Authors: Theresa Dalayne
Zanya stormed out of the jungle toward Renato’s house. “Un-freaking-believable.” She glanced over her shoulder at Arwan following close behind.
When Zanya approached the kitchen entrance near the veranda, she spotted Jayden sitting outside. He slowly stood, his gaze darting between her and Arwan.
“Zanya, please.” Arwan was struggling to catch up. If he didn’t fall back, she’d make sure he struggled a whole lot more. “Wait a second.”
“Wait for what? To be told there’s yet another aspect of my life I have zero control over?” She stormed up the path to the house and pushed through the door into the kitchen.
Jayden followed her into the entryway, then paused, staring at Arwan as he finally stumbled inside. Jayden smirked. “Dude. What did you do?” He eyed Arwan. “And what the hell are you wearing? You look like a seriously jacked-up Tarzan.”
Arwan pointed at him with a vicious glare. “Shut up.”
Jay snorted. “I haven’t seen Zanya this pissed off since…well, since I got here.” He groped in his pocket. “Oh my God, dude. Just stay right there. I have to take a picture. Don’t move.”
Arwan’s glare intensified. “You’re not helping.”
Zanya groaned and continued upstairs. Tara peeked her head out of her bedroom. “What the heck is going on? I could hear you shouting all the way from up here.”
Zanya’s mind was too scattered to explain. She retreated into her room, slammed the door behind her, and locked it, swallowing down the urge to scream.
Tara’s muffled voice pushed under the door from the hall. “Is everything all right?”
“Some kind of lovers’ spat, if I had to guess,” Jayden said from the hall.
“Stop being such an asshole. Can’t you see she’s totally freaking out? We should try to talk to her.”
Zanya paced the room, unable to block out their voices while she desperately tried to sort her thoughts.
“Uh…you want me to go in there?”
“You’re her friend too,” Tara whispered harshly.
“Last time I put myself in her line of fire, she almost knocked me on my ass. Not doing that again.”
“Jayden, stop being a pansy and knock on the door.”
Tara scoffed. “Pansy. Move out of the way.”
There was a knock on the door.
Zanya stopped and fisted her hands. “What!”
“I told you to give her some time to cool off,” Jayden said from the hall. “She’s like Wonder Woman on her…you know.”
Zanya rubbed small circles over her temples. “I can hear you.”
“Idiot!” There was a smack.
“That’s what you get. Now shut up.” There was another moment of silence before Tara’s voice continued steady and strong. “Hey, honey. We’re here. Everything okay?”
“No, everything is definitely not okay.” Zanya flung open the door and paused when her focus landed on Jayden. “Just perfect.” She turned and stormed back into her room.
“Do I have to go in there?” Jayden asked.
Tara grabbed his arm and dragged him through the doorway, then closed the door behind them.
Zanya crossed her arms as her breaths quick and sharp. “What are you doing here?”
Jay pointed at Tara.
Zanya pursed her lips. “Great. Now if we bring Arwan up here, we can have both of the guys who screwed me over in the same room, like a little reunion. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Jayden cringed and stepped back. “I vote
Zanya glared. “You would!”
“Hey, don’t get mad at me because of some other guy’s—”
Zanya pointed at him. He snapped his jaw shut midsentence, staring at her finger as if it were a magic wand.
She conjured a spark of electricity to her fingertip. The surge rolled over her hand and up her arm. “You are just as much to blame as he is.” She narrowed her eyes further. “It must be a male DNA deformation that makes you all liars.”
Jayden’s eyebrows shot up. “I haven’t lied to you since…” He fell silent. “Never mind.”
Zanya scoffed and paced along the wall, burying her fingers in her hair. “Do you have any idea what just happened?”
Tara stepped toward her. “Sweetie, you have to calm down. You’re starting to freak me out.”
“If you’re freaked out now, just wait until you hear this.” Zanya resumed packing while she counted the points on her fingers.
“A, I just fought the same animal who killed Sarian in the underworld. B, turns out the beast was Arwan, and apparently he’s some kind of werewolf-underworlder-thing. C, the pages of the book do have some
.” She quoted the last two words in the air with her fingers.
“And D…” She stopped dead in her tracks and locked eyes with Tara, whose breath hitched. The heat drained from Zanya’s cheeks and she sucked in a few panicked breaths. “Shit, not again.” She gripped her chest and grabbed on to the bedframe for support.
“Oh boy.” Tara rushed to her side and guided her to the bed. “I thought you were done having panic attacks.
“Me too,” Zanya wheezed.
Jayden crouched in front of her. “Breathe. Just breathe.” He rested his hand on hers. “What’s D?”
She clenched her eyes shut, shaking her head. A hot tear rolled down her cheek. “I’m destined to be with him.
. Created to bond.” When she opened her eyes, both Jay and Tara were staring at her with parted lips. “The book said I have to be with the one man on earth, touched by darkness, who walks among man. Half-evil, half-light.”
“That could be…” Tara glanced at Jayden. “A lot of people.”
Jayden walked to her side. “You’re not destined to be with anyone. Not even me. Don’t believe that bullshit.”
Zanya swallowed and took a few deep breaths to compose herself. “The book is talking about him. He’s the only one it could be.”
Tara ran her hand down her own arm, still staring at Jay. “That’s not entirely true.”
The door burst open, and Zanya’s mother barged into her room. “What the hell is going on in here?” Her eyes softened when she saw Zanya. When she walked to Zanya’s side, Jayden moved out of the way.
Her mother quickly examined everyone in the room. “What’s happened?”
Zanya stared up at her—the one person she wanted to confide in and the one person she couldn’t. “I can’t do this right now. Not with you.”
Her mother looked at Tara, who froze like a deer in headlights. Eleuia turned to Jayden, who shifted his weight.
“Wonderful. It’s the dead kid.” Eleuia exhaled. “Are
going to tell me what happened?”
Jayden shook his head. “I’m not sure.” He glanced at her clenched fists. “Ma’am.”
Eleuia rolled her eyes and turned back to Zanya. “Honey…” She slowly sat on the bed. “I know I’ve been a little…harsh since I came back. I just want to protect you. So much has changed since we last saw each other. You couldn’t have known about the boy.” When Zanya didn’t answer, her mother’s shoulders dropped.
Eleuia stood, surveying the room. She traced her fingers along the engravings of vines and leaves on the wooden bedpost. “I haven’t been in this room since…” She pulled her hand back to her chest. “Since I last saw your father.” She stood a moment longer before walking toward the door. “I’ll be in Renato’s wing if you need me. I won’t keep bothering you.” She paused and turned at Tara and Jayden. “You seem to have some good friends. Maybe you don’t need a mom anymore.”
Arwan flung open his bedroom door in the west wing. He grabbed a pair of shorts and a T-shirt from his drawer and laid the pages of the book on his bed, staring down at the taunting symbols. He narrowed his eyes. His attention shifted to the drawings of his mother that hung on his wall. Her face was so familiar, yet it seemed he didn’t know the woman nearly as well as he thought.
The stink of Drina’s healing salve broke his concentration.
First he would shower, then he would figure out what do to next. The pages presented more questions than answers, and he refused to believe what the book insinuated about his mother.
She had been a windbender—a Riyata forced into compliance by the underworld king. She had been a victim, sucked into the darker realm. That was what he knew and what he would continue to believe, no matter what the book said.
He walked into the bathroom and turned on the hot water, eager to rinse off the herbal treatment and loosen his muscles. He untied the tattered quilt from his waist and tossed it into the laundry basket before stepping under the running water. He braced his hands on the tile wall and let hot water run over his head and down his back.
Drina’s desperation left him unsettled. He had never seen the priestess so shaken. If he was destined to bond with Zanya, there was more to his past than what he’d been told.
He and Zanya were destined bonds, born into the world to find each other and unite for a common purpose.
It all made sense now.
He didn’t understand the immediate attraction when they first met. It slammed into him like an asteroid. Whatever it was, it was more than just a crush. Something deeper linked them, and now he had a small understanding why.
Still, not everything made total sense. The passage in the book—the one fleeting line that hinted to his lineage—was not enough to convince him that his mother was anything but a victim.
He finished his shower and slipped on clean clothes.
He’d have to travel light.
Some cash, his cell phone, and a small duffle bag packed with a couple changes of clothes would hold him over for a few days. That was all he would need to get to Moscow and back.
He had to see Contessa.
According to Zanya’s last vision, the witch still had the book. If it contained the rest of his mother’s story, what would that mean for his future?
He descended the stairs and walked through the west wing, leaving through the back door before he checked his watch. If he made it to the airport in an hour, he could catch the six o’clock flight out of Belize.
That meant he’d have to take the sports car.
He walked into the covered garage and grabbed the key fob to the Infiniti Coupe.
He paused at the sound of a thudding heartbeat, and turned. Eleuia was leaning against the passenger door of the car, her arms crossed.
“What do you want?” he said.
She glanced at his bag. “Going somewhere?”
“Depends. Do you have your gun?”
Eleuia snorted. “This whole mess you’ve dragged my daughter into hasn’t ended well for you. I had a feeling you wouldn’t stick around.”
“Great. Anything else?” He had to leave, and Eleuia was clearly just trying to agitate him.
“You know, Zanya is up in her room right now crying her eyes out.”
He bit the inside of his cheek. What did she expect him to do? Apologize? He didn’t owe her anything. He pushed the Unlock button on the keychain. The headlights blinked and the horn let out a short beep. “Please get away from the car.” He opened the trunk and threw in his bag, then slammed it closed.
Eleuia rested her forearms on the hood, peering at him as he walked to the driver’s side. “So how did you do it, exactly? You just waltzed right into my house and charmed my brother into thinking you’re some kind of changed man? That you turned over a new leaf? That you’re not an abomination?”
Arwan worked his jaw while he opened the door. He watched her over the roof, considering whether there was any use in talking to her at all. “You don’t know anything about me, and whether you like me or not, I’m part of your daughter’s life.” He had to believe that.
Eleuia pushed off the car. “Not anymore.”
Talking to her was a waste of time—time he should be using to drive as fast as he could to the airport so he didn’t miss his flight. “I have to go.” He sat and slammed the door, then pushed the Start button. The car roared to life. It had been a while since he’d driven, but the hum of the engine was a welcomed familiar. He rested his hand on the stick shift.
Eleuia tapped on the passenger window.
Arwan dropped his head. He shouldn’t bother rolling it down.
“Half-breed,” she said in a singsong tone.
As much as he hated it, Eleuia was still Zanya’s mother, and out of respect to
, he’d listen to what she had to say—though he had a feeling he’d regret it.
He pushed a button and the window slid down. He stared straight ahead, wringing the leather steering wheel.
“You know you’ll never be able to make her happy, don’t you?”
Arwan swallowed, his body heat rising. He drew in a deep breath and suppressed the call of the beast.
“It’s sick, really.” She slowly backed away from the car. “You played with her heart all this time, knowing damn well anyone with underworld blood can’t bond with a Riyata. You set her up,
, and she’ll never forgive you for it.”
He pushed the stick into first gear and slammed his foot on the gas. The wheels spun, and the tires screeched against the asphalt.
When Zanya walked into the study, everyone was huddled around Renato’s desk. Arwan was the only one missing. She couldn’t help but feel relieved. He was the last person she wanted to see at the moment. Maybe ever again.
Zanya approached the chattering group and leaned on Tara, peeking over her shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“Renato found something about Jayden’s
“Really?” She stretched on her tippy-toes and spied a book splayed open on Renato’s desk.
Someone tapped her shoulder. Zanya glanced back at Eleuia, who now stood behind her. Zanya gave her a haphazard smile. “Hey.”
“I bet you’re pretty happy about all this.” She gestured to the book.
“That depends on what Renato found.”
“Well, it looks like your zombie friend is going to be okay.”
Zanya suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “That’s great, but he’s having a hard enough time dealing with what happened without you cracking walking-dead jokes every two seconds.”
“Fair enough.” She lifted her hands in a gesture of surrender.
Renato scanned the group. “I have very good news. It seems there
been one other case like Jayden recorded by the scribes.” Renato extended the book. Zanya took it and examined the pages. “His name was Canek, which means ‘black serpent.’ He was a prince set to inherit the throne of Chichen Itza.”
“Where’s that?” Zanya asked.
“It’s in central Mexico,” Eleuia replied. “It’s an old Yucatan civilization.”
“That’s correct.” Renato flipped to another page, scanning the entries. “The scribe’s journal says the same day Canek was crowned king, he met a princess named Sac-Nicte. They fell in love, but she was betrothed to the much younger prince of Uxmal. On the day of the princess’s wedding, Canek arrived and stole his beloved back from the undeserving king. But when she tried to flee with Canek, he was killed by one of the prince’s guards.
“The princess was heartbroken, and in mourning, she gave all of her riches to a high priestess in exchange for a powerful blood offering as a payment to Houn to return Canek’s soul. Once his soul was returned, the princess ran away with Canek, abandoning their city.
“The scribe wrote that Canek was never the same after his soul touched the underworld. His heart ceased to beat and his body did not need rest. Fearful his beloved would be afraid of him, Canek told the princess it was her love that kept him alive.”
Tara sighed and leaned against Peter. “That’s so sweet.”
“A sweet lie,” Zanya mumbled.
“Sometimes a small lie is more humane than the truth,” Renato said. “If you know the truth will hurt the one you love.”
Zanya huffed. “I’d rather have the cold truth than be lead to believe I know a complete stranger.”
“I have to agree with Zanya on this one.” Hawa shrugged. “The truth is always better.”
“So I’m gonna be okay?” Jayden asked. “Or does that matter to anyone?”
“According to the scribe’s journal, the prince retained his immortality in a seemingly healthy state. So, yes, it appears you will be fine.”
Hawa grabbed her clutch purse from the corner of Renato’s desk. The rhinestones glittered against the light pouring in from the stained-glass windows. “Good. Now we can all go. I have a date tonight.” She twirled in her scarlet dress and then strutted toward the door.
“I’m afraid you will have to cancel your plans,” Renato said.
Hawa froze and slowly turned. “Excuse me?”
He looked at Zanya. “We have training to do.”
It took almost more than a day to reach Moscow. The airport was crowded and decorated with wreaths and brightly colored lights. Arwan had nearly forgotten that most people in the city celebrated Christmas this time of year.
He stepped out of the building into the night air. Rain soaked the roads beyond the covered area, and the bitter cold sent a chill deep into his bones. He flagged a cab and climbed in the backseat, thankful to be off the plane and in a car. The inside of the bright yellow taxi smelled like pine. The driver turned in his seat and flashed a smile. “Happy Holiday.”
Arwan nodded out of respect, though he didn’t necessarily agree. The solstice was usually the only time of the year he felt whole. This year he was empty and alone.
“Traveling to see family?” The cabby pulled away from the curb.
Arwan dug in his bag and pulled out some cash. “No.” He extended a fifty-dollar bill.
The driver glanced at it in the rearview mirror and took it without turning around.
“Take me to Red Square.”
“Sure thing.” The driver was quiet the rest of the drive. The streets of Moscow were pitch-black, except for the reflection of the streetlamps on the rain-covered roads.
He pulled to the curb and stopped the meter. “Red Square, sir. This is the side entrance.” He pointed toward a narrow street. “Not many people use it, though nothing’ll be crowded this time of night.”
“Thanks.” He grabbed his bag and opened the door. “Any idea where I can find the food market?” That was where the witch had lured Peter into her home. Once he found his way there, he would be able to find Contessa.
“It’s a bit of a walk,” he said, pointing across the square. “Once you get to those buildings, you have to go all the way back to the market area. But nobody’ll be open. They went home hours ago.”
“Thanks.” He stepped out of the cab and shut the door. The car pulled away, casting red light over the ground when it braked at the stop sign.
Arwan flipped up the collar of his jacket and secured his bag around his shoulder. He followed the cabby’s instructions until he reached an alleyway, tucked in the back of the quiet city.
Last time he was here, tourists swarmed the streets. Fresh produce was stacked, carts lined up along the back roads. Now the residents slept, sheltered in their homes from the bitter cold.
Small landmarks led him closer to the witch’s home. A yellow-and-green fire hydrant. A small cafe with odd-shaped chairs. A bronze statue of a stately man in a trench coat. It wasn’t much farther.
The patter of his shoes striking puddles with each step was a soothing rhythm compared to his chaotic thoughts. He had no way of telling if this would end well, but if he wanted to be truthful with himself, he had nothing to lose even if it went very, very badly.
He and Zanya may be fated, but he would not try to force her to care for him again. She would have to do that on her own or not at all. And the chances of that happening seemed less and less likely as the days passed, especially with her mother around.
He turned a corner into a shadowed alley, where. townhouses lined each side of the familiar cobblestone street. He crept down the path and paused at a black door with a silver serpent as a knocker. He squared his shoulders and faced the quant home, where a single candlelight flickered in the second-story window.
Just beyond that door were the witch, the book, and more importantly, the truth.