Is one normal date too much to ask for?

Another Knight of the Light crashes my first official date with Emma, bleeding, battletorn, and bearing a message.

One of our own is dead, and the Order of the Dark has returned.

After decades of lying wait in the shadows, the Tenebrae are preparing to open the gates to hell with powerful magic we’ve never seen before.

Emma is ready to charge back into battle, but I want to leave that life behind us. We’ve survived by the skin of our teeth, and I feel our luck is running out.

Not only is fate dragging us back into the fray, but our pasts are more intertwined than we could have imagined.

With all five orders playing for power, they are all more determined than ever to control Emma and me. And they know the only way to do that is by tearing us apart.

Tear in the World Chapter 1-3

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Read an excerpt of Holly Roberds Tear in the World paranormal Romance. Book 3 in the Five Orders Series.

Chapter One

Staring at the menu, I pretended to read and Emma played along like she didn’t know I was illiterate. I lowered the menu so I could catch another look at my date. My heart pounded and my mouth watered. Emma wore a gold dress and matching metallic heels. The shimmery material brought out the highlights in her curled, honey-wheat hair, and the golden flecks in her brown eyes. The woman was sunshine and temptation rolled into long legs and a radiant smile.

“This is nice,” Emma said, trying to catch my gaze with an encouraging smile. Her face inherently carried a mixture of intelligence and compassion, which shone through her beautiful brown eyes.

I swallowed hard. This was my first-ever date, and apparently for a twenty-six-year-old male, this was unusual. What Emma’s best friend, Krystan, had actually said was, “It’s fucking ridiculous no one has tried to bag your tight ass, stud muffin.”

I was still getting used to eating with other people. Growing up in Temple, Chevaliers weren’t allowed to take meals with anyone else, not even other Chevalier. But I was no longer a Knight of the Light. I was a regular, normal person, like anyone else in this restaurant.

Judging by the shininess of Emma’s outfit, I’d guess Krystan’d had a hand in dressing her. I could not complain. Even in the low light, Emma shone like a star. There was a dusting of gold on her eyelids as well, making her already supernaturally beautiful face glow. Somehow, she looked both like an angel and a temptress.

Setting the menu down, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my dark blue slacks. The Italian restaurant was filled with amazing smells, but I didn’t know what any of them were. For my whole life, my body had been built on sustenance meant to keep me in prime fighting condition, but I wanted to try whatever had this dimly lit restaurant smelling so sinful.

I wasn’t going to be fighting the forces of darkness anymore, so it was no longer necessary to treat my body as a temple of strength. I was learning meals could also be about pleasure. And it was no longer necessary to get up with the dawn of every morning to train and hone my strength and agility. I still did, though. I was finding some habits harder to break than I’d anticipated.

“This restaurant is great. Solid choice,” Emma said, her hands tucked in her lap.

“Thank you,” I said. My words sounded stiff. My whole body was stiff; I was afraid to make the wrong move.

“I like your dress.” It was the third time I’d said it, but every time I opened my mouth I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

She gave me a hesitant smile.

Normal normal normal, I chanted. Then I stopped myself, realizing chanting was an old habit, too.

“Where did you find a suit to fit those broad shoulders?” Her eyes locked onto me, and as always, I felt utterly transparent.

“It’s a rental,” I said. “They did have a difficult time finding something my size, but the man who fitted me was quite helpful.”

She hid a smile behind her menu, and though I knew she wasn’t making fun of me, I became anxious. As if sensing my discomfort, her amber eyes flew up to mine. “I just mean, Mrs. Rits told me what happened.”

Thank the gods for Krystan’s grandmother, Mrs. Rits. The old woman was nice enough to explain the general concept of dating to me, help pick out a restaurant, and take me to get dressed appropriately.

 “Respect, manners, and attention,” Mrs. Rits explained to me, her voice warbling with age. “That’s what women want. You give her those things, and you will be just fine, dear.” She patted my hand as she led me into the clothing store, and added, “Of course, if it doesn’t work out with her, you know I am always just down the hall and up for a good romp any old time. This body may be old, but these hips are practically brand new, thanks to Dr. Greenbaum.”

I’d forced a smile and nodded, trying not to picture in my head what she was suggesting. The resemblance to her granddaughter, Krystan, was striking at times. And she was serious about the just-down-the-hall comment. We were all staying with Mrs. Rits for the time being.

I paused before asking Emma what she meant about what Mrs. Rits told her. “What happened?”

Emma suddenly looked as though she’d been caught picking a forbidden apple. She shrugged her shoulders in what looked like an attempt to relax herself. “Well, she mentioned the employee who helped was quite taken with you.”

My brow furrowed. “What did he take from me?” I didn’t remember taking anything of value in there yesterday, but the man did have his hands on me quite a bit to get me properly fitted.

Emma’s cheeks flushed, and she laughed nervously. “No, he didn’t take anything from you. He thought you were hot. Mrs. Rits said when you walked in, the salesclerk nearly had a heart attack. He couldn’t keep his eyes or his hands off you because you, of course, look like some Greek god come to life, or some ridiculously handsome action hero.”

Before I could respond, the waiter approached us. In his early twenties, he had a full mustache which twisted up at either end. He reeked of sandalwood, and wore suspenders and a bowtie with tiny dogs stitched into it.

Was I dressed incorrectly? Should I have dressed like him?

“Did you have any questions?” he asked, his eyes glued to Emma’s plunging neckline.

The way he stared at her flared up something primal inside me, making me want to put myself between his overly familiar gaze and her. But normal people didn’t resort to aggression so quickly. Instead, I said as casually as I could manage, “What is it that smells so wonderful in here?”

His small eyes flattened when he turned to me, as if suddenly bored. “Pretty much everything, sir.” Then fixed his eyes back on Emma. At least he leered at her eyes this time. “Everything here is a secret family recipe, made from scratch.”

The polite smile she gave him didn’t reach her eyes, but when she looked at me, they warmed and softened. “You should try the chicken alfredo, baby.” She reached across and laid her hand on mine. My stomach flip-flopped at her inviting touch and it was suddenly hard to breathe. I was a warrior who had destroyed a soul eater, demons, and malevolent spirits, yet this woman tripped up my nerves with heat and lust I’d never known.

Taking my goofy smile for assent, she added, “Make that two, and a couple glasses of your house white.”

Still focused on the warmth of Emma’s soft hand, my heart pounded against my rib cage. I didn’t mind her leading one bit. She’d already introduced me to this unbelievably amazing food called pizza. I trusted her implicitly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the waiter giving her another earnest grin as he collected our menus and left. Emma pulled her hand away as soon as he was gone, and I squashed the impulse to reach out and grab it again. Her touch incited a number of memories of us writhing against each other with little to no clothing on, tasting and groping each other with desperation.

“Hipster douche,” Emma said under her breath, watching the waiter cross back to the kitchen.

I wanted to ask what either of those things were, but instead, I politely smiled in response. My mind still circled around her calling me “baby.”

We’d not completed the carnal act, but we’d come close on many occasions. Something had always interfered, like my believing I had no soul, the fate of the world being at stake, or more recently, because I actually had my soul stripped from me. The thought of ending the night with finally making love to the woman who was my whole world both excited me and caused my brow to break into a sweat. Even if she’d dated a number of men, at least I knew it would be a first time for both of us. Krystan assured me Emma had been on plenty of dates in her life. I pushed away thoughts of her being on dates with other men. Thinking about it left something wriggling in my gut, making me uneasy and feeling kind of sick.

I tried to relax my shoulders, but I still felt fear and guilt churning inside my gut. I’d done plenty wrong the last several months when I’d had no soul. Aggressively advancing on Emma every chance I had. I’d abandoned our friends when they were in danger, simply because it was inconvenient to stay and save them. Thank god they’d lived. I cringed to think of what I had been. But Emma saved me. Returned my soul to me, and I intended to prove to Emma, and myself, that that version of myself was in the past.

My reverie gave way to an awkward silence.

Emma chewed on her bottom lip, provoking thoughts of tasting her petal-pink mouth, then down her delicate neck, her milky-white torso, and into the sweet, soft flesh between her legs. The way her gold dress plunged down between her breasts, so I could see the beginning of their swell on either side, didn’t help either. I shifted in my seat, my pants becoming exceedingly tight over my lap.

“Are you okay?” Emma stared at me with worry.

Coming back to reality, I quickly nodded.

She leaned in, causing the fabric of her dress to dangle further away from her chest but still not exposing her. Emma rested her chin in her hand and spoke in a low tone so only I could hear her words. “Are you thinking about the Tear, too? I know we are supposed to try and get back to a normal life”—her eyes darted away nervously—“Or in your case, try it out for the first time. But I can’t stop thinking about how long that magical Band-Aid you and the other Chevaliers put over the dimensional Tear will last.”

That cooled me quicker than a bucket of ice water. I leaned back in my chair, and a sour taste flooded my mouth. I didn’t want to think about those things anymore.

When I walked through the doors of Luiggi’s almost fifteen minutes ago, I had told myself today was the day I was going to leave behind my past, where I’d come from, and what I’d been. I was no longer a Knight of the Light, no longer needed to use my powers to fight the forces of darkness; I was just plain old Calan on a date with a stunning woman who I’d loved since the moment I set eyes on her. So whether or not the gate to hell was open was no longer my concern.

“I mean”—her fingers curled around the edge of the table—“What if something has happened, and right now evil creatures from the Stygian are crossing over as we speak? Possessing or killing people, and we’re just sitting here, eating and talking like nothing’s happening? We know the Luxis can’t be trusted, yet we left them to the task of guarding the gate to hell, yet again.”

I looked down at my hands folded in my lap, trying to stave off the wave of disappointment that overcame me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice softening. “I can sense I’ve made you sad.” I didn’t know if she picked up my letdown from looking at me, or by using our psychic connection that allowed us to sense each other’s intense emotions.

“I wanted—” My voice broke, so I cleared my throat and tried again. “I was hoping to give you a nice, normal date.” I desperately wanted this to be our life now, but apparently, my attempt at normal wasn’t enough to erase the supernatural from her mind.

She didn’t reply for a moment. “Calan, I can’t pretend none of it happened. The last two years, finding out I am the Propheros, chosen to defeat the darkness, being plunged into the underground world of secret Orders and a hell dimension, is what brought us together. No one else could understand what I’ve been through, but you. It’s not a bad thing to talk about what’s happened.”

I reached across and grabbed her hand in mine, managing to bring my eyes up to hers. My yearning was so intense, I worried about overwhelming her, but I couldn’t help it. “I don’t want to live in the past, Emma. I want to leave it all behind and start our future.”

She gave my hand a squeeze before releasing me and slumping back in her seat. “I guess I can’t be as excited about the future when all morning I was on craigslist applying for jobs as a salesclerk, or to work at a liquor store again. Did you know a lot of the liquor stores in Denver won’t hire females?” She crossed her arms and pouted. “Sexist bastards. Little do they know, I could probably kill any of them with my pinky.”

A stab of guilt sliced through me. Seven months ago, the Order of Luxis had taken my soul and left me behind, but they had taken Emma with them. They tortured and trained her to be their brainwashed soldier, then sent her to kill me. It still killed me that I hadn’t been able to protect her from the manipulative Order that had raised me.

“I love you,” she said. She slumped even farther in her chair, arms still crossed and an apology in her voice.

My words came out roughened with emotion. “I love you, too.”

“Here is your wine,” the waiter said, seeming all too happy to interrupt us. He set down the two glasses of pale-yellow liquid. An astringent scent floated up from the glass to my nostrils. In the time I’d lost my soul, I’d finally tried alcohol for the first time. I’d taken a hard labor job at a factory, and wanting to fit in I went out for drinks with the guys after work. Cheap burning whiskey did not agree with my stomach and I’d immediately thrown it up. After that, I stuck to sipping off light beers for appearances’ sake, never finishing a bottle.

This would be my first glass of wine, and from Emma’s sly smile, she knew exactly what she was doing. She took literal pleasure in giving me new things to try. Pizza had been a near-orgasmic experience, and because of our psychic biofeedback link, it had been for Emma as well. I gave her a look, telling her I knew what she was up to. She straightened in her chair with an impish grin and took a sip of her own wine. A shudder of pleasure echoed through my body from her brief taste. My thoughts turned to ways I could intensify her pleasure by taking my own brief taste. Instead, I picked up the wine.

As I drew the glass to my lips, a flash of light shined into my eyes, blinding me for a moment. I blinked it off, attributing it to something reflective nearby. About to take a sip, it happened again, a succession of three flashes straight into my eyes. My stomach dropped, and I lowered the wine to the table.

“Don’t be a ‘fraidy cat,” Emma taunted, good-naturedly.

I glanced at the hallway leading to the restrooms, just in time to see a hand retract with a small mirror. I was being called.

“Would you excuse me a moment?” I asked Emma. She nodded but looked baffled as I left the table.

It was difficult navigating between the small tables with my large frame taking up so much space, but I managed not to knock into anyone, until I rounded the hallway corner. I bumped right into Heelion, another Knight of the Light. Blood gushed from a wound in his head, red splattered all over his clothes.

“Help us, brother,” he barely managed to get out before dropping into my arms, unconscious.

Chapter Two

Calan had been gone for less than five minutes, but I couldn’t help feeling something was wrong. Like a sickness in the air, the feeling of disease swirled around me until I could barely think.

I squirmed in my chair, looking off in the direction Calan had disappeared. Delicious cheesy steam swirled up and off our fettucine dishes, which arrived right after he’d left. Thank god our hipster waiter was tied up at another table and hadn’t been the one to drop off the food. I sat on my hands, determined to wait until Calan came back. My stomach growled, having only wine to churn around. I’d forgotten to eat lunch again.

Even with my pangs of hunger, I couldn’t forget the way Calan tensed before he excused himself.

What was I going to do, though? Walk into the men’s room and ask if he was okay?

That’s exactly what you’re going to do.

No, I firmly countered my irrational inner voice. That was insane, and if he was in there doing… restroom activities, I was sure he’d die of embarrassment if I walked in on him. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well.

Despite my rationalizations, I stood, telling myself I would just pop in the ladies’ room to freshen up. No, never mind, it was situated next to the men’s room. Nope. Just going to reapply some lip gloss and check my eyeliner to make sure it hadn’t melted down my face. Totally normal.

I slowed in the hallway to the restrooms. It was already dimly lit in the restaurant, but back here it was practically engulfed in darkness, save a small glowing lamp on an end table separating the women’s and men’s rooms. The ornate, burgundy wallpaper added to the lulling warmth of the intimate restaurant, which would usually make me drowsy, but instead I was hyper-focused.

Suddenly, I noticed each pale red petal of the flowers on the wallpaper and every chip in the wood paneling covering the bottom half of the walls. I smelled red sauce, pesto, and fresh baked bread. But I also smelled perfume, sweat from the workers in the kitchen, and the fresh flowers from the vases set on each bistro table.

Normally, when I was talking to someone or trying to get a read on them, they opened up to me like a chapter in a book. I could plainly read their motivations, their desires, and character. More and more, I called up this ability as it was needed, but now, without even trying, the hallway had opened up to me in the same way a person did.

How I noticed the red smear by the door to the men’s room, I couldn’t explain. And less understandable, I knew it was blood because of the dirty penny smell that wafted off it to where I stood. Compelled by a force within me, I veered to the men’s room.

Walking into the better lit bathroom, I was thankful no one was standing at the urinals. Only the handicap stall door was shut. I ducked my head down and spotted two pairs of shoes in the stall, one of them Calan’s fancy rented black dress shoes, and the other pair combat boots. Something red dripped onto one of the boots with a loud splat that echoed in the tiled room. The smell of blood smacked my senses.

“Calan.” I hurried forward to knock on the stall. “Are you okay?”

The lock clicked open and a hand yanked me in before Calan swiftly closed the door. The stall was generously large, easily fitting a third person. Calan’s blue eyes were stormy and grave, his mouth tight with stress. Then I saw what was keeping him.

“Oh god,” I gasped, my hands covering my mouth. “Heelion.”

The man’s normally sharp, pale-green eyes rolled around in his head as he fought to stay conscious where he sat on the toilet. His brown skin looked ghastly pale. Calan held wads of toilet paper against Heelion’s head, but blood soaked through the cheap, rough paper too quickly.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” I insisted.

Heelion managed to shake his head. “No, there’s no time.” His words were slurred, and I wondered if he had a concussion. “You…” He looked earnestly at Calan but struggled to get any words out. “You must go to the Tear, with me. We were ambushed. Vico is still fighting them off. The Luxis needs your help.”

Calan’s face twisted into further distress at the mention of the Order of Luxis, but my heart jumped in my chest. “Who? Who ambushed you?” I demanded.

Calan looked down at Heelion intently, also waiting for an answer.

Heelion’s mouth flapped open and shut, like a fish out of water. I worried the words wouldn’t come.

“Dark. The dark.” His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he lost consciousness. I leapt forward to help Calan keep him from falling to the floor.

Calan’s eyes met mine over Heelion’s bleeding head. Anxiety, fear, and disappointment swirled along his facial expressions.

“You have to go,” I said. “I’ll take care of Heelion.”

“This could be a trick by the Luxis…” he started, but I cut him off.

“They are asking for your help, Calan, and your brother needs you. They haven’t seemed interested in capturing or killing us since we helped temporarily close the Tear. Go.”

Calan gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, as if he couldn’t believe this was happening. I managed to extract a hand from holding up Heelion to touch Calan’s arm.

“There is plenty of time for us,” I reassured him. I yearned to go with him, but I knew how important his brothers were to him. Calan may have renounced the Order of Luxis for raising him on a steady diet of manipulation and lies, but he still considered the other Chevaliers his family.

Calan shut his eyes with a sigh. He transferred the full weight of Heelion to me before turning around to face a stall wall. He held up his hands in a box shape, and they instantly lit up. When we first met, he would have to concentrate and chant to invoke his powers. Calan told me, after he fell for me, his power became rooted in his absolute love for me, making him more powerful than he ever thought possible.

The tile wall opened up into a portal revealing the dark forest of Smoky Badger. Walking through a portal was a lot faster than the three-hour drive. Cold air rushed from the portal, causing goosebumps to raise all over my body.

Glimpsing into the Colorado town I’d once considered home, a wave of bittersweet nostalgia clamped around my chest. I’d always wanted to escape the dinky mountain town, but I never wanted it to come to this. It was now the home base for hell, the Tear between dimensions. The only thing separating the dark creatures and spirits of the Stygian were the Chevaliers, so I had to let the love of my life go.

Calan stepped through, shooting a quick look back at me. For a moment, I was tempted to throw myself through the portal to stay with him, keep him safe as he kept the world safe. Instead, I tightened my grip on Heelion, still careful not to hurt him. I tried to convey to Calan with my eyes everything I felt for him.

Then, like a piece of paper crumpling, the portal closed in on itself, leaving the emerald-green tile wall. The moment Calan was gone, I opened my mouth and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

At the hospital, I wrapped my hands around my bare arms. I’d forgotten my coat at the restaurant and felt ridiculous standing in the waiting room in Krystan’s glitzy date-night dress and heels amidst the staff in their scrubs, and weary, bedraggled family members of patients slumped in their chairs. I kept catching sidelong looks of judgment, but what was I going to say? Who expects their date night to end up at a hospital? Had I known, obviously I would have dressed for comfort, not like a Vegas hooker. But I wasn’t going to leave Calan’s brother, so I continued to shift my weight back and forth on my feet in front of the vending machine, continuing the internal debate between Cheez-Its and Doritos. I’d left Luiggi’s delicious pasta behind and untouched.

Thanks to my dramatic cry for help in the bathroom, someone had called 911 immediately and several men came to my aid. Heelion was in an ambulance in no time. I explained I saw him stumble into the men’s room, bleeding from the head. I followed him in where I saw him pass out. It absolved me of filling out any forms for him, since I claimed he was a stranger to me.

As I stared at the glass-encased snack bags, I insanely wondered if the Order of Luxis carried medical insurance for their members. Considering Calan was raised in a secret Temple, I doubted hospitals were on the benefits plan.


I turned to see a doctor, considerably shorter than me, her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her low hairline, dark skin, and accent suggested she was from India. She had large dark eyes, a presence that commanded authority, and was a woman who seemed used to having to assert herself.

“The man you came in with is stabilized. A good number of stitches, and a concussion. He’ll wake up with a headache, but he will be just fine.” The doctor never once checked the tablet she held.

I kept rubbing my arms of their own accord, which was difficult while holding my clutch in one hand. I couldn’t seem to get warm. I didn’t know if it was because the hospital was an icebox, or if I was chilled to the bone not knowing where Calan was, or how he was.

“Can I see him?” I asked.

Those round, intelligent eyes regarded me critically. “I thought you said you didn’t know him?”“I don’t,” I rushed to say. “Never set eyes on the guy in my life. But he’s all alone, and could probably use a friendly face when he wakes up.” I tried to give her my best “Aren’t I adorable and trustworthy?” smile.

“I’ll send someone to get you if he wakes up and says it’s okay. I’d suggest you go home.” Her fingers drummed along her tablet. “But I have this feeling you are going to stay.” Just like I have a feeling you are lying to me about not knowing the patient, her eyes broadcasted to me.

My smile stuck awkwardly on my face, and I clutched at either arm. “Thanks,” was all I said. As soon as the doctor left, her shoes squeaking against the waxed hospital floors, I dropped my arms and let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding in.

Well, she wasn’t wrong. I planned on staying, and who knew how long it would be until Heelion woke up? If he was able, I’d have him make a portal to take us back to the Tear to help Calan. But if I was going to wait a while, I needed to warm up. My stiletto heels clacked like gunshots against the floor, drawing the attention of everyone as I retreated down a hallway in search of a gift shop to see if I could buy a sweater. At least I’d remembered my clutch. When I’d been kidnapped by the Luxis, Krystan had managed to grab my personal belongings, including my credit cards and cash from our apartment in Smoky Badger. She’d held onto them until I came back.

Whatever wing I’d chosen to go down, the activity of hospital personnel almost disappeared, and the hallways were only half lit. About to turn back, a flash, like lightning, caused me to whip around.

A hole ripped through the hallway, opening up into a portal. Again, I glimpsed through to the nightscape of the woods when Calan stumbled out of the portal with a blast of cold air and the heavy scent of death. His hands slapped against the hospital floor, while his knees audibly cracked as they hit the ground. He looked like he’d just survived an epic battle. Dirt and blood were smeared across his face and limbs.

I rushed to his side, relief and fear exploding around me until I couldn’t see straight. My words tripped over each other in their rush to get out. “Calan, are you okay? Are you hurt? Look at me.” At least if he was seriously hurt, we were in a hospital.

Slowly, Calan let me help him straighten up on his knees. I caught a glimpse of gashes along his torso. A cut dashed across his forehead and the side of his face sported some bright red marks, which would likely darken to bruises. I hoped whatever he fought looked worse than him. Because right now, it looked like we were going to have to pay full price for that rented suit.

He was panting, exhausted from whatever fray he’d just exited. I tried to help him up as the portal crumpled up behind him before disappearing. I kept an eye on it to make sure no one and nothing followed him through.

Calan was able to get to one foot, then the other until we were standing. “I’m fine. But Vico…Vico is dead.” Moisture filled his eyes, but his jaw was set.

Shock electrified every nerve ending in my body. A Knight of the Light was dead. Part of me had always wanted to believe Calan was invincible. Acknowledging the Knights of the Light were fallible drilled a hole deep into my center, springing a leak of fear and doubt. I’d always viewed them as an indestructible cross between marines, ninjas, and old-timey knights.

“What was it?” I asked, desperate to understand and keep whatever had killed Vico far away from Calan.

“As Heelion said, it was the dark.”

“A soul eater? More creepy flying baby demons?” I didn’t want to push, but I needed more answers.

He shook his head, his bloodshot eyes meeting mine. “No. Not the dark from the Stygian.” The look in his eyes scared me. He looked haunted. “Servants who serve the Order of the Dark, also known as the Order of Tenebrae. They have power with them unlike anything I’d ever seen. They were attempting to break through the seal we put over the Tear to let the darkness from the Stygian cross over.”

Great, a fourth Order, and they rooted for evil. Just great.

“Where is Heelion?” Calan’s head swiveled around, trying to grasp where he was.

I kept the heels on. Announcing my presence with loud clacks against the floor, I rolled back up to the check-in desk, demanding they let me see the man I’d come in with.

Embarrassment threatened to dampen my act, but I needed to be an effective distraction, so I thought, what would Krystan do?

  “I know I barely met him,” I said in my best desperate, I’ve-been-watching-too-many-rom-coms voice.

The woman behind the counter, whose eyes were dulled by the long hours, was in the middle of eating her microwave dinner when I’d interrupted. She looked back and forth between the Lean Cuisine and me, as if trying to decide which was ruining her night more.

I treated her like a captive audience, as Calan ducked by. “But once I saw him, I knew he was my soulmate. You have to let me in to see him. He needs his soulmate there to help him heal.” Krystan would be proud of my over-the-top story. I could hear her peal of cackles now.

I made sure to keep all eyes on me by pacing and waving my hands about. I drew enough attention that Calan was able to slip through the doors leading back to the rooms, unnoticed. When the woman behind the desk threatened to call security, I backed down fast. At first, I dropped in a chair, crossing my arms and visibly sulking. Then, after a good five minutes, I got up and stormed out of the hospital.

  I walked out to the west side of the building where Calan said he would meet me. As I turned the corner, I saw Calan was already there, leaning against the wall, staring at something in his hands.

  I tried to jog to get to him faster, but my heels spiked through the soft ground and my right ankle rolled. Thankfully, I snapped it back up before any damage could be done. No use rushing to break my bones. How Krystan wore hooker heels nearly every day still baffled me.

  “Where is Heelion?” I looked around for good measure, but Calan’s gaze was fixed on a piece of paper in his hand.

  “They took him,” he said, his voice low and rough. His tone was dangerous and sent prickles of warning down my spine.

Peeking over his arm, I saw the handwritten note. “Tomorrow, 11:00 a.m., Boulder – Walrus.”

“Who?” I asked softly.

Calan stared off into the darkness, his hand fisting around the paper until it crumpled in his hand. “The same ones who killed Vico. The Order of Tenebrae.”

I put my hands on his to stop Calan from completely destroying it, fishing the note out from his large palm. “We’ll get Heelion back, Calan.”

His head dropped and he breathed in deeply as if trying to find his calm. I didn’t need a psychic link to know his emotions were raging like a wounded animal’s. I took his arm and led him away from the hospital, calling up an Uber to take us back to Krystan’s Gran’s house.

I looked down at my heels, now caked in dirt, and recalled Krystan’s words to me earlier that night as she did my makeup. “Girl, you are going to get down and dirty tonight.”

I sighed. Pretty sure this wasn’t what she meant.

Chapter 3

The light down the hall to the kitchen was still on at 1:30 a.m. I’d used my copied key to let Calan and myself into Mrs. Rits’ violet-painted, historic house in downtown Denver. Calan murmured he needed to meditate, then soundlessly disappeared up the stairs before I could say a word.

I ached for him to hold my hand or give me a kiss before he went. I bit my lower lip against the onslaught of emotions. I really thought we were finally going to make love tonight. My arms curled around my body, trying to keep the onslaught of broken expectations from slicing through me. I closed my eyes tightly, wishing for a split second I was anyone else. Someone normal who could give Calan everything he wanted and deserved.

All glammed up with Krystan earlier that evening, I’d told her I was ready. Hell, I’d wanted Calan with an almost out-of-control passion since I’d met him. It was amazing we’d lasted this long. Admittedly, it took a few days for the heebie-jeebies in my stomach to turn back into butterflies after being around soulless Calan for several weeks. I had passed on many a douche-bag before and hadn’t been willing to give up my first time to a version of Calan that wanted to bag and bail. I had already forgiven all he’d done when he had no soul. Being with the real Calan solidified how he was truly not himself before, and I went back to falling all over myself for him again.

Krystan thought it was insane I was still a virgin, blaming the hundreds of romance novels I’d read for setting unrealistic expectations. Ha! Little did she know; it was more like thousands of romance novels. And my only other sexual role model was Krystan herself, who would jump into the sack with anyone who would give her molly and a bottle of Jack. I fancied myself more of an Elizabeth Bennet, thank you very much.
Calan and I had been forced to wait to deal with a number of crises, and it looked like our lust would have to wait a little longer. I opened my eyes and released my arms. Frustration pounded between my temples and, more embarrassingly, between my legs.

I did my best to dampen the sound of my heels clicking against the uneven wood floor planks as I headed down the hall to the kitchen. The kitchen had once been an homage to roosters, a cock-filled kitchen, from the curtains, pitchers, and down to every last dish. They’d infested the rest of the house as well but less aggressively than the kitchen. But ever since a demon possessed Mrs. Rits, forcing her to bite the head off her actual rooster, Heraldo, the fowl décor was steadily disappearing.

Upon entering, I found Krystan leaning against the small butcher block island, eating ice cream straight out of the carton.

I reared back in alarm. Krystan’s eye makeup was smeared down her pale face, her cropped black hair a tangled mess. The yeasty scent of booze emanating from her pores filled the kitchen. This had been a fairly typical scene for me to come home to after living with her for five years. What stopped me in disbelief was the single piece of clothing she wore: an oversized Metallica shirt hung off her stick-thin body.
Looking up from the pint of rocky road, Krystan’s bleary eyes followed my stunned gaze to the shirt on her body. “Oh yeah. I fucked Travis.” She shoveled another spoonful of ice cream in her mouth. “How was your night?”

I was ready to root myself in meditation. Sit and process all the emotions threatening my logic and sanity. I’d fought back the Tenebrae until they’d retreated, most of them already slain by Heelion and Vico. I killed two men tonight and I was ashamed to tell Emma.

If I had been faster to join the fight, Vico might still be alive. The sight of his head rolling away from his body played over in my head on repeat. And even if I could release my guilt over Vico’s death, my fear for Heelion ballooned with each passing minute.

Mrs. Rits’ guestroom was equipped with an old futon and a blow-up mattress that took up almost the entire floor of the room. Normally, I slept on the blow-up mattress because I was too tall for the futon, but upon entering the room I found Travis splayed on the mattress, guzzling a beer, looking more flushed and out of sorts than usual. He was staring angrily at the ceiling but sat up in relief when I walked in. His eyes were bloodshot from imbibing.

“Dude, you are not going to believe the night I had.” Travis rubbed his already mussed hair, then flopped back onto the mattress.

“I don’t get it, Krystan. You have been verbally abusing Travis since the fourth grade.” I paused to eat another spoonful of ice cream and thought back. “Actually, you were physically abusing him on the playground most days, too. You guys would sling insults at each other like you were competing in the Olympics for burns. And now it’s weird?”

She waved her hand out, trying to dismiss my points. “Consider it all like one long game of foreplay.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. The names you’ve called each other…” I trailed off. I wouldn’t even repeat most of them because if they weren’t rude, they were disgusting. Seemed like the worst foreplay in the history of all time, to me.

She shrugged. “A drunk bang usually makes me feel better when I’m restless.”

“Wait, didn’t your gran threaten to kick you out if you drank while under her roof?” I asked, straightening.

Paranoia struck me with the irrational thought the octogenarian could materialize from the kitchen walls, ready to bring down a grandmother’s wrath on Krystan.

“Correct,” Krystan said with a sly smile. It turned lopsided when she winced in pain and pressed a hand against her head. Guess the hangover was coming in hot. “But Gran went with her bingo friends to Black Hawk for a weekend of gambling. Anyway, back to the sex. It was the most awkward tangle of limbs and genitals.” Her face scrunched up in memory. “Like trying to land a plane with no lights on the runway. And when he did finally land, if you know what I mean, Ms. Prude Virgin…” She gave me a pointed look as she scooped out the final hunk of ice cream. I rolled my eyes at her. “We never figured out the rhythm. It was like my first time, but a hundred times worse. At least when I had my first time, it was with an older man who had experience to lead the way.”

I’d heard the story of Krystan’s deflowering a hundred times. She loved to tell people at parties how she managed to bus all the way to Denver when she was seventeen, to see a well-known rock star, who later had her picked from the crowd to go back to his hotel for the night. Half of me was pretty sure she made it up, or at the very least, she’d banged some roadie.

Krystan dropped her spoon in the now-empty carton with a clank before opening cabinets in search of more drunk munchies. “It doesn’t help that we are living under the same roof. I mean, it’s already lame I live in my grandma’s house, but Travis does too, which makes it extra pathetic. Hey, do you think you could take me to Taco Bell?”

I couldn’t help but feel the sting of that. Both Calan and I were crammed in the house, too, with nowhere else to go. Mrs. Rits only asked that we make sure she never gets possessed again, but Calan and I made sure to keep useful around the house, cooking or cleaning. We’d become responsible, Gran-fearing roommates, which kind of sucked out the romance.

“Women.” Travis threw his hands up, unlikely to get off the blow-up mattress forcing me to skirt around it to the futon to take a seat.

“Complete mysteries, man. I mean, Krystan may be a total pain in the ass, but she’s smoking hot.” He held up a finger at me. “If you ever tell her I said that, I’ll kill you. Bro Code. And you’d think with all her bragging about how hard she parties and how many dudes she’s sacked, this would be a good time for both of us, but it was…” His face winced as if experiencing physical pain from his memories. “So bad.”

I laid my arms across my thighs, at first annoyed I could not find the solitude I needed, but I quickly realized Travis was distracting me from the noise in my head and the anxiety of waiting to meet with the Tenebrae, so I continued listening.

“Hey, you okay?” Krystan asked.

I got up and awkwardly lumbered like a baby giraffe to the living room, at the front of the house. My feet were officially trying to kill me, and if I didn’t free them, they were going to turn black and fall off. I flopped on the floral couch, which smelled like it was marinated in potpourri, and struggled to undo the tiny clasps on Krystan’s shoes.

“So you didn’t bang.” Krystan shrugged, standing over me. “It’s not like you’re never going to see him again.”
I gave up on the impossible straps to run my hands over my face, not caring if I ruined my makeup anymore. “I totally ruined the mood trying to talk about the Luxis, and the Tear. I couldn’t be normal for Calan’s big date. You should have seen his big, sad, soulful eyes.”

Krystan shook her head and sat down next to me, sending another potpourri poof into the air. “He put too much pressure on it. I told him to take you to a concert at the Ogden and buy you shots. No pressure, great fun, totally a good setup that would inevitably end in a good humping. But nooo, he went to my Gran for advice.”
I laughed wryly, the exhaustion finally catching up to me. “I’m not so sure going to a concert and getting drunk would have helped us into the next phase of our relationship.”

“You mean sex. It’s okay to say it, Emma. S-E-X. Who cares if the night was a bust? Your magical warrior is head over heels for you. It’s time you stop blue-balling him and get a little for yourself. Besides, now that you’re a fighting machine with this hot, superhero bod, you really should find out all it can do.” She curled her tongue behind her teeth as she smiled.

Uncertainty and insecurity fed the voice of my scumbag brain.

And it can be just as awful between you two as it was for Krystan and Travis. You have less experience, and there is so much more emotional baggage. He tried to claim you like an object when he was soulless, you should have sacrificed yourself to save the world and shouldn’t even be alive, and now you act like a couple of skittish, awkward teenagers when you even get close to being intimate again.

“I’ve been with my fair share of women, but I don’t know, what did Krystan expect?” Travis asked, not really needing an answer from me. “Did she want a fireworks show? I tried every trick I knew, and she just had this expectant look on her face like, ‘That’s it?’ I almost screamed at her, damn woman, ‘Do you want me to ball-gag and spank you? Would that make you happy?’” Travis pulled another long drag off his beer, emptying it.

I reeled. Nowhere in my understanding of having sex were spanking or gags involved. Panic crept up my chest, tightening around me as my mind raced for information I didn’t have on the matter. Was Emma expecting those things? The few times we’d almost ended up consummating our love, I knew she wanted me too, but maybe there was a point where my instincts would no longer serve me.

Travis rolled the empty bottle between his hands. “Anyway, it’s totally weird now. If I were smart, I would have done Krystan a long time ago. What probably ruined it was all this time we’ve danced around each other since high school. If we’d gotten it out of the way earlier, we probably wouldn’t have been so self-conscious. I couldn’t get out of my own head.”

I swallowed, realizing I was unable to get out of my own head now, too. Had Emma and I waited too long? Was I going to find out in the heat of the moment I was radically unprepared to give Emma pleasure?
No, that couldn’t be right. I’d already found alternate ways to give Emma pleasure, multiple times. The thought shot heat through my body.

Still, fear and doubt gnawed at my thoughts like a hundred rabid mice. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.

Travis set the empty beer bottle on the floor, then finally sat up and took a good look at me. “Whoa, man. What happened to you?”

Krystan grabbed my ankle and brought it up to her lap, forcing me to turn and lay back on the couch. The throw pillows dug in my back. The stiff little floral rocks were clearly for show, not for comfort.
“Well what’s stopping you from going upstairs and claiming stud muffin now?” Her experienced fingers easily released the tiny clasp on one shoe, then she grabbed the other to do the same.

My face tightened as the serious, life-threatening business crashed over me again. Krystan saw the look on my face even as she popped one shoe off my swollen foot. “Oh god, what is it now? End of the world, again?”
My lips thinned and I nodded. “Pretty much.” I proceeded to fill her in on what happened with Heelion, Vico, and the new evil Order in town.

My words began to slow as the need for sleep pulled on my body and mind until I nodded off. I remained only vaguely aware of Krystan rubbing my feet, while horrible feelings of emptiness and loss echoed within me. It felt like the space between Calan and me was expanding on and on until there was an ocean between us, and neither of us could figure out how to cross it.

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