Authors: C. J. Valles
The Ever Series, Book 2
Copyright © 2012 by C. J. Valles
Follow C. J. on Twitter @CJValles_4ever
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work.
Books and Reading Order of The Ever Series
For Ever (The Ever Series, Book 1)
Never (The Ever Series, Book 2)
Sever (The Ever Series, Book 3)
Ever (The Ever Series, Alternate Point-of-View Companion to For Ever)
Dedicated to my baby brother whose wise words I will always carry with me
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tomb-stone—
Not one, all of a crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy
Spirits of the Dead
, Edgar Allan Poe
nearly drowned when I was ten. We were on a day trip to Orange County to a beach I had visited the summer before. The clouds were rolling in off the ocean, and it was cold, especially for Southern California. I didn’t care, though. I ran out to the water before my parents had even laid out our stuff, jumping up and over the first wave. Thrilled by the icy blast of water, I did this over and over, until I was exhausted. As I was about to get out, I turned, just in time to see a much bigger wave. For a few seconds, I thought I could float up and over it like the last one, until it suddenly picked me up and hurled me into the thrashing water, my back scraping against the sandy ocean bottom. The water held me under until I thought my lungs would burst. When I finally came up for a single breath, it was just in time to see another monster crashing over my head, stealing what air I had left.
I had taken what I thought was my last breath of air.
try to open my eyes, but it’s painful. I lie completely still, aware that it hurts to inhale—like I’ve had fire instead of air to breathe. After several more seconds of excruciating pain, I decide that sleep is best, and I let the darkness take me.
Over and over in my dreams, I see the same face. Glowing green eyes, exquisitely etched features, bronzed skin, all framed by a halo of golden honey-colored hair. I want to reach out and touch this perfect being, but I can’t. I’m rooted in place, and when I begin to struggle against the inertia, his expression changes, his eyes darkening with rage. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. Finally forcing my eyes open, I see cream-colored walls, exposed beams, and ancient furniture.
Ma pauvre, tu es sain et sauf
,” a voice whispers.
Attempting to sit up, I feel my muscles scream in protest. Then I blink, which causes my eyes to burn. It seems like I haven’t opened them in years. When someone raises a cup to my lips, I jerk so violently that I nearly fall over. A wrinkled hand grips my arm, and I look up into the eyes of an elderly woman perched on the edge of the bed that I’m still mostly tucked into. She smiles at me.
?” she says.
I blink at the realization that she’s speaking in French. Then, as I stare into her eyes, it dawns on me that I can search her thoughts. But I clearly don’t understand French very well, only bits and pieces. I can tell only that she’s concerned for me and wants to know if I’m okay, which is a good thing. A shiver runs through me.
Why can I read her mind
? And even more importantly, why can’t I remember … anything? I swallow and try not to look completely crazy. I need to speed things along—and figure out who I am and why I’m here, wherever here is.
?” I whisper.
“Of course! I am so sorry!” she says. “Yes, English.”
Afraid to ask who I am, which would sound beyond crazy, I go with the next most logical inquiry I can think of.
“What happened to me?”
“You had an accident, and Alexandre, he brought you here—”
“Alexandre?” I croak in a poor imitation of the French pronunciation.
Tu ne te souviens pas
?” she mumbles, almost to herself.
No! I have absolutely no freaking souvenir of an
! And I have no idea how I got here. I let it go, though, because I need to figure out who I am, what’s going on, where I am, and how I got here—before I have the insane freak out I’m on the verge of having. The old woman rises from the bed and pulls back the covers, offering me a surprisingly strong hand to steady myself with. This is good, particularly since my legs nearly fail as soon as my feet touch the worn hardwood floor.
Viens avec moi, petite
! I have drawn you a bath. And after you will have something to eat, I think,” she says.
Wondering whether I can outrun this ancient woman while I’m feeling so weak, I briefly debate trying to escape. Then I glance down at the ridiculous floor-length white nightgown I’m wearing. Besides, I still have no idea where I am, so I may as well figure that out before I start running around in someone else’s pajamas.
“I am Edith Rousseau,” she says, pronouncing her first name with a hard
sound rather than the American
Following her down a cavernous hallway, I’m struck by a vision of Hansel and Gretel from the Grimm fairy tale, the two children being lured into the candy cottage by the old witch. But the instant the image enters my mind, I feel bad for thinking so poorly of this woman with her vibrant blue eyes, snow-white hair coiled into a neat bun, and her cool, papery skin. She turns back and smiles at me as she opens the door to another room. I recognize in that instant how beautiful she must have been once. When she beckons, I peer past her and see a large and surprisingly modern bathroom. There’s a fluffy towel and some folded clothing sitting near the edge of a sumptuous, claw-footed tub brimming with bubbles. I stare in awe until my caretaker nudges me into the room and shuts the door quietly after me.
Stripping off the nightgown, I walk tentatively to the edge and dip my hand into the water. It’s hot, and I lose all reservation. Stepping in, I hold the edges and lower myself into the delicious warmth until I’m completely submerged. Only when my lungs are ready to burst do I break the surface and reach for the soap.
The water soothes my muscles, and there’s a large glass on a table at the edge of the tub. I’m so thirsty that I reach for it without caring what’s in it. I drain the sickly sweet liquid, and that’s when I discover that I could drink ten more glasses and still feel thirsty.
Setting the glass on the floor, I pour some pleasant-scented shampoo into my hair before scrubbing my entire body until my skin is pink. Then I let the tub drain and turn on the hot water, rinsing off the soap and shampoo before stepping out and picking up the towel. On the counter I find a package, like the ones at nice hotels—only this one has everything. Lotion, a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and every other toiletry essential that I can think of. The clothing is new—black slip-on shoes, underwear, a cream blouse, and a black knee-length skirt, even a bra. All of it fits, which causes a shock of unease to course through me when I remember that some stranger brought me here.
Sitting on the edge of the tub, I clear my mind and try to remember something from my life from before I woke up. For an instant, I grasp the familiar vision of a woman smiling, her blue eyes crinkling as she says a name—my name!
My mom! How could I have forgotten her? I struggle to recapture other pieces of my life, but it’s all stubbornly just out of my reach. My eyes narrow, and I realize that I have to find out who brought me here. Standing, I clean up the bathroom and then open the door a crack, peering down the empty corridor. I step out and walk carefully down the hallway. As I pass a gilded mirror on the wall, I stare mutely at my reflection and then recoil, overwhelmed by a memory of a disembodied hand reaching from the darkness toward me.
My pulse throbs in my ears, and I hurry away from my image, instinctively following the mouthwatering smell of food. I weave my way down a stone staircase and through room after room, each one looking like it could belong in a medieval castle. When I reach the kitchen, the modern appliances starkly contrast with the stone walls and ancient hearth. Edith Rousseau turns and clucks at me.
! There you are!” she says in her heavily accented English. “You sit.”
On the unfinished wooden table there’s a crusty loaf of bread, a steaming bowl of soup, several hard-boiled eggs, and a bowl of strawberries and cream. My stomach growls, and I have to restrain myself from running to the table and devouring everything in sight.
!” she urges, pointing at the table.
Without further hesitation, I sit down on a wooden chair and tear off a piece of bread, unable to get it into my mouth fast enough. I pick up a cream-covered strawberry and pop it into my mouth next. Dipping another piece of bread into the hot soup, I devour it before peeling an egg and taking a bite. I can’t remember having food this good—but I guess that doesn’t mean much since I can’t remember
. After a few minutes, I’ve eaten myself senseless. Embarrassed, I look up at my hostess, and she smiles before taking a sip from her teacup.
“Madame Rousseau …”
!” she scolds.
. Thank you,” I say, feeling weirdly emotional to have some stranger taking such good care of me.
I’m about to ask her about my mother—and where I am—when she nods toward a door across the room that looks like it leads outside.
“Alexandre … he is waiting for you.”
My stomach flips, and I’m instantly terrified. Without knowing anything about my life, I remember that I’m not supposed to be here, wherever here is. Standing, I walk toward the door, wishing that I could stay in the nice, warm kitchen with my elderly French caretaker. I can’t, though. I need answers, and maybe whoever is waiting outside can give them to me.
I’m still shaky, but as soon as I step outside, I forget everything else and look around the lovely garden with its bright pink, orange, and purple flowers just beginning to bud. Even more stunning is the village in the distance, set afire by the rising sun. A bell begins to chime, reminding me that time is in fact moving forward.
I walk across the dewy grass as the sun’s rays stretch toward me, and up ahead I see what looks like a stone pool. Next to it, standing facing the view below, is a tall man, his coppery hair blazing in the burgeoning light. As quietly as I can, I walk toward him, not sure what I’m going to do. Is there any chance I can overpower him? I wonder. I look for an object I can use for a weapon if necessary. No luck. My blood pounds in my ears as I creep closer.
Then, when I’m still a few feet from him, he seems to sense my presence and turns slowly. I stumble to a stop, mesmerized by the glow of his deep blue eyes. He is unnaturally flawless, but even more beautiful when he smiles at me.
“Sleeping Beauty awakens from her sleep of a thousand years.”
I continue staring at him, even more unsettled by his allusion. Was I asleep for a thousand years? I can almost imagine it. Standing up straighter, I take a deep breath to clear my head.
“Look. I don’t remember much, but I know I’m not supposed to be here.”
When he turns back to the view, I frown.
“That’s it. Tell me right now—who are you, what happened to me, and why the hell can’t I remember anything—or I’m going to ask Edith to call the police.”
“She is a sweet old woman,
? And truly, I wish you the best of luck with the French police.”
He smiles as though he’s just won, and now I’m angry. But I’m also cold. I shiver and look down at the goose bumps on my arms. Without warning, the stranger turns and steps toward me very quickly. He touches my hand, and it sends a burst of scorching electricity—and terror—through my bloodstream. I yank back and stare at him.
“You can call me Alex, and I’ve brought you here because I have an offer to make.”
I shake my head and look down at my hand.
“I don’t understand,” I mumble, feeling my skin begin to warm.
Looking up at him, I flinch at the black abyss that has replaced the blue of his eyes. The mental fog clouding my thoughts begins to evaporate, and suddenly faces and names, places, images all begin to flood my mind. I remember exactly who and what—a freak that can prowl around in people’s heads—I am. More importantly, I remember the person standing in front of me.
!” I hiss, stumbling away from him toward the glassy surface of the pool. “Iago.”
His expression ripples slightly.
“Is that what Ever claims I call myself? It is a name others have called me, but it is not the name I have chosen,” he says.
I stand there woodenly, trying to absorb reality. I’ve had this feeling before. Right after waking from a really bad nightmare, the moment after opening my eyes, when for a few seconds I was still there—in the dream, but awake. I’ve just remembered my nightmare, and it turns out I’m still in it. I don’t even have enough time to be grateful that I’m not dead. Instead, I’m floored by the miserable realization that Ever did not come for me at the last second like he said he would. He left me to step through the looking glass alone.
. Why had he abandoned me? Then it comes crashing down on me. Because I told him to. To save my friend Ashley when Iago kidnapped her to get me
. I had thought that giving myself up would save everyone I know from the consequences of my choice to be with Ever.
“What now?” I ask dully. “I’m here. You haven’t killed me yet.
? What the hell do you want? A date to the prom?”
The superior expression that I thought was a permanent fixture of his features falls away, and for an instant my kidnapper looks hesitant, almost nervous. This scares me more than anything else.
“Can you imagine losing everything you care about over and over? Being cursed to live out forever and having no one to share it with?” he asks, sounding regretful.
The last thing I can remember before waking up here was the thought that I might
exist very much longer.
“No. I can’t. But
’m not going to live forever …”
As angry as I am, I stop short of mentioning the fact that Alex, Iago—whatever this beautiful, terrible creature chooses to call himself—probably deserves an eternity of loneliness. I’m vulnerable, alone, and not dumb enough to test the limits of someone who might decide in a millisecond that my life is no longer worth whatever he thought it was. He nods like he’s agreeing with me over my short lifespan. This sends another spike of dread through me. I am a mouse being batted around by a cat that hasn’t decided yet whether it’s going to kill me.