better than to take offence to Father’s opinions.”
Glorious gods of the celestial plane! “Mianna?”
She squelched her cheek and cocked her head. “Cole, are you okay? Did my phenomenal love making knock you into another world?”
A breath of awe passed his lips as the corners lifted into a hesitant grin.
Combing his hair back with her fingers, she leaned into him. “Come here. No husband of mine is going to make love to me and act like he’s gone crackers.”
She lay against his chest and then patted the place over his heart. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her tightly against the spot.
“Oh, Cole. I love you. I don’t care if you are a wizard from another world.” She peeked up at him. “With a funny name,” she added with a snort. “Colhart. Who ever heard of Colhart?” She closed her eyes, nuzzling his neck. “You’re perfect. So perfect.”
Mianna. Words couldn’t express his feelings.
Warmth lighted on his soul, and as if time warped, images of the Taravaughn’s anger during the unbinding appeared before his inner eye. Arylin’s words drifted through his mind.
“The gift of love may offer salvation.”
The atmosphere thickened, and recognizing the arrival of deity, Cole lifted his gaze. An ambrosia cloud billowed beside the bed, and the Goddess of Love’s spiritual presence took form within the soft halo. A gentle smile adorned her pink lips, and love flowed from her dark blue eyes.
Reverence flooded Cole, and he sent his thoughts in praise. “Arylin, Goddess of Love.”
Her melodic voice spoke clearly to his soul. “Do not offer your soul in praise, Colhart. I am not your creator.”
“You have returned my love to me. I feel I must praise thee.”
Her blonde lashes swept down with her blink. “I have not done so. You have called her soul beyond the extents of this life.”
Cole searched her heavenly countenance, trying to understand. He had called Anna’s soul beyond the boundaries of her lifetime?
Arylin watched as his thoughts raced, patience reflecting in her calm presence.
He’d created the charm for Mianna. Only her soul could control the spell, only she yielded the power to open the door, so they could experience each other’s joy.
Unsigh—One heart. The joining of hearts and souls in shared passion.
Dawning came in a rush.
Of course. The only spell created that allowed two souls’ love to join as one. If they had joined…
He looked back at Arylin’s kind gaze.
“Yes. The gift of one heart did call her soul to join yours. As you shared your memories of loving her, you carried her to a time free of the binding. If you hadn’t shared this love, Colhart, if you had pursued your own satisfaction in its place, the bonds would still hold.”
Cole’s heart thumped a wild rhythm. His throat tightened, and tears seeped beneath his lids.
Arylin’s gaze bore deep into his soul. “But the transfer of temporal placement to a past life is not free of consequence. Advancement made over her last five life cycles has been lost. A crippling toll for a soul to pay. It will not be easy for my child.”
Cole stroked Mianna’s hair. “I will be here for her, Arylin. I will follow every rebirth and serve her for as long as my soul exists. This covenant I make with thee. She shall not be lost.”
“A covenant I accept only because your nature allows it and I know your heart.”
A soft breeze filtered through the room, dispersing the divine connection.
Awe held Cole’s gaze suspended. His mind whirled with the facts set before him. The truth seemed impossible to grasp while his arms refused to let go. They welded into a tight embrace.
“Um, Cole?” Mianna’s muffled voice spoke against his shoulder. “I can’t—breathe.”
“Neither can I,” he whispered.
She leaned her head, smashing her nose against his jaw. “Really. Cole, I can’t breathe.”
Realization loosened his grip, but only by a slight margin. He shifted his gaze to look into her blue eyes. “Say something. Something only you would say to me.”
A smile crept up the corners of her mouth.
“Call me with thine eyes, my love. May thy kiss be mine.
Fill my soul with Zephyr’s breath, touch my heart so fine.”
Contentment washed across Cole’s shoulders and down his arms. Muscles melted as the long-forgotten language of his love lulled his heart. Mianna had been the only one to dilute him to the point of resembling a soggy rag, and he basked in the pleasure.
“Bid the heavens part to us, send grace, light and fair.
Arylin, Goddess of Love, grant me now my prayer.
Sanction this, our unity, free from life’s confines.
Love shall last o’er life’s offing, eternally divine.”
Her warm breath pooled against his chest as she cuddled deeper into his embrace. “I love you, Cole.”
He nuzzled her dark waves and filled his lungs with the scent of roses. “And I you, my love.”
His fingertips drew circles on the nap of her neck and then traced the curves of her body with long strokes. He watched the gentle movement and wondered how Mianna would react when she realized she lived in a body born nearly four-hundred years after she died. For that matter, what would she think when she found out she had died? And what of Anna?
No, it won’t be easy.
Soft hisses sounded as Mianna exhaled, and he lightly brushed the hair from the side of her face. She looked like an angel sleeping in his arms. Eternity echoed through his soul, and conviction burned bright. Whatever came their way, nature or man, he would be there for her. He had forever, and nothing would change that again.
End Book One