Blackfeather Chapter 28

They had wandered around the park for a while, revisiting the places Evelyn would have known and a few she never saw in her lifetime. They had marvelled at the palm house that was still under construction in 1873 and visited the statue of Anteros before returning to the car and setting off for home. On the way they stopped off to get Kate something to eat, lengthening the journey by an extra hour, and it was now after midnight.

“The more I’m with you the more this seems different to other incarnations,” Ash said as he pulled into the driveway of Kate’s home.

“Different how?”

“I’m not sure, but there are too many crossovers, that’s never happened before. I mean, here we are back at the place it all began, your name is the same, there was that whole thing with your great, great grandfather at Mons and now Evelyn is in the picture. It’s as though all the separate strands of the cloth are finally weaving together.”

“Is that good or bad?” she said, getting out of the Beetle and slamming the door, looking over the car’s roof at him.

“I don’t know. It could go either way. It all depends on you.”

The face she pulled made him laugh. Kate didn’t see the funny side of this, in fact it made her feel sick. Ash’s mood had lightened after leaving Evelyn’s house; the further away he got the better he seemed to feel. Both were relieved that Evelyn’s great, great nephew had turned out not to be the enemy they feared, but that still meant they were clueless as to who they were up against and Brian was still unaccounted for. The earring they’d received in the post earlier that day had been a clear warning that evil was hot on their trail – it would confront them soon, and what was Kate supposed to do then? She was faced with three choices: find the answer to sending Ash home and ending the curse, kill whoever came after them, even if this was someone she knew, or let them kill her.  She had no clue how to go about the first option and the other two didn’t appeal much either. Of course, there was one other choice, she could give him over to Hell, but that was no choice at all.

Ash took one look at her worried, tired face and came to her side.

“Come on, let’s get inside, get a good night’s sleep and talk about it tomorrow.”

She nodded, bleary-eyed, and linked her arm through his as they walked to the front door. She leant against him, her eyes already half closed, but they flew open again and she was alert in seconds when she felt his muscles tense. The door was ajar. They exchanged glances, both knowing the door had been locked when they’d set off for Liverpool.

Ash stepped in front of Kate and pushed open the door with his fingertips. The house was in darkness, the hall empty. He groped behind him for her hand and stepped through the door. Moving down the hall to the kitchen, he kept stopping and listening for any sound or sense of an intruder. He shook his head at Kate’s inquisitive expression.

 

 

Nothing was out of place in the kitchen, it was only when they entered the living room that everything changed. Furniture had been overturned, the fabric of the settee was ripped and the stuffing spilled out like the guts from a road-kill.  Ornaments were smashed, even pictures were strewn across the floor, torn from their frames.

Whoever had done this had taken great delight in wrecking the Christmas decorations, the delicate snowflakes were smashed to tiny pieces and the tree had been toppled, its branches ripped from the trunk. Every last beautiful glass bauble had been broken and crushed. Kate’s lip trembled. Who would do such a thing?

They could see through the archway into her study that the mahogany dining table had been broken in two and Kate’s research was littered all over the floor in shreds. She ran into the room, horrified, her precious books had been tumbled off the shelves, pages torn cruelly from the spines and tossed to the floor. Her laptop had been swept off the desk, the screen smashed.

“Why? Who would…?” But she already knew the answer.

She turned to Ash, but he wasn’t behind her, he had dashed from the room, up the stairs to what she now termed their bedroom. He came down much slower, his face pale, his eyes blazing with such fury she was afraid to ask him what was wrong. That they’d left no room inviolate was clear. She followed him back to the dining room, where he stooped to the floor, tossing aside debris, searching for something.

“They’ve taken that too,” he said, his voice an angry murmur.

“What, what did they take?” Kate was stumped at first, until he raised his head and spoke words that chilled her.

“They’ve taken Catherine’s ashes – and the diary.”

No wonder he was furious. He stood in the midst of the wreckage, his fists clenching and unclenching, his chest heaving with every breath. Then he shook his head, stooped down again and continued looking, just in case. Kate wandered away in despair. She stood at the French Doors gazing at her own tearful reflection in the glass.

“Are you sure we left it in here?” Ash called from the archway, picking his way over broken china and tipping back the upturned settee.

“Yes,” Kate said. She peered closer to the glass. Something beyond didn’t seem right.

The ornamental cherry tree had lost its blossoms and was once again a bare branched tree in the depths of Winter, but…

Was she seeing things? She rubbed her eyes; the stress must be playing tricks on her now. For a second she’d thought she’d seen a flash beneath the tree, like sunlight glinting off something metallic, but there couldn’t have been anything there. It must have been the reflection of the broken baubles. As she tried to focus on the area, it happened again and the darkness began to move.

The sound of furniture being pushed to one side continued behind her as she lifted her hands to the glass and cupped them to the sides of her face, blotting out the light from inside. What she saw made the breath catch in her throat.

“Ash,” she said, her voice a whimper.

He didn’t answer, his attention focussed on finding the diary.

“Ash,” she tried again, a little louder this time.

 

“I don’t care what the consequences are,” he was saying behind her, oblivious to the fear in her voice. “When I find him, I’m going to kill him for taking those ashes.”

“ASH!” she screamed, finally bringing him up short.

She didn’t turn round, she couldn’t because she was rooted to the spot with fear at what was gathering outside. He sidled up behind her and turned her to face him.

“What is it?”

“Not me,” she said, putting a hand on his cheek and pushing his head to face the window. “Them.”

As he stared out through the glass, the clouds pulled back from the moon and the garden was drenched in silver light.

“Shit!” he said.

Kate screamed, he pushed her behind him, his head doing a quick calculation of the numbers of demons coming towards them across the grass. They all looked like ordinary human men, but he could see beyond their outward appearance.

He turned to Kate.

“Get in the back, stay out of sight. Whatever happens, do NOT come after me.”

Tears spilled down her cheeks.

“You can’t go out there.”

He didn’t speak, simply smiled his lopsided smile and kissed her once, then he was gone. When she saw him again he was on the other side of the French Doors, facing down an army of demons.

Kate wasn’t about to leave him out there alone, she didn’t care what he said about hiding. She pulled the handle: it was locked again. She had no choice but to stay and watch as they advanced towards him.

Ash raised his arm to the side in a slow arc. His hand opened and there was a flare of blue light. In his grip was a sword that burned with blue fire. They rushed him, the only thing Kate could see was the sword slashing back and forth through the dark mass of demon bodies. They were thrown to the sides, but as soon as one was cut down three more took its place.

She knew he was going to be overwhelmed, it was inevitable, but he fought to keep them from her as long as he could. There was a brief flash of fire as the cherry tree exploded in sparks of red and blue flame. It blinded her for a moment. The next thing she knew, the French Doors exploded inwards and she was knocked backwards as Ash was flung off his feet.

The last thing she saw was his face swimming in a blurred haze before her as he was grabbed and lifted, kicking and screaming from her.

“Don’t follow me!” he shouted out loud and then the words were in her head. “Please don’t follow me!”

And then it all went black.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 27

“Where is Ash? Where is Ash? Where is Ash?”

There was nothing he could do but play out his part in her nightmare.

“I’m here, beloved.”

He repeated the words he had spoken in this very room over one hundred years before. The echo of Sebastian mocked them from the shadows.

“Why don’t you show her what you really are?”

Kate’s eyes grew wide as the angel revealed his true nature to her, her hand reached out for a knife that was no longer there.

“Kill him, Evelyn. All you have to do is plunge it into his heart and we can be together forever,” Sebastian whispered to her.

She leaned towards Ash and kissed him.

“You could have told me the truth, beloved.”

Then she made a stabbing motion towards herself and crumpled to the floor.

Ash held Kate in his arms, his tears splashing on to her face as she lay limply against his chest.

“Come back to me Kate, please. I should never have brought you here.”

The tear-drops made her flinch; at first she thought they were drops of blood, but as they ran over her lips she tasted salt. She couldn’t breathe, it caught in her throat, she opened her eyes and looked up into the face of her angel. He lifted her off the floor and cradled her in his arms. The sudden movement made her gasp, air rushed into her lungs and she was coughing and spluttering, but she was alive.

For a long time they sat huddled together, oblivious to the filth around them. The atmosphere in the attic had changed in a subtle way. It was far less menacing and oppressive and seemed lighter somehow.

“Are you OK?” he said.

“You wait all that time between lives to be with her for such a brief time, only to watch her die again,” she said, trying to hold her voice steady. “How could you stand it when you loved her so much?”

A fresh tear slipped down her cheek.

“You mean when I love you so much?” he said, wiping it away. “I can’t bear it. I hate watching you die, but that’s better than not being with you at all. I have to stand it because you’re all I have. All I want is to fix the wrong I did, to give you peace and the freedom to live out your lives without all this hanging over you and to allow you to make your own choices, knowing that you’ll be safe and happy, but I can’t change anything, I’m helpless. It’s just another part of my punishment.”

“Well it doesn’t seem very fair. It wasn’t really your fault. It wasn’t even Sebastian’s”

His muscles tensed and she looked up at him, worried she’d said something wrong. He searched her face, waiting for her to continue, but she didn’t know what else to say and then the moment passed and he relaxed.

“It’s going to be all right,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Come on, Let’s get you out of here.”

He jumped to his feet, pulling her after him and was about to kiss her once more when he stopped and cocked his head, listening. Below them he could hear the rattle of keys. He put a finger to Kate’s lips to stop her from speaking and waited. The front door opened and closed and footsteps echoed down the hall.

“Someone’s here,” said Ash.

Kate squeezed his hand tightly.

“What do we do? Is it him?”

“I don’t know. Whatever happens, try not to let the past take over. If you touch that knife and Evelyn manifests, it’s all over. You’ll lose control and won’t know what you’re doing.”

“Evelyn knew what she was doing.”

He shook his head.

“Evelyn had lost her mind.”

“Maybe, but I think she did what she did knowing it was the only thing she could do to save you.”

She paused before adding, “She must have loved you very much.”

He knew what she was trying to say and smiled.

“It wasn’t the only thing she could have done.”

Kate opened her mouth to speak, but he hushed her again. The steady beat of footsteps echoed up the stairs and paused on the landing below. A male voice made some muffled exclamation and then began the climb to the attic.

A dark figure filled the attic doorway, bobbing its head to fit beneath the low frame.

“Who are you, what are you doing in my house?” it said.

It wasn’t the voice Kate expected to hear from an evil, psychopathic Satanist. Not unless he had a cold. The figure stepped into a patch of light and straightened up.

He was short enough to stand upright beneath the beams and very thin and wore jeans, a cagoule and tan loafers. His hair was short, greying and Kate guessed he was aged between forty five and fifty. It was Kate who spoke first.

“Are you David Markham?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said and sneezed.

“I’m Kate Lowry. I’m researching your family tree.”

*  *  *

When the introductions were over they had trooped downstairs to the parlour. Ash, unable to lie, had left Kate to explain how they’d entered through the already open back door, thinking he might be somewhere in the house, and after finding the other rooms empty had wandered upstairs to the attic as the last place to search.

“But how did you get in to the attic? No one’s been able to open that door since the place was last lived in.”

“The cold weather must have shrunk the wood,” Kate lied.

Ash looked on with something like admiration for her quick thinking replies.

“It’s a beautiful house.”

David Markham’s wariness at the two intruders melted away and his eyes softened at the thought of what the house would be, once the renovations were complete.

“You’d never know it, looking at her in this state.”

Kate knew David Markham would not believe what she had seen earlier. She could see he was passionate about restoring it and wished she could share the images of the house in its original state with him.

“So why are you here?” he said, pulling a crumpled handkerchief from his jeans pocket and blowing his nose.

“I was here to do some research into your tree and thought it would be nice to see the house. We called in on the off-chance you might be here to show us round.”

“That’s it?” he said. “You wanted to see the house?”

“Yes, I find it gives me a feel for the people I’m researching. I’ve gone back quite a way with your side of the tree and should be writing up a report for you soon.”

Kate was edging out of the room, trying to make as quick an exit as possible.

“That would be great. Mr Sharpe said you were his best researcher.”

“Really? That’s very kind of him.”

They were almost at the front door now.

“I suppose we should be getting off. Long drive, you know how it is.”

David Markham nodded. He opened the front door and ushered them outside, gushing goodbyes as they almost ran down the steps and out of the driveway. He watched them cross the road and disappear out of view behind the trees at the bottom of the garden before closing the door and turning to stare up the stairs, perplexed at what had just happened.

*  *  *

Kate couldn’t get away fast enough and had broken into a run.

“I guess it’s not him then?” she said, panting.

“No, and I was so sure it would be. I’m out of ideas now.”

It was Ash’s turn to catch up with Kate, but he had other ideas.

“Wait, Kate, please.”

There was something in his voice that pulled her up short.

“There’s one more thing I need to do,” he said.

He turned and walked past the house to a small path leading into the park. He waited for Kate to join him and knew she understood when she smiled at him.

“I used to stand here, day and night, watching the house, watching over you.”

Evelyn had never been aware of his level of devotion, until now. He could explain it to Kate and thereby to Evelyn, though of course it wouldn’t change things.

They meandered down the winding path, stopping beneath the bare branches of an oak tree that stood sentinel in the fairy dell where Ash and Evelyn had met in secret all those years ago. The waterfall splashed into the small pool where they had sat on more than one Summer’s day, dangling their feet into the cooling water.

They turned to face each other. Kate wrapped her arms around Ash’s neck and stood on tip toe to kiss him. As he responded, pulling her close and almost lifting her off the floor, they heard the distant yapping of a small dog.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 26

Now they were there, standing opposite what had once been Evelyn and Sebastian’s house, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea. But if Brian was being held prisoner here and if he was still alive, they had to do whatever they could to save him. She wondered at what point she’d turned into the heroine of the tale, she’d always thought of herself as capable, but with mundane everyday stuff like paying her bills on time and living alone, not kicking in the doors of old houses and rescuing hostages like a T.V. cop.

The house looked like it was ready to collapse; the only thing keeping it upright was the extensive scaffolding hugging the exterior. The roof was full of holes and it was impossible to tell what colour the wooden window frames had been painted, before they’d started to rot away. Security shutters covered the lower windows and of those above, only a few still held unbroken panes of glass.

Kate found it vaguely familiar. She’d started having that déjà-vu feeling the moment the park had come into view. She known it would be this house, even though several others on the same street were abandoned too. Ash saw something entirely different. He could see the building in its present, neglected state, but the ghost of its former splendour shimmered in the air like a double exposure on a photographic film. Every cell in his half-human body screamed at him not to go inside the house, but he had to; for Kate’s sake. For her he would have walked in to Hell, just to see her smile. He had an awful feeling that Hell was going to seem like a walk in the park compared to this and of course, the park behind them was full of ghosts too. He looked over his shoulder and exhaled sharply.

“Are you OK?”

His head whipped round at the touch of Kate’s hand, just in time to catch another face superimposed over hers. He ran shaky fingers through his hair and swallowed.

“Yes, come on, let’s get this over with.”

He marched towards the house. Kate had to jog to keep up with him. When he reached the top of the drive, he didn’t go up to the front door, but continued round the back of the house, dodging the scaffolding and buckets of building debris and waited for Kate to catch up.

“There’s no one here,” he said. “We don’t have to do this.”

“If you’re trying to tell me Brian’s…”

“No, I’m saying the place is empty. Brian’s not here.”

Kate shrugged.

“We’ve come a long way, we might as well go in.”

He had hoped she would reconsider, but she was as stubborn as Isabel.

He raised his eyes to the upstairs windows as though offering up a silent prayer, then he stepped up to the door and placed his hand over the lock. There was a click and when he turned the doorknob, the door swung inwards, revealing the darkened interior. Now he could add breaking and entering to his list of misdemeanours.

 

He went first, motioning Kate to follow and stay close behind him. She took his hand, with no intention of doing anything but that. The interior of the house was in even worse condition. Doors had fallen off their hinges and in some cases whole cupboards had come loose from the wall, pulling great chunks of plaster with them and exposing the wooden slats beneath. Leaves and other rubbish that had made its way in through the broken windows drifted in piles against the walls. Ash led Kate onwards through the kitchen to the narrow hall. A sliver of light came through the front door transom, but Ash’s vision wasn’t impaired in the same way Kate’s was.

He opened a door to his right and stepped over the threshold into a large, darkened room.

“This was the parlour,” he said. “We took tea by the bay window.”

He turned to Kate with a small weak smile that was wiped from his face when he saw her. Kate’s eyes swept the room, her mouth wide in an expression of awe. She let go of Ash’s hand and began a circuit of the cosy parlour. Her fingers trailed across the high mahogany fireplace, touching the china ornaments of dogs and urns decorated with hand painted flowers. The clock in the centre ticked a slow, dolorous rhythm that would have put her to sleep if she’d sat in the green velvet armchair that stood in the corner by the fireplace. White lace antimacassars were draped over the chair backs and arms and there was a shiny brass coal scuttle filled with irregular black lumps of coal, ready for the long cold Winter evenings.

A matching chair sat opposite the first. On the back wall was an upright piano, on the stand were two sheets of music. Kate stepped forward to see what the tune was, but Ash’s hand tugged at hers and she was back in an empty, dark, musty room with bare floorboards and peeling wallpaper.

“What happened?” she said.

It had seemed like a dream.

“Your memories are surfacing,” he said.

His eyes were wide, the green irises glittering in what little light filtered in through the shutters. Kate realised with a jolt that he was scared. He watched her as though he expected her to fall to pieces at any moment.

“It’s OK, I’m fine,” she said.

He stared at her for a few seconds more then took her hand again and led her back into the hall. At the bottom of the stairs was another door. He hesitated before turning the doorknob, but Kate placed her hand over his and turned it for him. They were no sooner over the threshold than the image changed again.

This time Kate stood in an elegant dining room. The walls were painted a dull dark green and had a white wooden dado rail running round the entire room. The ceiling was white too, but in the centre was an ornate moulded plaster ceiling rose, from which hung a shimmering glass chandelier. It reminded her of the one in her own bedroom and Ash’s words about her living in the past came back to her.

She was prevented from walking across the room by a dining table large enough for eight, but it was only set for two. The china was beautiful, a delicate design of ribbons decorated the edges and the silver cutlery gleamed in the light from above. She didn’t have time to take in any more detail as Ash was gently shaking her back to the 21st century.

 

“It was beautiful,” she said.

“Try to stay with me,” he pleaded.

They were back at the bottom of the stairs again. For a second Kate could see the red carpet runner and brass grips on each tread, but she screwed her eyes tight shut and opened them again to the bare staircase and broken banister rail. The state of the house made her feel sad. Why would anyone leave it to rot like this? She put her hand on the newel post and took her first step up, but Ash blocked her way. She backed down.

“I’m not so sure it’s a good idea for you to go up there,” he said.

“What? You expect me to stay down here on my own?”

He looked away and sighed.

“OK, but think happy thoughts, OK?”

They climbed the stairs together, taking it slow and testing each tread before committing themselves to what might be a rotten floorboard. Out of the corner of her eye, Kate could see framed black and white photographs on the wall. A middle aged couple in sombre clothes. Again they seemed familiar to her, a boy and a girl, him in a miniature version of an adult’s suit, her in a white dress with a sash and long curls cascading past her shoulders, a little further up a portrait of a beautiful smiling young woman, painted in colour, in oils this time. She stopped, jerking Ash back a step and stared at it.

“Who is she?” she asked, the image so real she assumed Ash could see it as well.

“That’s you,” he said.  “When you were Evelyn.”

“So you can see it too?” she asked.

“I see both past and present at the same time.”

She blinked, trying to imagine what that would be like to live with.

“Most times I can tune the past out,” he explained in response to her unasked question. “But not today. Your memory is coming through so strongly it’s superseding my own.”

“Does that mean you can travel in time?”

“In my angelic body I could. In this physical form I can only see the echoes of what once was.”

The stairs spiralled round to the left. At the small landing there should have been an arched stained glass window, but the glass had been smashed long ago by vandals. Only Kate and Ash knew that the design had been a depiction of Summer as a woman in classical drapes holding a fan in her raised right hand.

They reached the top of the stairs and faced another closed door across from the landing. Kate stepped forward, but was stopped in her tracks.

“Don’t,” Ash said.

His eyes pleaded with her.

“I think I have to,” she said.

He nodded and allowed her to move on.

This room had been her own bedroom. She knew what had happened here and was fully prepared for the transformation she was going to experience, or so she thought. One moment she had been clinging to Ash’s hand, the next she was lying in a large bed looking up from sleep at a figure in her doorway.

Oh God, she thought. It’s Sebastian.

She tried to stay calm, to focus through the image on Ash who should have been standing in the very same spot as Sebastian was now. It didn’t work. The image jerked and shifted as though someone had pressed fast forward on a DVD player and then Sebastian was leaning over her. He grabbed her wrists and pushed her backwards into the soft pillows. His mouth pressed against hers and she began to struggle. In her mind, Kate should have been strong enough to fight him off, but in Evelyn’s weakened, poisoned body she could do no more than relive the horror of Evelyn’s rape.

She closed her eyes, sobbing with fear and humiliation and then heard her own name echoing in her mind. What had Ash told her? Think happy thoughts?

She thought of Ash, of the day they had spent at the Festival of Angels, of the blossoming of the cherry tree, of his arms around her and their first kiss and then he was there, shaking her free from the nightmare, bringing her back from Hell.

“Can we get out of here?” she sobbed. “If you’re sure Brian’s not here I want to leave.”

He pulled her into his arms and rocked her, soothing her, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead. He carried her from the room and headed for the stairs.

“You are sure, aren’t you?” she said. “I mean, there’s no way he could hide Brian from you, is there, with some spell or something?”

Ash backed up a step and put her down. She leaned against the wall, her head still spinning.

“I’m going to check the other bedrooms. Don’t move.”

“Don’t leave me,” she cried, reaching for him.

“I’ll be in sight all of the time,” he said, edging backwards, keeping eye contact.

He opened all the doors and peered into the rooms, checking them long enough to make sure Brian wasn’t being held in any of them. Finally, there was only one more place to look. He raised his head to the second flight of stairs.

“Oh no,” Kate moaned.

“You can stay here,” he offered, but she shook her head.

“I’d rather we stayed together.”

He waited, giving her time to change her mind, but she pushed herself away from the wall and made him go first.

This door was smaller than the others and locked. Ash touched his hand to it again and the lock mechanism clicked open. Open or not, it still didn’t budge. It had been closed for so long, through the changing temperatures of over a hundred Summers and Winters, the wood stretching and contracting until it had warped shut permanently. In all probability no one had been through the door since Evelyn had killed herself on the other side of it.

Ash shouldered the door and almost fell into the attic. Kate shivered; it was ice cold up here, strong breezes whistled through the holes in the roof. There were more piles of leaves, birds’ feathers and excrement and even a dead pigeon wriggling with maggots.

Ash stood, his head and shoulders stooping under the eaves and stared at the wooden beams that ran the length of the attic. The shackles were gone, but the wood was worn where he had pulled and chafed at them. At the far end of the attic he could see the desk that Sebastian had used as a makeshift altar. The book and dagger were gone, but the stubs of burned down candles remained, wax solidified into wavy rivulets over the edges of the desk and pooled on the floor.

Kate drifted in behind him. In her mind, she was Evelyn seeing her lover for what he really was for the very first time. She fell to her knees, her eyes covered, quietly chanting a single sentence over and over to herself.

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Blackfeather Chapter 25

When Kate woke the next morning she was alone again. She glanced at the clock – 7.30am. On an ordinary day she would be getting up for work, but these were not ordinary days any more. Last night she had had made love with an angel. She smiled at the memory. That was a very extra-ordinary thing in itself, but in the past week she had discovered that Lucifer was real, that she had been reincarnated dozens of times and that somewhere, evil was stalking her and that only she could end a five hundred year old curse. The day ahead could bring anything… and then she remembered that Brian was still missing and could well be the one coming after her. She hoped they were wrong about Brian: as annoying as he was she didn’t wish him any harm.

She got up and showered and went in search of Ash.

He was scrutinising the family tree again. He raised his head as she entered the room, the crooked smile spread across his face. Her heartbeat picked up pace and her stomach flipped. He looked so adorable when he smiled like that and it was nice to see him happy for once, the burden of guilt lifted off his shoulders, if only for a short while.

He walked round the table towards her, put his arms round her waist and pulled her close.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Once I got to sleep,” she said with a laugh.

He pushed her hair back from her face and kissed her. If only they could’ve stayed like that forever, she wished he would pick her up and carry her back to bed, but she knew it wasn’t going to work out that way and gently pushed him away.

“Brian’s still missing,” she said in a low voice.

“I’m not so sure Brian has anything to do with this.”

He released her from his embrace and led her to a seat.

“There’s something I have to tell you.”

She was gripped with a sense of foreboding. An icy stab of fear pierced her stomach as she waited for Ash to give her bad news about Brian. He was pacing in front of her searching for the words to soften what he had to say.

“What’s happened to him?”

He turned his head towards her.

“Oh it’s not Brian. I still don’t know where he is, but…” he sighed.

There was only one way to say this and it wasn’t going to be easy.

“The vicar of All Souls was attacked by whoever has the dagger.”

Kate jumped to her feet.

“Attacked? When? How badly?”

He put his hands on her arms and sent calming vibes through her.

“He’s fine, my brother helped him.”

“You mean the angel that was here last night?”

“Yes, it’s what he came to tell me, but he healed the reverend’s wounds and saw off his attacker.”

“Did he know who he is?”

“No, but it wasn’t Brian.”

“Where’s Reverend Pilling now?”

“He’s been sent away to recover. Don’t worry, he’s fine and we have more important things to worry about”

He let go of her and returned to the family tree.

“This connection to Evelyn makes me think your client might be a more likely suspect. Have you met him?”

“No. It’s not likely I will either.”

“But not impossible, right?”

“It’s possible.”

“Do you have an address for him?”

Kate picked up a folder from the desk and thumbed through the loose pages inside, she pulled one out and read through the information.

“It says here he lives in Acomb.”

“That’s where the cats went missing from,” Ash said.

She turned the sheet over, on the back was scrawled another address and a mobile phone number.

“Hang on, there’s another one here. It’s Liverpool.”

They looked at each other, both thinking the same thing.

“47 Sefton…”

“Park Drive” Ash finished for her. “That’s Evelyn’s house.”

They were both silent, the obvious conclusion occurring to both simultaneously. It was Kate who spoke first.

“I remember now. Peter said something about the client inheriting a house from his parents that they’d had for years, but left empty. It was one of the reasons he’d started researching his family tree, to find out more about the people who’d lived there.”

There were deep furrows on Ash’s forehead as he stared at the spidery lines that connected the names on the tree. Whatever he was thinking, Kate could only wait to find out. She had no idea what they were meant to do with the information they now had.

The clunk of the letter box made Kate jump. On the doormat was a small rectangular shaped package wrapped in plain brown paper. She wasn’t expecting any deliveries. The address had been hand written in neat, heavy black letters and something about it felt wrong. She took the package to show Ash.

He took it from her, peeling back the tape and unwrapping the paper to reveal a matchbox. Kate watched as he slid the drawer of the box open and peered at the contents with a puzzled frown.

“What is it?” she asked, in a mouse-like voice.

He shook his head and held it out towards her. On a thin layer of fleece wadding lay a stud earring with a skull and cross bones design.

“It’s Brian’s!”

It took a moment for the implications to set in.

“Oh my God, he has Brian.”

She was overcome with dizziness and Ash was immediately beside her for support. He led her to a chair.

“Is Brian…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud.

“I don’t think so. At least not yet.”

Kate let out a moan.

“I think he’s trying to tell us know he knows who and where we are.”

Kate felt helpless, she didn’t like the sensation and the mere thought that one of her friends was in danger because of her made her angry. Couple that with what had happened to Reverend Pilling and she was absolutely furious.

“And we know where he is.”

Kate searched Ash’s face for a clue. He turned over the parcel’s wrapping and pointed at the postmark.

“I think we should pay a little visit to Liverpool,” she said.

“What? You can’t be serious?”

“Why not? It’s the last thing he’ll be expecting.”

“And have you figured out what you’re going to do once we find him?”

“No, but if we sit here and do nothing he’s going to kill Brian and as annoying as he is, he doesn’t deserve that.”

“Kate, that house is the last place on earth you should be going.”

“I don’t think we have a choice.”

Ash looked at Kate with sad eyes. It was exactly the kind of reckless, ill-thought-out thing she had done time and time again in previous lives. Just like Isabel when she’d planned to poison the Witch Finder and then when she’d accused him openly of witchcraft, just like Charlotte when she refused to give up her life as a highwayman, just like Evelyn when she’d turned the knife on herself.

Ash pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. He was desperately trying to think of a way of talking her out of doing this, but one look at her determined face and he knew he didn’t stand a chance. She had made up her mind to rescue Brian, if indeed that’s where he was, and it was his duty to go along with her. He shook his head, grabbed his jacket and led the way.

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Blackfeather Chapter 24

Ash let the pencil fall from his fingers. It bounced a couple of times then rolled away from him. He sat back in the chair with a sigh, his hands on his knees, his head bowed in defeat.

Kate knelt in front of him and pushed her face under his, forcing him to look at her. She placed her hands over his and gave him an encouraging smile.

“Don’t blame yourself for Evelyn.”

His eyes were full of shame.

“I should have protected her from that. She should have been loved, not violated. She should have been with…..”

She should have been with him, he was going to say. Why hadn’t he finished the sentence? They had had a relationship, of sorts. He had wanted to marry her. And what about Isabel? If she hadn’t pushed him away, her mind on other matters, they would have ended up making love.

His eyes were telling her what he couldn’t say with words, but she needed to hear it. Her stomach fluttered at the question poised on her lips, but she didn’t have the courage to ask him while he looked at her. She got up, walked to the door, turned and leant against the frame, her cheek pressed against the cold wood, the toes of one bare foot pushing into the pile of the carpet.

“Ash?”

“Yes.”

“I know you didn’t – not with Evelyn, but – did we ever…?”

“No.”

He had seen the thought in her mind and pre-empted her again. Her heart sank with the finality of his answer. Did that mean they couldn’t? Perhaps she was better not knowing. She bowed her head.

“But I remember every kiss we ever shared.”

Her head came up again. He’d opened the door for her. She took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“Do you want to kiss me now?” she asked, holding tight to the door jamb.

Blood pounded in her ears, she could barely breathe, afraid his answer would be another no.

“Very much.”

He rose from the chair and came towards her. Her body hummed with anticipation, but instead of taking her in his arms he slipped past her crossed the living room and stood looking out towards the cherry tree. She felt crushed and slumped in the doorway.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “How can you run so hot and cold with me all the time?”

“What do you mean? You asked me a question, I answered it truthfully.”

 

“But one minute you act like you want something to happen between us the next you brush me off like you wish you’d never met me.”

“Is that how it seems to you?” He turned around; the accusation hurt. “Don’t you know that I love you?”

She shook her head.

“You loved Catherine, you loved Isabel, most of all you loved Evelyn, but I don’t know what you feel for me. Maybe after all this time you blame me for your fall?”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t fall because I loved you. I fell because of the consequences that came about through that love. If I’d never revealed myself to Catherine, if I’d loved her from afar, her father would have had no cause to accuse her, he would never have been tempted by immortality and she would never have died. That’s the reason for my punishment, not loving you.”

He came to her then and took her face between both hands.

“I can tell you, to the very second, how long it’s been since our last kiss. 138 years, 2 months, 28 days, 2 hours, 36 minutes and 11 seconds exactly.”

Then he closed his eyes, bent his head to her astonished face and kissed her. She yielded to the gentle pressure of his lips, his fingers stroked along the line of her jaw and up into her hair and her arms slid up behind his neck.

She lost herself in his love for her, the memory of those kisses they had shared through time were now hers. Each one a treasure he had fixed in his memory and locked away in his heart, and now he gave them back to her. When it ended and she stumbled against him, he steadied her, then took a step back.

“I don’t know if this will make things better, worse or have no effect at all on my punishment, but in five hundred years I’ve never dared make love to you. I’ve never wanted to as much as I do now. I don’t care what happens to me, I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

There was no hesitation in Kate as she took his hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. They’d waited long enough. She wondered if he could see how hard her heart was beating or how her fingers trembled as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders, but of course he did, they were connected, he saw everything she saw, felt everything she felt, knew her better than she knew  herself.

They undressed each other, slowly, shyly, kissing and caressing, until they were both naked. She let him look at her, his eyes skimming over her body, following the line his fingers traced along the length of her arm, from wrist to shoulder, across her collar bone, then down between her breasts and over her stomach, his hand finally coming to rest on her hip. Kate’s body tingled at his touch. He pulled her close to him, her face upturned to his as he kissed her again. Then a blast of cool air lifted individual tresses of her hair and raised the tiny hairs all over her body. She opened her eyes, mid-kiss, to see enormous black wings wrap around her, the tips of the feathers brushing against her calves as he laid her back onto the bed.

*  *  *

Afterwards, she rested her head on his chest and listened to the strong, steady beat of his heart.

“That’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven for five hundred years,” he sighed.

“It can’t have been that good.”

She pushed herself up on an elbow and looked down at him, laughing at the look of wonder on his face.

“Contentment, happiness, bliss, that’s Heaven, but this is better.”

He pulled her down into the crook of his arm. He wanted to feel her against him. She snuggled in, her head on his shoulder, and fell asleep as he stroked her back. Now that she couldn’t see his face a crease of worry formed on his forehead. He chewed at his bottom lip. There’d been no thunder and lightning, no end of the world cataclysm to suck him down to Hell, but this wasn’t over yet. This could change everything. If she couldn’t bring herself to do what she had to, couldn’t free them because of what they’d just done, it could spell disaster for all of them.

*  *  *

Hours later she awoke to an empty space in the bed. She couldn’t remember any dreams of Evelyn or of Veronique, but that didn’t mean she’d had none. He had stayed true to his promise and kept her safe as she slept. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. She had left her slippers by the French doors in the living room so she slipped on a nightgown and padded barefoot through the darkened house in search of Ash.

He was not in the house, but the open door told her where he would be. She stood at the threshold and peered out at the garden, glittering under its moonlit frosting of snow. The ornamental cherry tree, still in bloom, incongruous in its Wintry setting. An icy breeze raised goose bumps on her bare arms and she chided herself for wandering round in the middle of the night in nothing but a thin, silky nightdress. A little way beyond it she could see the familiar figure of her guardian angel, barefoot and shirtless, his black jeans put on in haste before coming out to meet the man that stood beside him.

He was as tall as Ash, but had shoulder length black hair and wore a long black coat. Both of them had their backs to her, but as she watched they turned as one to look at her, their angelic senses alerting them to the fact that she was there. The tall stranger’s iridescent blue eyes seemed to look right into her and she squirmed beneath his intense gaze.

They exchanged a few words she could not hear, then Ash called out to her.

“It’s all right, Kate. Go back to bed. I’ll be back soon.”

She wanted to listen in to whatever secret conversation they were having, but the tall stranger unnerved her. There was something about him that seemed familiar, so she did as she was asked and went back to bed.

*  *  *

Kate’s warm, steady breath had been tickling his chest when he’d sensed the presence nearby. He gently moved out from beneath her and quickly pulled on his jeans. His brother waited in the garden, looking up at the branches of the cherry tree. His eyebrows raised in amusement when Ash joined him, making him blush.

“Don’t start,” said Ash.

“I’ve no intention of saying anything,” the angel laughed, then cocked his head on one side and peered closer at his brother. “There’s something different about you tonight.”

Ash sighed and waited. As his friend scrutinised his appearance they both sensed another presence and turned, as one, to look back at the house. Kate pulled at the hem of the short, figure hugging nightdress. She hadn’t been expecting anyone else but Ash to be there and was clearly feeling a little exposed with her long bare legs on show.

“Oh,” said Ash’s companion. “Well it’s about time. It’s only taken you what – five hundred years. Give or take…”

Ash ignored him and called to Kate, telling her to go back to bed. When she had gone, the two angels walked deeper into the shadows of the garden.

“There’s been a development.”

“I know. He knows where we are.”

“It’s worse than that. He knows who she is.”

“How?” Ash demanded, his voice carrying across the garden in the breeze.

His brother explained what had happened in the church earlier that day.

“Is the vicar OK?”

“I healed his wounds, but he spoke to the Archbishop and he insisted he go away for a few days to recover from the ordeal. The rest will do him good.”

“Did you recognise his attacker?”

“No.”

Ash wasn’t sure if his brother had seen Brian at the club the night he’d met Kate, so he raised his hand and touched his fingertips to the other man’s forehead.

“Did he look like this?”

An image of Brian flashed into the tall man’s mind and he shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t him.”

So, they could rule Brian out as a suspect. That would put Kate’s mind at rest on that point at least, but it didn’t answer the question as to where Brian was.

“I must go,” the angel said.

Ash nodded.

“And well done, I’m proud of you, little brother.”

He slapped Ash on the back before vanishing in a spectacular vertical take-off.  Ash watched the dark shape soar across the face of the moon then headed back inside to find Kate.

She was sitting up in bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, hugging her legs.

“That was another angel, wasn’t it?”

He nodded.

“This is going to sound silly, but he seems familiar.”

“He should do, you’ve met him once before.”

Ash grinned at Kate’s disbelieving face.

“Where?” she said.

She was sure she would remember someone so striking.

“At the club. He bowed to you, remember? It’s him you have to thank for translating my journal.”

Ash repeated the gesture he had made in the garden, touching his fingers to Kate’s forehead and retrieving her memory of his brother. She relived the moment that he had bowed to her and let her pass by, his black wings almost touching the floor. Her eyes widened in recognition.

“They were real wings!”

“Yes, he hangs around in there a lot, but the Festival of Angels is his favourite time of year. He loves showing off his feathers. You should hear the crowds complimenting him on how real they look.”

He laughed.

“If only they knew.”

He slipped off his jeans and climbed into bed beside Kate.

“He loves the attention, but I keep telling him he’s going to get into trouble one day. All he says is, ‘I haven’t yet, little brother,’ and laughs at me.”

“Little brother?”

“Hmm, it doesn’t matter that we were created all at the same time. He’s no older than me in years, but he thinks experience makes him my elder.”

“What’s his name?”

Ash shook his head.

“I can’t tell you that. Names have power.”

“Why did he fall?”

“He didn’t, he’s a Watcher.”

His arm snaked around her middle and pulled her down under the covers with him.

“And he’s all about the experience,” he winked.  The lights went out.

 

Back to chapter list                          Chapter 25

Ash let the pencil fall from his fingers. It bounced a couple of times then rolled away from him. He sat back in the chair with a sigh, his hands on his knees, his head bowed in defeat.

Kate knelt in front of him and pushed her face under his, forcing him to look at her. She placed her hands over his and gave him an encouraging smile.

“Don’t blame yourself for Evelyn.”

His eyes were full of shame.

“I should have protected her from that. She should have been loved, not violated. She should have been with…..”

She should have been with him, he was going to say. Why hadn’t he finished the sentence? They had had a relationship, of sorts. He had wanted to marry her. And what about Isabel? If she hadn’t pushed him away, her mind on other matters, they would have ended up making love.

His eyes were telling her what he couldn’t say with words, but she needed to hear it. Her stomach fluttered at the question poised on her lips, but she didn’t have the courage to ask him while he looked at her. She got up, walked to the door, turned and leant against the frame, her cheek pressed against the cold wood, the toes of one bare foot pushing into the pile of the carpet.

“Ash?”

“Yes.”

“I know you didn’t – not with Evelyn, but – did we ever…?”

“No.”

He had seen the thought in her mind and pre-empted her again. Her heart sank with the finality of his answer. Did that mean they couldn’t? Perhaps she was better not knowing. She bowed her head.

“But I remember every kiss we ever shared.”

Her head came up again. He’d opened the door for her. She took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“Do you want to kiss me now?” she asked, holding tight to the door jamb.

Blood pounded in her ears, she could barely breathe, afraid his answer would be another no.

“Very much.”

He rose from the chair and came towards her. Her body hummed with anticipation, but instead of taking her in his arms he slipped past her crossed the living room and stood looking out towards the cherry tree. She felt crushed and slumped in the doorway.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “How can you run so hot and cold with me all the time?”

“What do you mean? You asked me a question, I answered it truthfully.”

 

“But one minute you act like you want something to happen between us the next you brush me off like you wish you’d never met me.”

“Is that how it seems to you?” He turned around; the accusation hurt. “Don’t you know that I love you?”

She shook her head.

“You loved Catherine, you loved Isabel, most of all you loved Evelyn, but I don’t know what you feel for me. Maybe after all this time you blame me for your fall?”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t fall because I loved you. I fell because of the consequences that came about through that love. If I’d never revealed myself to Catherine, if I’d loved her from afar, her father would have had no cause to accuse her, he would never have been tempted by immortality and she would never have died. That’s the reason for my punishment, not loving you.”

He came to her then and took her face between both hands.

“I can tell you, to the very second, how long it’s been since our last kiss. 138 years, 2 months, 28 days, 2 hours, 36 minutes and 11 seconds exactly.”

Then he closed his eyes, bent his head to her astonished face and kissed her. She yielded to the gentle pressure of his lips, his fingers stroked along the line of her jaw and up into her hair and her arms slid up behind his neck.

She lost herself in his love for her, the memory of those kisses they had shared through time were now hers. Each one a treasure he had fixed in his memory and locked away in his heart, and now he gave them back to her. When it ended and she stumbled against him, he steadied her, then took a step back.

“I don’t know if this will make things better, worse or have no effect at all on my punishment, but in five hundred years I’ve never dared make love to you. I’ve never wanted to as much as I do now. I don’t care what happens to me, I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

There was no hesitation in Kate as she took his hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. They’d waited long enough. She wondered if he could see how hard her heart was beating or how her fingers trembled as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders, but of course he did, they were connected, he saw everything she saw, felt everything she felt, knew her better than she knew  herself.

They undressed each other, slowly, shyly, kissing and caressing, until they were both naked. She let him look at her, his eyes skimming over her body, following the line his fingers traced along the length of her arm, from wrist to shoulder, across her collar bone, then down between her breasts and over her stomach, his hand finally coming to rest on her hip. Kate’s body tingled at his touch. He pulled her close to him, her face upturned to his as he kissed her again. Then a blast of cool air lifted individual tresses of her hair and raised the tiny hairs all over her body. She opened her eyes, mid-kiss, to see enormous black wings wrap around her, the tips of the feathers brushing against her calves as he laid her back onto the bed.

*  *  *

Afterwards, she rested her head on his chest and listened to the strong, steady beat of his heart.

“That’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven for five hundred years,” he sighed.

“It can’t have been that good.”

She pushed herself up on an elbow and looked down at him, laughing at the look of wonder on his face.

“Contentment, happiness, bliss, that’s Heaven, but this is better.”

He pulled her down into the crook of his arm. He wanted to feel her against him. She snuggled in, her head on his shoulder, and fell asleep as he stroked her back. Now that she couldn’t see his face a crease of worry formed on his forehead. He chewed at his bottom lip. There’d been no thunder and lightning, no end of the world cataclysm to suck him down to Hell, but this wasn’t over yet. This could change everything. If she couldn’t bring herself to do what she had to, couldn’t free them because of what they’d just done, it could spell disaster for all of them.

*  *  *

Hours later she awoke to an empty space in the bed. She couldn’t remember any dreams of Evelyn or of Veronique, but that didn’t mean she’d had none. He had stayed true to his promise and kept her safe as she slept. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. She had left her slippers by the French doors in the living room so she slipped on a nightgown and padded barefoot through the darkened house in search of Ash.

He was not in the house, but the open door told her where he would be. She stood at the threshold and peered out at the garden, glittering under its moonlit frosting of snow. The ornamental cherry tree, still in bloom, incongruous in its Wintry setting. An icy breeze raised goose bumps on her bare arms and she chided herself for wandering round in the middle of the night in nothing but a thin, silky nightdress. A little way beyond it she could see the familiar figure of her guardian angel, barefoot and shirtless, his black jeans put on in haste before coming out to meet the man that stood beside him.

He was as tall as Ash, but had shoulder length black hair and wore a long black coat. Both of them had their backs to her, but as she watched they turned as one to look at her, their angelic senses alerting them to the fact that she was there. The tall stranger’s iridescent blue eyes seemed to look right into her and she squirmed beneath his intense gaze.

They exchanged a few words she could not hear, then Ash called out to her.

“It’s all right, Kate. Go back to bed. I’ll be back soon.”

She wanted to listen in to whatever secret conversation they were having, but the tall stranger unnerved her. There was something about him that seemed familiar, so she did as she was asked and went back to bed.

*  *  *

Kate’s warm, steady breath had been tickling his chest when he’d sensed the presence nearby. He gently moved out from beneath her and quickly pulled on his jeans. His brother waited in the garden, looking up at the branches of the cherry tree. His eyebrows raised in amusement when Ash joined him, making him blush.

“Don’t start,” said Ash.

“I’ve no intention of saying anything,” the angel laughed, then cocked his head on one side and peered closer at his brother. “There’s something different about you tonight.”

Ash sighed and waited. As his friend scrutinised his appearance they both sensed another presence and turned, as one, to look back at the house. Kate pulled at the hem of the short, figure hugging nightdress. She hadn’t been expecting anyone else but Ash to be there and was clearly feeling a little exposed with her long bare legs on show.

“Oh,” said Ash’s companion. “Well it’s about time. It’s only taken you what – five hundred years. Give or take…”

Ash ignored him and called to Kate, telling her to go back to bed. When she had gone, the two angels walked deeper into the shadows of the garden.

“There’s been a development.”

“I know. He knows where we are.”

“It’s worse than that. He knows who she is.”

“How?” Ash demanded, his voice carrying across the garden in the breeze.

His brother explained what had happened in the church earlier that day.

“Is the vicar OK?”

“I healed his wounds, but he spoke to the Archbishop and he insisted he go away for a few days to recover from the ordeal. The rest will do him good.”

“Did you recognise his attacker?”

“No.”

Ash wasn’t sure if his brother had seen Brian at the club the night he’d met Kate, so he raised his hand and touched his fingertips to the other man’s forehead.

“Did he look like this?”

An image of Brian flashed into the tall man’s mind and he shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t him.”

So, they could rule Brian out as a suspect. That would put Kate’s mind at rest on that point at least, but it didn’t answer the question as to where Brian was.

“I must go,” the angel said.

Ash nodded.

“And well done, I’m proud of you, little brother.”

He slapped Ash on the back before vanishing in a spectacular vertical take-off.  Ash watched the dark shape soar across the face of the moon then headed back inside to find Kate.

She was sitting up in bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, hugging her legs.

“That was another angel, wasn’t it?”

He nodded.

“This is going to sound silly, but he seems familiar.”

“He should do, you’ve met him once before.”

Ash grinned at Kate’s disbelieving face.

“Where?” she said.

She was sure she would remember someone so striking.

“At the club. He bowed to you, remember? It’s him you have to thank for translating my journal.”

Ash repeated the gesture he had made in the garden, touching his fingers to Kate’s forehead and retrieving her memory of his brother. She relived the moment that he had bowed to her and let her pass by, his black wings almost touching the floor. Her eyes widened in recognition.

“They were real wings!”

“Yes, he hangs around in there a lot, but the Festival of Angels is his favourite time of year. He loves showing off his feathers. You should hear the crowds complimenting him on how real they look.”

He laughed.

“If only they knew.”

He slipped off his jeans and climbed into bed beside Kate.

“He loves the attention, but I keep telling him he’s going to get into trouble one day. All he says is, ‘I haven’t yet, little brother,’ and laughs at me.”

“Little brother?”

“Hmm, it doesn’t matter that we were created all at the same time. He’s no older than me in years, but he thinks experience makes him my elder.”

“What’s his name?”

Ash shook his head.

“I can’t tell you that. Names have power.”

“Why did he fall?”

“He didn’t, he’s a Watcher.”

His arm snaked around her middle and pulled her down under the covers with him.

“And he’s all about the experience,” he winked.  The lights went out.

 

Back to chapter list                          Chapter 25 

Ash let the pencil fall from his fingers. It bounced a couple of times then rolled away from him. He sat back in the chair with a sigh, his hands on his knees, his head bowed in defeat.

Kate knelt in front of him and pushed her face under his, forcing him to look at her. She placed her hands over his and gave him an encouraging smile.

“Don’t blame yourself for Evelyn.”

His eyes were full of shame.

“I should have protected her from that. She should have been loved, not violated. She should have been with…..”

She should have been with him, he was going to say. Why hadn’t he finished the sentence? They had had a relationship, of sorts. He had wanted to marry her. And what about Isabel? If she hadn’t pushed him away, her mind on other matters, they would have ended up making love.

His eyes were telling her what he couldn’t say with words, but she needed to hear it. Her stomach fluttered at the question poised on her lips, but she didn’t have the courage to ask him while he looked at her. She got up, walked to the door, turned and leant against the frame, her cheek pressed against the cold wood, the toes of one bare foot pushing into the pile of the carpet.

“Ash?”

“Yes.”

“I know you didn’t – not with Evelyn, but – did we ever…?”

“No.”

He had seen the thought in her mind and pre-empted her again. Her heart sank with the finality of his answer. Did that mean they couldn’t? Perhaps she was better not knowing. She bowed her head.

“But I remember every kiss we ever shared.”

Her head came up again. He’d opened the door for her. She took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“Do you want to kiss me now?” she asked, holding tight to the door jamb.

Blood pounded in her ears, she could barely breathe, afraid his answer would be another no.

“Very much.”

He rose from the chair and came towards her. Her body hummed with anticipation, but instead of taking her in his arms he slipped past her crossed the living room and stood looking out towards the cherry tree. She felt crushed and slumped in the doorway.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “How can you run so hot and cold with me all the time?”

“What do you mean? You asked me a question, I answered it truthfully.”

 

“But one minute you act like you want something to happen between us the next you brush me off like you wish you’d never met me.”

“Is that how it seems to you?” He turned around; the accusation hurt. “Don’t you know that I love you?”

She shook her head.

“You loved Catherine, you loved Isabel, most of all you loved Evelyn, but I don’t know what you feel for me. Maybe after all this time you blame me for your fall?”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t fall because I loved you. I fell because of the consequences that came about through that love. If I’d never revealed myself to Catherine, if I’d loved her from afar, her father would have had no cause to accuse her, he would never have been tempted by immortality and she would never have died. That’s the reason for my punishment, not loving you.”

He came to her then and took her face between both hands.

“I can tell you, to the very second, how long it’s been since our last kiss. 138 years, 2 months, 28 days, 2 hours, 36 minutes and 11 seconds exactly.”

Then he closed his eyes, bent his head to her astonished face and kissed her. She yielded to the gentle pressure of his lips, his fingers stroked along the line of her jaw and up into her hair and her arms slid up behind his neck.

She lost herself in his love for her, the memory of those kisses they had shared through time were now hers. Each one a treasure he had fixed in his memory and locked away in his heart, and now he gave them back to her. When it ended and she stumbled against him, he steadied her, then took a step back.

“I don’t know if this will make things better, worse or have no effect at all on my punishment, but in five hundred years I’ve never dared make love to you. I’ve never wanted to as much as I do now. I don’t care what happens to me, I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

There was no hesitation in Kate as she took his hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. They’d waited long enough. She wondered if he could see how hard her heart was beating or how her fingers trembled as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders, but of course he did, they were connected, he saw everything she saw, felt everything she felt, knew her better than she knew  herself.

They undressed each other, slowly, shyly, kissing and caressing, until they were both naked. She let him look at her, his eyes skimming over her body, following the line his fingers traced along the length of her arm, from wrist to shoulder, across her collar bone, then down between her breasts and over her stomach, his hand finally coming to rest on her hip. Kate’s body tingled at his touch. He pulled her close to him, her face upturned to his as he kissed her again. Then a blast of cool air lifted individual tresses of her hair and raised the tiny hairs all over her body. She opened her eyes, mid-kiss, to see enormous black wings wrap around her, the tips of the feathers brushing against her calves as he laid her back onto the bed.

*  *  *

Afterwards, she rested her head on his chest and listened to the strong, steady beat of his heart.

“That’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven for five hundred years,” he sighed.

“It can’t have been that good.”

She pushed herself up on an elbow and looked down at him, laughing at the look of wonder on his face.

“Contentment, happiness, bliss, that’s Heaven, but this is better.”

He pulled her down into the crook of his arm. He wanted to feel her against him. She snuggled in, her head on his shoulder, and fell asleep as he stroked her back. Now that she couldn’t see his face a crease of worry formed on his forehead. He chewed at his bottom lip. There’d been no thunder and lightning, no end of the world cataclysm to suck him down to Hell, but this wasn’t over yet. This could change everything. If she couldn’t bring herself to do what she had to, couldn’t free them because of what they’d just done, it could spell disaster for all of them.

*  *  *

Hours later she awoke to an empty space in the bed. She couldn’t remember any dreams of Evelyn or of Veronique, but that didn’t mean she’d had none. He had stayed true to his promise and kept her safe as she slept. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. She had left her slippers by the French doors in the living room so she slipped on a nightgown and padded barefoot through the darkened house in search of Ash.

He was not in the house, but the open door told her where he would be. She stood at the threshold and peered out at the garden, glittering under its moonlit frosting of snow. The ornamental cherry tree, still in bloom, incongruous in its Wintry setting. An icy breeze raised goose bumps on her bare arms and she chided herself for wandering round in the middle of the night in nothing but a thin, silky nightdress. A little way beyond it she could see the familiar figure of her guardian angel, barefoot and shirtless, his black jeans put on in haste before coming out to meet the man that stood beside him.

He was as tall as Ash, but had shoulder length black hair and wore a long black coat. Both of them had their backs to her, but as she watched they turned as one to look at her, their angelic senses alerting them to the fact that she was there. The tall stranger’s iridescent blue eyes seemed to look right into her and she squirmed beneath his intense gaze.

They exchanged a few words she could not hear, then Ash called out to her.

“It’s all right, Kate. Go back to bed. I’ll be back soon.”

She wanted to listen in to whatever secret conversation they were having, but the tall stranger unnerved her. There was something about him that seemed familiar, so she did as she was asked and went back to bed.

*  *  *

Kate’s warm, steady breath had been tickling his chest when he’d sensed the presence nearby. He gently moved out from beneath her and quickly pulled on his jeans. His brother waited in the garden, looking up at the branches of the cherry tree. His eyebrows raised in amusement when Ash joined him, making him blush.

“Don’t start,” said Ash.

“I’ve no intention of saying anything,” the angel laughed, then cocked his head on one side and peered closer at his brother. “There’s something different about you tonight.”

Ash sighed and waited. As his friend scrutinised his appearance they both sensed another presence and turned, as one, to look back at the house. Kate pulled at the hem of the short, figure hugging nightdress. She hadn’t been expecting anyone else but Ash to be there and was clearly feeling a little exposed with her long bare legs on show.

“Oh,” said Ash’s companion. “Well it’s about time. It’s only taken you what – five hundred years. Give or take…”

Ash ignored him and called to Kate, telling her to go back to bed. When she had gone, the two angels walked deeper into the shadows of the garden.

“There’s been a development.”

“I know. He knows where we are.”

“It’s worse than that. He knows who she is.”

“How?” Ash demanded, his voice carrying across the garden in the breeze.

His brother explained what had happened in the church earlier that day.

“Is the vicar OK?”

“I healed his wounds, but he spoke to the Archbishop and he insisted he go away for a few days to recover from the ordeal. The rest will do him good.”

“Did you recognise his attacker?”

“No.”

Ash wasn’t sure if his brother had seen Brian at the club the night he’d met Kate, so he raised his hand and touched his fingertips to the other man’s forehead.

“Did he look like this?”

An image of Brian flashed into the tall man’s mind and he shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t him.”

So, they could rule Brian out as a suspect. That would put Kate’s mind at rest on that point at least, but it didn’t answer the question as to where Brian was.

“I must go,” the angel said.

Ash nodded.

“And well done, I’m proud of you, little brother.”

He slapped Ash on the back before vanishing in a spectacular vertical take-off.  Ash watched the dark shape soar across the face of the moon then headed back inside to find Kate.

She was sitting up in bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, hugging her legs.

“That was another angel, wasn’t it?”

He nodded.

“This is going to sound silly, but he seems familiar.”

“He should do, you’ve met him once before.”

Ash grinned at Kate’s disbelieving face.

“Where?” she said.

She was sure she would remember someone so striking.

“At the club. He bowed to you, remember? It’s him you have to thank for translating my journal.”

Ash repeated the gesture he had made in the garden, touching his fingers to Kate’s forehead and retrieving her memory of his brother. She relived the moment that he had bowed to her and let her pass by, his black wings almost touching the floor. Her eyes widened in recognition.

“They were real wings!”

“Yes, he hangs around in there a lot, but the Festival of Angels is his favourite time of year. He loves showing off his feathers. You should hear the crowds complimenting him on how real they look.”

He laughed.

“If only they knew.”

He slipped off his jeans and climbed into bed beside Kate.

“He loves the attention, but I keep telling him he’s going to get into trouble one day. All he says is, ‘I haven’t yet, little brother,’ and laughs at me.”

“Little brother?”

“Hmm, it doesn’t matter that we were created all at the same time. He’s no older than me in years, but he thinks experience makes him my elder.”

“What’s his name?”

Ash shook his head.

“I can’t tell you that. Names have power.”

“Why did he fall?”

“He didn’t, he’s a Watcher.”

His arm snaked around her middle and pulled her down under the covers with him.

“And he’s all about the experience,” he winked.  The lights went out.

 

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Ash let the pencil fall from his fingers. It bounced a couple of times then rolled away from him. He sat back in the chair with a sigh, his hands on his knees, his head bowed in defeat.

Kate knelt in front of him and pushed her face under his, forcing him to look at her. She placed her hands over his and gave him an encouraging smile.

“Don’t blame yourself for Evelyn.”

His eyes were full of shame.

“I should have protected her from that. She should have been loved, not violated. She should have been with…..”

She should have been with him, he was going to say. Why hadn’t he finished the sentence? They had had a relationship, of sorts. He had wanted to marry her. And what about Isabel? If she hadn’t pushed him away, her mind on other matters, they would have ended up making love.

His eyes were telling her what he couldn’t say with words, but she needed to hear it. Her stomach fluttered at the question poised on her lips, but she didn’t have the courage to ask him while he looked at her. She got up, walked to the door, turned and leant against the frame, her cheek pressed against the cold wood, the toes of one bare foot pushing into the pile of the carpet.

“Ash?”

“Yes.”

“I know you didn’t – not with Evelyn, but – did we ever…?”

“No.”

He had seen the thought in her mind and pre-empted her again. Her heart sank with the finality of his answer. Did that mean they couldn’t? Perhaps she was better not knowing. She bowed her head.

“But I remember every kiss we ever shared.”

Her head came up again. He’d opened the door for her. She took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“Do you want to kiss me now?” she asked, holding tight to the door jamb.

Blood pounded in her ears, she could barely breathe, afraid his answer would be another no.

“Very much.”

He rose from the chair and came towards her. Her body hummed with anticipation, but instead of taking her in his arms he slipped past her crossed the living room and stood looking out towards the cherry tree. She felt crushed and slumped in the doorway.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “How can you run so hot and cold with me all the time?”

“What do you mean? You asked me a question, I answered it truthfully.”

 

“But one minute you act like you want something to happen between us the next you brush me off like you wish you’d never met me.”

“Is that how it seems to you?” He turned around; the accusation hurt. “Don’t you know that I love you?”

She shook her head.

“You loved Catherine, you loved Isabel, most of all you loved Evelyn, but I don’t know what you feel for me. Maybe after all this time you blame me for your fall?”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t fall because I loved you. I fell because of the consequences that came about through that love. If I’d never revealed myself to Catherine, if I’d loved her from afar, her father would have had no cause to accuse her, he would never have been tempted by immortality and she would never have died. That’s the reason for my punishment, not loving you.”

He came to her then and took her face between both hands.

“I can tell you, to the very second, how long it’s been since our last kiss. 138 years, 2 months, 28 days, 2 hours, 36 minutes and 11 seconds exactly.”

Then he closed his eyes, bent his head to her astonished face and kissed her. She yielded to the gentle pressure of his lips, his fingers stroked along the line of her jaw and up into her hair and her arms slid up behind his neck.

She lost herself in his love for her, the memory of those kisses they had shared through time were now hers. Each one a treasure he had fixed in his memory and locked away in his heart, and now he gave them back to her. When it ended and she stumbled against him, he steadied her, then took a step back.

“I don’t know if this will make things better, worse or have no effect at all on my punishment, but in five hundred years I’ve never dared make love to you. I’ve never wanted to as much as I do now. I don’t care what happens to me, I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

There was no hesitation in Kate as she took his hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. They’d waited long enough. She wondered if he could see how hard her heart was beating or how her fingers trembled as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders, but of course he did, they were connected, he saw everything she saw, felt everything she felt, knew her better than she knew  herself.

They undressed each other, slowly, shyly, kissing and caressing, until they were both naked. She let him look at her, his eyes skimming over her body, following the line his fingers traced along the length of her arm, from wrist to shoulder, across her collar bone, then down between her breasts and over her stomach, his hand finally coming to rest on her hip. Kate’s body tingled at his touch. He pulled her close to him, her face upturned to his as he kissed her again. Then a blast of cool air lifted individual tresses of her hair and raised the tiny hairs all over her body. She opened her eyes, mid-kiss, to see enormous black wings wrap around her, the tips of the feathers brushing against her calves as he laid her back onto the bed.

*  *  *

Afterwards, she rested her head on his chest and listened to the strong, steady beat of his heart.

“That’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven for five hundred years,” he sighed.

“It can’t have been that good.”

She pushed herself up on an elbow and looked down at him, laughing at the look of wonder on his face.

“Contentment, happiness, bliss, that’s Heaven, but this is better.”

He pulled her down into the crook of his arm. He wanted to feel her against him. She snuggled in, her head on his shoulder, and fell asleep as he stroked her back. Now that she couldn’t see his face a crease of worry formed on his forehead. He chewed at his bottom lip. There’d been no thunder and lightning, no end of the world cataclysm to suck him down to Hell, but this wasn’t over yet. This could change everything. If she couldn’t bring herself to do what she had to, couldn’t free them because of what they’d just done, it could spell disaster for all of them.

*  *  *

Hours later she awoke to an empty space in the bed. She couldn’t remember any dreams of Evelyn or of Veronique, but that didn’t mean she’d had none. He had stayed true to his promise and kept her safe as she slept. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. She had left her slippers by the French doors in the living room so she slipped on a nightgown and padded barefoot through the darkened house in search of Ash.

He was not in the house, but the open door told her where he would be. She stood at the threshold and peered out at the garden, glittering under its moonlit frosting of snow. The ornamental cherry tree, still in bloom, incongruous in its Wintry setting. An icy breeze raised goose bumps on her bare arms and she chided herself for wandering round in the middle of the night in nothing but a thin, silky nightdress. A little way beyond it she could see the familiar figure of her guardian angel, barefoot and shirtless, his black jeans put on in haste before coming out to meet the man that stood beside him.

He was as tall as Ash, but had shoulder length black hair and wore a long black coat. Both of them had their backs to her, but as she watched they turned as one to look at her, their angelic senses alerting them to the fact that she was there. The tall stranger’s iridescent blue eyes seemed to look right into her and she squirmed beneath his intense gaze.

They exchanged a few words she could not hear, then Ash called out to her.

“It’s all right, Kate. Go back to bed. I’ll be back soon.”

She wanted to listen in to whatever secret conversation they were having, but the tall stranger unnerved her. There was something about him that seemed familiar, so she did as she was asked and went back to bed.

*  *  *

Kate’s warm, steady breath had been tickling his chest when he’d sensed the presence nearby. He gently moved out from beneath her and quickly pulled on his jeans. His brother waited in the garden, looking up at the branches of the cherry tree. His eyebrows raised in amusement when Ash joined him, making him blush.

“Don’t start,” said Ash.

“I’ve no intention of saying anything,” the angel laughed, then cocked his head on one side and peered closer at his brother. “There’s something different about you tonight.”

Ash sighed and waited. As his friend scrutinised his appearance they both sensed another presence and turned, as one, to look back at the house. Kate pulled at the hem of the short, figure hugging nightdress. She hadn’t been expecting anyone else but Ash to be there and was clearly feeling a little exposed with her long bare legs on show.

“Oh,” said Ash’s companion. “Well it’s about time. It’s only taken you what – five hundred years. Give or take…”

Ash ignored him and called to Kate, telling her to go back to bed. When she had gone, the two angels walked deeper into the shadows of the garden.

“There’s been a development.”

“I know. He knows where we are.”

“It’s worse than that. He knows who she is.”

“How?” Ash demanded, his voice carrying across the garden in the breeze.

His brother explained what had happened in the church earlier that day.

“Is the vicar OK?”

“I healed his wounds, but he spoke to the Archbishop and he insisted he go away for a few days to recover from the ordeal. The rest will do him good.”

“Did you recognise his attacker?”

“No.”

Ash wasn’t sure if his brother had seen Brian at the club the night he’d met Kate, so he raised his hand and touched his fingertips to the other man’s forehead.

“Did he look like this?”

An image of Brian flashed into the tall man’s mind and he shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t him.”

So, they could rule Brian out as a suspect. That would put Kate’s mind at rest on that point at least, but it didn’t answer the question as to where Brian was.

“I must go,” the angel said.

Ash nodded.

“And well done, I’m proud of you, little brother.”

He slapped Ash on the back before vanishing in a spectacular vertical take-off.  Ash watched the dark shape soar across the face of the moon then headed back inside to find Kate.

She was sitting up in bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, hugging her legs.

“That was another angel, wasn’t it?”

He nodded.

“This is going to sound silly, but he seems familiar.”

“He should do, you’ve met him once before.”

Ash grinned at Kate’s disbelieving face.

“Where?” she said.

She was sure she would remember someone so striking.

“At the club. He bowed to you, remember? It’s him you have to thank for translating my journal.”

Ash repeated the gesture he had made in the garden, touching his fingers to Kate’s forehead and retrieving her memory of his brother. She relived the moment that he had bowed to her and let her pass by, his black wings almost touching the floor. Her eyes widened in recognition.

“They were real wings!”

“Yes, he hangs around in there a lot, but the Festival of Angels is his favourite time of year. He loves showing off his feathers. You should hear the crowds complimenting him on how real they look.”

He laughed.

“If only they knew.”

He slipped off his jeans and climbed into bed beside Kate.

“He loves the attention, but I keep telling him he’s going to get into trouble one day. All he says is, ‘I haven’t yet, little brother,’ and laughs at me.”

“Little brother?”

“Hmm, it doesn’t matter that we were created all at the same time. He’s no older than me in years, but he thinks experience makes him my elder.”

“What’s his name?”

Ash shook his head.

“I can’t tell you that. Names have power.”

“Why did he fall?”

“He didn’t, he’s a Watcher.”

His arm snaked around her middle and pulled her down under the covers with him.

“And he’s all about the experience,” he winked.  The lights went out.

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 23

12th September 1873

Today, three hundred and ninety four years after Catherine’s death, Sebastian bathes Evie and dresses her. She is a doll in his hands, a human-sized doll, unresisting and pliant. He feeds her breakfast at the parlour table, talking inane chatter at her as though the previous night never happened. When she turns her face to the window she can see the park. The park where we met and loved and were happy together. A tear slips from the corner of her eye. Sebastian dabs at it with a pocket handkerchief.

“What’s the matter my love?” he asks.

She does not answer at first, but her heart fears the worst and she has to know.

“Where is he?”

“Where’s who?”

Sebastian asks gently, feigning ignorance and clearing the china onto a silver tray.

“Ash.”

His jaw clenches, the muscles in his cheeks and neck bulge with the effort of restraint.

“Have you killed him?”

His anger bursts and the tray and its contents are thrown across the room. The china shatters into pieces. Evelyn jumps, stiff with fear.

“What is it with this Ash fellow? Why do you persist in torturing us with his memory? He has gone, Evelyn. He didn’t love you, he never loved you. You should be glad if he were dead.”

He crouches in front of her, gripping her hands between his own.

“You’re hurting me,” she whispers.

He slackens his grip, but she hasn’t finished with him yet.

“And you haven’t answered my question.”

Rising, he grabs a handful of her hair and yanks her from the chair onto her knees, dragging her painfully across the floor. The fragments of china tear through her dress and into her knees. He ignores her screams as he pulls her along the hallway and up the stairs to her room, where he sends her sprawling face down on the floor.

“Not yet,” is his growled answer, then he pulls the door shut and locks it.

Evelyn flings herself at it, banging her fists uselessly on the wood until her hands are bruised and sore. He slumps on the other side, listening to her racking sobs until she falls into an exhausted sleep. When she awakens he has left a tray of sandwiches for her and some wine. She touches neither.

At night he lets himself into her room and the nightmare begins all over again. She lies as still as possible until he has satisfied himself, lying awake while he sleeps next to her, his arm a dead weight across her waist, preventing her escape.

And me? He leaves me to rot in the attic, knowing I cannot escape, waiting, binding his time until Evelyn’s spirit is completely broken and she is too mad to do anything other than what he asks of her.

 

19th September 1873

In the end, when all trust is gone and the only bond left unbroken is the one of true love between Evie and myself, he can take no more. Her question has become a mantra, she asks it every day.

“Where is Ash?”

She repeats it under her breath until he is driven to distraction by it and can wait no longer.

He stands in her doorway, watching her brush her now dull and lifeless hair, the question spoken with every stroke of the brush. He takes two long strides into the room and is by her side. His hand grasps her bone-thin wrist, his fingers overlapping further than they would have no more than a week ago, and pulls her emaciated and weakened body upright.

“You want to see your lover?” he taunts.

She turns vacant eyes on him, but a spark of life still burns hidden deep within her. It only serves to anger him further.

“Come then.”

She follows him, stumbling at the pace he expects her to keep and begins the climb to the door at the top of the attic steps. He teases her, waving the key in front of her face, but she has no energy to take it from him and he thrusts it into the keyhole himself, turning it with a flourish, a sneer across his face. He turns the knob and pushes open the door. Her eyes peer into the dark and then look back at him for reassurance that this is not some further cruel trick with which he intends to torture her.

“Go on,” he says, “Go be reunited with your – beloved.”

He has learnt from her incoherent dream babbling that this is my name for her and something stirs behind her eyes. She takes a tentative step over the threshold, waits to see what the consequences are and when nothing happens, takes another and another. He follows her in, crossing the wooden floor quickly and lighting an oil lamp on the desk where he keeps the book and dagger.

Immediately, I am revealed to her. My shadow, thrown up behind me by the flickering flame, moves as if with a life of its own and she cowers down, her arms over her face. When she peeps out and sees how I am chained, stripped naked and covered in long deep cuts that never heal, thanks to the properties of the metal that holds me captive, she gasps.

She stands and tiptoes towards me, her fingers stretch out to touch my face.

“Where is Ash?” she says.

“I’m here, beloved,” I reply, tears escaping from my eyes, unbidden.

A small sigh escapes her lips.

“Oh stop!” he sneers. “You were never there for her. All your sweet endearments were made under false pretences. Why don’t you show her what you really are?”

Evelyn’s eyes flick from one to the other of us. A frown creases her brow.

“DO IT,” he yells and in a flash the attic is filled with enormous black wings that reach from rafter to rafter.

Evelyn falls to her knees, her hands fly trembling to her mouth, tears make two rivers down her cheeks. Sebastian laughs at her.

“Well, now we’ve had the touching reunion,” his voice booms. “What say we get down to the real reason we’re all here?”

My stomach lurches. With Evie in this condition I know she is not capable of freeing us, but she may well be capable of damning me to Hell. I try to soothe her with my aura, but I am too weak to reach her and all I can do is pray as Sebastian begins chanting the ritual, drawing sigils around us in the air with the dagger and sealing us in a circle of his own blood. All the while Evie and I stand face to face. Our eyes locked on each other.

Sebastian thrusts the knife towards her.

“Kill him, Evelyn. All you have to do is plunge it into his heart and this will be over forever.”

She stares at the weapon in his hand and slowly takes it from him. Closing the short gap between us, she places the point of the dagger against my heart. I hold my breath, this is her choice, her own free will. If only Sebastian could be stopped from chanting the ritual. Her other hand caresses my cheek and I lean into it, savouring the last moment of tenderness between us. She reaches up on tiptoe, brushes my lips with her own and whispers in my ear.

“You could have told me the truth, beloved. It would have made no difference to the way I feel about you.”

We both close our eyes. I feel the point of the dagger leave my skin as she raises it above her head, preparing to kill me. I wait for it to fall against my chest, Sebastian’s chanting a continuous drone in the background. I wait, but the end never comes.

All I hear is the soft thump of Evie’s body as it falls to the floor and then Sebastian screaming. My eyes fly open and there is Evelyn. Dead by her own hand, the dagger plunged deep into her heart. With Evie gone the curse is broken for another lifetime. The shackles at my wrists fall open and I am free. For a moment I am frozen in place and then I flee, leaving Sebastian with Evie’s crumpled body.

*  *  *

When I return to the house later, I find that Sebastian has put Evie to bed. He is lying next to her, his wrists cut, the bed beneath them soaked in their mingling blood. Once again the book and dagger have vanished, another cycle is complete and another awaits beginning.

*  *  *

The words had blurred through Kate’s tears, but she couldn’t bring herself to hate Sebastian. His actions, disgusting as they were, had been born from his sense of duty towards caring for her after their parents had died and his love for her as her brother. It wasn’t his fault that the book and dagger had corrupted him so completely. Kate felt desperately sorry for them all, but most of all for Ash. He was the one burdened with guilt for all of it.

She went to find him. He had his back to her, still poring over her notes on the family tree. Kate could feel the tension in his muscles as she laid her hand on his shoulder. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and cleared his throat before speaking, then he retrieved a sheet of paper from beneath the others spread out in front of him and stabbed his finger at the name of her client’s four times great, grand-father.

“They share an ancestor in common,” he said, his eyes still cast down. “You haven’t filled out this branch yet.”

He picked up a pencil and wrote in the next two lines of the tree.

“I think you’ll find that he and his wife have two children with whom the line dies out. Evelyn,” he said. His voice lowered as he added, “and her brother.”

 

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Blackfeather Chapter 22

Kate’s chest tightened with dread as she read the last line. She identified strongly with Evelyn, hopeless romantic and head over heels in love with Ash, who she thought was going to rescue her from what had become a prison, to which her brother held the only key.

Sebastian seemed sinister, creepy, and possibly crazy. That he had loved his sister genuinely to begin with was clear, but the book and dagger had twisted that love into something hateful and disgusting. She pitied him rather than feared him. In an ideal world he would probably have welcomed Ash into the family as a suitor for his sister, but the world was far from ideal and Ash’s divine lineage made him Sebastian’s target, his sister the puppet he would use to gain eternal life and if previous lives were any indication, Sebastian would lose everything he held dear in the process. Kate bit her lip as she continued.

 

3rd September 1873

I am waiting in our usual place in the park. Evie will be here any moment. Summer is waning, it will be Autumn soon and the leaves will turn to myriad shades of russet and gold, matching the colours of Evie’s hair.

A small boy runs towards me, carrying a cream coloured envelope in one grubby hand.

“Are you Ash, mister?” he asks in a thick Liverpudlian accent.

I nod and he hands me the missive. He exits the park as quickly as he can. He is not wealthy enough to be here and if he is caught he will be arrested. I open the plain envelope and read the short letter inside. The handwriting is neat, confident, elegant, but it is not Evie’s.

My darling, I regret I am unable to meet you today, but have been given some wonderful news. Sebastian is going away on an extended business trip to London. He will be gone by this evening and I will send the maid home. Come to me after eleven tonight and we can be together.

Your Evelyn x

There are several things that give the letter away as fake. Firstly, I always call her beloved and she reciprocates in kind. Secondly, Sebastian would never leave her alone in the house where he would have no way of knowing what she did – he cannot bear to be apart from her for more than half a day at a time. And thirdly, she never calls herself Evelyn, it is always Evie. Only Sebastian uses her full given name. The last and most telling betrayal that this is Sebastian’s work is the invitation that serves as the lure. Evie would never consent to anything so vulgar as to have me in her bed before marriage. Aside from all that, I already know it is a trap, a trap into which I am obliged to walk.

*  *  *

At eleven pm precisely I tap three times on the door of number 47 Sefton Park Drive, with the lion-headed door-knocker. I needn’t have bothered as the door swings open of its own accord. The hall is in darkness, but with flawless angel-sight I can see regardless. I step over the threshold into the narrow hallway and continue up the stairs. At one of the doors I pause, I sense Evelyn, drugged into sleep in the room beyond. I want to go to her, but it will do no good, so I continue up the next flight of stairs to the top of the house. Here, a small door opens onto the attic. The steeply pitched roof falls down on either side and I have to stoop below the frame in order to enter.

At the far end of the room I see light and step closer. I am not surprised when the door slams shut behind me and a rough cloth bag is shoved over my head and I am shoved into the room, falling to my knees by the desk. I hear the clink and scrape of heavy chains dragged across the floor. Surely he can’t think to keep me here with something so crude?

Did I say I had not been naïve? I take it back. He takes no chances and the shackles are cuffed around my wrists one at a time and my arms are hauled upwards above my head. I feel the bite of the magickal metal. These are no ordinary chains.

I don’t know how he has come by them, but they are forged from a similar metal to the dagger, the Angel Killer. They will not kill me, but they will hold me. I am at Sebastian’s mercy and Evie is in a greater danger than ever before.

 

11th September 1873

A week has passed since Sebastian sprung his trap. He has taunted and tortured me, but always falls short of killing me – just. The worst torment is knowing that Evelyn knows nothing of my whereabouts. She goes to our meeting place daily and waits as long as she dares before returning home in despair. She cannot ask her brother to help her, she knows nothing of my movements when not with her, she is lost, alone, confused with Laudanum poisoning and begins to believe I have cruelly abandoned her.

Sebastian watches her every move.

He watches her sleep.

He watches her fall apart.

He has sent the maid away and when she asks for Bertie he tells her he has run away again and hasn’t come back. What he has really done with dog is too horrific to tell. When Evie weeps, he comforts her, when she falls sick, he ministers to her every need, waiting on her himself, bathing her fevered brow, holding the poisoned teacup to her lips, spoon feeding her laudanum laced broth. At last she is so weak and trusting of him that she finally answers the question he constantly asks her.

“What ails you my sister? Tell me how I can help.”

She tells him everything. Betrays our secret love to him and begs him to help her understand why I have left her. He lies to her, makes our love seem sordid and unnatural, tells her that if I truly loved her it would not have needed to be a secret, convinces her there was no need for us to hide from him and finally when she is mad with grief he promises her that he will never let anyone hurt her again, that he loves her more than anyone ever could and as she clings to him for comfort he tilts back her head and kisses her.

Confused, at first she allows it, but when he forces his tongue between her lips and into her mouth she recoils in horror.

“Sebastian, what are you doing?”

“Showing you I love you, Evelyn. Did he not kiss you in the same way?”

“But you’re my brother.”

It is more an accusation than a statement.

 

The simple, involuntary act of pulling the covers up to her chest as his eyes roam over her body makes him realise he will never win her love. He lashes out, hitting her across the face, an ugly purple welt spreads like a stain across her cheek and he launches himself at her, pinning her to the bed and forcing his weight on top of her. She tries to scream, but his hand covers her mouth.

I see all of this through Evelyn’s mind, but am helpless to do anything but cry her name. I don’t know if she hears me, but with the last bit of strength she has she sinks her teeth into Sebastian’s hand. His arm pulls back and his fist slams into her face. She falls back against the pillows, still conscious. I only wish she weren’t as he pushes aside the blankets and thrusts his hand beneath her nightdress. He pushes the white cotton shift up to her hips and probes between her legs, restricting her frantic wriggling with the weight of his body and gripping her slim wrists in his other hand.

“Lie still, sister. It will hurt less,” he snarls into her ear, kissing her neck and running the tip of his tongue along her jaw line.

As Evelyn whimpers, her pleas for him to stop ignored, he loosens his trousers and forces her legs apart with his body.

I have not dared try to make contact with her before, for fear of unbalancing her further, but now I am desperate. I am not sure I can reach her, the metal in the chains not only keeps me grounded here but dulls my other angelic senses.

“Evie,” I whisper into her mind as he rapes her. “I have not left you. I am always with you.”

When he has finished, he lies spent beside her shaking body and I repeat my words over and over, between sobs, to the empty attic. Evelyn’s mind is closed. I never know if I reached her before it broke.

*  *  *

Kate’s hand covered her mouth in shock. She wasn’t sure she hadn’t cried out, with Evelyn, at the violence her brother inflicted upon her. She knew Ash had sensed the strength of her emotion, but he hadn’t come to her, he had stayed away in the other room. Doing what, she didn’t know.

Of all of the previous lives she had read about so far this was by far the most shocking and now she knew why “especially Evelyn” had been forced into the German Officer’s mind. It was difficult to carry on reading, but if the answer to saving Ash and perhaps her own soul was hidden in the description of the past, then she had to continue. She swallowed and turned the page.

 

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