New Release under New Romance Penname

Woohoo! This is my first release under my new romance penname, Sienna Blake!

Love Sprung From Hate is live and, boy, do I have some sales and giveaways for you!

Love Sprung From Hate cover

Love Sprung From Hate (Dark Romeo 1)

I didn’t know she was a detective, the only daughter of the Chief of Police.
I didn’t know he was a mafia Prince, heir to the Tyrell’s bloody empire.

It was only supposed to be one night.
God help me, I can’t stop thinking about that night.
So when she walked into the interrogation room, my heart almost stopped.
I can’t believe he might have tortured and killed someone.

I have to avoid her at all costs.
I will be his downfall.

So begins a deadly game of cat and mouse, of blood and lust, of love and duty, and of an attraction so fierce the consequences are inevitable…

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this is a retelling for mature audiences. Don’t enter the Underworld if you’re scared of the dark.

Only 99c / FREE with Kindle Unlimited: | | |

Paperbacks: Amazon | Createspace

Dark Romeo 2 & 3 are scheduled for July 13 & August 10 so no waiting 😉

Who wants to win?

Help share my new release via Facebook and you could win a $100 Amazon Gift Card!

>>>WIN a $100 Amazon GC<<<

Good luck! And enjoy Love Sprung From Hate!

xoxo Sienna (aka Hanna)



The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel ~ only 99c

Happy Release Day to the Legends of the Damned box set!

Get The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel for only 99c!
(Plus another 20 Urban Fantasy novels)

And enter below to WIN a paperback of The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel

The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel (Dark Angel) is part of a 21 fantasy book box set with 23 New York Times, USA Today, and International bestselling authors, releasing today (11th April)!

But Afterlife will only be available in this box set until 18th April.

Don’t miss out on this incredible deal.

Purchase today for just USD99c! | ($1.31) | ($1.34)
Nook | Kobo |  iBooks

Before you go…

Enter my AFTERLIFE paperback giveaway on my Facebook page!

Good luck!

xxx Hanna

21 Urban Fantasy novels for only 99c!

Happy New Year my lovely readers!

Who is skint from Christmas shopping and New Year shenanigans?

*raises hand*

So, who wants to get their hands on 21 sexy, edgy Urban Fantasy novels for just 99c???

Angelfire (Dark Angel #1) is part of a 21 fantasy book box set with 23 New York Times, USA Today, and International bestselling authors and the pre-order releases today!



Pre-order today for only USD99c!

Amazon.US | Amazon.UK | Amazon.CA (1.31) | Amazon.AU (1.34)

Nook | Kobo | iBooks

I know you’ve all read Angelfire… but have you read the other 20 awesomesauce books in the set? I don’t think so! Over one million magical butt-kicking words!

We’re hoping to hit some big lists with this box set, and I need your help to get there. If you could pre-order today I will love you forever! Every pre-order helps.

Thank you so much.

Lots of love for 2017!

xx Hanna

5 Fantasy Books. 99 pennies…

DA1to5 Sale FB HEader

Guys, I have the MOST unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime Dark Angel sale to tell you about!

But first, some changes… Some of you may have noticed that my Dark Angel ebooks are not for sale at the moment on B&N, Kobo and iBooks. I’m now exclusive to Amazon and in their Kindle Unlimited program.
I didn’t make this decision lightly. I’ve been fighting against it for almost a year now. But unfortunately the other retailers don’t make it easy for indies like me. And Amazon’s exclusive offer is just too good. I had to go exclusive with Amazon or stop writing full-time, and you’d rather I keep writing, right?

But you don’t need a Kindle to read my books!

Download Amazon’s FREE Kindle app by clicking here
It works with just about any device (smartphone, tablet, computer). Once you’ve downloaded the free Kindle app, you can purchase my books from Amazon and it’ll automatically appear in your app.

Dark Angel Books 1-5 Box Set is now on sale for USD99c*!
*or currency equivalent

Holy Angel’s Breath! That’s less than 20c per book. And a saving of $8. Get it now before the price goes back up!
Read them already? Tell a friend who has been umming an ahhing over reading this series!

Over 500 Five Star reviews for the Dark Angel series on Amazon!

Over 1300 pages of sword-wielding, ass-kicking, world saving warriors.
And of a love beyond magic…

angel box set 1-5 Angel Forget everything you know about angels…

You’ll likely find 18 year old Alyxandria slicing demons with her blades rather than plucking at harp strings. When Alyx meets Israel, a handsome yet mysterious mortal being hunted by demons, their friendship is forbidden. But she just can’t walk away.

Alyx and Israel will soon realize that their destinies are inexplicably tied – and that their choices will determine the fate of Earth itself…

Only 99c! Or Free in #KindleUnlimited | | |
This once-in-a-lifetime sale ends soon.

Bound Box Set ~ 99c release sale

The Bound series has just been released as a box set. Let’s celebrate with a sale!

Get the entire Bound series for only 99c!
(or free in Kindle Unlimited)

But be quick as this is offer is only for a limited time

Bound box set final 1200x1600“Move out the way Sylvia Day!”

Over 200 5-star reviews on Amazon for this series! 

Caden Thaine is the most sinfully beautiful man I have ever seen. But more than that, his touch sets me on fire. I know he’s hiding something. But I’m hiding things too.

I could never have imagined just how much our lives are bound. And that pulling at his tangled web of secrets would cause my own dark past to come back to try and reclaim me. Will we survive? Will our love? | | |

Happy reading!

xx Hanna

P.S. Check the back of the Bound Box Set for an exclusive signed paperback giveaway! (Sorry, US only)

Giveaway Winner(s) & Answer to the Afterlife Riddle

Congratulations to my various giveaway winners!

Erin M, USA won my Goodreads The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel giveaway
Deb B, USA won my VIP-exclusive Dark Angel paperback giveaway
Louise S, UK won my 10 YA Fantasy Paperback giveaway

Now that my giveaway is over I can tell you the Answer to the Afterlife Riddle…

Riddle Image

The answer to the riddle was





Riddle Office Image ANSWER

If you’ve read AFTERLIFE then you’ll know the sunflower scene. Not many people know how much the Sunflower means to me.

In 2012, my writing mentor – a man with 26 international bestsellers under his belt, the man who I owe every to – called me to tell me he was dying. With a heavy heart, I flew to Canberra to see him one last time, to spend one last week in his glorious presence.

As we were saying goodbye, he handed me a sunflower seedling, his favourite flower, grown from one of the sunflowers in his garden. He told me to collect the seeds and to ‘pass them on to create joy’ as Alyx’s mother did to Alyx in Afterlife. His last words to me were “my only regret with you, is that I won’t live to see you published”.

These words destroyed me.

Clutching my precious sunflower seedling, I flew home, stunned. Soon, shock turned to fury. And this fury forged into a steely-determination. I would prove him wrong. I would finish my first novel, and publish it before he passed away. I would prove to him that he didn’t waste his time nurturing me, encouraging me, pushing me. God dammit, I would make him proud.

In less than 6 weeks while still working an office job, I finished & edited Dark Angel 1, had the cover designed, created a website, shot a trailer, organised a blog tour. I was running on an average of 3 hours sleep a night but I had never felt so alive. Because he would see me published.

On 22 November I was told that he had passed away. Three hours later, my first book went live.

He never got to see me published. But I think he knows. His last gift to me, his sunflower, bloomed as he was leaving this earth and I don’t believe that is a coincidence. I believe it was him saying goodbye. And that he knew. And he was proud of me.

Today, the children of his sunflower have been planted across the world and I’ve run out of physical seeds. But I’ve learned the physical seeds were never the point…

I hope through my stories filled with redemption, hope and love, I’ve given you a “seed”. If I have, it’s now your turn to pass it on.

The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel is LIVE!

Happy release day for The Afterlife & Alyx & Israel! The ebook is at a special discounted price just for the next few days so don’t miss out!


Once upon a lifetime, Alyx & Israel lost each other…

In their new mortal lives, Alyx & Israel don’t remember anything about their past. And they have never crossed paths. Until some old friends decide to secretly nudge destiny along, their efforts almost destroying everything…

Now Alyx’s life lies in the balance, trapped in a coma deep within a DreamScape maze city. The only one who can help her escape is Israel, a man she doesn’t remember. They need to find a mysterious Mapmaker and solve his riddle. But is this Mapmaker hiding something?

Although this book is set years after the Dark Angel saga, it can be read as a standalone.

Special release price (save 25%):
Ebook: | | |
Barnes&Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords

Paperback: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Createspace 

* * *

Afterlife Maining TeaserAfterlife Badass Teaser

Afterlife – Chapter 5

If you haven’t read the previous chapters, START HERE.

This version has not been proofread yet and may contain errors.

Chapter Five

Israel’s stomach twisted into knots. He saw the Elder’s face, open with fear, and the knots pulled tighter.

“Grab your swords then aim for the exit, quick,” the Elder yelled as he began to lumber for the black doorway on the far side of the chamber. “We don’t have any more time.”

Alyx was already moving. She grabbed her weapon and his lying on the floor where they had dropped them. “Israel.” She threw his sword at him and began to sprint for the door, yelling as she dodged a piece of falling ceiling. Without thinking he caught his sword by the handle and sheathed it in one movement.

Then he ran too. “Come on, Elder,” he yelled.

“Curse this tiny body,” the Elder cried as he waddled along up on his squat hind legs.

Up ahead Alyx had reached the exit. There was a huge crack and a groan behind him. Israel turned his head just in time to see a pillar break away and fall towards the Elder.

“Elder, hurry!” Israel skidded to a halt.

The pillar toppled upon the Elder, knocking him down. Israel ran to him, dodging pieces of falling stone and leaping over the cracks that were appearing in the floor. He skidded to the Elder’s side.

“Leave me,” the Elder said. “Go. Get her out of here.”

“I’m not leaving you.” Israel tried to yank the pillar off the Elder’s tail but it was too heavy.

“Israel, there’s not enough time. Get out of here.”

“We’re not leaving you.” Alyx grabbed the pillar too. She’d come back. She lifted her eyes to Israel. “On two.”

He nodded, his eyes fixed on hers. “One.”


He pulled as hard as he could. The pillar was so heavy, sweat was pouring from Israel’s forehead and his hands, making his grip slippery. Alyx’s face was twisted with strain too.

But the pillar wouldn’t move.

“This isn’t working.” Alyx stumbled back from the pillar.

“Go, both of you,” the Elder said. “I’m not important. I just need to tell you before you go…”

“No,” Israel said. “You’re coming with us.” He glanced at the Elder’s tail. It was almost crushed through. “I have an idea,” he said to Alyx. “But it might hurt him.”

“Will it hurt him any more than having a building collapse on him?”

“Good point. You cut his tail. I’ll pull him.”


“We have no choice.” Israel grabbed the Elder under his arms. “Do it.”

She nodded, her lips going pale as she pressed them together, her polished features furrowed with determination. She unsheathed her sword and swung. It cracked through the stone of his tail.

Israel almost fell back as the Elder pulled free.

“Now, silly children,” the Elder said, the gray coloring of his cheeks going almost white. “Run.”

Israel hoisted the Elder onto his back. “Hang on.” The Elder’s arms went around his neck and Israel bolted after Alyx.


A second pillar broke loose and fell towards them. Israel didn’t think, he just moved, leaping off the ground. He felt his body go weightless and he twisted in the air, kicking off the side of another pillar. The Elder’s grip tightened around his neck and his short hind legs dug into his sides.

The falling pillar missed them by inches.


Israel landed on the shaky ground and didn’t miss a beat. He just kept running.

As he reached the doorway, Alyx was standing there, her mouth agape. She must have seen his acrobatics. “How did you do that?”

That was a damn good question. Not one that he could answer. “No time. Go.”

She turned and was swallowed up by the dark stairwell. He chased after her, taking the stairs two at a time, a thunderous crash closing off the chamber behind him with a spitting of hot dust. In the tight stone stairwell he was shaken about like a dice in a cup, his shoulders bouncing and scraping off the sides. He squinted through the blackness and falling grit, aiming desperately for the light coming from the exit somewhere above. Any second now these coffin-like walls would collapse and crush them. Please, hold. Just hold for a few more seconds.

Finally, the exit, a doorway filled with light at the top of the staircase. He burst out into a grand stone church, his breath heaving, his lungs stinging from the dust and effort. He was in what looked like the inside of a cathedral, the gothic ceiling soaring up well above him, the hanging thuribles shaking on their chains, wooden pews clattering against the marble floor. They must be above ground now because light streamed in through the stained glass windows. He knew this place. It was Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Saint Joseph.

He raced after Alyx, already sprinting down the center of the aisle towards the exit, the Elder’s stony body knocking bruises against his spine as he ran.

“Israel, wait,” the Elder said in a hoarse voice.

They couldn’t wait. Before Israel could answer, the Elder’s arms crumbled from around his neck like pieces of dried clay. The weight lifted from him as the stone gargoyle crashed to the ground.

“Elder!” Israel spun around. The Elder was lying in pieces, limbs shattered, his torso cracked in three places.

“Israel…” It came from the Elder’s mouth, still moving. He was still alive. Israel dropped to the Elder’s side.

“Elder, oh my God.” Alyx dropped down next to him.

“It’s fine. I was never meant to be here anyway,” the Elder said, speaking out of the corner of his broken mouth. His eyes in two separate pieces, blinked once, twice.

“We can fix you. We can−”

“No, Alyx. You have to listen.” The pieces of him were still collapsing, as if he was watching a time lapse of the wind breaking down a rock in the desert, the edges disintegrating into sand and dust. “You need to get out of here before winter is over.”


“Find the Mapmaker. He has the map. The map is the key to getting out of here.” If there was anything more that he wanted to say, he lost his chance. The Elder’s last remaining pieces fell away to a pile of sand and dust.

Alyx’s face crumpled. His chest squeezed, a reflection of the loss he could see in her eyes. But there was no time to mourn him. Pieces of the ceiling crashed down around them, smashing apart the fragile wooden pews like unforgiving fists. That would be their bodies in splinters if they didn’t move. He grabbed her hand. “We have to go. Now! This building is going to collapse on us.”

Still holding hands, they sprinted down the rest of the aisle. The large iron chandelier fell from the crumbling ceiling, diving into the floor with a terrible clatter and a shower of metal and sparks. The colored glass in the windows shattered as the walls groaned, then collapsed.

Israel and Alyx burst through the doors − thank god, they were unlocked − and tumbled down the stairs. The cathedral fell in upon itself with a thundering crash and a billowing of dust. Israel fell upon the lawn, rolling until he came to a complete stop beside her, his arms wrapping around her as she gripped his shirt in her fists. They stayed right there as the broken building ceased its spitting and the dust settled. Behind Israel’s closed lids an image overtook him.

She lay naked against his chest, his arms holding her to him, her soft body molding around his hard one, her scent in his nose; of the wind and of sun-warmed jasmine.

There was no end to him or beginning to her. They were one and the same, born in the same breath, pieces of the same star. They were…complete.

He barely knew his own voice when he spoke, so full of raw, swollen reverence, yet so quiet he wasn’t sure she heard him. “Why do you fit so perfectly here?”

His fingers traced her shoulder and she shivered against him. How could an angel-piece fit alongside his dull and roughened edges? How had he managed to capture in his hands the light of a star? How long could he hold it?

He felt an overwhelming ache growing in his heart; he didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve…her.

Israel’s eyes snapped open. He gazed at Alyx’s face, looking almost identical to the Alyx of his mind, his mouth suddenly dry. What the hell had he seen? He searched her face looking for answers. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her lashes coated in dust as if it were snow. She had the most beautiful skin, smooth and pale like polished marble. He raised his fingers to brush her cheek before he knew what he was doing. Her skin was as smooth as it felt in his…fantasy…memory…whatever that was.

Her eyes flickered open and stared at him, surprise clear in them. This close he could see all the specks of gold and pale green in her emerald eyes. Like the leaves when they were just beginning to turn in autumn.

“You had a smudge,” he lied. “On your cheek.”

“Oh. Right.”

He brushed her cheek again. It took all the willpower he had not to cup her face and pull her closer, to reach under her clothes for the softness he knew was there. “There,” his voice cracked. “It’s gone.”


“You know,” he tried a joke, “we must stop meeting like this.”

She didn’t laugh. She chewed on her bottom lip and his gaze dropped to her lips.

She pressed her mouth to his, lightly, her finger caught between the corners of their mouths. Her kiss was so light, he could barely believe it was real.

Israel blinked. Alyx hadn’t moved. She hadn’t kissed him.

What was happening to him? What was he seeing? Was he going mad or was the Elder…right? In a past life, the two of you meant something very special to each other.” He hadn’t realized he had pushed her away until she cleared her throat and scrambled to untangle herself from him. Israel felt the loss of her nearness at once.

He stood, trying to clear his thoughts as he brushed down his clothes, pants and hair. There was dust everywhere.


“Yeah?” So much damn dust.

Alyx tugged his arm. “Israel, look.”

He looked up to where Alyx was pointing. Over the top of the stone wall that circled around the cathedral grounds was a looming purple mountain rising up in the distance. In the sky above the mountain was a shimmering, faded image of Alyx asleep in her hospital bed, just as she had been when he had left her there.

That’s where they had to go. That was their exit.

“That’s me,” she said quietly. “I really am lying in a coma.”

He hated how her voice tightened. “We’re going to get you out of here.”


But he didn’t think she sounded sure at all.

That was fine. He would be sure for both of them.

He glanced around him. In the real world the end of spring was coming, but here the garden was bare, winter’s faded touch clear in the frost on the pale grass and the sun was low in the sky. The stone wall rising up around the perimeter of the now ruined cathedral was covered in a leafless vine like a dried spider’s web. This vine and a few spindly trees planted along parts of the wall were just beginning to dot with pale green tips.

“Look. It’s just coming into spring here.” The Elder had seemed so urgent when he told them that they needed to get out before the end of winter. But winter was still eight or nine months away. “We have plenty of time to get you out.”

“We need to find the Mapmaker, whoever he is. Wherever he is.” She made a face. “We need a map to get to the Mapmaker.”

Israel spotted the wrought iron gate, one of the few discreet entrances set into the stone wall. Through the bars he could see the cobbled street beyond. If this cathedral looked just like Saint Paul’s, what were the chances…?

He strode across the grass and stopped at the gate, aware that Alyx had followed him. Through the gate was a narrow gritty street and a sign reading “Hell’s Fire” in tacky fluorescent flames over a basement bar partly hidden under street level.

“Yes,” he pushed open the gate with a shove. “We don’t need a map.”

“But the Elder said…”

“We don’t need a map because this…” he stepped out onto the street, Alyx following him, “this isn’t just a replica of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, this is a replica of Saint Joseph. And I know this city like the back of my hand.”


* * *


To Alyx walking the streets of Saint Joseph had always felt like walking along giant trenches. It was an ancient city having survived two world wars, some buildings still carrying the scars of bullets and shrapnel, but the largest scars were the deepest, only sensed and unseen, weaved into the culture and into the peoples’ deepest fears, a sense that the next great war was just biding its time and that peace was just a translucent veil.

In the old parts of Saint Joseph the buildings rose uniformly along four stories. Something about not being able to see the horizon unnerved her. Even as a child growing up in Saint Joseph, she had always had the sense that she didn’t belong here. That she had been born in the wrong place. The wrong time…

Alyx walked alongside Israel down another street, their steps fallen into unison without trying. Even with his presence beside her, her eyes darted about, her sword shifting against her thigh, a weighty reminder that in this place she was in danger. Why else would the Elder have given them swords and wanted to teach them to use it? Her nerves tremored under her skin. She had not been able to conjure up her memories like Israel had.

She couldn’t believe it when she had turned around in the doorway of the underground vault to see Israel twisting in the air like an acrobat. Time had seemed to slow as she watched him, even as the ceiling crumbled around them. He was darkly magnificent, his movements so sure and powerful, fluid like water, and her chest had tightened at the sight. At that very moment she thought she had heard Israel’s voice in her head. In this life and the next. But it was just her imagination, right?

They walked for a few more minutes, Israel leading the way before Alyx was game enough to ask something that had been bothering her for a while. “Can I ask you something…personal?”

Israel glanced over to her and grinned. “Yes, I’m single.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I was about to ask you.”

“But it’s good to know anyway, right?”

She snorted back a retort. “What I wanted to ask was…why are you helping me?”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you heard the Elder back there. He said that if you died in this dream, you’d get to wake up in the real world. Why are you staying in here to help me?”

Israel shot her a look. “Why wouldn’t I help?”

“You don’t know me,” she said, her voice tight. “Why do you care?”

Israel grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him, his gaze boring into hers. “There’s a reason why I was brought here, even if I don’t know yet whether I believe everything the Elder said. I watched you get hit on the head. I watched them pack you into the back of an ambulance and I saw you lying helpless in the hospital bed. Even if I didn’t believe that we…” He swallowed and his grip loosened. “What kind of person, what kind of man would I be if I didn’t stay and help?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve always managed on my own.”

“You don’t have to do this alone.”

Liar. A heat flared inside her. “Let go of me.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

Get away. He was too close. Too close. “Why would I let myself rely on you? You’re just going to leave or give up at some point.”

His eyes widened as if he suddenly saw something he hadn’t seen before.

Damn him. He didn’t see anything. He didn’t know anything. She yanked against him again. “Don’t expect a thank you fuck at the end of it. You’re not my type.”

She yanked her arm but he just pulled her in closer, so close his hot breath fanned her cheeks. His nostrils flared even as his gaze remained like molten steel. “I know what you’re doing? It’s not going to work.”

Her breath stuck in her throat. “W-What are you talking about?”

“Be a bitch. Be ungrateful. Throw a tantrum for all the good it will do you. I’m not leaving. Do you hear me? I’m. Not. Leaving.”

A knot tightened in her stomach and the backs of her eyes stung. His stare… She turned her face away. She couldn’t handle the way his stare made her feel…naked. Like he could see her. Like he could see the raw and swollen parts of her with skin like paper. The parts she wrapped in a cloak of anger and guarded behind thick impersonal walls. She hated him for seeing it. Because now she saw it too.

“Fine,” she growled out. “Stay or don’t. I don’t care. We’re wasting time.” She tugged her hand but he wouldn’t release her.


His voice was so pained and resigned that it startled her. She lifted her eyes up.

He opened his mouth then closed it, pressing his lips together. “Fine. Let’s go.” His fingers slipped from hers and she felt a rush of loss.

They began to walk down this slim street again, the empty apartments seeming to stare at them as they walked past.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a bright yellow sunflower facing her from the side of the closest building; she almost felt like it was watching her.

Israel directed them deeper into the oldest part of town and she had the sense that she was being swallowed whole, bones and all, by this city. The eerie quiet of this place was made stark by the clatter of their boots echoing off the buildings that rose on either side of them.

More often than she wanted to, she found herself stealing glances at Israel, her eyes drawn up to his face, almost a head taller than her. His stubbled jaw was set and his chin was high, his eyes alert, scanning the buildings around them. She found her eyes dwelling on his thick lips, found her gaze tracing the curve of his neck and over his broad muscled shoulders.

Perhaps having him besides her wouldn’t be too bad.

He looked over to her and caught her staring. She thought he would turn serious again, perhaps bring up their earlier conversation, the edges of it still raw in her mind. Instead a sly smile teased at the corners of his lips. “See something you like?”

Alyx crossed her arms in front of her. Idiot. Why did she let him catch her looking? Now he thought she was ogling him.

She had been. But he didn’t need to know that. “Are you sure you know where you’re going? I still think we need to find the Mapmaker. The Elder said−”

“The Elder underestimated how much I know about Saint Joseph. The mountain is in the north and I know the quickest way to get us through this city. It’ll be fine. Trust me.”

She had grown up in Saint Joseph too, but there was something about this place that didn’t seem familiar. Sure, it looked the same, the streets were cobbled and the buildings rose, slightly tilted into the street like it was bending over from age, the old ornate Victorian lamps were fixed into the side of exposed bricks, now containing electric bulbs instead of oil burners. But the air smelled different. Saint Joseph smelled like smoke and incense and the sweet caramelizing sugar of the open stalls that sold freshly made pastries. This place had this strange undercurrent of something sharp in her nose. Like disinfectant.

You’re not really here, remember? You’re in a hospital in a coma. This place isn’t real.

This thought didn’t comfort her. This place felt and looked as real as life did. She already knew that pain in here felt real enough. “You must get out before the end of winter.” What if she didn’t?

She shoved that thought aside. There was no time to think about such things. It would only make her start to panic and that would not help them escape.

Israel halted at the entrance to a thin alleyway. “I live here.” He pointed to the tall slim building a few doors down from the corner. “Well…at least I live here in the real world version.”

Alyx glanced around her. The bricks hadn’t appeared to have been washed in years and were turning black with mold. There was graffiti on every surface, a scrawling mess of illegible black tags. One of the windows had been smashed as if someone had thrown a stone through it. “Nice neighborhood.”

Israel shrugged, his mouth pinched slightly. “It’s not that bad.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Forget about it.” But the tightness in his voice begged to differ. “We can go through here and take a shortcut through Tarragon Alley.”

Not Tarragon Alley. Was he crazy? Tarragon Alley was one of Saint Joseph’s bad areas. Over the last few decades it had only gotten worse as the city’s crime seemed to concentrate here. It used to be scattered across several areas including the Valley, but the Valley had gentrified and had become one if the hippest commercial areas stuffed full of cool bars and cafes and avant garde clothing stores, while Tarragon Alley seemed to collect the dregs like a sewerage net. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Come on, Alyx. There’s nobody here. It’d save us time if we cut straight through instead of walking around the area. It’ll be fine. Besides,” Israel touched his sword at his side, “I’m armed.”

Alyx touched her fingers to her own sword sheathed to her hip. She wasn’t sure it would be a great help anyway but it made her feel a little better knowing that she had some sort of weapon on her. She glanced around the street. There did seem to be no one here. She was just being silly, right?

Her gaze fell upon one of the few trees that grew up from the cobbles and gasped. “Israel, look. The branches…the leaves…they were all just tiny buds minutes ago, now they’re larger, bigger.” She spun and stared at another tree farther down the street they had just came from. The green tips were beginning to fan out into leaves. “The seasons here…they’re going faster than on Earth. We’re already weeks into spring.”

Israel’s mouth was a grim line. “It looks like we have no choice. We need to take this shortcut.”


Alyx didn’t like this alleyway. Not one bit. There were too many nooks where people could hide and ambush them. On the sides of the buildings was a series of crisscrossing ladders and haphazardly hung clotheslines. A small breeze floated through the street lifting the corners of the hanging sheets like a ghostly hand. A dark shadow seemed to fall about the alleyway even though the sun was out. She shivered.

Something flashed overhead. She snapped her face towards it but it was gone before she could even be sure that she had seen anything. The hairs on the back of her neck rose.

“Israel,” she whispered.


“Do you get the feeling that we’re being watched?”

He glanced over to her. By the press of his lips she knew that he felt it too. “Stay close, okay?”

They walked deeper and deeper into Tarragon Alley until the entrance in which they came from couldn’t be seen behind them. She walked so close to him that their shoulders kept brushing against each other, sending small sparks down her arm every time it happened. She felt safer with him by her side but this ominous feeling never left her.

“We should be out of Tarragon Alley soon. Just up here,” Israel said as they turned a corner. He skidded to a halt. She did too. The street went for only a few meters before coming to a dead end. “This isn’t right. This dead end isn’t supposed to be here.”

Alyx tried to swallow down the knot forming in her throat and failed.

“I know another way. Come on.” Israel led her farther down another street then another. “We can go just here…and turn this corner and−”

It was another dead end. Another blank wall rising up before them.

“What’s going on?” Israel said.

“Guys and asking for directions,” she muttered. “I told you we need to find the Mapmaker.”

“Where? I don’t remember ever seeing a Mapmaker’s shop in Saint Joseph.”

Before Alyx could answer, something dropped from the sky, hurtling straight for her. Her hand went to her hip and she drew her sword out of instinct. It flew around her in an arc, too far out of her reach.

“What the hell is that?” Israel hissed, his own sword drawn.

The creature swooped around again then hovered at eye level several meters from her, black beady eyes trained right on her, large brown feathered wings beating powerfully, blowing up dust from the ground, the sunlight glinting off a silver bracelet around its leg.

“It’s an eagle!”

The giant bird let out a long cry and soared back up to the sky.

“What did it want?” Israel asked.

“I…don’t know.” Alyx frowned at the space between the roofs where she could see the eagle circling above, its loud cry calling over and over like a siren.

Like it’s sounding the alarm.

Several silhouetted figures appeared over the roof edge and began to clamber down the ladders towards them. The alleyway filled with growls and the clatter of boots on iron rungs.

“It’s an ambush,” Israel cried.

Alyx gritted her teeth and steadied her sword, hoping to hell that she remembered how to use this thing in time. “You take those three, I’ll take the other three.”

“Are you serious?” Israel hissed at her. “Christ, you’re going to get us both killed.”

“What are you so worried about? You’re the one who actually remembers how to fight.”

“Even if we both remembered, we can’t take on six against two.”

“What do you recommend then?” she snapped.

He grabbed her arm and their eyes met. “Run.”

The Afterlife of Alyx & Israel will release TOMORROW!!! I’m so friggin’ excited!!!

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Afterlife ~ Chapter 4

If you haven’t read the previous chapters, START HERE.

This version has not been proofread yet and may contain errors.

Chapter Four

Israel landed on the ground with a thud. His eyes felt glued shut and his cheek pushed into the musty-smelling carpet. He let out a groan as he tested his fingers. His body felt stiff.

What a weird dream. Those two strangers, their weird conversation…something about Alyx and labyrinths. Then that terrifying Taser gun thing Jordan had. Israel must have thrashed around so hard he rolled out of bed and was now lying on the floor of his bedroom. He couldn’t remember getting into bed after he got home… Did his bedroom always feel this drafty?

“Where the hell did you come from?” It was a familiar female voice.

Israel started, tearing his eyes open and pushing himself up to sitting. Blood rushed to his head and his fingers gripped into the carpet fibers. No, these weren’t carpet fibers. He was sitting on a rug. But his bedroom didn’t have a rug in it.

That’s because this wasn’t his bedroom.

Israel stared around this cavernous room. It seemed to be a windowless underground vault, made entirely of carved stone, patches of dark moss breathing moist air back into the place. It would be totally dark if not for the dancing flames in iron torches bolted onto the pillars.

There was Alyx, looking very awake and unharmed, standing a few meters away from him and staring down at him with open mouth.

His heart kicked up a notch.

She was just as beautiful here in his dream, her eyes glowing like two emeralds. She was still wearing the same black pants, blouse and jacket as she was at the cathedral but she seemed unharmed.

“Alyx?” He pushed himself up to standing, wobbling lightly as he took to his feet.

He might still be dreaming but his heart wasn’t reacting that way. He could feel the thud of it against the inside of his ribs.

She nodded, her eyes wide. “I know you. You were at the cathedral…you’re Israel.”

She remembered my name. Say my name again.

“Why am I dreaming about you?” she muttered almost to herself.

“Hang on a second. I’m the one who’s dreaming.” Or at least, he thought he was. Israel began to feel the weighty sense that something else was going on here.

“No,” she said slowly. “You’re part of my dream.”

He frowned. “No…you are part of my dream.”

She frowned at him. “You’re really argumentative for a dream.”

“I’m not the dream.”

“At least you’re easy on the eye.”

Israel froze. “Did you just objectify me?”

Her cheeks slightly reddened but she put on an unaffected air and shrugged.

Israel opened his mouth but Alyx interrupted him. “If you make a crack about being my dream guy I will slap you.”

Israel closed his mouth. He was about to say that. “Tough crowd,” he muttered.

He heard a crack from above. It was déjà vu all over again. This time he didn’t even stop to look up. He lunged for Alyx shouting at her to “Move!” His body collided with hers and she let out a scream. There was a crash of rock against the stone floor just where they had been standing.

They hit the ground with an audible grunt and kept rolling. When they stopped, Israel found himself lying partly on top of her. Her hair pooled all about her face as she looked up at him, her plump pink lips parted and her breath sucked in between them… “Israel,” she whispered.

He could do it, he could just lean down and kiss her right now, something he’d been wanting to do since he first saw her. His heart began to gallop at the thought and his mouth went dry.

“Israel,” she said, but louder this time.


Kiss me, her hooded eyes seemed to be whispering.

“Get off me.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” Those golden flecks in her eyes really were beautiful. Like flecks of gold suspended in an emerald sea.

“Israel.” She arched an eyebrow and glanced down at their bodies. He was still on top of her, the curves of her lean body underneath him making him painfully aware of how he was reacting in turn…like an imbecile.

“Oh. Right.” He rolled off her, heat on his cheeks, his movements feeling thick and clumsy. Flustered. He was flustered. Since when did he get flustered around girls? Even girls as beautiful as Alyx.

She’s different.

You don’t know that. You don’t even know her.

He pushed himself up to sitting and as discreetly as he could, he glanced over to her sitting up, brushing herself down. Her cheeks were flushed or was that just him projecting?

Her eyes darted to his before widening. He’d been caught staring but even then he couldn’t seem to make himself look away.

There had been other girls who were objectively as beautiful, but none had ever had…this ethereal glow about her skin. This pull. There was something about her…that sang to him.

A noise of stone on stone from the crash site caught his attention and he finally tore his eyes away from her. There was a pile of stones lying in the middle of the floor. Israel looked up to the ceiling. Part of the keystone had fallen in…

“Oh my God,” Alyx gasped as the noise sounded again, “it’s moving.”

Israel’s gaze snapped back to the pile of rocks. It was moving. In fact, it was looking less and less like a pile of rocks and more and more like…some sort of creature, with legs it was standing on and limbs it was stretching and a head it was now shaking, dust scattering in a small cloud about him. And a tail?

Israel leaped to his feet and peered at it.

“What is it?” Alyx asked Israel as she moved to his side.

“It’s a lizard,” Israel said. Some sort of stony-skinned lizard, with a beard and a tail and spikes all the way down its spine. “Stay back. We don’t know yet whether it’s dangerous.” Israel stepped in front of her, ready at any moment to push her out of the way if the thing attacked her again.

“He doesn’t look dangerous.”

Most girls would be squealing and climbing all over him when faced with a mouse. This thing with sharp-looking claws and spikes almost crushed her and she didn’t think it looked dangerous? What the hell would look dangerous to her then?

“I’m not a lizard,” a squeaky voice said.

Israel snapped his head towards the creature. Its beady gray eyes looked up at him with what appeared to be a stern look on its face. Did it just talk?

The creature’s mouth opened, revealing a row of very sharp-looking teeth, and its hands flew up to its throat. “Angel’s Breath! Is that my voice?”

Alyx gasped. “It’s a talking lizard?”

“I’m not a lizard.” The thing repeated in its almost child-like voice.

“What kind of lizard talks?” Israel asked.

“I’m not…” the lizard looked down, holding out its arms as if it were inspecting itself. “Hells and devils… Of all the things to manifest as, I had to manifest as a two-foot stone dragon. And not even a very wise looking dragon.”

“He’s an angry talking lizard,” said Israel.

The lizard’s stony foot stamped onto the ground and its arms crashed to its hips. It glared up at both of them. “For Angel’s sakes, I am not a lizard. How do you even command any respect at this height?”

“What are you?”

“I’m the Elder.”

The Elder. That name rang a bell…but just as the recognition came it floated out of Israel’s grasp like mist.

“What’s an Elder?” Alyx wrinkled her nose. Even that tiny movement was adorable.

“Not what, who? I am the Elder.”

The Elder. Recognition rang through Israel’s mind.

“I knew we should have made Vix come here instead of trying to contact the Elder,” Balthazar muttered.

Israel inhaled sharply as the memory of the two strangers in his living room crashed into his mind. That’s where he was before here, wherever here was. He had been in his living room with Balthazar and that annoying Jordan guy. Or perhaps that had been part of this crazy dream, one that was obviously continuing. A dream within a dream.

“I’m here to help you,” the Elder said to Alyx. “I’m not even supposed to be here so I don’t know how long I can stay.”

“Help us do what?” Alyx asked.

The Elder turned his steel gaze on her. “To get you out of here before it’s too late.”

She frowned. “Get out of what? What’s too late?”

“Alyx is trapped in a labyrinth inside her own mind,” said Jordan. “Only you can get through to her and help her get out before it’s too late…”

A sinking feeling began to grip Israel. Somehow he was now in the labyrinth with Alyx. In her mind. He had to help Alyx escape this place before it was too late.

He refused to believe it. It was impossible. This all couldn’t possibly be real…could it?

“What do you remember happening before you woke up here, Alyx?” the Elder asked, continuing to brush dust off himself.

“How do you know my name?”

The Elder made a tsking sound. “Why is the lizard talking? How do I know your name? Why are you asking all the wrong questions? What I know and who I am isn’t important. What was the last thing you remember before you woke up here?”

Alyx frowned, her forehead furrowing.

Israel could remember. He’d never forget it, not as long as he lived. He was about to answer for her but the Elder caught his eye and gave him a shake of his head as if to say, let her come up with the answer.

“I…” she began, “I was meeting…someone. At Saint Paul’s Cathedral.” She turned her eyes up to Israel. “But you were there instead. And we talked but then…” Her eyes went wide. “You called out ‘look out’. I felt a pain. On my head.” Her fingers went briefly to the back of her skull. “Then…I woke up here.” She turned her wide eyes towards Israel. “What did you do to me?”

He didn’t do anything. It was the consequences of messing with fate,” he muttered sadly and shook his head.

“Fate?” Israel said. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s no such thing as fate,” Alyx said.

The Elder sighed, disappointment clear in his stony face. “If only we had more time…” he muttered. Louder, he said, “Alyx, a bolt of lightning struck the cathedral, breaking off one of the gargoyles. It struck you, knocking you out. Israel rushed you to the hospital, where you still are, in a deep coma.”

“What do you mean ‘where I still am’? I’m not in hospital. I’m here,” she frowned, “wherever here is.”

“You’re both there and here.”

Alyx shook her head. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

Despite this weird, strange logic, Israel knew that the Elder did make sense.

“He’s right.” Israel said, his voice quiet. “I spoke to the doctors, I…” He wasn’t going to admit that he pretended to be her fiancé to get access to her room. He cleared his throat. “Dr. Novak. She said that you were in a coma. That you weren’t waking up. Then these two guys showed up at my place, told me I needed to help you escape from your coma, and they put me under. That’s when I woke up here.”

“You’re both nuts,” she said, stumbling back from them. “I can’t be in a coma, I…”

“Alyx,” the Elder’s voice was low and calm, “this might sound crazy but you know, deep down inside you, you know this is the truth. Now, even if you didn’t completely believe me, would you take that risk? Do you want to die?”

“Wait, what?” Israel said, his skin breaking out into a panic-rash. “Why would she die?”

“Alyx is somewhere between life and death right now. A human being is not supposed to be here for too long.” The Elder turned to Alyx. “If you don’t wake up soon, then I’m afraid you’ll pass over to the other side.”

Fear gripped Israel. He knew that it would be nothing compared to what Alyx was feeling at the threat of her own death. Israel looked over to her, ready to comfort her, to catch her if she fell in a broken heap. She was standing there with her chin up, stoic and calm. She was unafraid at the prospect of her own death. Unbelievable. She was unlike anyone he’d ever met before.

“Why can’t I just wake up?” she asked the Elder.

“Have you tried just waking up?”


The Elder cocked his head, pieces of tiny stone scattering from his horny skull. “Go on then.”

Alyx frowned as if in concentration for a few tense seconds. She snapped her head towards Israel. “Scare me.”


“People wake up if they’re scared.”

Israel frowned. Scare her. That didn’t sound so hard. He lifted his hand into claws and revealed his teeth and tongue, all while growling.

Alyx stared at him for a second, then snorted. “I said scare me not act like an idiot.”

Israel lowered his hands, a touch of heat coming to his face. That didn’t work. What would? He got an idea. He reached out and pinched her.

“Ow.” She yanked her arm back. “What was that for?”

“Pain can wake you too.”

Alyx glared at him as she rubbed her arm.

“Sorry. I thought it might help.”

“Well it didn’t. Wait a minute…” she said, her eyes going wide. “I felt pain. You can’t feel pain in a dream…”

The Elder was nodding his head.

“Oh my God.” She stumbled back. “This isn’t a dream?”

The stone gargoyle let out a long-suffering sigh. “That’s what I’ve been trying to say.”

“Not a dream…but where…? How…?”

“Stop asking the wrong questions.”

“Okay…” She blinked at the talking creature. “Not a dream. The right questions. Which is… W-what do I do now?”

“What do we do?” Israel corrected.

Alyx caught his gaze. He smiled at her and hoped it came across as reassuring. She bit her lip and turned back to the Elder. “Why is he here?”

“It’s not like I planned it,” muttered Israel.

“No offense,” Alyx said to him. “But I don’t even know you.”

“Yes, you do,” the Elder said. “Or at least, you did.”

“What?” Alyx and Israel both said together.

“I’ve never met him before today,” Alyx said.

The Elder’s eyes were serene as he stared first at Alyx, then Israel. “Before the two of you were the two of you, you were…the two of you.”

Israel snorted. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

The Elder narrowed his eyes at Israel. “You still need it spelled out for you, don’t you? In a past life, the two of you meant something very special to each other. You were bonded then. As you are bonded now.”

“Are you talking about…reincarnation?” Alyx said, her voice betraying her incredulity.

“I don’t believe in reincarnation,” Israel said.

“Don’t be silly,” the Elder said. “There’s no such thing as reincarnation.”

“Then what was it?”

“Magic,” the Elder whispered.

A chill went down Israel’s spine. Magic. But he didn’t believe in magic. Or fate. Or labyrinths inside a person’s mind.

And yet…here he was.

He glanced over to Alyx just as she looked at him, and their gazes locked together. Could it be…that they knew each other in a past life? The Elder said they had been bonded then…bonded now. Could it be why he had felt this…connection with her, a stranger? And yet…he felt on some soul-deep level that Alyx wasn’t a stranger to him.

“Now.” The Elder smacked his foot down on the ground like a gavel and broke the spell. “No more questions. You’ve got a long road ahead of you. But first we need to get you prepared. And this is where I come in. Are you both ready?”

Without thinking Israel reached over to grab Alyx’s hand, warm and soft and felt like a small dove in his palm. Her eyes widened at him but she didn’t pull away. Then her fingers curled into his.

“We’re ready,” she said, her gaze still locked with his.

“Follow me.” The Elder began to scuttle across the room on his hind legs. It looked quite awkward. Israel tilted his head at Alyx as if to say, shall we?

She dropped his hand but remained at his side as they followed the Elder, falling into step together. He kept glancing over to her profile, to study the thickness of her lashes, the elegant slope of her neck, and the way her top teeth dug into her bottom lip. She leaned into him and his stomach did a flip at her proximity and the feeling of her sweet breath against his cheek. “Don’t lizards walk on all fours?” she whispered.

“I heard that,” snapped the Elder. “I’m not going to walk on all fours like some kind of animal.” His backside and tail swayed like a penguin as he waddled to the head of the vault.

“How do you even know where to go?” Israel asked.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with someone in a coma. Although,” he turned his head and gave Israel a meaningful stare, “some of us have more…imaginative minds than others.”

Israel frowned. He sensed there was some kind of double meaning to what the Elder had just said, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what.

They stopped before a wall with an engraving that Israel recognized as Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The Elder pressed the door of the cathedral, the tiny opposing angels recognizable from here, and it sank back into the stone. There was a dull thud, then the ground began to rumble as a stone slab swung aside revealing a dark doorway, a cloud of dust billowing out from the dank-smelling entrance.

The Elder sneezed. Then shook himself, dust scattering off him. He looked down at himself, his stony face shifting into a frown as pieces of his arm and shoulder crumbled off him.

Alyx gasped. “Elder, are you crumbling away?”

Over his shoulder the Elder pinned her with a serious stare that answered all her questions. “Let’s move. I don’t have a lot of time.”

* * *

The tunnel was only wide enough for them to walk one by one. Alyx followed the Elder into the dark tunnel, Israel behind her. It was so dark she couldn’t see anything, using her fingers against the moist, grimy walls to keep her moving in the right direction, picking up her feet carefully so as not to trip. She could feel Israel’s presence heating up her back like a bonfire. Her entire body seemed to snap into a sharp awareness when he was around. No one had ever commanded her senses like this before. Ever.

Not Daniel. Not any of the boyfriends she’d had before him.

And when he touched her − when he had pushed her out of the way and fallen on top of her, when he grabbed her hand − her body burst to life with some kind of wild, savage feeling. It felt like soaring above the Earth, wind in her hair, fire in her blood.

This feeling was dangerous. What the hell did this mean anyway? Why was she reacting to Israel like this? She barely knew him. How did she make it stop? Nothing good would come out of feeling so damn much.

By the time she stepped out into a larger tomb-like space, she was tense and annoyed, her nerves pulled tight. This room had a ceiling so high she had to crane her neck to look up as she walked across it, held up by several towering pillars, so wide she wouldn’t be able to get her arms all the way around. It was lit with by several monstrous black iron chandeliers that hung more than halfway down towards the smooth stone floor. In a corner of the ceiling, tree roots as thick as grown men had broken through and were clawing their way down the wall. That confirmed it. They were underground. There were still no windows. But a dark doorway stood in the far wall.

The Elder stood in the center of the room. “Come now, we don’t have all day.”

Israel jogged past Alyx. With a snort of annoyance, she sprinted past him, her arms pumping in time with her legs. He sped up. So did she.

Alyx skidded to a halt before the Elder, her breath heavy from the exertion. But she won, just. She sent a smug look over to him. “Guess you’re not as fast as me.”

He grinned back at her, his breath also a little short. He shrugged. Shrugged¸ as if to indicate that he had let her win.

“Alyx,” the Elder said. She turned to face him, pushing her annoyance down. In the Elder’s hand, looking incredibly oversized, were two gleaming swords in their sheaths, simple in design, the blades about the length of her arm. He handed one to her and the other to Israel. “Buckle the sheaths on your hips and draw your sword.”

“Swords?” scoffed Israel. “Who are we going up against? The Knights of the Round Table?”

“The journey you will take will be filled with Shadows,” said the Elder, “manifestations of your subconscious. If you fear them, they will come for you.”

“I’m not scared of anything,” Israel said.

The Elder turned to him with a scowl on his face. “Everybody fears something.”

Alyx buckled the leather belt around her waist, the simple sheath hanging from her left side, then drew the sword with her right hand. She turned it over and fingered the blade. “Um, Elder…these feel real.”

“They are.”

“They feel sharp.”

He raised an eyebrow. “They are.”

“And we’re going to have to fight off these…Shadows with these?” Impossible. Alyx swallowed down a gulp.

Israel spoke up. “Not to be a party pooper here, Elder. But what exactly happens to us in here if we, um…die. In here, I mean.”

The Elder paused before he spoke. “Remember that this is Alyx’s subconscious. So if you died in this dream, Israel, I think you’d just wake up in your body in the real world.”

“You think?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“Pretty sure?” Israel’s voice rose.

“And if I die in here?” Alyx asked.

The Elder met her eyes and she knew the answer wasn’t one that she wanted to hear. “We don’t have any more time to waste,” he said softly. “Let’s begin your preparations.”

With his sheath fastened, Israel drew his sword, then stared at it with disdain. “Elder, give me a gun, not a useless stick of metal.”

“Only an idiot would called swords useless,” Alyx said. “Swords just happen to be the most beautiful, most refined weapon known to man. Only tasteless brutes resort to guns.”

Israel raised an eyebrow at her. “Really? Have you ever even held a real sword?”

“Yes. All the time. The ancient khopesh of Egypt, the Seven-Branched Sword of Korea, a Masonic-made Knights Templar sword. I’ve had my hands on some of the most exquisite pieces of weaponry in all the world.”

“Do you work in a museum or something?”

“Well, actually…the Saint Joseph Museum.”

Israel managed to look impressed for all of two seconds before the smug look was back on his face. “So you know something about swords. But have you ever fought with one?”

She shuffled uncomfortably. “Not exactly.”

“Give me a gun and you can keep your sword. You’d be dead before you could take one step towards me. I can shoot a bullseye on the move from a hundred yards.” He turned to the Elder and waved his sword about. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

Alyx rolled her eyes and muttered, “You could start by shoving that up your−”

“Alyx!” the Elder snapped.

“Elder,” Alyx turned to him, “with all due respect. It can take months for people to even learn the basics of sword fighting.”

“You two don’t need to learn anything. You just need to remember.”

Well, that didn’t make any sense. “Remember what?”

Before the Elder could answer the room shuddered as a tremor went through the earth. Almost as soon as it started, it stopped, the falling speckles of stone and the swaying of the chandeliers the only remaining signs.

“What was that?” Israel asked.

“Enough questions.” The Elder stomped his stony foot with a crack and a piece of his toe crumbled away. “We’re running out of time. Show me your stance.”

Alyx moved into what she thought might be a fighting stance. As did Israel. She tried not to look over to him and compare their positions.

The Elder walked around them adjusting them by tapping parts of their bodies with his tail until he was happy. He pulled Alyx’s arm down closer to hip height with her sword tip point at an upward angle. She felt the immediate relief in her arm. “As I said,” the Elder walked back and forth as he spoke, “neither of you need any training. Fighting is in your past. It’s in your bones, in your DNA, it’s embedded in your soul. Deep down you know all this and more. So…fight.”

“Each other?” Alyx said.

“This is ridiculous,” Israel said. “I’m not going to hit a girl.”

“Hey!” Fury flared through Alyx. “Just ’cause I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t kick your ass.”

“I never said that,” Israel said. “I’m just saying, I’m not going to hit you.”

The Elder, standing to one side, lifted up an eyebrow at Alyx. “Are you really going to take that from him?”

Her muscles tensed just as Israel turned to say something to the Elder. She lashed out with her sword. Whack. She hit him in the thigh. Hmm…she had been aiming for his side.

“Hey,” yelled Israel as he stumbled back. “What are you doing?”

Alyx hid a grin. That was kinda fun. She swung again. This time Israel ducked. Damn. She missed.

He darted out of her reach. “Come on, Alyx, stop it.”

“Stop being such a wuss and fight me.”

She attacked again and was surprised to see that her muscles seemed to be warming up − she was faster this time, catching Israel on the side of his knee. He stumbled and began to fall. She swung her sword again to get him while he was down and to win this round. He rolled out of the way just in time and sprang to his feet in one swift, graceful move.

Alyx froze, her mouth partway open. “How the hell did you do that?”

Israel faced her this time instead of moving out of the way, the tip of his sword hovering inches from hers. “I was a trained police officer. One thing they do very well is teach you how to fall.”

He was a police officer?

* * *

Israel slapped his sword at Alyx’s and knocked it easily out of the way. He could have struck out while she was defenseless but he didn’t. “How ’bout,” he began, “we assign points to hits. Whoever has the most points, wins.” He ducked aside easily as her sword came for him. “Winner gets bragging rights and to be crowned ultimate champion.”

“That seems juvenile.” He spun aside from her sword again, his body feeling lighter and lighter as he moved. Her glare, on the other hand, was just getting deeper and deeper.

“Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll even let you have double points for every one of your hits, ’cause, you know, you’re a girl and all.”

Her nostrils flared and he had to bite back a laugh. He didn’t really think that about her. But she seemed to have such a bug about it that he couldn’t help but want to tease her.

“You arrogant jerk. Just because I’m a girl does not mean I’m any less good than you at anything.”

He shrugged and ducked another one of her clumsy swings. “Suit yourself. One hit to one point then.”

“I didn’t say yes.”


“I am not chicken.”

“Buck, buck, buck…”

She let out an adorable growl of exasperation. “Fine. But you’re going down.” She lunged at him. But he could see her next move a mile away. She was too tense. Her anger was making her movement too transparent.

He spun aside and tapped the left side of her ass with his sword.

A cry left her mouth and she spun, grabbing her perfect round butt with her hand. “You…you…”

“Wonderful swordsman?”

“…smelly heap of insect turds.”

“Interesting choice of words.”

She lunged again. He spun out of her way like he was dancing, letting his body take over. He lashed out with his sword, smacking her other butt cheek. Both cheeks were perfect. He couldn’t let the other one go without equal attention.

She let out another cry and turned towards him, her face in rage. If she were a dragon, fire would be coming out of her nose right about now.

She swiped at his legs trying to take him out. Israel leaped into the air, kicking off the side of a pillar and flipping over her and out of her way. For the few seconds he was in the air, he felt like he was flying. A familiar feeling surged through him and he felt as light as air. It ruffled his hair like the wind.

He landed, twirling his sword at the ready for her next onslaught. She was just standing there, her mouth open. “How the hell did you…?”

“Well done, Israel,” called the Elder, his hands clapping together sounding like rocks trying to make a spark.

Shock rattled through his body. How the hell had he done that? It had just come to him. He had just moved. It felt as natural as breathing to him. “I don’t know. I just did it.”

“You remembered,” the Elder said, beaming.

Alyx frowned. “Let’s go again.”

They faced each other once more.

“Come on, Alyx. You can get this.” He let her swipe at him without even trying to hit back. Evading her attacks was easy now, her sword barely coming near him. He felt as limber as a cat, as light as a bird and his body moved fluidly like water. It was an incredible feeling. And one he wanted Alyx to experience too. “Just let your body take over.”

“If you spout one more stupid half-veiled cheer, I will come over there and chop your tongue out.”

“At the rate you’re going you couldn’t chop a tree trunk if it stood in front of you,” he teased.

She growled, gripping her sword handle so that her knuckles went white. “Come over here and say that again.”

“Fighting’s in your blood,” the Elder cried out. “It’s in your soul memory.”

“The Elder’s right,” Israel said. “You just need to relax.”


* * *

“Just relax,” Alyx muttered. “As if it were that damn easy.”

Just let go, Alyx. A faded whispered sounded in her mind.

She saw Israel’s sword coming for her and she spun. A rush of feeling rose up in her. She felt her body being taken over as if from deep inside her. Time seemed to slow, she saw the sword tip passing across her inches from her chest.



Go. It was a lost but familiar voice that had whispered in her mind.


Who was Mayrekk?

He had been someone precious to her. Before this life. But she had lost him. She had lost him. And he was gone.

Just like her parents were gone.

The feeling dropped out of her body and she was back struggling for control. She stumbled over her own feet. Israel’s sword clipped her shoulder, leaving a stinging mark. Her own sword went flying as she held out her hands to keep from falling on her face. Pain jarred up her forearms as she landed on her hands and knees.

“Alyx,” Israel ran over to her, his own sword tossed aside. He fell to her side, his hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. She pushed herself up to standing and shrugged his hand off her. His touch scorched her and she hated that she wanted more of it.

“You almost had it,” the Elder said as he waddled over. “What happened?”

“Nothing. Nothing happened.”

“Are my good looks too disarming for you?” Israel grinned.

That’s it. She’d chop his tongue out. Or maybe she’d aim lower. She turned on Israel, swordless, and lunged at him with her fists. Israel knocked her arm out of the way. “Come on, Alyx, loosen up. You’re too uptight.” She struck again, wildly; he grabbed her wrist and spun her around so that her back was against his front. His other arm went around her stomach and she was locked against his warm hard body. “You know what?” he whispered in her ear, the rumbling of his voice sending unwanted tingles down her spine, “you just need to get laid.”

She sucked in an audible breath before she tried, unsuccessfully, to elbow him in the stomach. Her head spun as an unwanted image of them like this, alone and naked flashed through her mind. She broke out in a sweat. She shook her head and hissed back. “I do not need to get laid.”

“You need to get laid and get laid good.”

“I’ll have you know I have a perfectly fine sex life.”

“Perfectly fine?” Israel whistled. “A day can be fine. The temperature of a bath can be fine. Sex should not be fine.” He rolled her out as if they were dancing. She wrenched her arm from his and faced him, her breath coming out in heaving pants. His eyes looked as dark as obsidian as he circled her. In a low voice just for her ears he said, “Sex should be wild and raw. It should tear strips off you. It should be earth-shattering, soul-wrenching, exhilarating and terrifying, but it should never be fine.”

An image slammed into her.

He ran his lips along her neck up to her ear. “You are so…painfully beautiful.”

He pulled her hands to his chest, then dragged her palms down his stomach. He let her touch him, exploring his body, until he couldn’t stand it anymore.

His lips covered hers. This time he was rough with her. His hands gripped at her hair, holding her to him. Her fingertips sought out every knotted scar. He grabbed her, lifting her up and pulling her legs around him. Soon there was no space left between them. Only the exquisite agony of skin on skin.

Alyx slammed back into her body.

Holy hell.

What the hell was that?

She was dizzy, unsteady on her feet, and her body was shaking as the aftershocks of her…fantasy…memory…she didn’t know…trickled down through her.

She stared at Israel before her, his cocky half-smile, his muscled sure body oozing with a deadly masculinity, and her core bloomed with an ache again. Nothing on his face gave away that he had experienced anything like what she just had.

No. She could not want this.

She launched to strike him again, channeling this heat into a kind of fury. Their limbs tangled and they both spun across the floor. Hurt him. Kiss him. Hit him. Have him. Alyx wrestled for control. Over him. Over herself.

She found herself yanked up against him again. She heard a whimper that she realized was her own.

“You know,” he whispered against her hair, his lips brushing her top of her ear, “I’d show you, if you asked nicely.”

She shoved at his chest, hard as granite. “You arrogant little−”

“Alyx. Israel,” interrupted the Elder. She’d forgotten he was even there. “We don’t have time for this bickering.”

“He started it−”

“She started it−”

They both spoke together, fingers pointing at each other.

The chamber began to shake, the chandeliers rattling like chains. “What’s happening?” She glanced up at the ceiling as huge cracks appeared, dirt from above sifting through and showering the stone floor. It wasn’t just a tremor. This whole chamber was going to collapse.

Chapter Five will be posted 2 July, 6am PST/1pm GMT

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