28 sept. 2011

Volumul sase din seria Sange Albastru publicata la editura Leda:Lost in Time:banner si primul capitol in exclusivitate!!!





"I tried to say 'I miss you tonight.'
And they claim you've already died."
-Stellastarr*, Lost in Time

"What on earth can you do…
but catch at whatever comes near you
with both your hands,
until your fingers are broken?"
-Tennesee Williams, Orpheus Descending



Never Say Goodbye
Florence, December
            Schuyler did not sleep the entire evening, instead she lay awake, looking up at the crossed wooden beams on the ceiling or out the window to the view of the Duomo, which shone a rosy gold in the dawn. Her dress was a crumpled pile of silk on the floor, next to Jack's black tuxedo jacket. Last night, after the guests had left, after cheeks were pressed affectionately against hers in loving goodbyes, and hands had blessed and patted her ring in a gesture of good luck, the new couple had floated over the cobblestone streets back to their room, buoyed by the happiness they'd found in their friends and in each other, in turns exhilarated and exhausted by the events surrounding their bonding.
            In the dim light of the morning she curled her arm through his and he turned towards her so that they pressed against each other, his chin resting on her forehead, their legs entwined together under the linen duvet. She placed her hand on his chest to feel the steady ordered beating of his heart, and wondered when they would be able to lie like this again.
            "I need to go," Jack said, his voice still rough with sleep. He pulled her closer and his breath tickled her ear. "I don't want to, but I need to." There was an unsaid apology in his words.
            "I know," Schuyler said. She had promised to be strong for him, and she would keep that promise, she would not fail him. If only tomorrow would never come, if only she could hold on to the night just a little longer. "But not yet. See, it is still dark outside. It was the nightingale you heard and not the lark," she whispered.
            She could feel him smile against her cheek when he recognized the line from "Romeo and Juliet."  As she traced his lips with her fingers, feeling their softness, he moved his body over hers and she moved with him until they were joined together. He placed her arms above her head, his hands gripping her wrists tightly, and when he kissed her neck, she shuddered to feel his fangs on her skin. She pulled him ever closer, clutching his fine baby-soft hair as he drank deeply from her blood.
            After, his blonde head rested on her shoulder, and she folded her arms around his back and held him tightly. By now, daylight was streaming into the room. There was no denying it anymore, the night was over, and it would soon be time for them to part. He gently withdrew from her embrace and kissed the wounds that were still fresh on her neck until they healed.
            She watched him dress, handing him his boots and his sweater. "It'll be cold. You'll need a new jacket," she said, brushing off dirt from his black raincoat.
            "I'll get one when I'm back in the city," he agreed. "Hey," he said, when he saw her mournful face. "It'll be all right. I've lived a long time and I intend to keep doing so." He managed a quick smile.
            She nodded, the lump in her throat had made it hard to breathe, hard to speak, but she did not want him to remember her this way. She adopted a cheerful tone and handed him his rucksack. "I put your passport in the front pocket." Already she loved the role of bondmate, of helpmeet, of wife. He nodded his thanks and shouldered the bag, fiddling with the zipper as he tucked in the last of his books, not quite meeting her eyes. She wanted to remember him exactly as he stood, looking golden and beautiful in the morning light, his platinum hair a bit tousled, and his bright green eyes flashing in determination.
            "Jack…" Her resolve faltered, but she did not want to make their last moment more funereal than it had to be. "I'll see you soon." She said lightly.
            He squeezed her hand one last time.
            Then Jack was gone and she was alone. 
            Schuyler put away her bonding dress, gently folding it in her suitcase. She was ready to forge ahead, but as she gathered her things, she realized a truth that Jack had refused to acknowledge. It was not that he was afraid of meeting his fate, it was that he would simply bow to it.
            Jack will not fight Mimi. Jack will let her kill him rather than fight her.
            In the clear light of day, Schuyler grasped the reality of what he was about to do. Meeting his twin meant meeting his doom.
            It was not going to be all right. It was never going to be all right.
            He had tried to hide it with his brave words but Schuyler knew deep down he was marching to his end. That this was the last night they would ever have together. Jack was going home to die.
            For a moment Schuyler wanted to scream, rend her clothing and tear her hair in grief. But after a few shuddering sobs, she controlled herself. She wiped her tears and held herself together. She would not let it happen. She could not accept it. She would not accept it. Schuyler felt a surge of excitement fill her veins. She could not let him do this to himself. Oliver had promised he would do his best to distract Mimi, and she was thankful for his efforts in securing her happiness. But this was something she had to do for herself and for her love. She had to save Jack, she had to save him from himself. His flight was leaving in a few minutes and without thinking she ran all the way to the airport. She would stop him, somehow. He was still alive, and she planned to keep it that way.
            Jack was standing at the tarmac, waiting to climb the stairs to the small plane that would take him first to Rome, then on to New York. Two black-clad venators were waiting for him from the plane's entryway and looked at her curiously, but he did not look surprised to see her suddenly appear at his side.
            "Schuyler…" He smiled. He did not ask what she was doing there. He already knew, but this time his smile was sad.
            "Don't go." She said. I cannot let you face your fate alone. We are bonded now. We will face it together. Your destiny is mine as well. We shall live or die together. There is no other way, she sent, letting him hear the words in his head.
            Jack began to shake his head and Schuyler said fiercely."Listen. We will find a way out of the Blood Trial. Come to Alexandria with me. If we are unsuccessful and you have to return to New York then I will share your fate. If you are destroyed, then so am I and my mother's legacy is meaningless. I will not leave you. Do not fear the future, we will face it together."
            She could see him weighing her words, and she held her breath.
            Her fate—their fate—and perhaps the fate of all the vampires—was in his hands now. She had made her case, she had fought for him, and it was his turn now, to fight for her.
            Jack Force had a dark destiny before him, but Schuyler Van Alen hoped—she prayed—she believed—that together they could change it.



Six Months Later



Chapter One: Paradiso
            They left Alexandria just as the masses arrived to escape the heat of Cairo. "We always seem to be going in the wrong direction," Schuyler said, watching the traffic crawl, inch by inch, on the opposing freeway. It was the middle of July and the sun was high in the sky. The air-conditioning in their rented sedan barely worked, and she had to place her palms right in front of the passenger-side grills just to cool down.           
            "Maybe it's the opposite. Maybe we're actually going in the right direction this time," Jack smiled, putting a little more gas on the pedal. In comparison to the hordes descending upon the beach city, the traffic leading into the capital was light, and for Egypt, they were practically cruising, if that was the correct way to describe the chaotic scene on the highway. The Alexandria Desert Road was notorious for fearsome bus crashes and fatal accidents, and it was clear to see why: cars sped wildly, bobbing in and out of lanes at whim, while massive trucks looked as if they would pitch and roll every time they swerved to attain the slightest advantage. Once in a while someone would hit a random speed bump, either a huge unmarked crater, or debris that had never been cleared, and traffic would screech to a halt without warning, causing a massive pile-up. Schuyler was thankful Jack was a good driver, he seemed to know instinctively when to speed up or slow down, and they weaved through the careening vehicles without a scratch or a near miss.
            At least they weren't driving at night, when cars didn't even have their headlights on since Egyptian drivers believed headlights burned through gas too quickly, and so made do without them. It was fine for vampires of course, but Schuyler always worried for the poor humans who were barreling through in the dark, driving blind, with no idea where they were or how many cars were around them.
            Six months she and Jack had spent in Alexandria, wandering through its picturesque cafes and airy museums. The city had been designed to rival Rome and Athens at their height, Cleopatra had made it the seat of her throne, and while there were a few traces of the ancient outpost still visible, a scattering of sphinxes, statues and obelisks, there was actually very little that remained of the ancient world in the bustling metropolis.
            When they first arrived, Schuyler had been filled with hope and buoyed by Jack's faith and presence, she was certain they would soon find what they sought. Florence had been a decoy, and Alexandria was the only other possibility regarding the true location of the Gate of Promise in her grandfather's files, which had documented Catherine of Siena's travels from Rome to the Red Sea. They had checked in to the Cecil Hotel, a favorite of Somerset Maugham's and one that had been popular during the British Colonial era. Schuyler had been charmed by the 1930s-style caged elevator and its splendid marble lobby, which oozed with Old Hollywood grandeur, she could imagine Marlene Dietrich swanning in with a dozen trunks, with a footman to carry her feather-trimmed hats alone.
            She began her search at the Bibliotecha Alexandrina, a nod to the great library that had been lost thousands of years ago (or so the Red Bloods thought as the library still existed in the Coven's Repository of History). Like the original institution, the grounds of the Bibliotecha sprawled to include acres of gardens, a planetarium and a conference center. A wealthy and secretive local matron had been instrumental in its foundation and Schuyler had been certain she had found Catherine at last. But when they visited the grand lady in her elegant salon overlooking the Eastern Harbor it was obvious from the beginning that she was human, and no Enmortal, as she was sick and dying, lying in a bed attached to a series of tubes.
            As she and Jack had walked out of the elderly woman's room, Schuyler felt the first flicker of anxiety that she was letting down not only her beloved grandfather and her enigmatic mother, but also the boy she so dearly loved. So far finding the elusive gatekeeper was turning out to be a difficult—if not impossible—task. Jack did not say anything that day, nor had he ever voiced any regret at his actions. Back in Florence, at the airport, he had waylaid the venators and accepted her challenge, agreeing to her plan. She did not want to fail him. She'd promised him they would find a way out of the Blood Trial, a way for them to be together, and she would. Catherine of Siena would help them, if only Schuyler could find her.
            Their life in Egypt settled into a comfortable routine. Tired of hotel living, they rented a small house near the beach and concentrated on blending in as best they could. Most of their neighbors left the young good-looking foreigners alone. Perhaps they sensed the vampire strength behind their friendly smiles.
            In the mornings, Schuyler would comb the library, reading books on the Roman era when Catherine was first tasked with the charge of keeper, and matching it to the files from Lawrence's journal. Jack took on the footwork, using his Venator training to zero in on any clues to her whereabouts, walking the city, talking to the locals. Enmortals were charismatic and unforgettable beings—Lawrence Van Alen had been very popular during his exile in Venice, and Schuyler was betting that Catherine, or whatever she called herself these days, was the same: a charismatic personality whom no one could easily forget. In the late afternoons Jack would stop by the library and they would head to a café for lunch, sharing plates of mulukhiya stew over rice or spicy khoshary noodles and then return to their duties. They lived like locals, having dinner at midnight, sipping fragrant anise tea until the wee hours of the morning.
            Alex, as everyone called the city, was a resort town, and as spring arrived and a breeze blew in from the Mediterranean, buses and boatloads of tourists arrived to fill the hotels and beaches. Their six months together was sort of a honeymoon, Schuyler would realize later. A small slice of heaven, a brief and bright respite from the dark days that lay ahead. They were still young enough that they celebrated every month they were together, marking the time with little gestures, little gifts to each other: a small bracelet made of shells for her, a new first edition of Hemmingway for him. Every day that she was with Jack she knew she had made the right decision in keeping him by her side. If they could stay together, she could keep him safe.
            Even as their relationship grew stronger and deeper, and they began to ease into the comfort of daily bonded life, her heart still skipped a beat every time she saw him lying next to her. She would admire the silhouette of his back, the fine sculpture of his shoulder blades. Reflecting on their time in the city, she would wonder later if maybe somehow she had known what would happen, how it would end, as if no matter what happened in Egypt, whether she found Catherine or not, whether they were successful or not, she had known from the beginning that their time together would not last, that it could not last and they were only lying to themselves and each other.
            So she tucked her memories away for safekeeping: they way he looked at her when he undressed her, as he slowly pulled down a silk camisole strap. His stare was voracious, and she would be sickened with desire, she wanted him so much, the bright fire she felt matched by the intensity of his gaze—just like the first time he had flirted with her in front of that nightclub in New York, and the dizzying rush of infatuation she'd experienced the first time they had danced together, the first time they had kissed, the first time they'd met for a covert tryst in his Mercer Street apartment. The strong yet gentle way he held her when he performed the Caeremonia Osculor. In the days that would come, she would replay them in her mind, like photographs she would remove from her wallet and look at again and again, but in the present, at night when they lay together, his body warm next to hers, when she pressed her lips against his skin, it felt as if they would never be apart, that what she feared would never come to be.
            Maybe she was crazy to think it would last, that any of it—that their love, their joy together would hold, given the darkness that had been part of their union from the beginning—and later she would wish she had enjoyed it more, that she had spent less time poring through books, spending hours in the library alone, less time removing his arms from her waist, telling him to wait, or missing dinner so that she could go over the papers again and again, she would wish for one more night spent in a roadside café, holding hands under the table, one more morning sharing the newspaper. She would cherish the small moments of togetherness, the two of them sitting side by side in bed, just the simple touch of his hand on her knee sending shivers up her spine. She would remember Jack reading his books—lifting his eyeglasses—his vision had been bothering him lately, the sand and the pollution causing his eyes to water.
            If only they could stay in Alex forever—walking the gardens full of flowers, watching the hip crowds at San Stefano. Schuyler, who had been hopeless in the kitchen, enjoyed the ease of which a meal could be prepared, she had learned to put together a proper feast, buying pre-made platters of kobeba and sambousek, accompanied by tahini and tameya, chopped salads and roasted legs of lamb or veal, stuffed pigeon and fish sayadeya and chicken pane from the local market. Their life reminded a little of her year with Oliver, and she felt a small pang at that. Her dearest, sweetest friend. She wished there was a way to still retain their friendship, he had been so gallant at her bonding, but they had not exchanged a word since he left to return to New York. Oliver had told her a little of what was happening back home, and she worried about him, and hoped he was keeping himself safe now that she was not there to make sure he was doing so. She missed Bliss as well, and hoped her friend—her sister—would find a way to fulfill her part of their mother's destiny somehow.
            As the months passed, Schuyler worked every angle, made more wrong guesses and met more women who did not turn out to be Catherine. She and Jack did not talk about what would happen if they failed. And so the days slipped by, like sand through her fingers, grit in the air, and then it was summer. News trickled in slowly of the world they had left behind—that the covens were in chaos—reports of burnings and of mysterious attacks—and with Charles still missing and Allegra disappeared there was no one to lead the fight, no one knew what was to become of the vampires, and still she and Jack were no closer to finding the keeper.
            Before they left Florence they had ordered the Petruvian priests to keep MariElena safe, to let her carry her pregnancy to term. Ghedi had given them his word that the girl would not come to any harm under their care. She still did not believe what the Petruvians swore was true, that the Blue Bloods ordered the slaughter of innocent women and children in order to keep the bloodlines pure. There had to be another reason for it, something had gone wrong in the history of the world, and once they found Catherine they would find out the truth.  
            But as the days dragged on and still they did not find the keeper or the gate Schuyler begun to feel discouraged and lethargic. It did not help that it had been a long time since she had used her fangs, she had not taken a familiar since Oliver, and every day she felt less of her vampire self and more human, more vulnerable. Meanwhile Jack was growing thin and dark circles had formed under his eyes. She knew he was having trouble sleeping at night, he would toss and turn, murmuring under his breath. She began to worry that he thought she was a coward for asking him to stay.
            "No, you are wrong, it is a brave thing that you did, to stand up to your beloved." He'd said, reading her mind as usual. "You will find Catherine, I have faith in you."
            But finally Schuyler had to admit defeat—that she had read her grandfather's documents incorrectly. She had to accept that Alexandria was also another decoy, another red herring. They had walked the city's dark alleys and haunted its bright new mega malls, but had found nothing, and the trail was cold. They were as stumped as they had been in the beginning when they left New York.
            Their last night in the city Schuyler had studied the documents again, re-reading the section that had made her believe the elusive gate was located in Alexandria.
            "On the shore of the river of gold, the victor's city shall once again rise on the threshold of The Gate of Promise." Schuyler looked at Jack. "Hold on. I think I'm on to something." When she had first read the passage she had immediately thought of Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the ancient world, and she'd been certain that the gate was located in the city to which he had lent his name. But during her six months in the country, she had learned a little Arabic, and the answer was so clear she immediately berated herself for wasting so much time.
            "Cairo—Al-Qahira—literally translates to mean "victorious.'" The victorious city. The victor's city. She told Jack as her heart beat in excitement. "The gate is in Cairo."
            They left that morning.

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