D A R K A N G E L
Lilith stood at the edge of the tumbling waves, staring at the horizon.
Her heavy sigh sounded into the silence of the early evening and drifted across the stretching curve of sandy beach. No one was nearby to witness her sadness, though, or stop the ache in her heart. Tears pooled in her eyes. She wished she could go back—back to the time when he had been with her. He’d told her he loved her, so why hadn’t he stayed? Why had he vanished after their special night?
She rubbed at the top of her swollen belly, and the baby inside kicked strongly in response to the warmth. Lilith murmured reassuring whispers to the one person who filled her life with hope—his baby.
Looking up, she smiled through her tears. The setting sun edged the clouds with a delicate pink—a vision she only ever saw from this beach. It was beautiful here at Ravenscar. It was where she belonged.
She had lived here all her life, overlooking the beach from her family’s grand house at the top of the cliff. It was the reason she’d fought with her father when he tried to send her away. Her stubborn nature had surfaced ferociously when he’d told her what he expected her to do. He hated that she was pregnant at seventeen, and never believed her explanation as to who the father was. Her story was peculiar—impossible even. But it was the truth.
She needed to get home. Once it was dark, she would struggle to follow the steep track leading to the top of the cliffs.
As she stepped forward in the soft sand, a sudden sharp spasm shot across her lower belly. She froze. The twinge intensified, and Lilith drew in a ragged breath, realizing what the pain could be.
“No! You’ve still two months to go,” she muttered, a desperate plea to the beloved child within her to stay there, not to be born tonight. It was too soon.
After taking a few tentative steps, her pace quickened. She dug her heels into the gritty sand, determined to make the journey back home. Her father would help her. Even though he didn’t believe her story about her baby’s father, he would be there for her. She couldn’t do this by herself.
As she reached the track leading up and away from the beach, another pain shot across her abdomen. She tensed, willing the sensation to pass. After a few seconds, she moved again, wanting to rush, but knowing her climb would be severely hindered each time a contraction shook her body. The uneven ground beneath her feet made the ascent harder than normal, and she cried out in agony as more sharp pain halted her movement.
The time between each contraction became shorter. She would never make it home.
Glancing ahead, the track twisted into its familiar, steep incline. There was no way she would make it to the top—it was too far. She scanned the gorse hedge to the right of the track, searching for the gap she had crawled through many times before. An old barn lay in the field beyond. Tonight, it was her only option. Scrambling through the overgrown stinging nettles and the prickling thorns of the brambles, she forced her way through the small, camouflaged opening.
The barn appeared—as deserted as when she had last been there.
Her baby would be born in the same place it was conceived. She managed a wistful smirk before pain flooded her body once again.
“Please . . . please!” she sobbed, begging her body, willing it to get her to shelter. Steadying herself after another contraction, she stumbled toward the barn. She needed to lie down. Her legs shook; she was sure they would collapse beneath her at any moment.
She pushed the large wooden door open, lighting the abandoned interior with fading daylight, and scanned the straw-covered floor. She searched for the battered suitcase containing blankets and a torch. It was where she’d left it—in the corner. She took a few steps into the stone building and sank to her knees, her legs too weak to carry her any further. The interior darkened as the barn door creaked shut, and she glanced toward the only source of light—a large opening high up on the side of the building. It offered enough light for her to see, but it wouldn’t last for long. Soon, it would be dark, and it would turn cold.
A piercing scream flew from her as another wave of crippling pain shook her body. She tensed, fighting against the contraction, before curling in on herself and sobbing. When she tried to rise from the hard, dirty ground, her body refused to move. She had no strength left; she couldn’t even crawl to the suitcase and retrieve the blankets. A frustrated whimper escaped her as she unwillingly accepted that the floor would be her constant companion until this was over.
Silent tears ran down her cheeks, and she gritted her teeth. She didn’t want to cry, she wanted this child, but the pain proved too much for her to suffer in silence.
She panted, trying to catch her breath before another crippling wave of torture ripped through her. This was happening too soon, too quickly. None of this was happening the way she’d imagined. None of this was what he had promised. She wasn’t supposed to be alone. He should be with her.
As her mind filled with memories of him—his face, his voice, the way he’d made her feel alive—her tears stopped their silent flow, replaced by loud sobs as she mourned what she’d lost. She would never forget him. How could she? She still loved him.
The barn door suddenly swung open, crashing back onto the wall before creaking on its hinges. The interior glowed with the hazy light from outside.
Lilith blinked several times. Panic crashed through her already terrified mind, but she forced her gaze in the direction of the door. Catching sight of a pair of wet, sand-covered bare feet, she lifted her head, staring in disbelief.
“Kaimi?” she questioned, unable to believe he was here.
He walked out of the shadows toward her, but stopped just out of reach.
He was silent for a few seconds before he spoke. “Lilith, you know why I’m here.”
His voice was as she remembered—a rich, smooth tone that whispered words of love and affection, although it was also a torturous reminder of when he was last with her.
She had so many questions:
Where had he been for seven months?
Why did he leave after that night?
Why had he never returned to visit her in her dreams?
Before she could ask him anything, a cramping pain rendered her speechless. She kept her eyes on Kaimi though, afraid that if she blinked, he would disappear.
He glanced around the barn before walking toward the suitcase.
“When did the contractions start?” he asked coldly. Flicking open the clasp on the case, he removed the blankets and laid them on nearby straw bales.
His voice was edged with a hardness she had no memory of. A frown of confusion creased her forehead. Why was he being like this? Where was the man she remembered?
“Time? How long?” he snapped.
Lilith answered his question with a mumble. “About half an hour.”
“Then you are ready.”
He strode toward her before hooking one arm under her legs and the other around her back. She was lifted against his chest, his warmth suffocating her, calling to more pleasant memories. She grasped at his shoulder, nestling against his body as he carried her across the room and onto the relative softness of the blankets. Lilith tried to hold on to him as he released her, but as soon as she was placed on the makeshift bed, he stood upright, pulling away from her grasp.
She studied him, able to take in the appearance of her former lover for the first time since he’d left her. He was wearing what he always wore; a pair of dark, knee-length shorts, and nothing else. When she caught his gaze with her own, his eyes still burned with an intensity she could never forget. They were also edged with a coldness she didn’t understand.
“Why didn’t you come back?” she managed to ask, wanting answers, but also fearing what he would say.
He stared at her, not answering.
“And where were you?”
He continued watching her for a few moments before speaking. “I went home.”
The uncaring tone of his voice was clear. She examined his face, searching his eyes as he remained still, unaffected by her scrutiny. There was nothing there; no flicker of any feelings for her. His eyes—the brightest blue, the color of the ocean—had always confirmed his unspoken love for her. But now, the eyes she had gazed into when they made love, the same eyes that had sparkled that night, were empty pits, devoid of any emotion.
“Why now?” she croaked.
He frowned at her question.
“I want my son.”
A huge spasm caused her to scream as another contraction, far stronger than any of the previous ones, hit her body.
Kaimi appeared unaffected by her obvious pain.
“Your . . . your son?” Lilith questioned as soon as her breath returned. Was the baby his only reason for returning? Did he not want her? Did he not mean any of the things he’d promised her?
“The child you are giving birth to.”
Her mind raced with the improbability of him knowing she would give birth tonight. She was seventeen, and well aware pregnancies lasted nine months, not the seven that had passed since the night in this barn.
“How, how did you know that tonight—?”
“It’s a full moon.”
“A full moon? Tonight?” She hadn’t noticed the moon in the sky.
He nodded, frowning even more. “It’s seven full moons since I came ashore to be with you. As soon as the sun disappeared from your sky, my child began his journey into the world.”
He moved toward her and knelt on the ground near her feet. With no further words, he placed his cold hands on both of her knees, gently pushing them apart. He ghosted one hand over the soft flesh of her inner thigh before cupping it over her womanhood and stretching her with his fingers. She trembled at the chill of his touch, and the way he expertly examined her. But she didn’t have the energy to protest. She was vulnerable and weak, exhausted both physically and mentally. Her body ached with a dull throbbing even when free from the contractions, and her mind constantly switched from thinking about the Kaimi she thought she knew, to the one now with her.
“You are nearly ready,” he stated before standing. “The next stage will be quick. It always is.”
“The next stage?” Her words were barely a whisper.
“Pushing him out,” he confirmed.
Lilith’s heart raced as she fought the panic threatening to overcome her. She was young, so young. She wasn’t ready for any of this.
“Please, please, help me. I can’t do this,” she begged, even though she had no choice.
He moved to her side, taking her hand in his. The contact reminded her of why she still missed him every day; it was the gentleness, his caring nature, and his passion that still ignited a fire within her.
“You can do it. I will help you.”
His words were the first ones spoken tonight that offered her any kind of comfort. Her mind filled with images of their short time together, and she recalled how happy she’d been with him. She remembered when she first heard him in her dreams; the day after she found the unusual shell on the beach.
Her spare hand drifted to the base of her throat, to the necklace she never removed. She touched the cord-threaded single shell, noticing his gaze follow the movement of her hand.
“You never visited my dreams again.” Her voice trembled with the hurt she had suffered since his cruel departure.
He scowled at her as if her words were ridiculous.
“I had no need to after that night,” he stated.
Lilith’s tears trickled down her face as his words sank in. She turned from his penetrating gaze, unable to understand why he was being so heartless. As a huge pressure built in her body, she froze, clutching his hand tightly as the unstoppable urge to push raced through her entire being.
“Concentrate!” he demanded, pulling his hand away.
She whimpered at the loss of his touch.
Once again, he pushed her legs apart, but this time, his hands were far from gentle. She screwed her eyes shut and pushed, unable to stop the primitive force crashing through her body.
She had no control over anything happening to her.
“Keep pushing!” His demand was clear and simple.
She groaned loudly as another surge of contracting and pulsing muscles took over the delivery of her baby. Wave after wave of dull, thudding aches spread through her lower body as she pushed. There was no time to catch her breath as the relentless urge continued.
Her body demanded more and more from her. The blanket became scrunched in her hands as she grabbed at it, trying to find leverage on something . . . anything . . .
“Please . . . make it stop!”
A decisive tug between her legs, silence, and then the first cry of new life filled her ears. Her eyes shot open.
“My son,” Kaimi murmured, taking a small knife from his pocket and cutting the cord, severing the baby from his mother. He collected the newborn in his arms before holding him against his naked chest.
She was unable to comprehend the evident tenderness in his voice for the baby when there had been none for her. She waited for him to hand the crying newborn to her, but he didn’t raise his eyes in her direction.
He turned and headed for the door.
“No!” she screamed. The fear that he would leave her again was nothing compared to the terror flooding through her as he took her baby.
“Don’t take him! You can’t take him, please!” Her begging words were ignored as he stepped outside and disappeared from view.
“No, no, no! I won’t let you take him!”
Ignoring the pain shooting between her legs, she managed to shuffle off the straw bales, intending to follow him. Her awkward struggle to the door took forever, and every step was agony, but she would not let him take her son; she couldn’t stand to lose that part of him as well.
“Kaimi!” she cried, lunging for the open doorway and stumbling outside.
Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the moonlit landscape. He was heading toward the track to the beach. She anticipated where he would go next, and her physical pain was replaced by a forceful determination.
“Kaimi!” she shouted again. “Don’t do this! Stop!”
She followed him, her blood-soaked dress clinging to her frame. His walk down the steep track to the beach was quick and easy; hers was painful and ungainly as she struggled with her body’s demand to rest. The needle-like spikes of the brambles once again scratched at her bare arms and legs as she staggered forward, but the stinging in her limbs was pushed aside by the intense rage building at Kaimi’s betrayal.
Her anger urged her forward as she pursued him, but any hate she tried to direct toward him would not surface—it wasn’t in her heart. She loved him, she always would. She couldn’t bear to lose him again. She was desperate, and would do anything for him.
But not this.
Once again, she called his name, watching as he strode onto the beach. When she placed a shaky foot on the cold evening sand and managed to focus on him, she became aware of another person on the beach—one he walked toward. She stared in disbelief at a woman who turned to face him. Kaimi kissed her passionately.
Lilith closed her eyes, unwilling to accept what she was witnessing. Her body started shaking again, not from what had already happened, but at the scene playing out on the beach. She was losing both of them; her newborn son, who she had never held or seen, and the man she would always love.
Opening her eyes, she focused on Kaimi and the unknown woman walking toward the sea. His arm was wrapped around her waist, and she held her baby close to her chest. As she continued to watch, they edged into the water.
“Kaimi!” she called. It was her last desperate plea for him to turn and come back.
But it was pointless.
He had already gone.
She was nothing to him.
Unable to tear her gaze away, she crouched on the sand, breaking, shattering from the inside. Exhausted. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to watch them disappear under the surface of the water. A loud scream flew from her body and into the night air.
Her reason for staying alive, the one thing that had kept her living, had been taken from her.
She knew what she was going to do.
Pushing herself onto unsteady feet, she glanced at her dirty, blood-stained dress before walking slowly toward the water. With tears in her eyes, she glared at the full moon, cursing its existence.
The coldness of the night sea didn’t register as the soles of her bare feet sank into the wet sand. Drawing in a deep breath, she kept moving forward. Her pace was hindered by the tempestuous waves striking her body, and she struggled to stay upright as the water rose around her. But she continued walking, determined to head into deeper water.
When the sea was level with her chest, she paused, preparing to take the final steps under the surface.
A strong undercurrent whipped her feet from beneath her, and she was thrown around in the torrent. The water filled her ears, resonating in her head. She fought the natural urge to panic, to get her face out of the water and kick her legs. This was what she had chosen. It was her decision.
Her body soon lost what little energy it had left, and she welcomed the hopelessness washing over her. She didn’t fight the way she was dragged by the invisible force.
Her body was heavy; she was sinking.
This was it.
This was the end.
Blackness . . .
Silence . . .
A hard force struck her across her chest. The blow would have knocked the breath from her if she had not already given up on breathing. Opening her eyes, she expected nothing but blackness in the dark, underwater world. Dragged backward at an incredible speed, blurred shapes and glimmers of light shot past her. Before she made sense of what was happening, the strong grasp eased, and she was lifted out of the water. She coughed violently, unable to stop the instinctive action to clear her lungs of swallowed seawater.
Her convulsing body was laid on the sand as she continued coughing and gasping for air.
“What were you trying to do?” A man spoke softly to her.
Her coughing subsided long enough for her to observe her rescuer. She wanted to scream at him that he should have left her; she hadn’t wanted to be saved. Instead, she found herself mesmerized by the sight of him. He knelt next to her, his long hair hanging in wet, twisted lengths over his wide shoulders. She pondered whether he was another of them; one like Kaimi.
As he leaned over her recovering body, he tenderly pushed her hair from her face, smiling at her. His smile wasn’t enough to stop her from remembering what had happened, though.
“He . . . he . . . took . . .” she sobbed.
“I know. I know what he did.” The man cradled her against his bare chest.
After several lungfuls of air, Lilith spoke. “Who are you?”
“Are you one of them?” she croaked, moving her hand to her throat, wanting to ease the burning sensation pulling at it.
He huffed. “I’m definitely not a Sachael.”
She frowned at his words, confused. “A Sachael?”
“It’s what he is.”
Lilith didn’t understand what he was saying. She was even more confused by the naked man who held her, tenderly rubbing her arm. His chest rose seconds before a long sigh left his body.
“I still cannot believe that you would end your life for one of them. They are not worth it,” he stated.
“I love him.” The words were out of her mouth before she’d considered what she wanted to tell this stranger.
He scowled, pushing her away. Staring straight into her eyes, he challenged her.
“You should hate him. He never loved you. He used you. It’s what his kind do.”
“There are more of them?”
“How can you love a man who treated you like this? A man who took your baby. You will never see either of them again.”
Lilith understood the full horror of what he was telling her. She’d experienced it. But she couldn’t believe this happened to others.
“Do they always do this?”
He nodded again, cradling the side of her face in his large hand. “Turn your love into hate.”
“How can I?” she asked. His suggestion was impossible. Kaimi had entered her life just over seven months ago. And the moment he spoke to her in her dreams, she fell in love. Her baby—his baby—was all she had of him when he disappeared. She’d loved that his child was in her belly. She would have loved the child as much as she loved its father. And when she saw him tonight, she’d foolishly assumed he had come back for both of them.
But the reality of what had happened crashed over her, strong enough to crush the air from her lungs, and finally, she understood.
Kaimi had seduced her; a young girl of seventeen, innocent and inexperienced. He had broken her heart in the worst possible way, but she refused to accept that he never loved her.
“I know their weaknesses. I’m confident we can end their existence,” Orontes told her, snapping her from her thoughts.
Lilith shook her head. She didn’t want Kaimi dead. She still wanted to be with him, and she wanted her baby.
“So you’re okay with the fact that he’ll do this to other women?” Orontes shouted. “He’ll impregnate others, returning only to steal the child as soon as it’s born. He’ll leave them heartbroken . . . suicidal even. You know how they’ll feel—you’re feeling it now!”
Her tears made another appearance. Everything he said was true.
“You can! You can stop it from happening.”
She shook her head again. How could she stop them? She was seventeen—a girl.
“He’s taken your child!” Orontes moved away from her, rising to his full height. “You have nothing!”
“I have my memories,” she whispered, more to herself than him.
“Memories. Memories!” he spat at her. “What use are they now? He will never come back. He never loved you. He used you!”
Lilith stood on shaky legs, vulnerable, scared, desperate. “My memories will never fade. And he did love me. He did!”
Orontes stepped toward her, taking hold of her shoulders before pulling her against him. Lilith was immediately aware of his height, and how firm his body was against hers.
“He didn’t,” he said softly, stroking her hair. “You must stop this from happening again.”
“Because you understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a Sachael’s lies.”
Lilith swallowed loudly, lifting her hand to his chest. The man looked at where her hand rested before covering it with his own.
“I will take care of you,” he added. “I will never treat you like he has.” He studied her face. “How can any man be so heartless? How can he break your fragile heart by taking your baby?” He ran his finger across her cheek. “I bet he pulled him from your arms before you even named him.”
Lilith closed her eyes, remembering.
“I never even held him,” she whispered.
“And you will never get that chance again. He’s gone . . . forever.”
Her anger built as she remembered the wasted months she’d spent crying over Kaimi.
Her agony at everything that had happened to her tonight was replaced by an urgency to stop this happening to others.
“I’ll help you,” she said.
Orontes smiled before nodding at her. “I always knew you would.”