Tears dripped from my chin as Aden dragged me away from the abandoned warehouse where Conrad’s body lay, growing colder by the second. Life as I knew it had come to an end. The last of my sworn protectors had fallen, and I was in the clutches of a man whose depravity had no bounds. What did fate have in store for me now?
Watching the man I love die for a second time shattered the remnants of my heart. Aden had murdered my entire family in cold blood, all for the sake of reclaiming his hold on me. The fleeting freedom I’d enjoyed for the last few centuries had been snuffed out as if it were no more than a flickering flame. As hard as I’ve tried to outrun my past, the task has proved impossible. I took my first breaths in the Garden of Eden, and as the original woman, perhaps my destiny will always be intertwined with the man I was created for.
Adam and Eve.
Aden and Evey.
No matter what names we use, the sins of our past remain. My hand in the Fall of Man gave birth to Aden’s vile nature. The Tree of Knowledge blessed us with the wisdom of both good and evil, and even though I have strived to live in the light, my former husband has descended into the depths of darkness.
Chapter One: Lost
Throwing off the covers, I scooted away from Aden until my hands found the edge of the mattress. There was nowhere else to go, but I yearned for escape. As I pulled myself farther away from him, I fell to the ground, my arm thrashing against a small table. Fear overwhelmed my senses, coursing through my veins like a jolt of electricity. How could I be here? Why were the eyes boring into mine darker than the deepest abyss? Aden rounded the bed and made his way toward me, his expression unreadable. Panic consumed my thoughts and my body trembled uncontrollably in response.
The last time I rejected this man, he sent me to an early grave. Now, he stood before me and claimed he needed me back, but in order to accomplish his goals, he had stolen away the ones I loved most. My instincts told me not to believe his lies as he was no doubt hungry for more carnage. I knew the depths of love and this twisted version wasn’t even close to the word.
As he advanced toward me, I scrambled across the cold wooden floor. I was nothing more than a caged animal. When Aden bent down in front of me, I fought the urge to scream. My eyes clasped shut. The thought of staring into his dark gaze sickened me. The moment he grabbed my wrist, a shudder slithered down my spine. His touch was like ice, stinging my skin with the pressure of his fingers.
“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with,” I spat defiantly. Fighting against my instincts, I opened my eyes and watched as his hand jerked away.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispered. Pain harshened the lines of his face. “You’re bleeding.” He pointed at my arm that had bashed against the table. A small drop of blood trickled over the inside of my wrist. Taking my hand in his, he delicately kissed the spot where I’d been cut, cleaning the blood away with the bottom of his shirt. He then picked me up in his arms and set me on the bed, handling me like I was a crystal vase and the slightest disturbance would cause me to burst into a million tiny shards of glass. As Aden sat at the end of the bed, all I could do was stare at him in bewilderment. “There’s no need for you to be afraid of me,” he reassured me in a soft voice.
His gentle answer fueled my anger. “Isn’t there?” I questioned, not even attempting to suppress the malice in my tone. “You murdered everyone I care for.” I knew my eyes were filled with all the venom I felt in my heart. I didn’t care if my salvation lay in his love for me. The life he offered wasn’t worth the price.
“I did what I had to do in order to have you in my life again.”
Confusion began to replace my anger. I was sure he wanted me to suffer. The only reason he’d been so eager to find me was to hurt me again. Why was he being so gentle, tender even? “I don’t understand. I thought you hated me.”
“I’ve tried to hate you so many times, and no matter what I do, I’m incapable of harboring even a minute shred of ill will toward you.”
“So, you aren’t going to kill me?” I understood the influence I had over people, how they were innately drawn to me, but his sincerity seemed unfathomable considering the depths of his cruelty I’d experienced firsthand.
“In this moment, all I want is to hold you and know that you’re mine, just like we were always meant to be since the beginning of time.”
Chapter Two: Revival
I sucked in a deep breath of air that burned my lungs like acid. Every part of my body ached, my muscles serving as a frank reminder that I was alive.
“Evey,” I croaked. I tried to sit up, but a hand on my shoulder kept me down. It pressed me into the cold ground. My eyes opened slowly. Light flooded into view from all around me, stinging my eyes. Muffled voices were just discernible through the incessant ringing presiding over my ears. “Evey?” I repeated.
“Oh, thank God! Conrad, can you hear me?” Disappointment consumed the coherent part of my brain as I realized the voice didn’t belong to Evey, but to her best friend. “Conrad, it’s Caroline. Can you hear me?”
After another minute, the scene around me came into focus. “Yeah, I hear you.” Caroline and Noah hovered over me, and while the expression on Caroline’s face was frantic, Noah’s was downright livid. Black sludge from the bodies of dead souls coated the ground, mixing with the crimson rivers left by fallen secundae. The memories of the events in the abandoned warehouse suddenly dawned on me. “Wait, how am I back? Evey—”
“She wasn’t killed,” Caroline answered in a soft voice. “But Aden has her.”
Shit. I knew he would take her the moment I drew my last breath, but I didn’t want to accept that she was now in the possession of that sick bastard. “How long have they been gone?” Hatred swelled just beneath the surface of my skin, devouring my consciousness from the inside out.
“You need to rest for a bit,” she answered, trying her best to soothe me.
“I’ll never be able to rest as long as he has her,” I seethed. By sheer will, I managed to push myself up from the floor. “How did I let this happen?” Grabbing a piece of scrap wood, I hurled it across the room. The wood crashed into a concrete post, splintering upon impact.
Caroline approached me with caution. “This isn’t your fault.”
“I was supposed to protect her.” My legs trembled beneath my weight. I had to get Evey back at any cost. I wouldn’t lose her to Aden’s wrath again.
“You did protect her,” Noah said. “There was no way to know Aden would have an army of souls waiting for us in the middle of the city.”
“We have to find her. We have to hunt him down.” If Aden had Evey, I had to get to her as soon as possible. I wouldn’t allow history to repeat itself. My legs shuddered uncontrollably. Coming back from the dead always took a toll on my body. Noah was at my side before I could crash back into the cement. He flung my arm around his neck to support my body with his.
“You need to rest,” Caroline whispered with a shaky voice. “You . . . Conrad, you were . . .”
“Dead?” I looked at her as I uttered the word she couldn’t. The rims of her eyes were red—it was obvious she’d been crying. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” I joked. I was trying to comfort her, but instead, I only made things worse.
She scowled at me. “That isn’t funny!”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” Moving to my free side, she wrapped her arm around my back to help Noah hold me upright. The three of us gradually shuffled to the steps that led to a landing above us. I set my hands on either rail, bracing myself as I collapsed on the bottom stair. The aged wood bent beneath my weight. A dim haze covered the room. The main source of light filtered in from an outdoor lamppost through the thick plastic sheeting that covered the windows. Death hung in the air, filling up my lungs as I sucked in another deep breath. I was exhausted just from walking to the stairs. Noah and Caroline stood a few feet from one another. A cold chill lingered between the two of them. “If she isn’t dead, then why am I breathing?” I glanced at Noah, expecting an answer, but it was Caroline who spoke first.
“I made him bring you back,” she answered, staring at the floor.
“But why?” My gaze fixed on Noah as I prayed he wasn’t that much of an idiot. “Noah, you know I can’t be brought back without the Concilium’s approval. It’s forbidden.”
“Oh, screw them and their rules. You’re the only person who can save Evey and you know it. Noah agrees with me. But he won’t say so because he’s still mad I knocked him out during all the fighting and hid him in the closet.”
“You did what?” Her revelation stunned me. However, Caroline simply threw her blonde hair over her shoulder in triumph.
“What she did was keep me from helping everyone. I could’ve saved you, Milton, and Marie. I could have kept you from dying,” Noah yelled.
“Aden would have taken you and would probably be eating your heart as we speak,” she spat back at him. “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
He glared at her. “You don’t get to make those decisions. You aren’t a secundae or consiliarius.”
I could tell by her expression that his words stung. “Noah, she was right to do it. She prevented Aden from getting a consiliarius and she made you bring me back. That’s something I won’t argue with.”
“I only did it to keep you from getting hurt,” Caroline whispered.
“I know,” Noah responded, though he still refused to meet her gaze.
To my right, a dirty tarp covered a mound on the floor. “Is that Milton?”
“Yeah. Aden took Evey and Helen with him. Marie is over there.” Noah pointed to the other side of the room where a soiled sheet had been placed over her body. A red puddle soaked through the light cloth and stained the concrete floor around it. The empty warehouse had been transformed into a graveyard within a matter of hours.
“May they wait in peace until they can be returned to this earth,” I whispered. I should’ve beaten Aden. I’d done it before; I was the better fighter. And yet, he wasn’t the one left bleeding out on the floor. Shame seeped into the marrow of my bones as I realized I wasn’t able to protect Evey again. I was her only secundae left, and when she needed me more than ever, I failed.
“You mean you won’t be bringing either of them back?” Caroline asked.
“No,” Noah replied. “We can’t bring them back, Caroline. I could be stripped of my powers just for bringing Conrad back before the appointed time.”
“Why can’t you? Who makes these rules?”
“The laws were passed down from God to Thea and then to the rest of the Concilium. We can’t just bring people back whenever we feel like it. There are rules about that sort of thing for a reason,” Noah explained in an irritated tone. “God created these laws to keep us from abusing our powers. If we went around raising the dead at will, there would be serious repercussions.”
“I may not be a consiliarius or a secundae, but I don’t think God would want Aden to rip out your heart and fry it up for dinner like Hannibal Lecter.”
“She does have a point,” I said.
“I still could’ve done something,” he said.
“You did,” I stated. “I’m back, aren’t I? Plus, now, I have the opportunity to track Aden down again and dispose of him . . . violently.” While I suspected Aden wouldn’t kill her, I couldn’t shake the feeling he had a reason other than obsession for taking Evey. He had been a king for longer than I’d been alive, and during his reign, he’d engaged in countless wars, winning several of them. He was an expert in the art of strategy and a formidable opponent.
“Well, I’ll help you,” Caroline announced. “You can have Aden and I’ll take Donovan. He’s the one that lured all of us here by dragging Marie around like a rag doll. Someone needs to wipe that damn smirk from his ugly face.”
“I hope the two of you aren’t planning on doing this without me,” Noah said with annoyance.
Taking the hand he offered, I pulled myself up. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“What do we do with the bodies?” Caroline stepped in Noah’s direction, her hands rubbing her arms in an attempt to instill some warmth in them.
“We take them with us for now,” he answered as he placed his suit jacket on her shoulders. “We’ll bury them somewhere close to Everest’s home. We have to make sure we can get back to their bodies when it’s time for them to be reborn.”
“Do you always have to be next to the body when you bring it back?”
“When we bring back the secundae, we reanimate their bodies. They aren’t reborn as children like the primums. Instead, we heal their bodies and return their souls to them.”
“This is all so much to take in, it almost feels like my head is spinning,” she replied.
I nodded, understanding exactly how she felt. “Eventually, it gets easier to absorb.”
We left the warehouse and the desecrated scene within it behind us. The air was cool, chilling our bones as we made our way down the empty street toward the caput’s apartment. The three of us only passed one other person as we walked; the majority of the city’s inhabitants were locked within the safety of their homes and resting in the warmth of their beds. Here and there, a single window would glow with light, but for the most part, we encountered no signs of life.
“What are we going to tell Everest?” Caroline was the first to speak, breaking the silence that hovered around us like a cloud of thick smoke. “Since he’s the head of the Concilium, will he know you brought Conrad back?”
“No, we’ll tell him about everything else that happened, but he can’t know Conrad died. Also, the only way Everest would be able to tell I brought Conrad back is by examining his chest. When a consiliarius heals another, their handprint is left on that person’s body for a couple of hours after the revival.”
“So, Conrad has a handprint on his chest?” Tugging my shirt to the side, I showed her the red handprint embedded into my skin. “This is insanity,” she whispered, her eyes widening.
“Noah, you should probably be the one to explain what happened,” I added. “Otherwise, Everest will kill me and you’ll have to revive me a second time.”
“Leave it to me,” he replied.
“We’ll get her back, right?” Despite the darkness surrounding us, the tears streaking Caroline’s cheeks were still visible. She wasn’t as accustomed to loss as we were. Death wasn’t something you could grow accustomed to, but it was an inevitable part of life as a secundae. The knowledge one could be brought back only lessened the blow of losing the people you loved most—it never eliminated it.
Nothing could eliminate it.
“I swear to you, as long as I’m breathing, I’ll never stop looking for her.” I took Caroline’s hand in mine and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Good,” she said.
We reached the garage of Everest’s apartment building within a matter of minutes and climbed into the black SUV. The only signs of color in the otherwise white and gray garage were from the parked cars and the yellow paint marking the parking spaces. Like everything else in the surrounding area, it was vacant. Pulling out of the garage, we navigated the streets in the direction of the abandoned warehouse. Noah backed the car up to the door we had entered through and then we wrapped Milton’s body before sliding it into the trunk. Marie followed behind him. My heart filled with guilt as I felt the weight of her lifeless form in my arms. These were people I cared about, people I’d known for centuries, but I was loading their corpses into the car as if they were nothing more than luggage. We’d spent so many years fighting side by side in order to protect Evey. I should have been with Marie, Milton, Guy, Mickey, and Kit right now. I failed them and the person I loved the most. Truthfully, I didn’t deserve to be alive, but there was no way I was going to waste this chance. One day soon, I’d look down on Aden’s lifeless corpse and smile.
One day soon, I’d tear him limb from limb again.
It took nearly an hour for the three of us to clean up the remnants of our battle against Aden. Even in New York City, we couldn’t just leave puddles of blood in an empty warehouse. The vastness of this metropolis may add a layer of anonymity, but advancements in science and technology forced us to become more adept at covering our tracks. Discarding the rags saturated with blood and grime, we watched in silence as they burned to ash. Any evidence linking us to this place was now up in smoke.
My shoes seemed like they were made of lead as we finally rode the elevator back up to the caput’s apartment. We were all past the point of exhaustion, but more work needed to be done to lay Milton and Marie to rest. I was already pissed off, and I had no doubts that the ass chewing I was going to receive from Everest would send me over the edge. My attention dropped to the hole in my shirt where Aden’s blade had sliced through my flesh. The faint outline of Noah’s handprint was still visible on my chest. I buttoned my jacket to hide the evidence of my death and Noah’s subsequent help. I closed my eyes to collect myself, but every time I did so since waking up, I felt the sharp point of Aden’s knife as it carved through muscle and bone. Pain overwhelmed my senses. Balling my hands into tight fists, I tried to steady a slight tremor. The pain quickly dissipated and was replaced with anxiety as Everest flung the door open before Noah even had a chance to knock. He stood in the doorway, his eyes drilling through the three of us.
“Where the hell have all of you been? I turn around for ten seconds and the six of you disappear without a trace.” He didn’t yell, but it wasn’t difficult to pick up on the edge in his voice.
“Well, do you want us to tell you out here or can we come in and sit down?” I didn’t care if he was the caput or not; after everything that happened tonight, I was past pleasantries.
“Where is Evey?” In an instant, his irritated tone was saturated with terror.
I exhaled slowly. Recounting my failure as a secundae was the last thing I wanted to do this evening.
“Aden has her,” Noah answered.
His hands gripped the doorway with so much force his knuckles blanched. “Conrad, you let him get her?” he asked, his voice dripping with rage. “You let that monster take her away from us again?”
“I did everything I could to protect her!” I spat.
“Forgive me if I find that hard to believe since she always seems to be kidnapped or killed on your watch!” For a fleeting moment, I wished my heart wasn’t still beating.
“I know better than anyone what my duties are. Don’t forget who you sent to take care of him after he poisoned her in France,” I shouted. I glared at him, daring him to speak against me. Blood boiled beneath the flesh of my face. I closed my eyes in an attempt to calm myself. If I allowed my temper to flare out of control, the result would be devastating for everyone. “Aden used Marie to lure us away from your party to an abandoned building a few blocks up the street. When we got there, we were ambushed by a swarm of souls.”
The color faded from Everest’s cheeks. “I want all of you inside. Now!” We stepped through the threshold of the apartment. The tables and chairs from earlier were gone, replaced by the normal furnishings from the day before. Caroline, Noah, and I all sat side by side on the couch as Everest occupied the chair across from us. Tension coiled in the slope of his shoulders, and he clasped his hands together. “Start at the beginning, Noah,” he ordered.
“Donovan and Marie were here at your fundraiser. He played against Evey’s emotions and used Marie to trick her to leave the safety of the apartment,” Noah explained.
“Why didn’t you call for help? Terrick, Warrin, and I were here. Our presence could’ve ensured victory over Aden.” His words were spoken through clenched teeth, and even though Noah was doing the majority of the talking, Everest’s steel gray gaze was fixated on me. He despised me as much as I did him. He’d never forgive me for being the reason Aden killed Evey all those years ago. But in all honesty, I couldn’t blame him.
Probably because I’ve never managed to forgive myself.
“We had five people to protect her, and we thought it would be as simple as defeating Donovan and rescuing Marie. None of us expected there to be so many souls,” Noah answered.
Everest cradled his head in his hands. “I can’t believe this is happening again.”
“Helen was the one who led Aden here,” Caroline piped up. “She’d been feeding him information about Evey’s location. He would’ve gotten her again no matter what steps we took to prevent it.”
Shock dominated the features of Everest’s face. “She did? But why?”
“Aden promised her no harm would come to Conrad if she could lead him to Evey,” she answered.
“You!” In a flash, he was standing over me, breathing down my neck. “You will be the death of her again!”
My fists balled as I stood to meet his glare. “If you think for one second that I had anything to do with Helen’s plan, then you’re more of an idiot than I thought.” I needed him to take a swing at me, anything that would give me a reason to bash his face in.
“Fighting won’t solve anything.” Caroline jumped to her feet and wedged herself between the two of us. Her hands pressed against our chests as she pushed us away from one another. Turning toward Everest, she met his icy glare with one of her own. “You know Conrad would never agree to any plan that would hand Evey over to Aden. He loves her more than anyone else on this earth, so stop being such an asshole!” Shock spread throughout the room at her words.
“You heard what I said. You may be the caput, but since I’m neither a secundae nor a consiliarius, your title doesn’t really mean a damn thing to me. Besides, if anyone can get her back, it’s Conrad, and you know it.”
Everest stepped away from her, looking bewildered. He collapsed in his seat, sadness evident in his features. “You’re right,” he admitted.
“Of course I am,” she announced with complete confidence.
“Bourdet, I apologize for my comments. They were made out of anger. I know how you feel about Evey and that you would never do anything to hurt her.”
“Piss off,” I muttered under my breath as I nodded politely. Caroline and I resumed our seats by Noah. “Thanks,” I whispered in her ear, to which she gave my arm a slight squeeze in reply.
“Well, where is Helen now?” Everest questioned.
“Aden took her and Evey,” I answered. “Milton and Marie didn’t make it.”
“Our numbers are decreasing with each passing day,” he replied, sighing wearily. “I own some land around the airstrip where your plane landed when you arrived in New York. I will accompany you there and we’ll give them a proper burial.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. I couldn’t believe how the last several hours had escalated. One minute, I was dancing with Evey, and the next, I was dying in her arms. Her beautiful face had been burned into every image passing through my mind. She’d been taken away from me too many times and I wouldn’t allow it to happen again. There was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make in order to get her back.
“I don’t know if it helps, but there is one good thing that came out of this evening.”
Noah and I turned to stare at Caroline as she spoke. “And what might that be?” he asked.
Her arm extended in front of her and she opened her palm upward.
I inhaled at the sight of three brown seeds dotting her skin.
She took a second to meet each of our eyes before answering Noah’s question. “At least we know Aden won’t be able to get the seeds.”