Downstairs, she heard the furnace shut off, allowing a more concentrated silence to close in around her.

Isobel shut her eyes, even though she wasn’t sleepy.

Her mind circled back to the previous night’s dream. By now, though, the only thing that remained untarnished by layers of wishful thinking and fogginess was the core feeling it had left her with. It lay buried deep within her, like a piece of grit worried into a pearl.

In the end, it was the only thing she really needed in order to keep going.



Some Late Visitor

Cold wind swept over her.

Isobel shivered; loose strands of her hair tickled her cheek in spiderweb wisps. She pulled the jacket more tightly around her, curling into herself.

Though the draft died away, dissipating like a sigh, it left the room frigid in its wake. Thin and sharp, the air stung her nose as she inhaled.

Isobel stirred. Through half-mast eyelids, she saw her breath puff out before her in the dim wash of filmy moonlight that still shone through her bedroom window.


Her open window.

She scowled, squinting at the gaping foot-wide gap as another breeze, harsher than the first, surged through, causing her lace curtains to swell.

Smoothing her hair back, she pushed herself up onto her elbows, wondering who had opened the window. More important, why?

When a blast of arctic air brought with it a spray of snow, Isobel sat upright. Shuddering uncontrollably, her teeth chattering, she pushed her confusion aside and scooted toward the edge of her bed.

She froze, though, a clangor of silent alarms triggering within as her focus was drawn to the outer fringe of her vision. To the dark figure standing at the foot of her bed.

Her hands gripped the covers beneath her. Slowly she turned her head to look.

Motionless, he stood watching her, his thin, angular form little more than a black outline in the darkness.

When he moved, sliding one black-clad knee onto the edge of her bed, she heard the soft clink of chains.

Her gaze dropped to the place where the mattress sank beneath his weight, where one slender white hand splayed itself against her pale comforter, the onyx square of his class ring glinting behind the silver V set in its center.

Isobel remained still, making no move either toward him or away.

She could only mark his steady approach with her eyes, following his spindly frame as he climbed onto her bed, moving toward her. Over her.

She felt herself tip backward beneath him. Looking up, she scoured those shadow-swathed features, seeking his eyes through the forest of his dark hair, the only things that could tell her for certain whether or not this was another dream.

But what else could it be?

His face drifted to hover within an inch of hers. She felt his breath against her cheek.

Isobel parted her lips, prepared to speak, but he stopped her mouth with his.

Her eyes fluttered shut. Smooth and velvet soft, his kiss ignited her from the inside, sending a flash-fire coursing through her, surging to engulf all rationality, all question or doubt.

An involuntary moan escaped her as the slim curve of his lip ring, tempered by the frigid air, pressed against her mouth. She sought it out, warming it with her own lips as he pressed down on her.

Fastening one hand to the nape of his neck, she pulled him to her, her fingers intertwining with the dark, feather-soft wisps of his hair.

The moment felt so real. He felt real.

Isobel pulled him closer still, suddenly afraid that he would slip through her grasp, or that at any moment she would wake up and he would be gone again.

She felt his hands fall to trace her sides, sliding past the jacket to burrow beneath the thin barrier of her T-shirt. They glided upward, gathering material as they went, pushing back the fabric to expose her stomach.

Her pulse quickened, causing her thoughts to disconnect.

A burst of winter wind rushed around them.

She arched beneath him, her own hands seeking to bury themselves under his shirt.

But she found no heat in his skin.

Isobel frowned as her palms followed the corded knitting of strong muscles.

He felt strange to her somehow. His skin was too smooth, his body too light.

He lifted away from her long enough to strip his shirt off over his head, long enough for her to glimpse the jagged line of an angry white scar etched like a curved lightning bolt along one side of his torso.


He descended once again, his mouth locking with hers, silencing her.

The urgency in his kiss grew, climbing toward ferocity. She struggled to keep up, to catch her breath.

She pressed her palms flat to his bare chest . . . and felt no heartbeat.

His grip on her tightened.

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