Book 8: Order of the Blade
In the beginning, many centuries ago…
He wanted her.
There was no way for Dante to deny his response to the whispered warning she had sent dancing along the breeze to him. He had no idea who she was, or what she looked like, but her voice was like the harmony of early morning, the whisper of new leaves brushing against the dew, the delicateness of flower blossoms coming to life. The energy of her words spun through him with restless temptation, prying him from his dark thoughts about Louis and the bloodbath he’d left behind.
In his world, craving a woman this intensely was a very, very dangerous thing.
He wanted to race toward her.
He wanted to rip aside the canopy of leaves shielding her from his sight.
He wanted to find her, to claim her, to consume her.
So, instead, he stopped and went completely still. He reached out with his preternatural senses, searching the landscape ahead. The mountain was ominously tall. Turbulent dark clouds coated the sky above him, but it wasn’t enough to block her. He caught the faint scent of woman, pure and delicate, and his gut clenched in response. But still, he didn’t move. Instead, he carefully located the pulsing energy of the sword she was guarding. She was between him and the sword, an obstacle that he had to pass in order to retrieve the weapon.
Testing her, he turned left, circling around behind her. As he moved, she shifted, keeping herself between him and the sword. She could sense him? Was her awareness of him as intense as his awareness of her?
He looked down at the protective symbols on his arms and saw they were still blazing. As long as they were visible, the sheva bond could not affect him. No woman could be his soulmate. He was still safe from that fate…but if that was the case, why was he reacting to her so intensely? He had no time for women. He had no time for seduction. He was never distracted from what he had to do.
So, what the hell was going on with her?
He had no time to play games any longer. He needed that sword, and he needed it now, which meant he had to get past her. He was tempted to call out his spears, but he didn’t. Never would there come a day when he approached a woman armed. Ever.
So, instead, he straightened up, fisted his hands, and strode right through the undulating shadows toward her.
His feet were silent on the forest floor, and the leaves moved out of his way as he walked, responding to his silent request for passage, as they always did. Ahead of him, he could see that the trees thinned, and he knew he was approaching a clearing.
His weapons still burning in his arms, responding to the risk she presented, Dante stepped forward through the last of the foliage and into the open, exposed area.
He didn’t see her.
Disappointment surged through him as he quickly scanned the vicinity. Trees stood tall above him, their branches long and spindly, tangling into each other, weaving a canopy that protected this area from the rest of the world. Sparse grass clung to barren dirt. Ancient rocks lay battered, half-submerged in the weary ground. He could sense the suffering of this place, of the people who had once lived and died in this clearing. So much to tell him, and yet the one thing he wanted to know more about was hidden. He saw no sign of her, but her presence was strong, a vibrating energy of light and dark. “Show yourself,” he commanded.
Again, no response. Not even another whispered reply on the wind.
Awareness still prickling on his neck, he walked further into the clearing, reaching out with his senses, searching for a ripple in the atmosphere that would reveal her location. Out into each direction he sent queries, and then he found her. A block in the transference of energy, a shield of sorts, in the northwest end of the clearing.
He turned toward it, his hands still flexing. Behind her, he could feel the sword’s energy calling to him, more intensely than ever before. The urge to respond to its summons was thundering through him, almost impossible to resist, but he refused to acknowledge it. This woman, this mysterious woman who was guarding it, this sensual temptation of danger…she was what he needed to deal with first.
He kept his gaze riveted on the swirl of feminine energy that he’d located. He couldn’t see her, but he knew she was there. “I am going to take the sword,” he said.
“No.” Her voice was clear, a shot to his gut with the raw intensity of it. It wasn’t simply feminine, it was powerful and strong, rich with sensuality. “Walk away.”
“It’s been calling to me.” He took a step closer, and felt a sudden burst of wind slam against his chest, as if she’d shoved the air at him as a warning. Could she manipulate air? He’d never heard of that. “The sword wants me to retrieve it.”
“Do not touch it.” As the words filled the air, a faint mist began to glisten in the location he was watching, like millions of dew droplets in the first rays of morning light.
Adrenaline and anticipation roared through him, and he was riveted by the rainbow-colored prisms as they glittered and sparkled, becoming less transparent. Then he saw her face beginning to take shape. An incredible, vibrant turquoise began to glow as it slid into the shape of her nose, a delicate slope of pure femininity. Smooth cheeks of perfection, the sensual curve of her jaw, parted lips. Her hair began to appear, tumbling down around her in violet and turquoise cascades of thick curls. And then her eyes. Dante stood, transfixed, as her eyes appeared, vibrant blue pools flanked with long, thick lashes, watching him intently.
Her body began to manifest. Long, delicate arms, a mystical dress clinging to her body, showing small breasts of surreal temptation, hips that bled into lean legs, bare feet that seemed to fade right into the grassy tufts by her toes.
“What are you?” he asked, his voice gruffer than he’d intended.
“I don’t exist here.” There was a sudden shimmer, as if a thousand prisms had shifted position, and then she was standing before him, fully corporeal, with flesh as human as his. Her cascade of colors shifted into a rich, decadent shower of brown curls, and an endless temptation of flesh so pale it looked as though it had never seen the sun. But her eyes were the same, a vibrant, iridescent symphony of violet, rich blue, and enchantment.
Stunned, he closed the distance between them, compelled by the need to touch her. To see if she was real. She lifted her chin regally as he neared. She did not retreat, but her muscles tensed, and a ripple of fear echoed through the air.
He stopped a mere foot from her and raised his hand. Gently, almost afraid that he would shatter the mirage, he brushed his fingers ever so lightly over the ends of her curls. Silken strands glided through his fingers, the softest sensation he’d ever experienced. She closed her eyes and went utterly still, as if drinking in his touch with every ounce of her being.
“You do exist here,” he said softly, forcing himself to drop his hand, trying to shield himself against the depth of his urge to slide his hand down her arm, to feel the warmth of her skin against his. Again, he looked down at his protective markings and saw they were still blazing as black as they had the first time he’d finally succeeded in manifesting them. This wasn’t a sheva compulsion. It couldn’t be. So what was it?
She opened her eyes, and he saw that they had darkened into deep blue, though they still had the glittery sparkles in them. “You are worthy,” she said softly. “I can feel your strength, your capability. The sword has chosen well. Too well,” she added, the regret obvious in her voice.
Dante had no idea what the hell was going on, not with the sword that had been summoning him, not with this woman who had manifested from a glittery mist, and not with his own burning desire for her. Swords, he understood. All this? No, but he was going to figure it out, and fast. “My name is Dante Sinclair. I’m the leader of the Order of the Blade.” He did not add that he was the only one left of a decimated Order. The last Calydon alive who had a chance to save the earth from the rogues. “Who are you?”
“Dante Sinclair,” she repeated, sending warmth spiraling through him as she said his name. She made it sound poetic, like a great gift offered to the very earth upon which they stood. She gave a low curtsy. “My name is Elisha, daughter of the Queen of Darkness. Soon to be consort to the master Adrian.”
Dante went cold at her words. “Consort?” That one word had chased every other bit of information she’d offered out of his mind. “What does that mean?”
She rose to her feet, and something flickered in her eyes, something he couldn’t decipher, but she definitely had reacted to his fury about her becoming some guy’s consort.
She raised her hand and brushed her fingers over his cheek. “Your anger at my words is beautiful.” Her touch was like silk, like the whisper of a new dawn across his skin. Without speaking, he laid his hand over hers, pressing her palm to his face. Her hand was cool, drifting through his body like the cleansing rain of a raging summer storm.
Her gaze went to his. “You have freedom here, in the earth realm. I can sense it about you. Your heart—” She laid her other hand on his chest, moving even closer to him. “—it beats differently than mine. I can feel its freedom. It’s like the purest magic, born of innocence and honor.” A sense of awe appeared on her face, and Dante felt his world begin to close in on him as he tumbled into her spell.
Unbidden, his hand slid to the back of her neck. He needed to touch her. To kiss her. To claim her. To make her his.
Her eyes widened, and she froze, going utterly still. “No,” she whispered. “This cannot be.”
“Just like how you don’t exist in the earth realm?” He bent his head, his lips hovering a breath from hers. “Because you do exist. And this can be, because it’s happening right now.”
“No!” A gust of wind suddenly slammed into his chest and thrust him backwards. He landed ten feet away, on his ass, a pawn in the grasp of her power.
Damn. That was impressive. With a groan that he didn’t mean to let slip, he vaulted back to his feet, disgusted that he’d let his need for her dictate his actions. Had he really just considered seducing her when his last hope for the rebuilding of the Order lay dead, only half a day’s run from here? Shit. He lowered his head, studying her more carefully. The power of a woman. A princess? What in the hell was going on? “Who is the Queen of Darkness? And what realm are you from, if you’re not from the earth realm?”
Elisha was facing him, her hands dangling loosely by her sides, her gaze blazing. “You must leave,” she said urgently. “You must.”
There was no chance of that. “Where is the sword from, Elisha?” He began to walk toward her again, but this time, it wasn’t about seduction. It was about his mission, his job, his calling. “How is it calling me?”
“No.” Once again, she sent air at him, pushing him backwards, but this time he was ready.
He simply braced himself and shoved forward, cutting through the invisible wall.
Her face tightened with fear. “Halt!” she commanded, with the imperious force of the royalty she’d claimed to be.
He stopped. “Tell me why.” She was soon going to be some man’s consort? Really? Shit. Why was he thinking about that when he was facing down an enemy? He schooled his thoughts away from seduction, desire, and temptation, and faced the princess. “Tell me what’s going on.”