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What, pray tell, the fuck?
It wasn’t until I felt the sun on my face that I knew, really knew, I’d made it back. The bright orb drifted over the horizon like a hot air balloon, blinding me, yet I couldn’t stop looking at it. Or, well, trying to look at it. After giving it my all through squinted lids, I gave up and closed them. Let the warmth wash over me. Let it sink into my skin. Flood every molecule in my body.
God knew I needed it. I hadn’t had a drop of vitamin D in over a hundred years. My bones were probably brittle and shriveled and splintery. Much like the current state of my psyche.
But that’s what happens when you defy a god.
Not just any god, mind you. No siree Bob. To get booted off the big blue marble, one had to defy the God. The very One a particular set of children’s books called Jehovahn.
The Man had some serious control issues. I bring one person back from the dead and bam. Banished for all eternity. Exiled to a hell with no light, no hair products, and no coffee.
Mostly no coffee.
And, just to throw salt onto a gaping, throbbing flesh wound, no tribe.
In this dimension, the one with the yellow sun and champagne-colored sand on which I now walked, I had a husband and a daughter and more friends than I could shake a stick at. But in the lightless realm I’d been banished to, I’d had nothing. I floated in darkness for over one hundred agonizing years, tormented by dreams of a husband I could no longer touch and a daughter I could no longer protect.
She would be gone by now. Our daughter. I will have missed her entire life. The thought alone shattered me. Cut into me like shards of glass every time I breathed.
But I’d missed more than her life. It had been prophesied that she would face Lucifer in a great battle for humanity. That she would have an army at her back and, fingers crossed, a warrior at her side. And that she would stand against evil when no one else could.
I’d wondered for dozens of years if she’d won, the pain of not knowing, of not being able to help, driving me to the brink of insanity. Then I realized something and a peculiar kind of peace came over me. Of course she’d won. She was the daughter of two gods. More to the point, she was her father’s daughter, the god Rey’azikeen’s only child. She would’ve been wily and cunning and strong. Of course she won.
That’s what I’d told myself over and over for the last thirty-odd years of my exile. But now I was back. An exile that was supposed to be for all eternity stopped just short, in my humble opinion, of its goal.
Unfortunately, I had no idea why I was back. I’d felt myself being drawn forward, pulled through space and time until the darkness that surrounded me gave way to the unforgiving brightness of Earth’s yellow sun. That big, beautiful ball of fire I’d so often complained about as a resident of New Mexico, where sunshine was damned near a daily occurrence.
And here it was, bathing me in its brilliance as my feet sank into dew-covered sand with every step I took. I walked toward it. The sun. Craving more. Begging for more.
“I will never complain about you again,” I said, tilting my face toward the heavens, because the thought of my daughter growing up without me wasn’t the only thing that had driven me to the edge of sanity. Nor the heartbreak of missing my husband. His hands on my body. His full mouth at my ear. His sparkling eyes hooded by impossibly thick lashes.
No, it was the perpetual darkness that pushed me so far inside myself I could hardly stay conscious.
I’d tried to escape. To find my way back to my family and friends. Boy, had I tried. But it seemed like the harder I struggled, the deeper I sank. The realm in which I’d been cast was like an inky, ethereal form of quicksand. If not for the wraiths …
I stopped and bent my head to listen. Someone was following me, and for the first time since materializing on the earthly plane, I tried to take in my surroundings. With my vision adjusting, I could just make out the sea of peaches and golds that stretched out before me. Sand as far as the eye could see.
Then it hit me. The Sahara. I’d been here before. With him.
I started walking again, slowly, making him come to me as I used every ounce of strength I had to tamp down the elation coursing through my veins.
I’d dreamed about this moment for so long, a part of me wondered if it was real. Or if I was hallucinating. But I felt the warmth radiating from his body and I knew. Heat—his heat—pulsated over me in rich, fervent waves, stirring parts of me that hadn’t been stirred in decades. Or churned. Or even whisked, for that matter.
I dared a glance over my shoulder. My knees weakened and my stomach clenched at the sight. Dressed as a desert nomad in traditional, sky-blue garb, he followed at a leisurely pace. A light breeze pressed his robe against his body, outlining his wide shoulders, long arms, and lean waist.
A turban of the same sky blue had been wrapped around his head and face until only his eyes shone through.
Dark. Shimmering. Intent.
Like that could fool me. Like I wouldn’t know my husband from a thousand miles away. His essence. His aura. His scent.
Of course, the ever-present fire that licked over his skin, the lightning that arced around him, didn’t hurt.
He moved like an animal. A predator. Powerful and full of confidence and grace. Every step calculated. Every move a conscious act.
And he was closing in.
I turned back to the horizon, my heart bursting with the knowledge that my husband was still here. Still on Earth. Still sexy as fuck.
And yet, there was something not quite …
I whirled around to face him when I realized part of what I was feeling, part of the tangle of tightly packed emotions that made Reyes Reyes, was anger.
No. Not anger precisely. Anger would be far too tame a word. He was livid. Furious. Enraged. And it was all directed at me.
I’d stopped, but he continued his advance. The stealth with which he moved was born of an instinct millions of years old. He was a predator through and through. A hunter. He knew how to stalk and kill his prey before that prey could detect even the slightest hint of danger. But dangerous he was. On a thousand different levels.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked, holding up a finger to both stop him and give attitude. Two birds, one stone, baby.
Unfortunately, he didn’t stop. He only tilted his head, the scarf making it impossible to see the expression underneath, and continued his trek toward me. But I could still feel it. The anger simmering just below the surface.
I didn’t know if my ability to read the emotions of others was a part of my grim reaper status or my godly one. Either way, I’d had the ability to feel emotion pouring out of people since I was a kid. But Reyes was usually much harder to read.
He kept walking, his gait so casual one would think he was out for a morning stroll. And yet purpose filled every step he took.
I had no choice but to retreat. I’d been exiled to a hell dimension for a hundred years. I wasn’t eager to visit another here on Earth. And an angry Reyes was a … a what? A panty-melting Reyes? A ravishing Reyes? A god?
I stumbled backwards then righted myself and stood up straight to face him. I would not cower in the face of my enemy—a.k.a. my husband.
Five feet away.
“Now, listen up, Mister Man.”
“I’ll have you know—”
“—that I did not come back here—”
“—to be accosted by an angry—”
Wait. A veil of sheer white flowed in my periphery, picked up by a soft breeze, and I looked down, wondering what the fuck was I wearing. “What the fuck am I—”
An arm wrapped around my waist, and Reyes pulled me against him, his hard body molding to mine. There was nothing gentle about his hold as he studied me.
I studied him back. I reached up and pulled the scarf down to reveal his perfect nose, full mouth, darkened jaw. His irises, eclipsed by the shadow of his own lashes, shimmered a deep, rich brown sprinkled with green and gold flecks, and I sank into him. It had been so long. So very, very long.
When I wrapped both arms around his neck, he lowered his head and buried his face in my hair. I basked in the feel of his body against mine, reveling as well in the fact that I actually had a body. A corporeal one. A corporeal one that had urges and impulses and desires, traitorous carcass that it was.
“Can we just put the anger aside for a little while and see to my needs?”
He pulled back and stared down at me, his gaze intense enough to start a fire. Then he lifted the robe over his head and tossed it and the turban onto the sand. The solid frame on which he’d been built, the wide shoulders and slim waist, the soft highlights and deep shadows of muscle and sinew, dissolved the bones I’d only recently reacquired.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Before I knew it, the world tilted. His strong arms lowered me onto the robe, a pair of nomadic trousers in the same startling blue as the rest of his garb his only attire.
And I apparently wore a white gown of some kind, the material like gossamer as he raked it up my body, his mouth, hot and wet, following its path.
Every kiss caused tiny quakes to ricochet against my bones. When he lifted the gown up over my arms, he stopped at my wrists and used the material to bind my hands above my head, holding them there with effortless ease.
A cool morning breeze washed over every exposed inch of me, as did his gaze. Both induced a wave of goose bumps that rushed across my skin, prickling as they blazed a trail wherever his attention landed. Even the heat emanating out of him and into me couldn’t squelch them.
But I couldn’t get enough of him. This man I’d dreamed of every minute of every hour for one hundred years.
His dark skin still bore the tribal tattoos that doubled as a map to the underworld. And the scars that lined the surface of his body attested to the many hells he’d endured. To the many lives he’d lived.
First, he was a god, the god Rey’azikeen, also known as the Hellmaker—long story—and little brother to none other than Jehovahn Himself. Then he was Rey’aziel, a demon, the son of Satan, in fact, and a general in Lucifer’s army. Lastly, he was Reyes, a human for all intents and purposes. He became human to be with me. And he’d paid the price.
But he was here with me now. Reyes Alexander Farrow. My soul mate and my lover and my husband. So when he shoved his trousers past his hips, pushed my legs apart, and buried himself inside me in one, long thrust, the explosion of pleasure that washed over me was both achingly familiar and astonishingly novel.
He swallowed my gasp, kissing me long and hard and deep, siphoning every doubt I had that this was real. That he was here. On me and around me and inside me.
He began a slow, rhythmic offensive, burying his thick cock with painstaking precision. Taking his time. Exploring every inch of me with his hands and his tongue until the pleasure pooling in my abdomen convulsed and threatened to break free.
But his need seemed greater than even my own. It had been an entire century, after all. I could hardly blame him. So what began as a slow seduction of my senses quickly escalated to an exquisitely furious assault.
He abandoned all thoughts of propriety as his thrusts grew quicker and shorter and more desperate. He buried his face in my hair, his breaths warm against my cheek as he uttered the one word I would’ve given my life to hear not thirty minutes ago, his nickname for me: “Dutch.”
His voice was as beautifully rich and stunningly sensuous as I remembered, the tenor alone driving me even closer to the brink of orgasm.
I dug my fingers into his steely buttocks, urging him deeper, the movement luring me toward that piercing edge.
“Please,” I begged, whispering in his ear.
He shoved even harder. Even faster. The pressure building and building until his entire body stiffened beneath my hands.
I felt his orgasm as strongly as I felt my own. It crashed into me, his guttural growl heightening my own pleasure, mingling with the sweetest sting known to mankind.
Holding on for dear life, I clasped my arms around his neck and rode out the undulating waves of sensation, my spasms milking him as he emptied himself inside of me. He curled his fingers into my hair and panted into my ear, his warmth spilling into me. His fire engulfing me.
After a long moment of recovery in which the world slowly came back into focus, he wrapped his arms around me and rolled until I lay atop him. A place I loved to be.
“Welcome back,” he said softly, his breath stirring my hair.
Hiding the fact that I was on the verge of tears, I buried my face in the crook of his neck and let my lids drift shut.
I was back. I didn’t know how or why or for how long, but I was back and that was all that mattered. For now.
I awoke an hour later in my husband’s arms, reveling at the feel of his skin against mine. There was so much I needed to know, so much I’d missed, but I asked the one question that had driven me to near lunacy.
I rose onto an elbow, peered into his infinite eyes, and asked, “Did she win?”
He didn’t answer at first. Instead, the barest hint of a grin softened his features, giving him a boyish charm that I knew firsthand could be both endearing and lethal, often simultaneously. I’d seen that charm in all kinds of situations, from disarming a deranged stalker to coaxing a viperous demon out of a human host, and every time, it worked in his favor.
Crazy thing was, he wasn’t the slightest bit aware of it. He had no clue what he did to men and women and demons alike. Or, if he did, he only took advantage of it in dire situations because his face could’ve opened so many more doors. He was, after all, the son of the most beautiful angel ever to grace the heavens.
He traced my mouth with his fingertips, and my chest filled to capacity with such a deep, eternal love, it threatened to burst. Which would kill the mood entirely.
I pulled my lower lip between my teeth, then asked again, “She won, right?”
He tucked a wayward strand of my brown hair, the same hair that hadn’t seen the inside of a shower in over a hundred years, behind my ear.
I stifled a cringe at the thought when he asked, “How long do you think you’ve been gone?” His voice was all deep and rich and smooth. Like caramel. Or butterscotch. Or Darth Vader.
I leaned back to look at him. “Think? There’s no thinking about it. I know exactly how long I’ve been gone. Right down to the second. Give or take.”
“Yeah?” He flashed a smile that blinded me almost as much as the sun had. “And how long is that?”
“One hundred seven years, two months, fourteen days, twelve hours, and thirty-three minutes.” I was totally lying. I might not have known the exact time served down to the minute, but I knew it was within shouting distance of my quote. “I was floating in darkness for over one hundred years.”
He nodded, gave my answer some thought, then asked, “If you were floating in darkness, how do you know you were gone for a hundred and seven years?”
I looked past him, almost embarrassed. “I felt every second. I counted them.”
He pulled me closer. “Aren’t you really bad at math?”
“Speaking of which, I thought I was going to be exiled for all eternity.”
Anger suddenly sparked inside him. I felt it like electricity spider-webbing from molecule to molecule inside me. “Did it not feel like an eternity?”
I lowered myself back onto his chest. “It felt like three eternities.”
He turned away, his brows sliding together in thought. “You shouldn’t have done it.”
Ah. That would explain the anger. Rising all the way to a sitting position, I looked down at him, trying to decipher his thoughts. “You would rather have lost Amber?”
Amber, my best friend’s lovely daughter, was the reason I had been kicked off the third rock from the sun in the first place. But it’d hardly been her fault. She’d been killed by an insane priest who was trying to anchor himself to Earth—using Amber as the anchor—and skip out on the trip to hell that he’d booked centuries earlier.
I could heal people. That wasn’t breaking the rules. I could even bring them back from death if, and only if, their soul had yet to leave their body. But Amber had been dead for two hours when we’d found her. Her soul long gone. I couldn’t do that to Cookie, my BFF. I couldn’t just let her daughter die when I could do something about it.
Was Reyes really suggesting that?
“Of course not,” he said, offended. “You should’ve let me do it.”
“Yes, because being cast into a hell dimension worked out so well the last time.”
The last time he’d stage dived into a hell dimension, I didn’t think he was going to get out. And when he did, he came back more Rey’azikeen and less Reyes. Gods were not known for their sparkling personalities or caring natures. It took a few days to get him back, days in which I worried I’d be forced to destroy him before he destroyed the planet and everything on it.
He lifted one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug. “That was a different. That was a true hell dimension.”
I gaped at him. For, like, a really long time. “I’m sorry,” I said, not the least bit apologetic. “Are you suggesting that my hell dimension was less hellish than yours?”
“My Brother would never have cast you into a real hell dimension.”
“It was horrible,” I argued.
“Most other realms are.”
“It was cold and dark and endless.”
“And if it had been a paradise?”
“Even the wraiths didn’t— What?”
“If it’d had white beaches and blue waters and sun every day?”
He had a point. My shoulders deflated. “Without you in it, or Beep, it still would have been horrible. Look, I know time works differently in other dimensions.” I drew in a deep breath, set my jaw, and girded my loins. Metaphorically. “So, give it to me straight. I can take it. How long was I gone?”
Maybe I hadn’t been gone the entire century in this dimension. Maybe, just maybe, Beep was still alive. Hope fought agony for real estate inside my heart.
Reyes ducked his head, fighting off another one of those roguish grins, then said quietly, “Ten days.”
I whirled onto my feet to face him. Then stood there stunned for what seemed like an hour, the truth of what he said sinking in ever so slowly as I frowned, then blinked, then frowned some more. I’d been gone for over a hundred years. Even the wraiths helped me keep track of time. But here in this dimension I had only been gone … “Ten days?” I snapped my jaw shut, then asked again in a rather grating shriek, “Ten lousy days?”
The wind had picked up. Sand swirled around us, creating a dust devil in the center of which we sat, but I was too astounded to pay much attention. Even as my hair whipped about my head and the sand scraped across my skin, I could only stand in indignant astonishment that I’d spent an eternity in agony.
Then reality sank in. The sand fell to the ground around us in one powdery whoosh as I realized Beep, our beautiful daughter, was still alive. And only ten days older than when I’d left her.
I pressed both hands to my mouth, relief flooding every cell in my body and causing pools of wetness to slip past my lashes. I would get to see her again. I would get to see everyone again. My family. My friends. They were all I’d thought about for a hundred years, and I would get to see them again.
Reyes had told me a similar story when he’d been trapped in a hell dimension. He’d said he was in there for what felt like an eternity while only an hour had passed on Earth. A freaking hour. And he’d come out a completely different being. At least I was still me.
I patted my face, my shoulders, the girls, a.k.a. Danger and Will Robinson. Yep, I felt very me-ish.
“They were definitely lousy,” Reyes agreed, watching me feel myself up.
The smile that spread across my face felt heavenly, and a sob wrenched from my throat. “She’s still alive.”
“She’s still alive,” he said softly, seeming to know every thought I had. Every doubt and heartache and elation.
“And I’m still me, right?” I asked between hiccups. “I mean, do I look the same? How’s my hair?”
Reyes tackled me, flipped me over him, and rolled on top of me.
I laughed when he buried his face in that same mess of hair again and caught my earlobe between his teeth. But it was his hands that were doing the real damage. He slid them over my stomach, up my breasts, testing the weight of both Danger and Will before going south and crossing the border into no-man’s-other-than-Reyes’s-land.
“What are you doing?” I said with a weepy giggle.
“Making sure you’re still you. It didn’t even occur to me that you could be an imposter.”
He leaned away from me. “Or possessed.”
“You were in a hell dimension.” He said that bit with a smirk, dissing my hell once again. “Do you feel possessed?”
“The possessed never do. I’m just going to have to put you through a battery of tests.”
“Tests?” I squeaked. When he dipped his head and brushed his tongue over Will’s peak, I grabbed handfuls of his unkempt hair. “I didn’t study. Will there be a written?”
Copyright © 2018 by Darynda Jones