Moonlight Horizon

By Michelle Harris

aka Lady M. Harris

Silk Desire

Chapter 11

"Your divineness, the Prince Elijah of the Azure Seas wishes an audience with you," Elios' manservant and steward Anthony quietly announced into the Nirvana Chambers and adjacent chamber to the Evangelican Chambers. The large chamber, elegantly decorated, like the rest of the large, governing caverns was done in soft blues and golden creams. The immense caverns bespoke of a wealthy heritage and subtle power that surrounded the inhabitants on a daily basis. The surrounding delegating planet ambassadors had retired earlier from their many discussions regarding Cerus' quiet retreat of war. It had been nearly two weeks since the blessed event and things on Paradise were beginning to finally quiet down, except for one particular complicated matter.

The silent, towering figure in semi-formal, white robes stood in relaxed requiescence at the large porthole of the cavern wall. The porthole window overlooked the sun-setting horizon that was streaked with rays of red, purple and gold colors in the sky and skimmed the calm ocean and the small, glittering city below at the mouth of the mountain where the caverns perched. This silent figure of supreme well-being, of sinew authority, did not see the glorious setting sun nor did he acknowledge the splendor of the city below him. Instead, his mind, which should have been on the important matters of settling Cerus' position of neutrality of late, was on one particular—and annoying to say the least, yet beautiful beyond belief and at this moment, one missing princess.

Elios sighed, aggravated and knowing that his short-lived, but welcoming solitude would be interrupted once again. He waved silently at his manservant, who impeccably followed his master's order by quietly opening the double doors and letting the tall man on the other side into the chambers.

Elios nearly knew nothing of what had transpired after he had been stabbed by the late Aaron. He felt a brief sense of exasperation at the unknown, yet he knew what he felt was irrational since he had nearly died at the hands of Aaron. However, he could not put aside the feeling of the helplessness he felt at the fact that he had not protected Rini as he felt duty bound. Duty bound, my ass, his mind argued caustically. He was in love with the young princess warrior and that was all there was to it. There, he had said to himself. So be it. No more arguments that it was just ole simple lust. There had always been something more, more tangible than just tumbling around Hades, especially with someone like Rini.

He had heard the rest of the blasted story that was passed around the holdings from Angel Matthew once he had recovered from his injuries three days later. He had awoken in his spacious chambers, back in his caverns on Paradise Elysium, quite alone, mind you, without the benefit of the beautiful, Princess Rini dancing in attendance to him. He should have known, but had assumed that he would have ample time to explain the reasoning behind deceiving her into proclaiming herself as an Angelica to him. Really, his own selfish reasoning, if he was honest with himself. But how was he to know that he would be at death's door, his mind and body nearly gone and that he would be unconscious for nearly three days while the entire holding prepared the Angelicas for the Angelica Crowning Ceremony in less than three weeks time.

Rini, apparently, enraged at the dubious deception had all but up and disappeared on the planet. He knew that she had not returned to Earth, for both of her parents were still in attendance within his holdings, proclaiming quite mildly that once she over being upset with him that she would return to talk to him. But he was running out of time and even though Paradise was a large planet, the population was still quite small. He knew that without a doubt that someone was hiding her and doing a very good job of it, to his utter frustration.

Elios resisted the urge to grind his teeth at his lack of self-control where Rini was concerned. He had no need for the other two Angelicas, but tradition demanded at least three and three there were. Narcissi and Allergria, by birth had been proclaimed Angelicas by their families to the Archangel of Paradise.

Elios had not missed the simmering glances that Captain Tyrone and Narcissi exchanged between tart barbs thrown at each other during the past couple of harried days as the crowning drew closer. He had no doubt in his mind that Captain Tyrone would claim his lovely, sharp-tongued hostess. It was a relief to him, considering Elios knew that Narcissi still felt she was halfway in love with him since her birth. Which Elios suspected was more affection than love and that the guidance she received was from the influence of her family and upbringing. He had never attempted to draw her into a casual affair, for which he had more respect for her than to do so. Narcissi, always conservative and solicitous, respected him in the same aspect.

Allergria was another matter for which he could not merely ignore. Her family was not quite as wealthy as Narcissi's. As the youngest of four daughters, every penny it seemed, they scrimped and saved to prepare her for the possibility of acceptance of becoming the Angelica of the Archangel. He would have to procure a marriage contract for her to one of his more affluent ties with the other worlds and an inheritance when the crowning was over. Allergria was shy, but very lovely and Elios knew that he would have plenty of offers for her. Thoughts of settling Allergria, Narcissi and even Rini dispersed the moment Prince Elijah entered the chambers.

"It is quite good to see you looking as fit as fiddle, your divineness," Prince Elijah declared coming forward with his broad hand out. Of course, he had heard of Elios's near death experience.

"Thank you," Elios responded, his smile genuine. Both men shook hands. "As I assume the Oceans of Paradise are to your liking, your highness?"

"Indeed," Prince Elijah chuckled deeply, his emerald gaze alight with amusement. "A very accommodating alliance my father made with you. We Mer people protect your oceans and you protect us entirely. I do believe we are getting the better of the bargain especially since Paradise's oceans are expansive and plentiful. We can't thank you enough." Elijah bowed his handsome noble head toward the archangel.

"Your father stated that Earth's oceans have enough Princesses and Princes to govern it," Elios chuckled, knowing that as first born, Elijah had jumped at the opportunity of ruling such a vast and unexplored ocean as Paradise's and had no problem leaving his inheritance of the Pacific Ocean to his younger brothers and sisters. The exchange had benefited everyone in the process. Elios believed that Elijah made a fine and just ruler for Paradise's oceans, leading a conservative number of intelligent Mer people, strategically placed throughout the many deep crevices of Paradise's oceans.

Elijah was the spanking image of his father, extremely tall in height, his body muscular and supple, his skin weathered smoothly and bronzed deeply by Paradise's sun. Shocking long, silky chocolate hair that reached just above his trim waist was tied carelessly by a leather tong went fine with his willow-leaf green eyes. His face was strong and angular, the lips always curved in an easy manner.

"That is so true," Elijah answered, his smile sobering and turning serious. "As much as I'd like to say that this visit is only for pleasure," he paused remembering the shy beauty that had greeted him at the mouth of Elios' entry caverns, he wondered now. It was customary for the proclaimed Angelicas to serve official visitors every comfort and need while they stayed in Paradise Elysium.

Allergria was impossibly shy and yet, Elijah had been assailed by her beauty which had but taken away all of his thoughts, breath and had nearly made his heart pound within his chest. She had barely reached the top of his chest as she placed a warm, fluffy towel in his arms and suitable clothing for the caverns. Her lovely face was a delicious pink hue as she averted her face from his natural nudity; and all that silky blue-black hair had feathered a supple body in a cocoon of loveliness. Elijah had felt a sudden surge of piercing, white hot desire that normally was not an issue with his nudity, but this had nearly been inappropriate and embarrassing to the say the least. The towel had been a welcoming barrier.

"Actually, I have come for two reasons," Elijah started, at Elios brief nod of encouragement, he continued. "First, for my own selfish reason, you understand the nature of a Mer prince's natural selection of a lifemate?"

"Yes," Elios mused with comprehension and surprise, knowing that his own was almost identical in both situations. He had not been expecting a subject about mating to be brought up, "It's similar to my own from what I gather. Only your calling may cause the onslaught of death if your mate does not respond," Elios frowned, suddenly concerned. "What has happened?"

"My first choice of calling is not being responsive at all to my courtship," Elijah chuckled, somewhat discomforted by the archangel's unease. "As a matter of fact, she has but done nothing but spurred all of my attempts."

"May I ask—who's the lucky lady?" Elios asked hesitantly.

"Certainly—Tribal Chief Miriam of the Zion Tribes of the Arcadia Eastern Coast shores," Elijah sighed. It seemed to be a doomed attempt on his side, Elijah thought lately. Ever since he had first approached Miriam, she had done nothing more than to turn down every attempt he had made of courtship toward the gorgeous red-head. But lately, it seemed as though her patience with him had worn thin and she now blatantly and rudely began ignoring him every time he appeared at sunset when her and tribe arrived at the fishing holes to pull in the fishing nets for the evenings catch.

At first, Elios could do no more than widen his eyes in shock, and then sputters of chuckles erupted against his will. Elios started to laugh out loud when Elijah, looking quite dumb-founded, stared at him as if he knew something of significance had been lost on him. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't believe that the lady in question will ever return your favor."

"I am quite at a loss," Elijah stated, "Am I not the question of good health? Of sight, body and mind?" His arms went out imploring, which only made Elios whoop with laughter. "You are making fun of me! It is not your life on the line!"

"You are right in that matter," Elios quieted, a grin spread wide on his face, he had needed that laugh. "But it can be remedied, I'm sure. You see, Miriam favors only women, my young man. Your courtship has been for naught. It is no wonder that she finds your persistence annoying at this point."

"Good Lord!" Elijah exclaimed, his face red, stupefied, and then it was Elijah's turn to burst out in laughter. Something akin to relief and horror over his obvious mistake went through him. How he had missed the blaringly obvious signs, he thought with resounding disbelief. They had been there all along. "Then you will understand that my second reason for coming here was to let you know that your Princess Rini has been found. And that she has been spending all of her time with no other than our Miriam."

"You found Rini?" Elios' chuckles abruptly stopped. His body went rigid with elation.

"Yes, she's been staying with the Zion tribes since her disappearance. She is there every evening, pulling in the fishing nets with Miriam and her people. Deep-sea diving with the natives and skinny-dipping along with the best. Her tan is quite golden, I assure you," Elijah continued with a grin. "Now that I understand Miriam's attitude," he began, organizing his thoughts and his new proposal that he was fast putting together in his mind. He noted Elios' silence, understanding that the other was still adjusting to the news of Princess Rini's whereabouts.

"I have proposal for you," Elijah started, his features now serious.

"Go on," more surprises, Elios nodded his head once again.

"It is about your Angelica Allergria," Elijah began carefully, his gaze searching, probing the other, gauging for a reaction to his words. When the archangel stood silent, his face calm and seemingly emotionless, Elijah plunged on, not believing his own words, "I will take Allergria to be my bride in Miriam's stead."

"This is, of course, unexpected," Elios started, stunned. Even he, could not have found a better solution for his dilemma with Allergria, and here it was before him—Prince Elijah. When had the Mer prince met Allergria, Elios pondered thoughtfully? Just now, before Elijah greeted him? Can a person become infatuated that quickly, he mused? "But it is a better solution to my problems of late," Elios added, his arms folding in a stance of great thought.

"A better solution," Elijah echoed, not quite sure of Elios' predicament. He was still stunned by the bargain he had just made and wondered briefly if the archangel thought him mad for his suggestion. But if he was right, as was the rumors, that the archangel had already picked his Angelica and she was the missing Princess Rini. Who was reportedly tricked into bargaining herself as an Angelica—all by the hands of the archangel himself. However, no one dared to approach the archangel on the topic, especially since the princess had been beside herself in a fury over the apparent deception. "A better solution to what, may I ask?"

"As you probably have already guessed, my friend," Elios grinned sarcastically, "I already have an Angelica picked out--Princess Rini, that is, if she will have me now," he confirmed Elijah's thoughts with a dry laugh, "and I find myself in a predicament with Allergria. Narcissi can fend for her self as you well know; she comes from a very wealthy and influential family. But that is not the case with Allergria. She is a sweet young lady and her family is very honorable despite their lack of financial backing."

Elijah nodded solemnly, understanding, but elated with the fact that the archangel was edging in his favor.

"However, I have one condition before I will release her to your hands," Elios reasoned.

"And what may that be," Elijah started, his brows lifting in a frown.

"Paradise's crowning requires three Angelicas, as selfish as that sounds, even to me. Allergria must be present at the time of the crowning as a potential Angelica," Elios answered, although he did not particular care for that aspect, especially since he already knew who he would pick. It did not make sense to him or to hold Allergria and her family in the bargain.

"I understand," Elijah nodded his head absently, not quite sure how he would present himself afterward as a potential suitor.

"No, you do not," Elios stated mysteriously. "At the time of my declaration of Princess Rini," and he hoped that she would be present at the crowning, as a matter of fact, he was going to make sure that she was there, "I would ask that you declare yourself as a suitor to Allergria. I do not want her family to be disappointed or to cause her dishonor."

"Aaah even better," Elijah grinned, liking the archangel's approach. "Then we have a bargain, your divineness." Now, he just had to figure out how he was going to do that. It might help that he was staying awhile in the caverns.

Both men clasped hands once more in agreement, their pact made true by the handshake.

"I am now to assume you have business to take care of?" Elijah ventured, smiling smugly, knowing full well where Elios was heading.

"If you will accept my humble apologies for not entertaining you," Elios bowed graciously to his guest with a sardonic smile alighting his lips, his guest in return, did the same. "But I feel an urgent need to thrash a certain exasperating princess at the moment."

Elijah let out a loud chortle.

"Please, make yourself at home while I am gone," Elios grinned, turning away and striding for the doors. "Allergria is at your disposal. She will attend to your every need while you are here at the palace," Elios added, his eyes crinkling upwards in slyness and amusement. "Although, I daresay, you've already thought of that. I wish you luck, for underneath all that shyness beats the heart of a tigress."

At that last statement, Elijah shook his head, his eye alight with mirth, his chuckles echoing throughout the chambers long after Elios' exit.

"Rini, I don't think that's a good idea," Miriam stated thoughtfully as she stared toward the ocean horizon. It was going to be a spectacular sunset, that's for sure. The breeze was balmy and warm, a perfect night for singing around the fire or cuddling with a loved one. The ocean was calm enough and it wasn't quite dark as of yet.

"Alright, just this one time," Rini hung back on the beach, staring back at the tall caverns by the beach. She had wanted to take a dip in the warm waters. But Miriam knew the waters better than her and she had heard how dangerous the incoming tide could be at this time.

Tall cliffs hung in the background, highlighting the area majestically behind the caverns. Nearer to the surface of where the caverns meet with the cliffs, the salty waters could lap gently at the rocks or pound them fiercely in a storm. Near the tops of the cliffs an unusual formation of huge, clam-like shell structures made of durable, water-repelling skins of dark and light beige hues dotted the edge of the cliffs. Most of the structures were tightly knitted together of complicated, web-like networks, while the larger structures were not so quite close to one another and were made of finer, tougher, yet more elegant materials. All structures were intricately, interconnected by bridges of tightly, woven ropes and treated planks to protect them against the salt-water atmosphere and the trade winds. Because it was a calm and balmy evening, most of the structures appeared warm and inviting. Golden lights were lit within most of the structures and an occasional or two, shadowy form was seen moving to and from within the interior walls.

"She's right, you know," Jenne, Miriam's youngest apprentice jeweler stated, never looking up from her current find on the beach they were standing on. She examined the discolored, lavender rock in her hand, carefully turning it this way and that way in her palms, her face in a constant deep study. "We'll need to head back to the boats, anyways."

"Of course," Miriam agreed noticing the guards that hung back. Soon, they would start to get ansey, she knew. But they were trained that way and they were trained well. They knew the water patterns just as well as her.

It had been wonderful staying with the Zion tribes, Rini summarized silently. It almost seemed unreal, except for the tiring practice of singing she had to endure every early morning in preparation for the Angelica Crowning.

After leaving Elysium in complete blinding rage at Elios' deception, Rini had transformed into Super Sailor Moon and flown around the planet, her anger blinding her to all reason. Of course, she had made sure that Elios was recovering safely, before she headed out, not sure of her own feelings for the angel or of his deception. After wandering for hours in the air, she grew tired and made the mistake of landing on the Sacred Zion Beach. The current beach they were standing on. It was heavily guarded for its precious gems, the lavender diamonds. Other diamonds were also produced by the beach such as pink, blue and green diamonds, but its lavender diamonds were the most precious to the tribes. It was their source of wealth. Most of the other tribes in Paradise could farm, but since the Zion tribes lived in cliffs their only alternative had been fishing and mining.

Rini was caught unguarded and bounded. She was forced to explain her presence on their forbidden beach and then released into custody to their tribal leader Miriam, a fierce and independent leader of the Zion tribes. Fortunately for Rini, Miriam was amused by the current scuffle between the Archangel Elios and the Earth and Moon Princess Rini. News traveled fast on a small, populated planet and the Zions, though quite isolated by choice, was not completely unaware of current events. The planet Paradise was deeply indebted to the princess for saving their protector's life and Miriam thought it more appropriate to offer her assistance while the princess sorted out her feelings for the archangel.

And so, during the past month, Rini was completely absorbed into the Zion tribal community. Learning to swim like an expert, fish, dive with the natives and to learn their customs as if it were part of her own. In return, Rini opened up to their fierce leader about her feeling for Elios. It didn't take long for Rini to realize that she was completely and hopelessly in love with the archangel. However, it frustrated her that it had seemed as if he used her in order for them to be released from the cycle.

"It seems to me, that you must be honest with yourself," Miriam had commented as they sat on the warm beach, warming themselves before the sun disappeared behind the tall, ragged mountains and the night claimed its rightful place in the deepening sky.

Jenne usually accompanied them on their journey through the forbidden beach to the caverns. Her glasses were forever falling off her pert nose as she tucked a large, uncut gem into her pocket for her collection to be made back at the dome home. Jenne had already started the necklace and the hip bracelet that would attach to Rini's native skirt for her crowning ceremony. Miriam had commissioned the work for Jenne to start, although Rini had no idea that Miriam planned to gift the gems to her to wear during the Angelica Crowning Ceremony.

"Are you in love with Elios? You must ask yourself that," Miriam started.

Rini sighed softly, "I can no longer deny it. I don't even want to deny it any longer."

"So what is the problem?" Miriam gently prodded.

"He used me!" Rini spat back, suddenly, her red gaze fusing with heat.

"Seems to me, that the archangel—and he is virtuous to the people, would not do something that deceitful unless he had an ulterior motive to your heart," Miriam continued to chuckled. "You must have paved him a difficult path to your heart."

Rini gaped in surprise. Had she? Was it that guarded, she asked herself. No, she was just too headstrong, that was the problem. It wasn't like she didn't have a heart to give. Hers was quite intact, she acknowledged to herself briefly, waiting for the right man to come along and to show her what love was really about. Yet, here she was moaning and whining that he had deceived her—and he had, mind you, but was it really that evil? Heck, they were no longer trapped on Hades. Was it enough to turn away a chance at happiness? The same kind of deep and meaningful type of love that could stand the test of time and still endure after centuries of being apart, the same kind of love that her mother and father shared.

She had gotten up and walked slowly to the waters, letting its warmth seep into her skin and gently lap at her ankles. She looked back at Miriam who still wore that same, sardonic smirk on her face, the smirk died into an exasperated sigh as Miriam spotted the young prince of the waters suddenly come into view.

"Go to the Angelica Crowning, show him how much you love him," Miriam stated. "The deception makes no difference any more; it was obvious what he was doing. It is quite flattering, if you ask me! You are a beautiful woman and he is a beautiful man, you will make beautiful babies!" Miriam laughed, waving her hand at her.

Rini had smiled, her heart suddenly lifting in spirit. She untied the sarong, uncaring of the young prince who stood in annoying attendance to Miriam or the guards that stood watch at the entrance of the beach. They were used to nudity. She let it float into the ocean water and waded in deeper until the waters lovingly caressed her skin. She thought of Elios' large and manly hands sinuously moving over her own skin and she sighed once again, now impatient for the crowning day to arrive.

"But you must pass the test," Miriam warned her, stopping Rini in her tracks into the deeper water.

"You mean the singing contest," Rini stated blandly, a slight ironic twist on her lips. She started back out of the warm waters.

Miriam laughed.

"I see that you have heard of it," Miriam nodded, her green eyes dancing merrily.

"Of course, I've heard of it—it's all the servants could talk of while I was fuming in my room," Rini added dryly.

"You agree to practice? You know that we have little more than two weeks? How is your voice, by the way?" Miriam fired at her.

"I don't know, okay, I guess," Rini shrugged her shoulders.

"Good lord," Miriam muttered under her breath, "come then, to the caverns. I must know for myself if you can even hold a tune," she stated more to herself as she pulled Rini out of the waters.

"I can hold a tune!" Rini stated indigently, her cheeks flaming with heat.

"We will see about that!" Miriam barked with teasing laughter.

"What's the big deal about my voice anyhow, other than passing the singing contest," Rini asked, wanting to know the reasons. Even at Elios' home, all the residents had made a big fuss about her practicing for the Angelica Crowning and that she should be prepared to represent the Earth and the Moon. She understood representing her planet but the singing part was a bit overboard to her. But then who was she to change tradition especially since the moon traditions were steep with royal customs.

"It's not whether or not you have the greatest voice in world to sing with the angels—although that would certainly raise your earthly status higher with the angels if you did have an angelic voice—but that may not be the case with you," Miriam added quickly as Rini opened her mouth to object. "Your voice should at least be able to hold a tune so that you can be eventually trained to sing with the angels."

"I have to sing with the angels?" Rini echoed. "How many times do I have to do that?" She asked with dread.

"Every evening, as Elios normally leads the evening ballads at sunset," Miriam grinned at Rini's dismayed countenance.

"And at the Angelica Crowning—how many times then?"

"Each Angelica is given the chance to compete for Elios' favor with an entry song and then the chosen Angelica must perform the joining duet with Elios during the mating ceremony—that's if he chooses you. Which I have no doubt that he will, considering he's made it quite clear that he duped you into announcing your candidacy for an Angelica spot," Miriam explained as she watched Rini's face turn from dismay to incredibility.

"What mating ceremony?" Rini squeaked, unable to believe what she was hearing.

"You and Elios will mate during the duet," Miriam laughed out right at Rini's red face.

"There's no way in hell I'm going to do it front of God knows how many—!" Rini began, her voice sounding uncharacteristically shrilly.

Miriam laid a reassuring arm on her shoulders, meaning to calm her. "You won't have to perform in front of audience. No one will be able to see the two of you in the air."

"In the air? Oh that makes it even better," Rini gritted her teeth as Miriam began leading them towards the caverns.

"I don't think I've presented the picture very well to you, but it's really quite a short and sweet ceremony for the rest of us and quite beautiful for the pair—or so I've heard. But leave it up to me to butcher the entire event," Miriam tried to explain in simpler terms. Perhaps she shouldn't have given Rini so many details about the ceremony and let her friend find out on her own. But she wanted Rini to be prepared to know the duet song and quite frankly, she wanted Rini to sing a Zion entry song to represent her little tribe to Paradise.

"You're lagging," Miriam stated before her, bringing Rini back to their present state.

"You're right as usual, your leadership," Rini teased, her hips swaying gently to their slow pace back towards where the guards stood watching them.

Jenne chuckled, this time her face was forward, her gaze trained on one particular guard. Pink hue blossomed on her cheeks. Tuan was nearly ten years older than her, tall-broad shouldered, deeply tanned and handsome, but he was unusually sweet to her. Even though she knew that he had all the young ladies aflutter for him. Erika, from their tribe, was the best looking girl in their age group and Jenne knew she didn't stand a chance with Tuan. Erika had practically bragged about her and Tuan's last date.

"And for once, our Jenne girl's attention is elsewhere other than on a gem," Miriam surmised, never missing a thing. She would need to harness Tuan's sweetness on Jenne into something more meaningful for the young apprentice. Since her innocent crush blossomed into full bloom love on the young man, Jenne's jewel cutting techniques had turned exquisitely impossible to copy by other cutters in the industry, commanding an unusually high price for their stones on the market. "A becoming jewel, perhaps," she cajoled lightly.

"You never miss anything, Miriam," Jenne smiled shyly and blushing at the same time, but her tone was serious.

"I try not to, my pet," Miriam answered easily. She was looking forward to going home, where Nilesh would have dinner and a warm fire by the hearth ready for her.

Rini smiled softly, enjoying their light banter.

There was a loud swoosh above the walking party. Rini felt the unexpected rush of gusty winds as her hair lifted around her face. Surprised, the guards shouted a warning at them but it was already too late. Before she knew what was happening, Rini was swept up like a rabbit caught off guard in open territory. Steel bands surrounded her arms in a tight vise that seemed invincible. She dangled precariously in the air before her captor righted her in his arms as she screeched loudly in fright.

A large palm clamped tightly over her mouth, abruptly stopping her scream in mid-stream. Her eyes bugged out in fright and then turned into seething anger as she finally realized who held her in his arms. Elios! How like him to be so melodramatic, so much larger than life!

Before she knew what was happening, she found herself bodily righted into one of the structures on the cliff. The trip had been so fast and furious that she nearly lost her balance. A quick glance around the open structure and one of the chambers, with its rich, folding velvety materials, heavy rugs made of silk wool and opulent furniture could only belong to Miriam. Miriam owned the majority of the larger structures away from the tight, networked structures that dotted the main area of the two, dividing cliffs of the Zion shores.

"My God Rini," Elios said, rubbing his ear in the process as he held her one arm length away from him, to keep her from falling in her dazed state, "you could send a man to his death with those lungs of yours! What the hell---!"

"Let go of me!" Rini struggled against the might of his strong-hold. How could she have forgotten how magnificent he was? Lordy, but he took her breath away as she tried to glare up into his chiseled face that was obviously hand-picked and made from the Gods. He stood a hair-breath from her, his scent intensifying her senses and overwhelming her with his presence.

"Not on your life! And where the hell are your clothes?" He exploded, his hot blue gaze burning as they swiftly flew over her half-naked figure.

Immediately the answer came to him. "Miriam!" He should have known. Jesus, when Prince Elijah had stated that Rini had been running around naked with the natives, he hadn't been kidding. For now he'd allow Miriam this indiscretion, considering he particularly liked Rini the way she looked right now—but he'd like it even better if she was in his bed instead of carousing around the shores of Zion showing off that luscious body of hers to any males within the vicinity.

Need slammed into him, hard and burning painfully within him, but he took a deep breath, fought and won, finally appreciating the golden tan that now graced her supple body. Christ, how long had it been since he touched her? It had been way too long, trying to control the heat that was flaring swift and sharp, his mind tried to shift to anger, but even that was a futile battle.

His arms tightened around her waist, the power emanating from him, intimidating and dangerous all at once, as he slowly and deliberately began pulling her closer to him. His gaze narrowed into sharp pinpoints of blazing, blue ice; there was just enough steely heat in those blazing pupils to make her rethink her situation with care. "Do you realize the amount of trouble I've went through just to find you?"

"Obviously, it was not nearly enough as you are here in front of me!" She gasped out in indignation, carelessly disregarding her thoughts of earlier. He could have went to Earth and back as far as she was concerned. How dare he stand there looking like she was the one who was owed an explanation!

"Oh really?" He snapped back, his lips tightening as it began to ride against reason. "Did you honestly believe that after what happened that I wouldn't try to explain you the reason behind my actions?" He glared back at her, then, "but it just so happened that I didn't plan on being stabbed or to go knocking at death's door either."

"You did it on purpose!" She accused, ignoring his logic, her anger beginning to slip away as she found herself suddenly held tightly against the hard length of his body. She couldn't think when he held her this way, by God but it wasn't fair how he could play her this way. She tried to concentrate on her anger, but found herself instead staring back at the ironic slant of his lips. She stared at his mouth, caught by the chiseled perfection of it. Her hear started thumping painfully against her ribcage. A ragged breath escaped from her, betraying her, and immediately Elios' eyes narrowed with comprehension and wariness. She silently cursed her weakness.

"So I did," Elios admitted slowly to her, his tone at once rough and silky and low, "what are you going to do about it, Rini?" He prompted at her softly, his unblinking gaze steady and compelling.

Rini stared up into his face silently, unable to form any sort of logical answer to his question. His face was too close to hers, his body urgent and calling to hers, his lips too tantalizing that she couldn't help the quick lick at the corner of her lips in anticipation and nervousness. The gesture did not go unnoticed by the man holding her tightly in his embrace as his gaze hungrily followed the movement.

"Aaaah Rini," Elios growled low and deep in his throat as he lowered his golden head toward her, closing the gap between them. He slanted his mouth over hers, hot and demanding, harshly sensual in a way that was meant to punish her and reward her all at once. He explored every inch of her mouth with complete authority, building the heat. She meet his provocative kiss with a passion as great as his, the back of her heels lifting in anticipation, her arms winding around his shoulders to deepen their kiss; wanting nothing more than to mold herself against his body.

Rini moaned, her breath coming in small, little rushes against his mouth. A wave of heat heralded a storm of fire, through her, through him. On their own accord, Rini's hands shoved at his vest, pushing them from his wide shoulders wanting to feel his chest against her own wildly beating heart.

"Not here," Elios groaned as he tore his mouth away from hers.

Rini's head slowly came up, still reeling from his intoxicating kiss, confusion evident in her slumberous, ruby gaze. "Not here? Then how about here?" With all her strength Rini pulled Elios unceremoniously on top of her as they precariously fell back. They landed in a heap of soft cushions and pillows made of silk and velvet.

Elios's muscles contracted, clenched. His teeth came together and he closed his eyes against the demands of his body. She was hot silk and white lightning. Fire skimming over his chest, it spread across his flat belly, lower still, to torment him with a painful, unfulfilled promise of release.

Rini's body moved restlessly against his, seeking a closer bond, wanting the feel of skin to skin without the confines of clothes that hampered them. Not knowing or understanding the torment she made him endure, but only knowing that this moment and time, felt right between them. Her natural inhibitions were being pushed aside, her humanity swept away on a tide of rising passion. Her blood, her body raged with fire, cried out to his, and only his. What she wanted, he wanted, what she needed, he needed.

Her tongue caressed his pulse at his neck, swirling lightly over his muscles, then stroking lower over his highly sensitive nipple. He threw back his head and groaned aloud. A fine sheen of sweat exploded over his body, and his body swelled in urgent demand, his pants far too tight, his body straining against hers to break free. His very blood pulsated with waves of urgency, like molten volcano ready to erupt. His arms tightened possessively as he bent over to brush his mouth over her silky hair, her closed eyelids, her temples. And then he was gasping for breath, a strangled sound somewhere between a moan and hoarse cry escaping as her fingertips stroked over his tightly-clenched, flat belly and down even lower, over that throbbing part of him that was desperate for relief, desperate for their joining.

Her hand moved over the constriction of cloth, her mind lost to the fiery needs of her own body, knowing instinctively exactly what he needed, what she so desperately wanted since their separation. His need was hers. Her hand freed him from the tightness of his trousers. She felt him shudder as her fingers wrapped around the thick length of him, lovingly stroking and caressing the warm, hard velvety shaft.

Jackhammers beat at his skull, somewhere, something was reminding him that he had to stop, but the red haze of desire thundered at him as his body arched against Rini's silky caresses, testing his limits, pushing him beyond the boundaries that he had set.

"We must stop," he groaned hoarsely and whispered all at once, ensnaring her further in his dark spell of desire. Rini became aware of what she was doing. It had been like some erotic dream, realizing her own uninhabited behavior that even now, she did not want to stop. He did not even bother to remove his sprawled hands over the satin of her breasts, the long fingers lazily tantalizing a hard peak.

"Oh my god, what you must think of me," unable to believe how wanton, how bold she had acted. Elios shook his head, a strained smile on his face. She attempted to pull out of his arms, but he only tightened his hold on her.

"Be calm, love," everything in him wanted to bury himself solidly into her and be damned with the Angelica Crowning tomorrow. He wanted the mating ritual done now and to make her his own, claiming her as rightfully his and to put him out of this living hell. He thought about how tight and silky she had felt around him when they were in Hades; his body reacted instinctively, thrusting forward against her soft stomach as he groaned in his own torture.

"The funny thing is that I don't want to stop!" She admitted, fighting her own needs and desires, not wanting to move from their positions. But she stayed still, not wanting to further enflame him.

"Neither do I," he answered a bit more ragged than he would have liked, trying to his regulate breathing. "But I only came with the intention to tease you tonight," he admitted slowly, carefully.

"What?" She exclaimed and tried to come up out of his arms, but he held her tightly within his embrace. "Tease me? Well, you most certainly accomplished your goal!" She snapped, trying to avoid staring at his masculine body while he, on the other hand, insolently devoured her exposed breasts with such fire in those damnable eyes that she felt the heat creep back up into her face. He lay there hard and thick, no apologies mind you, throbbing insistently against her trembling stomach.

"Yes, I did, didn't I," he teased tenderly, the fire still raging in him, "but I never intended to go this far," he added sinfully as his mouth stroked lazily over a puckered nipple.

"Let me up, Elios," she moaned, as his hot mouth beckoned and taunted. His lips then brushed over hers slowly, and her heart stopped. His tongue traced over the full lower lip, teasing an opening to sweep inside the silken interior. Her heart began pound again. There was only feeling, a curious shifting of the ground below them, a slow spinning that kept her off balance. It was Elios who reluctantly lifted his head again. His eyes were hot, blue molten roaming over her face possessively.

"We will finish this tomorrow, Rini," he commanded, softly, his hand stroking the tumble of her silken hair.

"Don't sound so arrogant about it," Rini blazed at him, shoving him out of her arms and standing uncertainly, because for once, she knew that she couldn't deny him in this. He was so damn lethal, that her heart thundered at the sight him, and she had no control over her body where he was concerned that it scared the living mess out of her. But she knew that whatever this Angelica Crowning entailed, she would be there, claiming her right for him, because for some reason or another she knew it, right there, deep within her, that her destiny was standing before like a glorious, golden god, all subtle power and all hers to claim as her own.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Lady M. Harris