Nine Months Later...
For Aiden St. Helen, time was meaningless. Locked in a cell twenty-five stories underground, he had no concept of a day, an hour, a minute. He barely remembered what the sun or moon looked like; it seemed that the only thing he had ever known was darkness. Sometimes he found himself counting each breath, each heartbeat, each blood bag they sporadically put through the slot on his door in order to prove to himself that time was passing. It was the only way he could stay sane.
And he needed to stay sane. He needed to be ready for the day when Anton Parish opened the door of his cell and begged him to help Circle Daybreak. If Aiden showed any sign of being irrational or unintelligible, Anton would slam the door shut and it would never open again. Aiden wouldn't see Eve in her next life or any other after that.
He couldn't let that happen. He had to keep fighting.
He dreamed of her. He dreamed that she was with him and he dreamed that she was gone. He dreamed of his hands around her throat, burning bridges, acrid smoke, and her soft smile.
She had promised him. She had promised…
He did push-ups. Sit-ups. Tricep presses. Squats and lunges. He ran miles within the confines of his cell.
He hummed. Sang. Whistled. Acted out movies in his head. He had long conversations with himself.
He drove his fist into the wall. Watched the dust of the concrete plume into the air. Felt his knuckles splintering like kindling. He curled his fingers around the blood that trickled across his palm.
I'm here, damn it! I'm here and I'm alive and I'm waiting for you. Don't forget about me, Eve. You promised me!
Then one day he awoke to a strange burning in his chest, something akin to the sharp, tingling agony that comes with warming a limb that has gone numb. For a long while, he simply lay there as he clenched his teeth, unable to move. Slowly the scalding pain subsided into a dull, hot ache that he recognized as longing.
As if the gods were answering him, the heavy locks on his door were suddenly retracted with a loud clang and a stale gust of air teased his skin as his cell was opened. The light from the hallway blinded him, but Aiden refused to wince. Very casually, as if he weren't surprised in the least, he sat up and faced the figure that was standing in the doorway.
"What do you know about Kristar Seneca?" Anton asked him.
"Made vampire," he answered. "Changed at the age of nineteen during World War II. Six feet tall, white-blond hair, turquoise eyes, Celtic knot tattoo on the back of his left hand.
"He was Angie's third in command and he would have taken over the D.C. Night World after her death and my defection, but Dolan Redfern used his family influence to grab that honor for himself. Despite that defeat, Kristar is smart, careful, and controlled, so there is no real doubt in anyone's mind that he will be there to pick up the pieces once Dolan fucks everything up.
"And on a more personal note," Aiden added, "the last I heard, he is available and he enjoys ritualistic slaughter, Saving Private Ryan, and long walks on the beach."
Anton crossed his arms over his chest. "Anything else?"
"I don't know," he replied coyly. "What's in it for me?"
"What do you want?" the Daybreaker returned warily.
"Tell me what's going on. Let me help."
Anton shook his head. "Never. We can't trust you, Hellraiser."
"I don't think you have a choice," Aiden said. Even though his heart was pounding, his voice was miraculously nonchalant. "You wouldn't have come to me otherwise."
The Daybreaker frowned. "I won't release you."
"I'm not asking you to."
"We'll cast every truth spell in existence on you, so if this is some sort of trick, you'll be wasting your time."
Aiden smiled. "Take whatever precautions you like."
Anton regarded him inquisitively. "Tell me why."
"I don't know," he answered sarcastically. "Call me crazy, but after the first few weeks, solitary confinement becomes a tad boring. Perhaps I'm simply looking for a way to pass the time."
Aiden held his breath while Anton stared him down. His entire life depended on the next words out of the lamia's mouth.
"Dolan did indeed screw everything up," Anton finally said. "For the first time in nearly ten years, we had the Night World in this city under control. Then, about three months ago, we received word that Kristar was back and he was planning a major coup…"
The Daybreaker talked for a long time, giving Aiden the details on their situation. All the while, Aiden couldn't quite hide his smile. He hadn't been released from this compound or even from this cell yet, but he would soon enough. This meeting with Anton would be the first of many. It would start as simple requests for information, then progress to consultations on tactics, and then the day would come when Daybreak would have a field assignment—most likely a suicide mission—that only Aiden could do. When he came back alive, he would take on another mission, then another and another until he had become an integral part of Circle Daybreak once again. By the time he found Eve, he would be worthy of her.
She had kept her promise and now he would keep his.
Their new life began today.
Alexandra had never been to a wedding before, let alone been part of the bridal party. It was a little overwhelming, rushing to the spa to have her hair and makeup done, cramming herself into her crimson strapless bridesmaid's dress, and then being snapped with the camera a few millions times, but she was happy to be a part of it all. She was touched that Karissa had wanted to include her.
The wedding ceremony was performed at sunset in an arboretum full of maple trees. Nick's family had wanted them do to a traditional handfasting ceremony, but Karissa's family knew nothing about the Night World, so they compromised by having a more secular ceremony led by a Circle Daybreak minister.
Standing in line with the other bridesmaids at the alter, Lex could see Nick gazing at Karissa. The warmth of the setting sun softened the sharp lines of his face, making him seem younger, almost childlike in his happiness. His hazel eyes were pale and translucent and as she looked into them, Lex felt her power taking hold of her. She tensed instinctively—old habits die hard—but in the next instant, she was swept away by a wave of sheer emotion. Falling headlong into Nick's soul, all she could see was Karissa's eyes, Karissa's smile, Karissa's bright, beautiful spirit. On every level of his consciousness, Nick was consumed with love.
The audience applauded loudly as the bride and groom kissed, startling Lex back into the moment. She clapped as well, her heart still soaring. It was times like this that she really didn't mind her power. It was a blessing to know that love this pure existed in this world.
After the ceremony was over, everyone walked over to the west lawn for the reception. As Nick's best man, Reece sat at the head table while Lex sat with the rest of the wedding party at a nearby table. She had been disappointed at first, but Alyssa, Jase, and Sorrentino were there, too, and she was fairly comfortable around them now. As it happened, the two guys were in rare form that night as they tried to hit on Karissa's younger sister, who was the third bridesmaid. By the time dinner was served, Lex was laughing so hard that her stomach hurt.
It was hard to settle down a few minutes later when Reece stood up at his table, his champagne glass in his hand. "Excuse me, everyone. Could I please have your attention?" he asked. "I'd like to take a minute to say a few things about the bride and groom."
Lex clamped her hand over her mouth to quiet her giggling as the loud rumbling of conversation in the courtyard ceased and all of the guests turned toward Reece. As always, she was in awe of her soulmate. If she had to give a speech in front of this many people, knowing that they were hanging on her every word, she would be a nervous wreck, but he was completely at ease. After leading his team for so long, he was use to commanding attention.
"For those of you that don't know me," he continued, "I'm Reece Cahill and I have the honor of being Nick's best man. I'm actually the person who introduced him to Karissa over three years ago and I still remember the first thing he ever said to me about her: 'Does that girl ever stop talking?'"
"In case anyone is wondering, the answer is no," Nick chimed in. The crowd laughed as Karissa playfully punched him in the stomach. Then she settled back against him and he put his arm around her.
"For the first few months," the best man went on, "he complained constantly that Karissa drove him crazy, but it was obvious to the rest of us that he was really just crazy about her. Of course, Nick was too dense to realize it until she clocked him upside the head one night while they were sparring at the gym. He came home from the hospital a few hours later with a mild concussion and a goofy smile on his face and he said to me, 'Cahill, I think I'm in love.'"
Reece's own smile softened as his eyes locked onto Lex across the room. "John Lennon said that all you need is love, but the truth is that anyone can fall in love. That's the easy part. The hard part is taking care of someone when they're sick. Holding them when they're scared. Listening to them even when you're angry. Persevering when they try to push you away. Admitting when you're wrong. Forgiving them when they can't forgive themselves. Talking to them, even if it means risking your heart and your pride. And above all, putting their needs before your own.
"Nick and Karissa have taught me that it's the work that you put into a relationship that defines it. And I think by any definition, their relationship is truly special. So if you would all please join me in raising your glass to the bride and groom."
He turned to face the couple. "May the blessings of light be upon you—light without as well as light within. May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past. And may the work ahead of you bring you as much joy as you feel today."
Lex sipped her champagne and while her head was tipped back slightly, she closed her eyes to keep her tears from escaping.
When she opened them again, she found her soulmate watching her and he raised his eyebrows in concern. Are you okay? His telepathic voice sent a shiver of delight through her and she could hardly believe that she had once feared this intimacy so much.
I'm fine, she replied. I was just remembering why I love you.
Reece grinned at her, understanding exactly what she was feeling.
They had had a long year.
Even with Zarek dead, Lex still struggled with her past. Reluctantly, she told Reece about Copenhagen and at his suggestion, they flew to Denmark a few days later. Together they walked to the Tivoli Gardens, where she had found that young girl she had skinned alive, and Reece held her while she cried. Later that night, he helped her kill a vampire who was stalking a single mother with a two year-old son. To her surprise, it had helped a little.
When they came back home, Lex began volunteering at an abused women's shelter that was run by Circle Daybreak. She decided to finish her GED, apply to college, eventually major in social work. And that helped a little, too.
Reece had been through a lot this year as well. He'd had a difficult time adjusting to being a vampire, but instead of hiding it from her, he'd confided in Lex. He felt frustrated, cheated, at odds with himself, and he knew that she understood. Really, she'd never dealt with any of those issues herself, so she and Reece confronted them together.
It had been hard—harder than she had ever thought possible—but they were getting through it. And each day they conquered together brought them closer.
Lex was so distracted by the warm, glowing look in her soulmate's eyes that she didn't notice Karissa bounding over to her in a blur of white satin.
"Come on!" the human girl exclaimed as she grabbed Lex and Alyssa by the arm. "It's time to dance."
The tall, dark-haired lamia groaned as she was dragged out of her seat. "No, no, no. I don't do dancing."
Karissa spun around and pointed a menacing finger at her. "Alyssa, I realize that you have a strong aversion to all things 'girly', but this is my wedding day and what I say goes. So you had better start shaking your booty before I put my foot in it."
Alyssa gave her friend a sarcastic salute. "Sir, yes, sir."
"You run a tight ship, Karissa," Reece noted with a wry smile as he joined the group.
"Believe me, this isn't the worst of it," the lamia replied. "You should have heard her on the phone this past week with the florist, and the caterers, and the DJ. Hannibal had nothing on her."
"We'll see how forgiving you are when you get married," the human girl said huffily.
Alyssa shook her head vehemently. "Uh, uh. That's never going to happen. I think Cahill was right. Relationships are too much work."
Reece frowned. "That's not what I said."
"No," Karissa agreed. Then she pursed her lips pensively. "But you just couldn't let a day go by without bringing up work, could you, Oh Fearless Leader?"
"I was only trying—"
"Relax, I'm just teasing you," the human girl interjected, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Your toast was beautiful. Really."
"Thanks," he replied as he drew her into a hug. "I'm so happy for you and Nick."
Karissa started to reply, but then she abruptly broke free as the DJ started to play something by Usher. "I love this song!" she squealed. Then, no longer caring if anyone else would join her, she hiked up her wedding dress and charged out onto the dance floor.
Reece turned to his soulmate, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter, and gave her a small, courteous bow. "After you."
Lex took a second to kick off her heels and followed Karissa onto the floor with Alyssa and Reece right behind her.
They danced together in a big circle. After a while, Nick was able to pry himself away from his family and join the group. And when their attempts to pick up every single girl at the wedding failed, Jase and Sorrentino danced with them as well.
Hours later, her legs were tired and her feet ached, so Lex let Reece support her weight as a slow song came on. Splaying his hands across the small of her back, he held her close to him. His warm breath fell on her bare shoulder as she rested her head against his chest. "Are you having fun?" he murmured.
"Mmhmm." Then she yawned. "It's getting late, though. It looks like a lot of people left already."
Reece looked around the courtyard. "Yeah. You want to head out?"
She yawned again. "Okay. I've just got to find my shoes and purse."
Once she collected her things, she and Reece went to tell the bride and groom that they were leaving.
"Aww," Karissa whined. "Already?"
"Sorry," Lex replied. "I've got to get up early tomorrow to study for an exam."
"Fine, fine," the bride grumbled. "But wait, I need a picture of all of us before you leave. Stay right here and I'll go grab the photographer."
A few minutes later, they returned. "Okay, I want the whole team together," Karissa directed. When Sorrentino started to sneak away, she snatched his arm. "Even you, Francis."
"Don't make me kill you on your wedding day, Karissa," Sorrentino warned.
"I'd like to see you try," she replied cheerily as she dragged him back to the group and positioned him beside Alyssa and Jase. Then Nick and Karissa stood to the right of those three with Reece and Lex on their other side.
As she waited for the photographer to adjust the focus on his camera, Alexandra shivered in the cool breeze. The summer was rapidly waning into autumn, but for the first time in her life, she wasn't dreading the coming winter. It would be cold and the wind would bite and her hair would frizz, but there would also be classes at the university, volunteer work at the shelter, shopping trips with Karissa, and, best of all, hours of cuddling with Reece to look forward to.
"Everyone smile," the photographer said. After the flash sparked in the darkness, he lowered the camera to view the digital picture. "Okay, one more." Another flash. "You on the end, lose the bunny ears."
"Jase!" Alyssa shouted, elbowing him in the ribs. "Grow up!"
"All right, one more time," the photographer ordered. After the next flash, he looked at the picture and smiled. "Perfect."
As she grinned at her friends, Lex felt Reece take her hand and give it a firm squeeze. Gazing up into his eyes, she heard his telepathic voice echo, Perfect.
Most definitely, she murmured. Then she stood up on her toes to kiss him.
Well I would have had this up earlier this weekend, but my internet was on the fritz. But I hope you all enjoyed the epilogue. I can't believe this story is finally done.. I can't believe it took me a year to write it. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun and I want to thank everyone who read it.
And thanks to those who reviewed the last part..
GaLaXy 30587: Thanks for all your enthusiasm. I'm glad you liked the end.
enchantednight84: You're too kind! And don't worry, I do plan to keep writing. Heh, it's a horrible addiction at this point.
incarnated-soul: Oh dear, I'm going to miss your reviews. I'm sooo happy I was able to elicit a squeal. I couldn't leave Aiden down in that cell forever. I'm not too surprised that you like his part with Eve better.. he has become my favorite character and I think that shines through when I'm writing his parts. Um, as for my next story, it will be on Fiction Press. It's going to be about a girl recovering from an eating disorder.. I know the ED thing has been done to death, but most stories I've read have focused on who the girls get sick and not so much on how they get better and that's the story that I want to tell.. but it's also going to be about her family and falling in love and how recovery and real life clash. That's the plan, anyways. I've got a lot of character development work to do before I start, though. In the mean time, I'll continue to revise Haunted.. I can't seem to let these characters go! Okay, enough rambling.. thank you so much!!