LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 18

INSTALLMENT No. 18 #Acheron #Hell #sleeping bag
Angelia stirred as she awakened, snuggling deeper into Merrick’s arms, closer to his chest. The sleeping bag she was cocooned in seemed thicker than a pillow, dulling the delicate feel of her body against his.
Which shouldn’t matter. But still, he found solace in the wafting of that honey-lavender scent billowing from deep inside the warm nylon of the woman’s bedroll.
Not once did he put her down, not even during the crossing of the Acheron. Holding her had replaced his instinctive urge to take Kharon in his arms, to crush the other Kynd to him in a desperate hug to assuage his longing for touch.
To make up for his selfishness, he’d pressed close to Kharon, unabashedly sharing himself without having to put Angelia away from him.
Much to his surprise, the Ferryman peered down at the sleeping woman without saying a word. A strange light suffused the Kynd’s expression instead, and he reached out to caress a stray lock of her golden hair from her forehead.
Merrick’s whole body tensed, as if to lunge.
At what? Kharon, his brotherkynd?
Thankfully, the other Kynd had chosen to ignore the base growl seeping up out of Merrick’s lungs, and for his part, he’d done his damnedest to shove it back down where it boiled up from.
He was not furious that Kharon touched the human he held in his arms.
But the Ferryman curled his rough-tipped finger into his palm just the same, and drew his hand away.
Respecting my possessiveness.
Merrick apologized by clasping that retreating hand in his, holding it tight for the rest of the trip downriver. Angelia slept like a swaddled babe the whole time.
Even now as they traveled on firm ground, she wasn’t fully awake. But he felt her soft gaze on him, and he glanced down to steal a precious glimpse of those twilight eyes, which were lazy with sleep.
The small body he cradled in his arms stiffened under his glancing scrutiny, the woman’s senses firing to full alert. He didn’t relinquish this stolen chance to hold her, but drew her tighter against his chest to still her.
And his thoughts, which kicked like the hobbled horses they were. He refused to delve into his reasons for not setting her down, preferring instead to fall back on the excuse of who he was. Kynd needed touch almost as much they needed air to breathe, so of course he stole physical contact where he could.
Liar.
Ignoring that, too, he squeezed out the hint of a smile.
Which she ignored. But she no longer squirmed to get out of his arms. Now that was a gift. He could enjoy the feel of her a little longer, even if she didn’t care whether he offered her a rare smile or not.
“Where are we?” Angelia craned her neck to get a better view of their surroundings.
“Nearing the Castle of the First Ring.” His attention forcibly returned to the path before them, Merrick thought again of the Scriptum, and how it had made it through Kharon’s scrutiny, too, even though the Ferryman had seen the soulless man with the relic.
Maybe it does have a mind of its own.
What was it about that damned book that another Kynd would let it slip beyond his grasp? Well, Merrick wasn’t going to find out as soon as he hoped, which also meant he hadn’t been able to indulge in the company of his fellow Kynd beyond the length of the boat ride.
He and Kharon parted with longing hugs, and said nothing about Angelia beyond the obvious. Merrick figured Kharon felt bad enough as it was, that if the human woman in Merrick’s arms was the only one to retrieve that book, then the Ferryman wasn’t going to deny her passage.
“The Castle? I missed Kharon?” Angelia’s dismay yanked Merrick into the present. “How could I have missed a whole darned trip down a river?”
Merrick had known she’d be disappointed, but he still hated the sight of it. Wasn’t too fond of how it clenched like a vise on his heart, either.
Exactly where it shouldn’t.
“I figured the river would do its thing as it had done with Dante. It knocks humans out, makes them swoon.” He shrugged. “Or sleep, as it was in your case.” Even with his leather jacket acting as a buffer, he still felt the slide of her sleeping bag in his arms.
“But not you?” God, he didn’t want to see such disheartening failure crowding into those blue-black eyes, but there he was gazing down again just the same.
“No. The river doesn’t have the same effect.” If only she’d leave it at that. But he knew better. She was a scholar, wasn’t she? It was her nature to know, even if she wouldn’t like his answers.
“Go on.”
Merrick stared straight ahead, watching the path in front of him so he wouldn’t have to look down at the woman he pressed close to his chest. He’d been enjoying his hike with her in his arms. While she slept he could indulge his senses, could even pretend she wasn’t human, that she was an angel sent down from Heaven to bestow upon him some quiet moments of peace.
Which she had done. For a little while, the fomenting fury that pressed from the inside out of him, toughening his skin, abated, giving his body a break from its inexorable transition into stone.
Even now, she didn’t fight to get out of his arms, and Merrick savored the feel of her, which unleashed his tongue so it roved like a stray dog.
“The river has a voice—many voices.” He risked another peek down over his cheekbones to view the woman he carried. “Its flowing is like breath passing through the voice box, making sounds. The pitch is too high for human ears, so they can’t hear what’s being said. But on a subconscious level their brains are getting flooded, hypnotized. Which is why you swoon, or pass out.” Could he blabber on just a bit more?
“And you hear these voices?”
He nodded, not daring to look down again. Besides, awake, her body was heating up the sleeping bag she was in, as though the speeding up of her pulse warmed her from the inside out. “They’re mesmerizing, spellbinding.” Shut up, Merrick. “They make me want to stay, to enter into Hell and stay here.”
“But you can’t.”
Merrick snorted. “Yeah, well, it’s easier than you might think.”
At least, it had been easier, until he’d met the woman he now carried in his arms. He set her down, steadying her as she shimmied out of the constricting bedroll.
She clutched his arm as she did so, and the grip of it shot a twinge straight to his balls.
God Almighty.
He’d have to take her back to Acheron just so she’d pass out again, so he could function normally.
“But now that you’re away from the river, surely the urge is gone? I mean, you can’t want to spend the rest of your life in Hell.”
“Why not? It certainly has its advantages.”
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 19 coming Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

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