Black Fallen (Dark Ink Chronicles #4)

5,502
05.03.2019

Andi stared at him, breathless, and for the first time, unable to speak.

Tristan, on the other hand, had no trouble at all.

“I love you. I vow you feel powerfully fair in my arms.”

She tried to make her mouth move, but nothing came forth. Her tear ducts, on the other hand, worked just fine. Tears slid down her face. She lifted a hand and hesitantly touched first his cheek, traced his eyebrows, then ran her fingers through his hair. The sensation nearly made him drop her. She looked back up and still found her tongue lacking the muscle to speak. Tristan found better uses for it.

He stared down at the woman in his arms. His woman. Her warmth spread across his bare chest, making his muscles quiver. Her trembling rocked him to the bone, even as he held her tight. He had dreamed of this moment for what seemed like eternity, and never did he believe it could possibly ever happen.

And yet he felt the weighty proof in his arms.

He searched her face with his eyes, not wanting to miss a single line, a single freckle—wanting to miss nothing. His own hand shook as he took off his glove with his teeth and set it aside. Lifting his hand to her cheek, he grazed it with the back of his knuckles. He tried to speak again, but found a solid lump in his throat, robbing his breath. He swallowed past it. “Damnation, Andrea, you’re powerfully soft.” He drew a deep breath, and his words flowed out on the exhale. “I vow I could hold you here and stare at your beautiful face for the rest of my days.”

He watched tear after tear slide down her cheek as she stared up at him with those warm hazel eyes. He could wait no more. He bent his head close, his gaze trained on hers as his mouth settled comfortably over quivering lips. So warm and soft, he found himself craving more. He brushed his lips across hers several times, then with strained control, deepened the kiss. When her hand grasped the back of his neck and pulled him closer, it sent him over the edge. He tasted her, deeper and deeper, swallowing her gasp of surprise.

Tristan lifted his head from Andi’s but didn’t break eye contact. Their lips were a whisper apart, and he could do nothing save stare and thank God and the saints above he had been given such a gift. His breathing panted with the effort of having to maintain control. He wanted her so badly, his insides shook. Suddenly, a loud snort sounded in the bailey. Only when a brave soul tapped him on the shoulder did he remember where he was and who was about.

Tristan turned and glared at the snorter.

His entire garrison formed a half circle around him.

Tristan smiled down at Andi and set her back on the ground. He kept his arm tightly about her shoulder. She teetered a bit, and he gripped her tighter still. She stood, staring, eyes wide. Her lips moved and something came out, but, damn him, he couldn’t understand a word. Saints, but he missed his uncanny hearing ability.

Lowering his head, he leaned toward her mouth. Her warm breath caressed his ear and neck, and he all but hit the floor from the impact of it. Shaking his head, he focused on her words.

Her question floated out on a whisper. “How?”

With a smile, he tapped her nose. “Nay, love. We’ve got time for questions such as that later.” His grin widened. “I have another question for you, and by the saints, I must ask it now before my nerve deserts me.”

Her gaze remained fixed on his, following him all the way down as he knelt on bended knee. He cleared his throat and grasped Andi’s hand, unsure if the trembling came from hers or his own. More likely than not, ’twas both.

“Andrea Kinley Monroe.” His voice came out hoarse and scratchy. He hoped she didn’t care. “I beg you, wed me. I vow you’ll not regret it.”

He watched several more tears streak her reddened cheeks. A smile began in the corners of her mouth and crept into her eyes.

“Yes.” So soft, he could barely hear her at first, but then she threw her arms about his neck and squeezed. “Yes! I’ll marry you!”

Whistles and bellowing cheers from his knights erupted across the bailey, drifting on a North Sea breeze. Tristan looked into his love’s eyes and smiled, then stopped whatever words were about to make their escape from her lovely mouth. He, without a doubt in his medieval mind, kissed her good and sound, leaving no question as to how much he loved her.

And would do the like. Forever.

My vision clears and alights on Tristan’s handsome face. I smile. “Oh, wow,” I say. “Now, that’s romantic, for sure. So your now wife read the verse that undid the curse and set you and your knights free. Then once you materialized into human form you killed your murderer, and he turned into a big pile of grossness.” I punch the big knight in his arm. “Quite a story, Dreadmoor.”

Tristan’s sapphire blue eyes twinkle in the light of Bene’s streetlamp. “Aye, for a certainty.” His stare is intense. “And do not ever forget that, no matter how bleak something may appear, there is always hope.” He smiles. “Even hope in the most abnormal of times.”

I give him a nod and a smile of understanding. “I will.”

With four large white plastic bags filled with batter-fried haddock, chips, and several meat pies that all smell heavenly, Tristan and I step out onto Canongate and into a misty Edinburgh night. A couple passes us at the entrance, and the woman, dressed in a pair of dark tights, a brown wool miniskirt, and a wool hat, meets my gaze.

I’d already banked her features to memory.

She quickly looks away.

“What is it?” Tristan asks as we cross the street. I glance over my shoulder. The woman is staring at me through Bene’s open doorway.

“That woman,” I answer. “She’s the woman who led the walking tour earlier.”

“Ms. Poe, we passed at least three walking tours,” Tristan says. “What bothers you?”

We move past Tolbooth Tavern and into the archway of the wynd. I turn and glance back. The woman and man are both gone. “I don’t know,” I answer. “Something about the way she looks at me.”

“Well you are a striking girl,” Tristan answers. “Might it just be that simple?”

I give a short laugh as we near the Crescent’s gates. “I seriously doubt that.”

We walk through the gates, and the moment we clear them they begin to close. Gravel crunches beneath our boots as we cross the courtyard, that ever-present and eerie angel in the fountain spurting water. Inside, the others are waiting for us in what Gabriel calls the common room. It sort of reminds me of Julian Arcos’s great hall, with a large fireplace taking up most of one wall, and several chairs, a sofa, and a large center table. On the walls, shelves of ancient-looking books. In the corner, an enormous desk with several volumes of . . . something opened. Sydney sits there, her head bowed over one of them.

I find Eli, walk over to him. I peel out of my long overcoat, unstrap my sword, and set them both aside, then plop down on the floor in front of him. Grabbing one of the containers from Bene’s, I open it and dig in to a slab of haddock. Bene had already drowned them and the chips with vinegar and brown stuff. I can barely shovel it in fast enough. I glance over at Tristan. He’s doing the same thing. Gawan and Lucian both have a container in their laps, too. Jake stands near the hearth with Darius, and he turns to address the team.

“Riley, I’ve updated everyone on what happened at St. Giles’,” Jake says. “Conwyk has a theory.”

I glance at Gawan, and he nods. “Aye,” he says. “Riley, tell me exactly what happened.”

I finish chewing. “This kid, he was screaming, acting freaking crazy on the street, kicking over trash bins, and scaring people. He was holding his head as if it seriously hurt him. I . . . guess I sensed something was up. I grabbed his hands and we were suddenly in an alternate Edinburgh.” I took a long pull on my Coke. “I guess I thought to drag the kid into the cathedral because he reeked of death. His eyes”—I recall it in my memory—“they weren’t his. His voice, either. And I figured the cathedral was sanctuary. When we got inside, though, the church was all dilapidated and run-down. Abandoned.” I shake my head. “Weird.”

Gawan glances first at Tristan, then at Gabriel. “Sounds like the Fallen have initiated a few henchmen from the other side.”

“Rather, henchsouls,” says Darius. He runs his hand through his dark auburn hair, now hanging loose about his shoulders. He glances at me with his piercing gaze. “You killed it.”

“I killed it,” I repeat. “Don’t know how, or what made me think to drown it out in that puddle, but something lured me there. The moment that . . . thing inside Ian saw itself in the puddle, in it went. Trapped.” I make the sound effect of an explosion. “But for a second, before it popped and turned into some oil-like substance, it looked at me. And it seemed, I don’t know, regretful. Or something.” I shrug and continue eating.

“You didna kill a demon,” Gawan said, and in his soft brown eyes I see pain. “You killed an Earthbound.”

I swallow, glance at Jake, Darius, and then back to Gawan. “An Earthbound what?”

Gawan’s jaw muscles flex. “Angel.”

My heart stops.

“That thing inside of Ian? It was no angel, Gawan. It was evil. Evil as Hell. All except for that one split second.”

Gawan nods. The firelight from the hearth flickers shadows over his face. “The Fallen use a curse to change them, which the Earthbounds can’t stop. The spells of the Seiagh are too powerful, and the Fallen have saved several to memory. The Fallen trap unsuspecting Earthbounds and use them for their own devices. But you didna kill it. You just sent it to a horrible place.”

A lump forms in my chest. “Is there any way to retrieve the Earthbound from wherever I sent them?”

“Yes,” Sydney interrupts from her place at the desk. She turns and looks at me. “You have to go in after them.”

I immediately feel Eli tense up behind me.

“Can beings other than Earthbounds be sent to that place?” I ask.

Gawan nods. “Aye.”