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Authors: Lily Worthington

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Time Eternal (10 page)

BOOK: Time Eternal
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He held her cold cheeks firmly, willing her to understand, while he continued. “I am the eldest son of the Serbian Emperor, Lazar Dusan. My homeland has been under constant invasion by one enemy or another over the centuries. My father sent each of his sons to different parts of the world to learn about our enemies so we would be prepared for any war to come. And now another war is coming.” He could barely contain the fury in his voice. His father’s people, his father’s father’s people, his ancestors had never been able to live in peace because of the power-hungry war moguls who claimed to fight in the name of gods, their
just
gods.

He lowered his head, kissing her palms, which were lying limply on her knees. “Elizabeth, I am still the same person you met at your uncle’s lecture last summer. And you are still my heart and soul.”

Even as he laid bare his soul, his secrets, to her, Elizabeth continued looking at him in shock. The liquid sorrow in her expression ran so deep that he could feel it bleeding from both of their hearts.

He knew he was losing Elizabeth, but he could not—would never—give her up without a fight. His father had taught all his sons that giving up was never an option. Anything worth having in life came with great sacrifice. And sacrifice required not giving up. So he stood up and used his commander voice, the voice that brooked no argument from his soldiers. “Listen to me, Elizabeth. I am going to marry you. You have promised to be my wife. And by the gods, you will be my wife.”

Tears slowly came down Elizabeth’s grief-stricken face. It broke his heart into pieces, a heart he did not know he had until he met her. She spoke quietly, too quietly, “You lied to me and my family.” Then she stood and walked away from him.
No!
He wouldn’t allow her to walk away from him, from them. Like the hardened soldier that he was, with a singular objective in his head and heart, he went after her and wrapped his arms around her, enfolding her entirely in his embrace. And with all his might, he held her tightly as if she was his only lifeline, willing her to come back to him.

He pushed his head lower, resting it at the crook of her neck and inhaling her familiar scent, like summer, like sunshine. “Elizabeth, please listen to me. A ship is waiting for me, for us, at the harbor. Come away with me now, and we’ll get married in my homeland. My family will welcome you as my wife, as their new daughter.”

He pulled her rigid body against his, burying his face deeper against her soft hair. “Please,” he begged. Rei had never begged once in his life. But Elizabeth just shook her head. Her body was trembling with quiet, devastated sobs. He wished he could comfort her, assure her that everything would be fine. But they both knew if the Medici family found out she was in love with a prince from the Serbian Empire, the sworn enemy of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the Medici family, Elizabeth’s father and her family would be imprisoned and probably be hanged for treason because the Medici wielded absolute power in Florence.

Elizabeth twisted away and turned to face him. His soft, kindhearted Elizabeth was never weak. Not too many people knew she possessed a spine of steel, which could easily outlast any of his best soldiers. Seeing how distraught she was broke his heart into thousands of pieces. Her big brown eyes, which used to shine with so much joy and love, looked up at him with tears and sorrow. Her small, delicate hand touched his cheek with the same gentleness Rei had been accustomed to. Her voice was determined. “I knew the moment we met, you would be my destiny. And what I’m about to say will rip my heart and soul apart.”
No!
Rei screamed inside already.

She closed her eyes for a brief moment. When she opened them, the sadness was still there, but it was overshadowed by her resolve. “I cannot go with you, Rei. I cannot, and I will not, leave Papa. I’m all he has left since Mama died.”

“Then we’ll take your father with us.”

A sad smile touched her lips, the soft, shy lips that he had kissed so many times. “No, Papa will never agree to leave Florence, not when he and Uncle Giovanni are so close to finishing their planetary theory and the machine, and not when the Medici have invested so much money in their work. Fernando Medici will never let my family go. He would find us and make us pay for such treachery, no matter where we are.”

Panic was setting in fast. Like begging, panic was a new emotion to him. So Rei spoke before he could think it through. “Then we will take Uncle Giovanni with us too.” Even he could hear the sheer desperation in his voice. He already knew how hopeless the situation was.

“Rei, you know that is impossible. Uncle Giovanni has his family to think about too. You cannot expect everyone to leave their homes behind just for us.”

As always, his Elizabeth’s logic was flawless. That was one of the many things he loved about her. She was no ninny like other young society ladies. She took after her father and uncle. She had a brilliant mind, logical and scientific.

He knew how stubborn she was. She would stay because of her father and uncle. He knew there was nothing he could do to persuade her short of taking her by force. He was about to do just that when the door of the sitting room was thrown open. Elizabeth’s cousin, Antonio, who was also the captain of the guard for the Medici family, came in with two soldiers. His eyes fixed on Rei. “Elizabeth, your father needs you in his study right away.”

Elizabeth looked at her beloved cousin with puzzlement. “What’s going on, Antonio?”

Antonio repeated his request, which sounded more like an order, but Elizabeth did not move away from him; instead she did the opposite. She stepped closer to him as if she already knew the evil about to happen. “No, Antonio, something is wrong. Why did Papa not come himself and ask for me?”

Rei knew why. His identity was blown. If he were captured, there was no doubt the Ottoman sultan would use him as leverage against his father and the empire. He needed an escape plan, fast, but he could not leave Elizabeth behind. Not when there was still so much to explain to her. Not when his heart and soul were irrevocably tied to hers. He could not imagine his life without her. His fight for his home would be meaningless without Elizabeth by his side.

Stepping forward, Rei raised his arms in a gesture of surrender. “I am the one you want. I will come with you. Leave Elizabeth out of this.”

“No!” Elizabeth rushed forward. “Antonio, I demand to know what’s going on. Why are you taking Rei away?”

Antonio’s soldiers seized Rei’s arms immediately, while Antonio turned to Elizabeth. With a surprising gentleness, he told his cousin, “Rei has lied to you. He’s lied to us. He is not who he said he was. He is—” Before he could go on, Elizabeth stubbornly stuck out her chin and cut him short, “I know who Rei is, cousin. But why are your men arresting him?”

Rei was awed by Elizabeth’s fierce protectiveness of him. A similar surprise showed on her cousin’s face before the cold bastard answered in a detached, authoritative tone, “Rei has been charged with spying for the enemy. I am ordered to take him to the tower for execution.”

“No!” Antonio caught her before she fell. He sat her on the chaise. “Elizabeth, you must listen to me. Fernando needs the support of the Ottoman sultan to preserve his power in Florence. Rei must be executed in order to send a stern message to the Serbian Emperor that resistance will result in annihilation—starting with his eldest son.”

Now or never.
Rei used Elizabeth’s distress as a distraction and jabbed his elbows at the two soldiers standing next to him, aiming at their windpipes, hoping to at least immobilize them, if not kill them on the spot, given the sheer force he had used. Having no remorse over his likely kills, he picked up a fallen saber with his tied hands and was ready to fight his way out and take Elizabeth with him.

Antonio let out a loud curse before charging toward Rei with his saber. In the meantime, more soldiers rushed into the sitting room at the same time.

“No, Antonio!” Elizabeth screamed and reached him before Antonio did. Putting herself between him and her cousin, she said, “No, Antonio. I beg of you, please let Rei go.” Swallowing tightly, she continued, “And in exchange, I will agree to the proposal you made to Papa. I will marry Fernando.”

Her plea and declaration stunned both him and her treacherous cousin. There was a deafening silence in the sitting room. It took Rei a moment to understand what she was saying. He could not believe it. He refused to believe it. Her power-hungry cousin had lost his mind to dare make such a proposal to her father. Pulling Elizabeth back, he glared down at her. “The devil you will make such a deal.” Then he turned squarely in front of Antonio. “I will go with you willingly. But Elizabeth will not marry Fernando.”

Too focused on keeping Elizabeth safe and too furious that she had just traded her life for his, Rei didn’t realize until too late that a soldier had crept up beside him. A searing pain burned into his side. He looked down and saw a saber piercing through his ribs from behind. The rapidly gushing blood from the wound brought him to his knees. His vision was rapidly blurring and so was his hearing. Elizabeth’s scream was fading like the morning star. He tried to get up and go to her, but his body was like stone, sinking onto the carpet. The next thing he felt was a blunt object crashing into the back of his head. “Rei!” The terrified scream was the last thing he heard before he lost consciousness...

As always, Rei’s nightmare took him forward to the battleground where he and his brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, awaiting the onslaught from the Ottoman Turks—the battleground where his countrymen were slaughtered along with his father and his younger brothers. He had dreamed of this battle time and time again throughout the centuries. Every time, he was just about to push his father away from the spears of two Ottoman soldiers, but he was too late to save his father, his king. And every time, he bolted straight up, awake, his body coiled and ready to fight. But this time, instead of finding himself alone in the dark, he heard something, or rather someone, crashing down on the floor. He reflectively reached for the dagger underneath the pillows and rolled off the bed, and with deadly aim, he pushed the dagger against the intruder’s throat. “Don’t move.”

•●•

Skyla was still in shock from what she had just seen. A dream—it must have been a dream she had just seen. The girl in the dream looked so much like herself. It
was
her. She just knew it. But how did she see into Rei’s dream? Questions. No answers. She hated questions with no answers. But Rei’s deadly voice and the sharp blade of his dagger pressing against her throat kicked her body into automatic defensive maneuvers, ready to fight him off. Just when she was about to apply counter moves, Rei blinked and the cold, dead stare was gone. He pulled the dagger back, but his other arm still held her throat tightly. “What are you doing here?”

She could hear his heavy breathing in the dark. It was as if he’d just finished rushing against some unseen enemy in the dark. “Let go of me.” She pushed at his chest and found a solid wall of muscle.

“Why are you here?” he asked again, this time with more menace in his voice. He used the momentum from her push to pull her to him, her body flush against his very naked body. Her body began humming again. Damn her traitorous body! Before she could buck him off, his mouth was on hers without any ceremony. He kissed her as if he was drowning and needed air, he kissed her with the ferocity of a starving man, and he kissed her as if she had always belonged to him.

It was the most intense kiss she had ever had. His demanding kiss burned not only her lips but something much deeper inside of her, somewhere she didn’t even know existed. And then fragments of images flooded her mind again. Papa, Uncle Giovanni, Antonio…too many images at once. Images she did not recognize, but her soul knew without any doubt. They were her memories from a long forgotten past. It was as if she were Sleeping Beauty, awakened for the first time in a century.

No…she didn’t want this. She didn’t want any other life than the one she had built with her mom and dad, with her team. Skyla struggled to take control of herself. She pulled her leg back and raised it, aiming where it would hurt the most. And just like that, his solid weight rolled off her. He let out a harsh groan. Quickly she pushed herself off the floor and ran for the door.

“Dammit. Elizabeth, wait!” he called after her.

No.
Skyla kicked up her legs and leaped past the suite door. She was
not
Elizabeth, at least not anymore.

 

Chapter Twelve

Skyla did not know why she was running like hell hounds were on her heels. She knew she was absolutely safe within the Agency. Well, on second thought, maybe not so safe if Rei could penetrate these walls so easily, passing the tempo detectors as if they were mere children’s toys. As soon as the elevator doors were open, she jumped right in and almost ran into two solid walls.

“Whoa, Skyla, easy.” Butch was holding his arms out on her shoulders so that she wouldn’t literally smack right into them.

She stood still for a second, trying to catch her breath, trying to make sense of what she’d just seen and what her body had just felt. She didn’t want to alarm them, especially not Knox. She knew he would kill Rei if he heard about what had just happened inside the guest suite. Despite Knox’s normally reserved demeanor, he was cold and merciless when he chose to be. She had seen him kill when necessary, when he had to protect his team during missions. And she was always thankful that he was on their side instead of the bad guys’. So she infused as much calm in her voice as she could, “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Now that she had caught her breath fully, she realized something was out of the ordinary. Both of them were in full mission gear. Strange, she was not aware of any active mission her team was on the last couple of days. And it was Agency protocol to keep the same team abreast of any ongoing missions carried out by their teammates in the event backup was needed.

She did a slow double take from Butch to Knox and then to Butch again. “And where’ve you two been?”

BOOK: Time Eternal
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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