Paradise Chapter 3
She stood, rather shakily, and let him lead her out the door. Her bare feet pressed onto the cool metal steps, then on the warm smooth sand.
She was on another world!
She flung her arms around him, his cheek pressed to hers. She closed her eyes and reveled in the scent of him mixing with the fragrance of flowers, the tang of the sea.
“Thank you, Ember.”
She stepped back to look up into his golden eyes, and the new world faded in the face of his incomparable beauty.
On this pristine place, they could start over. Here, she could immerse in his presence, get to know him more, enjoy his company, and, eventually, give him all he deserved.
The wind swept black strands of hair across his face and she slid them back, savoring the brush of his skin against hers. A warning tingle flickered across her fingertips; she drew back reluctantly. Regret sparked through his eyes.
“Whatever your heart’s desire,” he said, “We can do it here—and no one can interrupt.”
“No one lives here?”
“No one. Not for a long time. The natives have some superstition about it—many ships have crashed against the rocks. You can see the mast of one out there.” He pointed; sure enough, she could see a wooden rod poking above the water just beyond the tip of the peninsula. “There are temple ruins on this island, too. I can show them to you, if you want. Or—we could rest here on the sand. I found the most beautiful place inland. We could walk there or take the car.”
“I’ll go get the Ms.”
“Aren’t we safe?”
“There are no people here. But there are saber-toothed cats. They hunt the tazu and sometimes the horses. Besides, it’s policy to have Ms wherever we go outside of the Spire.”
She nodded, hardly remembering what it was like to set foot on ground that wasn’t Royalty or Nobility.
“I kind of want to stay on the beach for a while first.”
“Okay. I’ll wake the Ms and make sure they stay in the background and don’t bother us.”
He dashed into the car. The new world seemed to have shot energy into him—perhaps its clear air had partly healed him already.
Tentatively, she walked to the edge of the beach, the breeze whipping the fabric of her loose shirt and pants. She stopped at the edge of the water, the sand smooth and damp on the soles of her feet. Waves splashed onto the beach in a gentle rhythm, spraying warm droplets onto her feet and ankles. A stronger wave hit, spreading over her toes before rolling back out to sea again. Another wave splashed even higher and sloshed over her pants. It wasn’t exactly the best outfit for a beach; it was long-sleeved, and she was getting hot. But she didn’t want to leave the pure beauty of the ocean, the blue spreading endlessly to the sky. Except, to the right, a black strip lay flat on the horizon, just visible past the peninsula. Was it another island? She’d barely even been to the ocean on City Magnificent; she’d lived in the Nobility complex, a place of poison and whispers and darkness. Except for her gardens. Even those were artificially created, not this wild free place, without a building in sight—just open spaces as far as the eye could see. It was so strange it almost made her dizzy; it was hardly comprehensible that a place this pristine existed. Almost as if Sky and Ember were the first man and first woman in the worlds.
To share this beautiful place with him, free of the horror of the past—she almost wished she could stay here the rest of her life. But she did not want to block Ember from his destiny.
Ember appeared beside her. He had shed his pants for a loose white shirt and pants. The collar and center of the shirt were trimmed with an elaborate pattern of golden threads, and the clasps were half undone, revealing the sculpted muscles of his chest. Some stray gold dust shimmered across his cheekbone, caught by sunlight, enhancing his features to make him seem an untouchable god. But his eyes gleamed with love.
I need to tell him I love him. Even though words will never be enough—he deserves to hear what’s in the depths of my heart. How can I not tell him, after he’s told me he loves me, by both words and actions?
She had to be able to show him her love so he’d know it was true. Not just glib words from her lips, but through actions. Stabbing her father had saved Ember’s life, but she had felt her own satisfaction from it. And so it had been partly selfish. Ember had not had to, but he’d gone out of his way to punish her father. What could she do that compared?
He’d also given her an island. What did she have, besides her own body—which was his already? It had betrayed her though… and so she could not even give that to him.
He handed her a bundle of red fabric, and when she took it, part of it unfurled and flowed out into the wind. It was a dress.
“The programs in cars are limited, but this was the best one I could find.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
Sky stepped back behind him and he did not turn to watch her, for which she was grateful. She didn’t want him to see her dressing—it wasn’t fair to him, for one thing. She wouldn’t be able to give him any of herself for a while yet.
She also felt vulnerable on this beach, even though there were no other people around. So she slid the dress over her head and tugged off her shirt and pants beneath it before shoving her arms through the sleeves.
The dress fit loosely over her torso, and its airy fabric flowed just below her knees. It was sleeveless with a plunging lacy back and a neckline that landed just above her breasts. It was perfect for this weather. The material was so light it was almost like wearing nothing; it was somewhat modest while it displayed her body rather than hiding it. She didn’t have to feel self-conscious or like she was teasing him.
She stepped back to his side, her feet sinking in the soft wet sand.
He gasped. “You’re stunning in that dress! My Sky….” He reached out toward her and she took his hand and slid close to him, her bare arm brushing the sleeve of his shirt, her elbow touching his. She dared not move closer. But she could not deny him, or herself, this companionable touch.
“I love you, Ember,” she said. “With all my heart.”
“I love you, too.” He lowered his lips to kiss her. She forced herself not to draw away and immersed in the silken touch of his lips and gave him a luscious kiss of her own. A spark snapped from thumb to forefinger and she stepped back from him. It was getting worse, not better—because they were in a seductively beautiful garden of an island, or because her lightning was just continuing to become more powerful after its initial release…even more so, perhaps, the longer she was without him….
Disappointment shot through his eyes and it wrenched her heart but she would feel worse if she had hurt him.
“Ember….can you teach me how to control my lightning?”
“Sure. Right now?”’
“I want to be able to control as soon as I can.”
“Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while.”
“But – I don’t want to waste our entire honeymoon.”
“It won’t be wasted as long as we’re together. But even if you’re not in complete control, don’t worry about it. I have experience blocking lightning. You won’t burn me as long as I’m expecting it.”
“I don’t want to even risk it. It’s what my father did to me. And you totally avoided doing it to me. I just want to return the favor.”
“I did…almost burn you.” His eyes shaded with shame. “It’s almost as bad. Even if it’s not technically burning, since we didn’t go all the way….I should allow you to punish me for that.”
“No. I don’t want to hurt you just because…”
“…I hurt you,” he finished, looking away, his hair falling past his temple, curtaining his face.
She touched his arm. “We’re starting over. Don’t even think about that. I trust you. I know you don’t want to hurt me.”
“But I did. I cannot get over it. I cannot forgive myself, even if you forgave me. All I can do is make sure it never happens again. That’s why I have to remember the shame of it. Because it happened once… it means I have it in me.”
“You begged me not to ask you to hurt me.”
“But then I did. And I stopped paying attention to what you were feeling and I…let myself lose control and revel in how you made me feel—for a fleeting moment, I didn’t care how you felt. I never, ever want to do that to you again. I shudder at how cavalier I was with you before. I cared for you, even before I knew you, but I was also thinking of my own pleasure. And I was being a little too confident for my own good. It worked… but it might not have. Now that I know you, Sky—and know your past—your fragility and strength—I can’t see how I could have risked hurting you at all. So—I’m the one that needs stormdance practice. I don’t want to make love until I am sure that I can control my lightning even better than before. You can hurt me all you want. It’s what I deserve.”
She swept a stray strand of hair back from his forehead. “No, it’s not. You deserve all my love—everything I can give you. I trust you. As soon as I learn enough control, and as soon as your scars are healed—I want us to be together in every way again.” She kissed his cheek.
“I want you—so much, my Sky.” He caressed her arm, which sent thrills through her. She stepped back before lightning could spark over her skin.
“Well, I’d better start teaching you stormdance. I want us to at least be able to touch.”
He walked along the beach and she followed him until he came to a piece of driftwood lying onto a hill of sand. He sat down, and he motioned for her to sit in front of him.
She sat down on the sand, her legs crossed in front of her, her dress spilling over her knees. The wind flung a long strand of blond hair over her eyes; she tucked it back behind her ear.
“The beginning of control is learning how much lightning you have. Now, close your eyes.”
She shut out his beauty and fell into blackness. As they always did when she closed her eyes, horrific memories teased the edge of her vision.
“Look deep inside of yourself for the source of your power. Find the burning flame at the center of who you are.”
Cold fear trickled over her skin. She did not like to look in the dark recesses of her mind. She’d always searched for some distraction from her thoughts; calm came from outside of herself, not internally. Internally, it was chaos. Raw terror, ripping pain, screams into silence, years of sobbing into her pillow each night after her father had finished tearing her apart.
She stood at the edge of a vast gulf of darkness. An infinite abyss, where the souls of her past self wailed piteously, broken by despair.
No. She could not face it.
She was here, with Ember, in the light. She would not go back into her father’s mockingly tender embrace.
She shuddered. Opened her eyes.
“That was only a few seconds. It takes a while to find the center of yourself. It took me years….but I was only five and I hardly knew what Dad was talking about. You have a head start—you understand what a metaphor is.”
“Maybe I’m too old. No one learns stormdance at my age.”
“I can see the light burning inside of you. It’s vivid and brilliant and strong.” He took her hand. “I can feel power thrumming through you, calm but deep. You’ve felt it snapping over your fingertips. Now—follow that power to its source.”
She didn’t want to disappoint him. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes again.
Rough hands grabbed at her, wrenched her arms back. A mouth smashed into hers. Cutting off her air, shutting off her cries. A palm against her stomach, sending lightning snapping through her
Screams wrenched from her throat.
A hand slammed across her jaw.
“Quiet, whore! I don’t want our guests to hear you.”
Fists tamped her thighs down to the bed. Stray sparks flitted across his knuckles. He tipped his head, dark strands of sweaty hair dangling over his face. The familiar face that laughed and spoke easily to guests and strayed after her when he thought no one was looking. “My ambrosia,” he said in a husky voice, thick with lust.
She tried to writhe away but he lashed lightning into her
A paroxysm of pain, half-numb, trembling with the shock
As he shredded her apart
A hand touched her cheek.
She jolted to her feet.
© 2018 Evelyn