“The story sucked me right into and I could not get through it fast enough.” – Fresh Fiction
When a trio of demons kidnap Vdarra Jansen, her normal life is ripped away. Her abductors claim she is the “lost heiress” of the Underworld, and the commander of the mighty Army of Duemos. They don’t seem to care that she knows nothing about the Underworld, or that she only remembers the last ten years of her life…
Former archangel Jacob will do anything to bring back his lost love’s memories. But if he succeeds, it could mean the end of the world. Torn between love and duty, Jacob will do whatever it takes to save her.
Jacob and Vdarra must learn to trust each other, and push aside old hurts to find their way. They are in a race to find the one thing that will decide Vdarra’s, and the world’s, fate – the lost Seal of Solomon. It will mean choosing between innocent lives …and their hearts.
Too many eyes hovered, watching for signs he’d located the woman he’d fallen in love with so long ago. He couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t betray her again.
New name. New city. New life. Now he’d found her. His beloved, his eternal mate.
Jacob Strauss studied her as she meandered through the streets of Rio, the Brazilian sun lightening her long auburn hair. He maintained his distance but kept her in sight. Hidden behind one of the decrepit fruit stands peppering the market, he surveyed Vdarra Jansen as she flipped through the pages of a small, leather bound book in her hands, then closed it again. She repeated the gesture more times than he could count, stopping every now and then to speak to a shop owner or elderly grandmother resting on vendor chairs.
She’d come to Rio for more than a simple vacation, and that book had something to do with it.
Ten agonizing years had brought him to this point, and he couldn’t walk away now. Not even with his enemies on the hunt. No, he’d need to get even closer to make sure.
He’d taken full advantage of his previous life to track her down.
He’d studied her for a long time, memorizing the way she walked, her routine, everything he needed in order to enter her world. He could’ve followed the wrong woman, but there were similarities between his memories and the woman across the street. Sharp jawline, wide brown eyes, long thin nose. Even the way his body heated when he closed in on her had convinced him. It had to be her.
She’d stopped to speak with an elderly woman manning a pottery stand, brushing her hair behind one ear. How many times had he done that for her? Did it feel like he remembered? His fingers tingled with the urge to find out. He pushed the thought from his mind as she moved on to the next stand. He’d promised to protect her from the enemy—nothing more—but his body refused to comply. Each time he caught sight of her eyes, her hips, that smile, or the way her hair lifted with the breeze, it weakened his resolve. To protect her. To stay away from her.
Despite the growing risk of following her, of making her a visible target, he trusted his instincts. He’d been led to her, even though doubt clouded his mind. Her appearance, for one, had changed. Or maybe not. Perhaps they’d just been separated for too long. Seemingly two different personalities shared one body, although his heart couldn’t tell them apart. He didn’t need to. His entire existence depended on her just as he needed air to breathe, and he’d never betray her again.
The motherly woman she spoke with pushed a blood-red flower behind Vdarra’s ear. She smiled and thanked the vendor. A gust of wind tore through the stands. The sea-scented wind pulled the blossom from her hair, tossing it about until it landed at his feet. He leaned down to collect it.
His head knocked into something and he jerked back.
He swallowed hard as a pair of feet shod in red sandals centered in his vision. Her feet. He twisted the flower’s stem between his fingers, rising slowly. The blood-red hibiscus, the same shade as the rose he’d given her during their binding ceremony, changed colors with the setting sun just as her chocolate-colored gaze did. Brown to amber. Just like the rose, she’d been both beautiful and dangerous. Still was.
“Sorry about that.” The eyes he’d scoured the earth for widened. Surprised to see him? His body craved to close the distance between them. Offering her the flower, he relished the citrusy scent wafting off her skin as she reached forward. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
She took the rose from him and a zing of electricity flashed up his arm. Her eyes focused on the spot where their fingertips had brushed against one another. Judging by her startled gasp, she’d felt it too. “Is it that obvious?”
“A little.” His body sang with the need to touch her, to claim her as his own once again. He clenched his fists, burying the desire. The one woman who’d made him whole stood less than three feet away and he couldn’t have her. Intense loss ripped the break in his heart even wider.
“I used to live here—a long time ago. A lot has changed in ten years.”
Ten years. Had this been where she’d hidden from him for so long? “Voce fala Portugues?”
Another smile surfaced. His heart pounded harder as she relaxed her shoulders. “Not very well. I didn’t stick around long enough to learn the language. Now I wish I had. Kind of hard to get around when you don’t know what people are saying.”
Her attention diverted to her bag for a half a second, where she’d tucked the small book. She used her thumb to rub the gold band on her middle finger, a nervous habit she’d always had. Curiosity heightened his instincts and the slight crimp between her brows only made it worse. Why had she come to Rio? Retracing her steps? To stay off his radar?
“Maybe I can help. Name’s Jacob. Jacob Strauss.” He reached for her hand, saw her hesitate before shaking it. Anyone watching would think they’d just met, that they’d happened to run into each other. And he’d keep it that way. No one needed to know he’d found the woman he’d planned on spending the rest of his life with. Especially her father.
Her expression froze, eyes wide. With the smallest step back, she’d put another foot of space between them, and his breath hitched. She didn’t trust him. And why would she? Their last encounter had ended in his betrayal. God only knew the thoughts running through her head and he bet, given the chance, she’d disappear for another ten years. He wouldn’t let her. Not again.
“Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure you have better things to do than get yourself mixed up with me.”
“What if I want to get mixed up with you?” There. He’d said it. With a single question, he’d forgiven her for everything she’d put him through. Now if she’d only let him back in. Maybe even explain why she’d left in the first place.
The echoes of the market around them faded. He’d always had the ability to read her thoughts through her expressions, and their separation hadn’t changed that.
Warm features grew cold, distant, and the crease between her eyebrows deepened. She’d started shutting him out, but the woman he’d known had never passed up an opportunity to gain the advantage.
“Besides, I speak Portuguese and I know the area.” Anything to keep her from disappearing a second time.
She hesitated still, indecision deepening the lines at the corners of her eyes. Her gaze darted to his left, over his shoulder. Planning her escape route? They hadn’t even been together two minutes and she couldn’t stand to stick around. Too bad. He wouldn’t give up so easily.
“I can help you find what you’re looking for.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Don’t you want to know my name first?”
“If it’ll make you feel better.”
“Vdarra Jansen.” She replaced the hibiscus behind her ear. A smile pulled at the corners of her perfect mouth as her attention slipped to his lips, then returned to his eyes. “Well, Jacob, now you can buy me a drink. You’re going to need it if you really want to help me.”
The whiskey burned as it slid down her throat, although nothing drowned the thoughts running through Vdarra’s mind. She’d failed. The locals knew nothing of her father, of an accident ten years ago just off the beach, or of her rescue. She’d gone back to square one.
Until she’d run into Jacob.
Hypnotizing, with a deep tone that made her want more. She’d never be able to forget that voice now, even if she suffered another spell of amnesia. Comforting, as if she’d been waiting for him for years. A tugging sensation pulled at the center of her ribcage as her attention went to his perfectly shaped mouth. Her heart rate picked up once again, a reaction she couldn’t control. “So, what brings you to Rio?”
“Looking for someone.” Green eyes, the color of Alaska’s Northern Lights, studied her face from forehead to chin. The edges of her vision sharpened with the uninterrupted attention. His angular face sported a five o’clock shadow, giving him a dangerous look with his short black hair, but sensual lips softened his face.
“Oh?” A chill swept up her spine, her body tingling in areas she couldn’t remember experiencing before. Fierce and demanding, an ache throbbed in places that had remained docile for years. “Someone close?”
Those eyes pulled at something deep in the recesses of her mind, like a word on the tip of her tongue.
She couldn’t remember a single thing up to when she’d been found ten years ago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, naked, confused, and with no memory of how she’d gotten there. As she looked at this stranger, however, her mind wanted to place him in the middle of her never-ending journey to piece her life back together.
No satisfying word defined the feeling that had washed over her at the sight of him. A prickly sensation had swept down her body as he touched her, that gaze penetrating the ice she’d built up deep in her core. As if they’d reunited after years apart, she exhaled in relief, yet she couldn’t remember a single time when she’d met this man. The unmistakable urge to fold herself into his arms followed the tingling, and she blinked to clear her head. Insane. She didn’t even know him. Had to be the whiskey. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“How long did you live in Rio?” he asked.
He didn’t want to talk about his personal search. Interesting. She studied the iridescent color of his irises. She’d never seen eyes so green. They almost seemed to glow, and she shook her head. Alcohol had always given her wild ideas. “Just a month. Right before I moved to New York.”
“That’s an abrupt change.” He swallowed the shot and raised his hand to the waiter for another. “Where were you before that?”
She inhaled the salty air, committing the smell to memory again. She’d nearly blocked out the entire month after her accident. She’d come to this exact beach every day searching for answers, going empty-handed back to her father’s small shack in the Flabellas. Twenty years of her life had disappeared in a single moment. Before that? She didn’t know. Now, for some reason, sitting across from Jacob lessened the desperate ache for answers. Almost like they didn’t matter. It’d been a long time since she’d been able to relax so easily in a body she still didn’t know. Somehow he soothed the anxiety residing in her muscles.
She discarded the insane compulsion to make him fit in her past, even though the sense they’d met before settled deep in her chest. The eyes. She couldn’t get rid of the feeling she’d seen them before, been lost inside them before. How many people on the planet had a vibrancy emanating from their gaze like that?
“I have no idea,” she answered. “I’ve had a bit of a memory problem the last few years.”
Understatement of the century.
A crease centered itself between his eyebrows and she longed to smooth it out, like it was the right thing to do.
The waiter set a new bottle of whiskey on the tabletop.
She wrapped her fingers around the bottle just as he reached for it. Rough skin slid against hers and a clear image of him exploded in her mind. Different clothing. Different hairstyle. Same eyes. Same lips. Same reverence he exhibited now, even though there was no way in hell she’d ever forget a man who’d gazed at her like that.
Or had she already forgotten him?
“What kind of memory problem?” The concern on his features intensified as he poured a hefty serving into his shot glass and took another drink. He filled her glass, keeping his attention solely on her.
She tipped the whiskey down her throat. The smoky liquid burned all the way down. Her chest warmed from the alcohol. Or was that the weight of his unwavering gaze?
She pulled the journal from her bag and dropped it onto the table. “I woke up in the middle of the Atlantic on December 25, 2004. A man claiming to be my father pulled me from the water and told me I’d suffered a terrible accident. I couldn’t remember how I got there, what happened, or even who he was. This journal is the only personal item he left behind.”
Her throat closed around the lump that she could never quite swallow. “Apparently, I’m very forgettable. Nobody’s ever come looking for me.”
“That you know of.”
She clung to the shot glass in her hand. What was that supposed to mean? That she hadn’t tried hard enough? That she’d missed something? Heat burned beneath her skin, most likely coloring her face and neck a vicious shade of red. No. She’d tried, dammit. Followed every lead. Spent thousands on travel alone. Nearly lost her mind.
She had to get a grip. He didn’t know her. Her fingers loosened on the glass. “Well, who in their right mind would wait ten years to come forward about my disappearance?”
His mouth softened around the edges. He leaned back in his chair, distanced himself from her. She hadn’t realized how much warmth he emitted until it vanished. Her skin went cold and the atmosphere changed.
“Maybe they had their reasons.” His shoulders sagged.
Was that an admission? She’d read enough crime novels and watched too many reruns of Law and Order to recognize that phrase as a prerequisite to guilt. What did he know?
“So, what have you been doing the past ten years?” His elbows met the table once again. He steepled his fingers, rested his chin on them.
He did that when he got suspicious.
Wait. How did she know that? “Aside from trying to uncover clues? I repo cars for banks. Owners stop making their monthly payment and the bank calls me to pick up the car.”
“Sounds dangerous. Lots of bad people out there.”
“It can be. There have been a couple times I’ve had to call the cops to assist, but I bring along my own security. One of my neighbors really likes that kind of thing and he’s very good at his job. He lets me call him whenever I need help.”
“I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for you. Not knowing where you came from. Who you were. Who you might’ve left behind.”
Respect, combined with sympathy, heated her insides all over again. Genuine. Heartfelt. It looked like good still existed in the world.
“Sounds like you’ve built a new life though.”
“Told you you’d need that drink.” She drank again and set the glass on the table. “So how is it you think you can help me? Are you a private investigator or something? Have experience with this kind of thing?”
He offered his hand across the wicker table. Prominent veins flexed down the soft side of his forearm, every muscle inviting her to grab hold of him as he stood. “Dance with me.”
The laugh escaped without her permission. She added funny to the growing list of attributes all packed into one man. No one had been able to make her laugh like that in a long time. “You’re not serious. I can’t dance.”
“I’ll take care of you. I swear.” He waited for her to make her choice, hand outstretched, asking her to trust him.
Maybe the shots of whiskey made her do it, or the way he’d made her feel. Could’ve been his promise to take care of her. She stood up, placing her bet on all three. When was the last time she’d danced on an exotic beach with an equally exotic man? She followed him to the center of the outdoor bar, his calloused hand hot in hers. He swung her into him and the patio blurred just before he molded their bodies together. She caught her breath and the dizziness disappeared.
The chilled Atlantic breeze coasted over the flat beach, sending shivers down her back, and he strengthened his grip around her waist. His body heat tunneled through her thin clothing. A slow samba wafted through the bar as more couples took to the dance floor. Instead of the choreographed dance she expected, he swayed her back and forth, as if following some other music only he could hear.
Uneasiness slithered down her arms as he lifted her wrists behind his neck. Very intimate. Almost like lovers. The strong muscle spanning his chest pressed into her, heated her. Too close. Too familiar. She pulled away several inches, shivered when his fingertips traced a line down her side to her lower back. When was the last time someone had affected her on this level? Easy answer: she couldn’t remember.
Green eyes searched her face as though he wanted to burn himself into her memories. She couldn’t take it. Couldn’t take another dead end. She laid her head against his chest to escape the tightness clutching her ribcage; the echo of his heartbeat syncing with hers. Without a shred of evidence, she wanted to trust that the man in her arms could help her and as she settled into his grasp, a new feeling blossomed for the first time in months: hope.
A dangerous thing.
“All right. You have me here. Perfect beach. Lots of whiskey. The offer to help me find what I’m looking for. Now tell me why you’re really here.”
“What do you mean?” His lips grazed her ear, softer than she imagined, and raised goose bumps up and down her arms. The sound of his inhale against her hair threatened her logic, almost like he’d known her exact trigger spots.
“I mean, you know me, don’t you?” She pressed her hands against his chest. She needed distance. She needed to see his expression when he lied. Again. Ten years. Ten years and he hadn’t found her, hadn’t explained. Hadn’t ended her insanity. “From before my accident. Your being here isn’t a coincidence.”
The smile tilting his mouth disappeared and her heart skipped a beat. He wouldn’t lie to her this time. His expression said so. Not after all these years. Not after everything she’d been through.
“No, Vdarra. It’s not.” His fingertips dug into her waist, grounded her, prevented her from making a break for it. Did he really think she’d turn her back on the answers she’d crossed the world for? “I’ve been searching for you ever since you left me that day in December ten years ago.”
Her mouth went dry. Finally. She’d made a breakthrough. “Why did you wait so long?”
“Because they’re looking for you, too.”