Category Archives: Weekly Posts

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.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No.17

 

INSTALLMENT No. 17 #blood #vampire #hell
…God in Heaven, he could cast aside his resolve as easily as he could steal a forbidden taste of her, so he backed off, biting down on a frustrated snarl.
He wanted her as desperately as he wanted to stay in Hell.
Merrick took a steadying breath, then crammed his wanting down into the same abyss where his fury swirled. He gathered their things, then gently plucked Angelia off the ground, sleeping bag and all, and started down the path toward the Ferryman.
****
Death trailed the Vampire.
Aro could feel it in the throbbing of his veins as he followed his victim.
He was too hungry. He’d waited too long to feed, so his control was a little flimsy at the moment. Putting it off hadn’t been his idea, though. Dealing with the Triumvirate had taken more time than it should have.
Fucking Anton.
So, if Death followed him along this backwater excuse for an alley, then so be it. The specter could belly up and watch. Besides, it wasn’t as if the man he was following could serve Aro’s business purposes any longer. He could afford to drain the victim’s body dry now that the human had played his part in connecting the Vampire to the soulless thief.
Just so long as he didn’t get caught with the corpse stuck to his fangs.
Aro and his kind weren’t allowed to kill their sources of food anymore, not since the Triumvirate had wrangled Vampires into a tidy community of pansy ass do-gooders.
The three Vampyres, older than dust itself, had been more than capable of doing it and, damn them, the strength to maintain the edict.
Except Anton, the rotter. Who grew soft because of his affections for the human child.
Letting that old wound fester, Aro turned his ear to the squish of the footsteps ahead of him. The man he pursued was speeding up, as if he knew he was being followed.
Clever.
But then, Aro hadn’t hired him because he was an idiot.
Well, the fact the man haunted this pathetic excuse of a town weighed against that, now didn’t it? The Vampire was getting mud on the cuffs of his fine slacks, and all because he had to finish business.
Aro’s own blood slipped fast through his veins as the man broke into a run.
Oh, he loved a good chase.
The damned Triumvirate. They’d all but eliminated that thrill from feeding. Shadow your victims, make sure they remember nothing, heal the wound you leave. Sniveling diplomats. They took the fun out of being Vampire.
Although Aro might be one of the selected Vampires to deal with the Triumvirate on a regular basis, it didn’t mean he was a cowering mutt who did his masters’ bidding.
Quite the contrary. Aro had killed too many of his victims to bother counting. Tonight would be just one more body in a sea of blood. And he was going to happily glut himself till he was half drowned.
As if his dull instincts had kicked it up a notch, the human broke into a dead run. Aro could hear his breaths chuffing in the crisp evening air, his footfalls heavy and slapping. Smoke much? The man wasn’t accustomed to sprinting. But the plus side? His running enflamed his blood.
How glorious. A warm feast that would shotgun straight down the Vampire’s throat. Aro could hardly wait just thinking of how it would spew forth in heated torrents, stuffing his mouth so fast he wouldn’t be able to swallow it all.
Oh, the chase!
His skin tightened, his fangs stretching long, throbbing hard in his gums.
To cap off the excellence of this hunt, the tang of tree resin flowed like floral blood upon the spring night. The kill would happen in a backwater town, which tended to have trees in the unlikeliest of places. Slap-shod buildings were rarely far from some forest, poverty cutting the hamstrings so towns like this one couldn’t quite edge their way out of the primal dirt.
With the lovely scent of spring wafting on the breezes, this was turning out to be a good place to dine, after all.
His dessert? Shutting the human’s mouth up forever.
Stay with me Death, don’t be lagging back.
With the scent of Death in his nose, Aro craved the inevitable, the excess. His vision bloomed red with his lust. Now the slapping footfalls were united with their runner, and in a blur, the Vampire snatched the man’s collar in his fist. The pungent, old-onion odor of the man’s sweat assaulted his senses as Aro tugged him close.
So base are these creatures. Nose curling, his stomach heaved a slow roll before settling. Always it was thus when he dealt with the filth.
But a meal was a meal when one was very hungry. Beggars not being choosers and the like.
But first.
“Uh-uh-uh, Mr. Smith. Not so fast.” Aro twisted the collar until the fabric cut into the rubbery skin of the man’s neck.
Bulging his carotid artery.
Salivating wasn’t good manners, but then neither was eating while standing up. His fangs singing so hard they hurt helped to kick his etiquette out on its prissy ear. Like his hunger needed backup?
But first.
“Where are we off to in such a hurry, Mr. Smith? To count your money?”
Mr. Smith shook his head.
Tsk, tsk.
Mr. Smith nodded.
The fool. Perhaps he’d overestimated the man’s intelligence. It was good he felt Death so close.
“You have the key?” Unfolding his empty hand, Aro thrust it under the man’s crooked nose. “Hmm?”
The human fumbled at the waist of his jeans, twisting his legs to jam his meaty fists into his linty pockets. He was a big man, by human standards. Strong shouldered, muscled.
Stink or no, Aro was going to enjoy this meal.
A skeleton key, pinched between white, shaking fingers, bobbled upward into his line of vision. The rank tang of fear punctured through the old onion, forcing the Vampire to fight his own shivers.
So close now.
Aro plucked the iron key free, and it disappeared into his sleeve as if palmed by a street magician. He tilted his chin so close to the man’s ear his cool lips brushed the slippery skin, so intimate he could feel the slush of his victim’s banging pulse.
His own blood raced through his veins, nearly distracting him from the reason he stood in a filthy alley in the first place.
Business. Ah, yes, there was that. Along with what it all meant.
“The Guardian of Hell may just well be permanently removed, thanks to you and your partner, Mr. Smith. You’ve both done well.”
So they had. Because of Laurel and his sidekick Hardy, the Scriptum was coursing a sweet descent into the bowels of Hell, with the human woman and her Chimera escort blithely chasing their merry way after it.
The Vampire’s plan to remove the Guardian permanently couldn’t have gone better. Aro’s gamble that the Scriptum would lure the Chimera away from that damned Archway was paying off better than even he could have hoped.
He had seen Merrick’s distraction with the human woman, and was glad he’d decided to sacrifice her. Finally she could be put to some use. Another fortuitous break? When the Scriptum literally unfolded itself to reveal secrets of the Kynd to her, and therefore to Aro, head of the Literati.
It was as if God Himself aided his plan!
That the Vampyre’s daughter was the only one within the Literati able to decipher the text? Utterly priceless, and a stroke of luck that carried with it the force of a sledgehammer. Anton despaired, which made him weak.
Angelia could be replaced. But Anton? Never. The Triumvirate would falter.
And now this unexpected cherry on his blood sundae? Perfection.
Aro squeezed his long, strong fingers around the man’s shirt collar, lifting his Wal-Mart boots out of the mud, then pressed the hulk of his victim tight to the plank fence lining the grass clumped alley.
Never mind a preliminary lick of skin along where he intended to sink his fangs. It was a meal he wanted, not a dining experience. Still, the popping of punctured skin dragged a moan up Aro’s throat, while hot blood slid down it in choking gulps.
The Grim Reaper hovered, waiting. Patient.
Invisible to the living, Darken stood at Death’s heels, his huge fists clenched to keep his shrieking silent while the Vampire spoke of Merrick.
Death sidled in tight to the human, preparing to extract his soul from his dead body. Darken readjusted his grip on the scythe.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 18 coming Saturday, March 28, 2015.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 16

INSTALLMENT No. 16
Watching Angelia, Merrick felt his heart pinch, then decided to ignore it. She was damned beautiful standing there, her lids growing heavy over eyes that reflected the deep maroon of the water rolling by. “As you should be. Go get some sleep, I’ll wake you when it’s time.”
“You’re not sleeping?”
Merrick suppressed a rueful grin. “No. I’m Kynd, remember? We don’t exactly sleep.”
Angelia shrugged. “I suppose not. But don’t you nap, at least?”
“Yeah, when we need to.” Or wanted to, as Merrick did just then. He wanted to slip into Angelia’s sleeping bag right along with her, feel the weight of her body pressed to his as she drifted off with her dreams, while he lay with her in his arms, protecting her.
“And, you don’t need to,” she said, reminding Merrick all too clearly of who and what he was.
“We aren’t alone along the river. Souls are gathering for the crossing.”
“Right. Forgot.” Angelia stumbled from the riverbank to her bedroll, where Merrick hoped she’d settle in soon.
Because he could feel her eyes on his back, and he thickened with his need for her, the leather of his leggings pulling tight.
Bloody hell.
Just what he needed, another torment to contend with. As it was, he stood mesmerized by the murmuring rustle of voices in the water as it rushed past his boots, beckoning him to follow, to surrender his will and loose his Chimera from its singular Gargoyle form. His heart strained in his chest, rending him in different directions.
Merrick cursed as he turned to follow the woman. Better he risk her seeing his physical need for her than succumb to the invitation of the voices. He was rewarded by a spontaneous smile when she spotted him, and his chest grew tight.
Without undressing or removing her boots, she spread out her sleeping bag and burrowed into it. Merrick leapt onto a larger boulder and crouched, facing her. To his sensitive ears, her held breath seemed as loud as the creaking of his leather coat.
Because the human woman scrutinized him as closely as he did her, and the third of Merrick, his lion, wanted to devour her one sensuous lick of his rasp-like tongue at a time.
“Tell me what you know about Kharon,” he growled, his voice thick with need.
“What I know about Kharon?” She looked like she was trying to reconcile his expression to his words, her feather-light brows pinching over her sleepy eyes.
Merrick rubbed his palm across his mouth and nodded. He hoped talking would get both their minds back on why they were in this predicament in the first place.
Heaven knew, one more minute of watching her watch him and he was going to do something he’d never thought possible of a Kynd. He was going to ask a human woman for the novelty of a kiss.
“Yes. You know he’s the Ferryman,” he said, leading her, his eyes following the dip and rise of her throat as she swallowed.
“Of course. He escorts dead souls to Hades,” she nodded. Wisps of her blond hair, tinted by the red of the sky and the river, framed her face, her braid curving like a tail across her shoulder.
Dear God, help him; Merrick wished it was his tail draped there.
Angelia yawned and rubbed her fingers into her eye.
She was getting sleepier, falling under the spell of the Acheron, as he knew she would.
As it should be.
Merrick turned to stare back out at the river, letting Angelia surrender to the sleep that was fast creeping up on her. He felt the stirrings of unease that he duped her, that she wasn’t aware of what was happening to her, and he almost caved, almost blurted out the deception.
But he recalled her determination to get the Scriptum, and bit down on his urge to confess. She’d be upset if they were refused entry, and that clinched his resolve.
He’d let her fall into a dreamless slumber, exactly where he needed her to be in order to get by Kharon. Because, no matter how refreshed she’d be from a good night’s sleep, she would never be ready for the Ferryman.
She wasn’t supposed to be, that wasn’t how the crossing worked. Besides, Kharon would know she wasn’t destined for The Circles. Angelia, upon her death, would cross a more pleasant plane than this one of fetid, bloodied water and fire.
Which was why Merrick could not give in to his base desires. No matter how bad he wanted to feel and taste every inch of the woman’s bare skin, no matter how he longed to slide his hard, stone-rough body into her soft one, he could not.
Angelia’s destiny was the exact opposite of the Chimera’s. Merrick understood only too well what his future held in store, and it had nothing to do with God and his chosen angels in Heaven.
So he kept to himself while he waited a while longer until he was sure Angelia wouldn’t stir when he moved her. Then he knelt down to lift her so he could carry her across the river.
Yet, as he lowered himself, the scent of honey-lavender spread through him, and he couldn’t resist dragging his face along the skin of her slender neck, where the smell of her lingered strong, pooling where the shorter, gossamer strands of her hair curled along the base of her delicate skull.
So wondrous. He followed his nose along the slender line of her jaw to behind her ear, and it was all he could do not to press his lips to the silk of her skin, to drag his tongue so he could taste her. He thickened at his groin, grew uncomfortable with its urgent, unfamiliar weight.
God in Heaven, he could cast aside his resolve as easily as he could steal a forbidden taste of her, so he backed off, biting down on a frustrated snarl.
He wanted her as desperately as he wanted to stay in Hell.
Merrick took a steadying breath, then crammed his wanting down into the same abyss where his fury swirled. He gathered their things, then gently plucked Angelia off the ground, sleeping bag and all, and started down the path toward the Ferryman.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 17 coming Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 15

 

INSTALLMENT No. 15
Right then, Merrick had more immediate concerns, like how he was going to convince Kharon the Ferryman that the living soul he escorted should be granted passage across Acheron…

Unless they were all lucky, and Kharon had recognized the Scriptum for what it was, and had seized it from the soulless man. Which could be possible. Like Merrick, Kharon was Kynd, and one observant son of a bitch.
The Ferryman, Merrick knew, also nursed resentment toward his lot, just like every Gargoyle and Chimera cast down from Heaven. It would do them both good to see each other, and if Kharon had the Scriptum, so much the better. Merrick would squander a bit of their saved time staying close to his brotherkynd.
They could both use the comfort. And maybe between the two of them, they could convince Angelia to read some of what was written in that book.
Rumor was, it contained knowledge of Gargoyles and Chimeras, and God only knew what else. But Merrick didn’t care about the rest, he wanted to know what it revealed about the Kynd.
Too much information in the wrong hands could be devastating for them. If others learned that Kynd truly turned to stone?
An involuntary shudder ran up Merrick’s spine.
The Kynd fought hard enough to maintain their fluid forms as it was, they didn’t need enemies ushering them quicker to their demise.
Enemies. Merrick wanted to spit the word into the trodden dirt beneath his feet.
The Kynd had never had enemies before they’d been tossed from Heaven. They hadn’t had allies, either, but they hadn’t needed them.
Had they?
It was a compelling thought. Maybe if they’d had friends outside of the flock, the Kynd wouldn’t be suffering as they now were.
Which was water under the bridge, as far as Merrick was concerned; the damage was done.
Besides, they neared the Acheron. Merrick could hear the gentle glide of the water passing along the immovable shore. He lengthened his strides to close the distance between himself and Angelia, who slowed ever so slightly, her back bowing imperceptibly toward him as he drew close to her heels.
Did she even know how her body reacted to him?
Probably not. Being Kynd meant he picked up on things most others never did. Even if she did notice, he was Kynd. Chimera. Nearly Grotesque. She wouldn’t want him touching her more than was necessary to save her pretty neck, no matter what her body craved.
****
Angelia’s lips curled into a contented smile when she felt Merrick’s warmth, felt his shadow cloak her backside. She knew he only bridged the distance to protect her, to fulfill his obligation to keep her safe, but she treasured the feel of him just the same.
His nearness felt so darned good, like he fortified her somehow, just by being close. And she was bone tired.
She’d grown weary with the burden of having to sift through everything that had happened in the past twelve hours. She needed a nap, or a good night’s rest, before crossing the Acheron.
Her puffy sleeping bag, crammed in her pack, beckoned, and she’d do well to heed its call. Because it was going to take every scrap of cunning she could muster to get by Kharon’s legendary scrutiny.
“We’ll camp here tonight,” Merrick announced, twisting his thick shoulders out from under the straps of his bag and letting it slump to the ground.
Never mind his sublime grace, was he a mind reader? “Shouldn’t we keep going?” She wasn’t being disagreeable. It was just that resisting made her feel like she had a little bit of control over this escapade into Hell.
“No. We’re close to Kharon, and I want to be ready for him.”
As much as it peeved her, she knew Merrick was right. If the Ferryman didn’t grant them passage, then the Scriptum was lost. There was no way of getting into Hell proper without first going through Kharon.
Angelia shrugged out of her own pack, letting it plop down by her feet. She wanted to plunk right down with it and not get up until she’d slept a good thirty-six hours.
Swear to God she would have never said, “I don’t suppose you happen to have a spare danake or obolus in your pockets?” if she wasn’t so tired. Seriously? What a recluse-loser-square for asking if he had any coins to pay the Ferryman.
Oh, and yeah. Why not give herself a reason to look down at Merrick’s leather pants, to the bulge that definitely wasn’t a coin purse.
She shot her eyes back up to his face, utterly thankful for the red tint of the river so she could blame its cast on her blushing cheeks.
The Chimera’s eyes turned granite hard. He moved away from her to stand at the bank of the river to watch the blood-red water flow by. An excuse to ignore her.
Gads, she was such an ass. Why couldn’t Merrick have been the hideous creature she’d imagined Gargoyles and Chimeras to be?
Oh, no. He had to be Mr. Effing Universe and Captain Captivating. Even his hair attracted her. It was just long enough so the ends curled along the tops of his ears and across his forehead. The black of his locks was a startling contrast to the slate gray of his eyes, making them appear much lighter than they were.
He was tall, too, proportioned well. And for all his surliness, for all the rage emanating off from him like heat waves, she wanted him. Like a living cliché, she was attracted to the dangerous man. She wanted to feel the giddy rapping of her pulse, the strength of the Chimera’s arms around her.
So much for forbidden passion. Angelia let loose a tremendous yawn, the great suck of air as attractive as the grating hum of a kazoo. Merrick turned back around, his hard eyes piercing as they slid down the length of her. Even then he was every bit the impenetrable stone of the Kynd.
Man, her brain felt thick, like it was swaddled in cobwebs. “I’m sorry.” Angelia cupped her palm over her mouth, stifling another yawn, too sleepy to stay embarrassed. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 16 coming Saturday, March 21, 2015.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 14

INSTALLMENT NO. 14 #humiliation #scent  #crave
Merrick watched the woman’s backside grow smaller for the second time in the same day. Just like before, he was struck dumb.
Was that shame he’d seen flash in those blue-black eyes? The Chimera had lived a solitary existence for millennia, but he recognized humiliation when he saw it. Because he saw it almost every day, perched atop the Archway with damned souls plodding beneath his paws.
That the human woman Angelia should fall victim to such a debilitating emotion cut away at the stone of his heart, something she alone seemed to have the knack for doing.
And Merrick wasn’t sure how to take that.
He didn’t like humans. With God on their side, they were doing a fine job of destroying themselves and the beautiful planet that had been gifted to them.
Their egos acknowledged no bounds. Nothing was too great or too low for them to grasp with their greedy, bloodstained hands.
Yet, Angelia seemed different somehow. As clever as she was, there was a naiveté she emanated, an innocence the Chimera hadn’t encountered since he’d been exiled to the gates of Hell.
Merrick plucked his leather coat off the ground and smacked the dirt and dead insects out of it.
This could have been her.
A rosy thought.
One that made him think of how fragile a human being she was. She offered him nothing but kindness and fair play, and he shoved it back down her throat.
But it was either that or acknowledge how he reacted to her. The scent of her went straight to his groin, so that it thickened and grew painfully heavy.
What was he going to do with that? Mate her?
Not on God’s green toy called Earth. Or in Hell, for that matter.
Except he wanted to, which was the problem. He wanted to taste her, he wanted to know what her softness would feel like as she encased the damned thing hardening between his legs.
She was the opposite of stone, which was the Chimera’s fate, and just once before his body succumbed to its doom he would like to feel the pliability of soft flesh yielding for him.
Merrick scoffed, shoving such nonsense out of his head. He would have to be satisfied with something more platonic, curse his infernal erection, if he wanted to savor the presence of the human woman.
He could cram his rage and the fact of his hardening skin away for the next several days. Hell, if he could do that it would give him something nice to think about while he was perched in immutable stone for the next few centuries. Maybe thinking of her would ease some of his rage so he could endure his granite prison.
“Angelia, wait.” Merrick trotted after the one thing that shined a little like hope, even if he could never touch her.

****
Her feet halted like the booted traitors they were when the Chimera’s growling command caressed her eardrums.
Brilliant.
So much for her shred of dignity. That was about to get tossed to the curb like the paltry thing it was. Angelia took a fortifying breath and turned to face her anguish head on.
“What, Merrick.” Her curt response was all she could muster as she watched him jog toward her. God, he was beautiful. Not pretty in any way, but striking, the way a tiger sliding through the jungle was beautiful. Sublimely powerful, muscles rippling with every self-possessed movement.
Who knew? Maybe one of the animals of his Chimera was tiger.
Oh yeah, the idea of that just stuffed her with confidence.
“Not Mr. Merrick?” He coaxed a chagrined smile to his lips as he pulled up in front of her.
Angelia hadn’t been expecting his grin, and the sight of it stabbed straight for her womb, which wrung taut with raw need.
She bit down on a gasp, and for one horrifying second she thought she gave herself away.
God, she couldn’t even focus on her Indiana Jones adventure without somehow messing it up. Getting moist for her guide would not prove her self-worth. Not to her father, or Aro. Least of all to herself.
Merrick lifted his chin as his nostrils widened. He took a step back.
Angelia’s cheeks warmed, the stings and bites growing sere from the heat rushing to her face.
Oh, she must be gorgeous, all reeking with needy sex and mottled like a toad. So attractive, the Chimera took a step backward.
Angelia stiffened her spine in the face of his revulsion. Then spun on her heel to flee toward the River Acheron with as steady a hiking pace as she could muster.
She wouldn’t let him see her run. She wasn’t a coward, dang it. No, she was not.
Yes, he weakened her.
But she couldn’t deny the soaring of her heart as he fell into a quiet pace behind her.

****

They reached the river Acheron by what would have been nightfall if they hadn’t been traveling beyond the Archway. Time simply didn’t exist in Hell, the sun didn’t rise or set. The sun didn’t appear at all. Instead, a red sky reigned above their heads, a constant part of the scenery Merrick paid no attention to.
Because, as Angelia walked, he followed her like a dog, trying to steal more of her scent whenever the breezes cooperated.
She never looked back at him, so she didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Hell, he didn’t have any idea what he was doing.
Chasing a scent like an animal.
Yes, he was.
But he couldn’t help himself. The smell of her had him hooked, as it had from the second he’d gotten a whiff of her back at the Triumvirate’s gallery. He could follow her scent instinctively, so the rest of the time they walked he turned his mind to the task at hand.
A surprisingly difficult feat given the way he practically salivated as he watched her walking ahead of him. She had a cushy, yet tight ass, one that begged squeezing, and long, lithe legs dropping out from the bottom of that tempting bum.
Merrick kept his hands clenched in fists lest he indulge his urges.
He had more important decisions to make than whether or not to sandwich his phallus between the cheeks of her ass. Besides, the fact that he wanted to should have been fueling his rage.
The Chimera hated humans, who tended to lord it over everything, the world being their God-given domain and all.
Humans were higher up on his list of dislikes than Ghouls. So, why wasn’t she pissing him off the way other humans did?
Well, he could rub that little nugget, too, while he sat frozen in Grotesque form on a window ledge.
Right then, he had more immediate concerns, like how he was going to convince Kharon the Ferryman that the living soul he escorted should be granted passage across Acheron.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 15 coming Tuesday, March 17, 2015.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 13

 

INSTALLMENT No. 13
Merrick breathed in the honey lavender of Angelia’s hair, grateful she finally answered him. Her bones felt so fragile in his arms he worried that maybe he’d hurt her, that he’d been too strong.
If she’d been harmed?
Well, there would be hell to pay for it, ironically.
Merrick shunned the real reason for his alarm, refusing to delve into that heretofore non-existent treasure chest. He shifted the woman in his arms, releasing her slowly as he’d done when he’d taken to the air with her. As then, he didn’t want her tipping onto her lovely behind, which had become all the more beautiful since he’d discovered it might be precious to him.
Yeah, right. Forget it, dumb ass.
He was a lost soul, a hopeless cause. It wasn’t going to be long before he abandoned his post at the Archway to Hell and either threw his lot in with Lucifer, or perched his granite-turning butt on the ledge of a building.
Still though, he couldn’t stop looking at her. She was terribly shaken, her eyes almost black and shimmering with tears as she unfurled herself from his embrace to stand up. Her face bore the evidence of his preoccupation with her taunting ass, her cheeks and pert nose were dappled with angry stings.
She swiped at her watering eyes and heaved a breath, yanking Merrick’s attention to her breasts.
Great Christ Almighty. Her chest lifted and dropped repeatedly, and those beautifully bulbous things seemed to fill before his eyes. Two points projected from her shirt, like buttons wanting to be pinched, and Merrick fisted his hands and locked his elbows. He would not touch her like he was driven mad to do.
He’d never touched a female in his long life. He’d probably scare her worse than she already was. What did he know of a woman’s breasts? It wasn’t as if he had instincts in the mating department. It wasn’t like he would know what to do that would make her glad he was fondling them.
Did he?
His tongue certainly thought so. It slid across his fangs, which almost itched with the yearning to nip those points, and his mouth wanted to suckle them in, like a babe to its mother’s teat.
Merrick gave his head a sharp shake, dislodging such notions.
He was no babe, and Angelia no mother.
So, why did he want to cup…
Merrick shook his head harder.
The woman took a step back, her eyes still huge.
He needed to remember how he’d failed her because of his callous attitude over her being just a human. She wasn’t Kynd, or one of the Others, for that matter. She was human, one of the millions who were currently overrunning the earth, who shunned the Grotesques, who forgot to honor them by erecting architectural wonders on which the Kynd could spend their remaining years.
She would shun him as surely as her ilk already did.
God be damned, he shouldn’t care. But he did.
“You should go back. Get another guide.” He wasn’t the one for this mission no matter what the Triumvirate thought. He was too hard, he had been alone too long to interact with something as volatile, and fragile, as a human being.
Especially this one, who reminded him too sharply of all that he used to be.
Of all that he now was, and was soon going to be.

****

Angelia shook her own head, denying Merrick’s suggestion.
Even denying the hunger she’d seen burning in his slate eyes. Because it hadn’t lasted long, and now she wasn’t sure it had been there in the first place. Why would he have gazed on her with wanting?
She was mistaken. She was sure of it; especially when now what she saw in his stare reminded her of flagstone—flat and hard.
Dear God, he just saved my life from—
She swung her arm out as if it could possibly encompass the enormity of what had just trampled passed.
It was that, or open and close her mouth like a fish while she fought for air.
She was in shock and had merely imagined the Chimera’s wanting.
But, she couldn’t go back. She couldn’t look at Aro’s disappointed face and admit she wasn’t the human he should have pegged his hopes on.
Even her guide no longer wanted the responsibility of her, and wasn’t that just the icing on her crap cake.
Oh, she was utterly priceless.
Angelia swirled to face the glowing horizon and put one determined foot in front of the other, her jaw clamped tight with determination.
Fine. If the Chimera wanted to wash his hands of her, then she’d make it easy for him. She didn’t have much in the dignity department, but she had enough to know when she should cut her losses.
Her dream of working with one of the Kynd being one of them.
Never mind that every step she was taking in the opposite direction from Merrick sluiced so much regret down her throat she couldn’t breathe from the pressure of it.
She willed her rubbery legs onward. She would retrieve the Scriptum on her own if it killed her.
What a delusional ninny she’d been. Getting all hot and liquid for a creature Michelangelo would have palavered over. Just as if the Chimera would have welcomed her advances if she gathered the nerve to try.
He was beautiful, mythical, and she was—well, she was nothing special. But she did have one last opportunity to prove her worth. Throwing it away was not an option, not with her future riding on the success of the Scriptum’s retrieval.
Okay. She’d be a little more honest with herself.
She felt a personal connection to that book, and she wanted it safe in her arms. The book sang to her. Its message bypassed her logical brain and speared its truth straight to her heart, which was why she’d come to with Aro’s livid face hovering over her.
She remembered how everything had dissolved around her, including herself, as she’d listened to the strains emanating from the open pages.
The Kynd. They were meant to do something, but she couldn’t recall what. So was she, but she couldn’t remember how she was connected to them or what she was supposed to do about it. She’d passed out. And when she’d fainted, her answers must have dribbled out of her ears and dissolved into the cracks in the stone floor of the study.
I’ll get them back.
With one determined step forward at a time.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 14 coming March 14, 2015

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 12

INSTALLMENT NO. 12 #wings #swarms #hell
Angelia’s spine stiffened like his words lashed her, yet, she kept walking.
But she isn’t. Even if Merrick did argue with himself, he obviously liked the shape of her. Not that he knew why. Kynd didn’t take mates, or lovers, as humans called them. He shouldn’t be feeling these strange sensations as he watched her hiking in front of him.
No. She wasn’t hiking; she was marching now, and he found himself lengthening his stride to keep close to her.
“What I meant,” he cleared his throat, “was that members of the Literati seem to have made a bad bargain with Knowledge. They look, well, you know what I mean.”
Merrick held his breath, waiting for the woman to say something, anything, before his mouth opened again to spew God knew what out of it. He was a Chimera, for the Lord’s sake, accustomed to endless years of saying little to nothing.
He thought maybe the last thing he might have spoken was Hey, I’m going to tear your legs off, Vampire, if you take one more step toward that threshold. Or something like it. Yet, here he was dribbling nonsense off his tongue like a yenta.
Angelia slapped at another fly. “I know what you mean.”
His skin tightened instantly. He didn’t like the surrender of her tone, as if she agreed she was trading her life for something that maybe cost more than she wanted to pay. He didn’t want to look close at his reaction to that, either.
She flapped her hands over her head, whisking away the cloud of tiny gnats hovering there. “So, how long will it take before we see the Acheron?”
“You know where you are, then?” She wasn’t ignorant of the Vestibule, just undaunted. Relief stole its way to his lungs, letting him breathe a little easier.
Until the woman in front of him bristled under her pack, her spine stiffening again as she trudged doggedly forward. Merrick silently cursed his traitorous tongue. He’d insulted her worse than telling her she was a withered husk. Couldn’t he just keep his mouth shut around her?
“Yes, I know precisely where I am, Mr. Merrick.” Angelia spun around, her fingers coiled around the shoulder straps of her backpack, her eyes swirling, dark pools.
He almost walked over the top of her, she halted so abruptly.
“Jesus, woman.” She was so close he felt the heat of her anger. And her body.
“Mr. Merrick, if you—”
“Merrick. Just Merrick. I’m not a—”
“Whatever.” Angelia waved her hand as if shooing away his explanation along with the swarming flies. “If you think for one minute I’m not wholly aware of where we are,” she brushed a hornet off her arm. “Then we’re going—”
Merrick pressed the rough pads of his fingertips to her soft lips as he felt the rumble under his feet and the thunder drumming his sensitive ears.
“Jesus Christ.” Far from it, but he didn’t have time to list the differences. Bearing down on them was the one reason he thanked God for not being quite so cruel as He could have been.
The tormented hordes.
Angels unwanted by Lucifer, and rejected by God for their indecisiveness, were barreling down on the spot where Merrick and Angelia now stood. The tattered banner the spirits eternally chased loomed so fast Merrick could hear its flapping as it sped closer.
He shucked his coat, not caring where it landed as he crushed Angelia to him and dropped to the ground. His wings exploded from his back, and he folded them round her body to shield her from the flies and hornets that descended in a choking, stinging cloud.
The swarming mass stole the very air they breathed, suffocating them, and they bumped against his stone-rough skin, their screeching buzz piercing his eardrums as he strained to listen for the following hordes, the hundreds and thousands of shaded souls on foot and horseback who pursued the banner.
Angelia would be crushed by the charging throng if he couldn’t get them off the ground. Yet the insects swarmed too thick, their teeming mass a solid, burning thing that would flay human skin if he removed the protection of his wings to fly them out of harm’s way.
But he had to do something; their time was running out. He could feel the earth shuddering under his feet, rattling his bones with the sheer force of stampeding feet.
Merrick clutched Angelia tighter, fear for her safety crushing heavy on his chest, tightening like a steel band, making it even harder to breathe.
He didn’t pause to ponder why, but used his desperation to get her the hell out of their predicament.
“Hold on,” he bellowed into her ear, and the instant he felt her fingernails dig into his forearms he unfolded one wing, drew it back, and shoved it forward through the thick swarm of insects as hard as he could, propelling them off-kilter, but at the same time backward, out of the direct path of the rushing hordes.
He staggered with the effort of their tilted get-away, but refused to ease his grip on the woman. Merrick curved his battered wing back over her as he surrounded her body, blanketing her from the insects until they, too, receded with the awful tremor of the ground.
****
Angelia, protectively curled beneath the Chimera, couldn’t ignore the slam of Merrick’s heart against her back, the fierce hold of his arms, the heat of their bodies trapped within the canopy of his wings.
She felt her own heart kicking her breastbone as it ricocheted off the Chimera’s muscled forearm.
She’d nearly gotten herself killed.
She had nearly gotten them both killed with her inattention, with the preoccupation that had consumed her when she’d felt Merrick near, as if she had antennae tuned to the frequency of his presence. Images of him in her head had sharpened the closer he got, completely dominating her senses so that the landscape around her had diminished to the narrow space under her feet.
But his presence hadn’t suppressed the insecurities that always hovered around her like an aura.
More like a stink, she remembered thinking. Merrick was strong, self-confident, while she was—well, she was just human, and not a particularly exceptional one, at that. The only reason she worked for the Literati was because they needed a human they could trust, and she filled the bill. Having a father who was Vampyre and a member of the Triumvirate had clinched it. Aro initiated her the day she’d turned eighteen.
You’re no withered husk. She’d kept walking when she’d heard Merrick’s words, blazing her ignorant trail as she’d nursed the sting of his backhanded compliment, his flippant comment cutting too close to the bone.
Of course, she’d known what he’d meant. She had passed enough hours fretting about that very thing. Not that she was vain, she just didn’t want—well, she didn’t quite know exactly what it was she’d hoped to get from joining the Literati.
Adventure, maybe, like Indiana Jones. But that the Chimera saw traces of her fading and wasted youth hit her harder than any of her own self-criticisms. It was one thing to blast herself, but to hear her self-conscious fears voiced by a Kynd she harbored a secret enthrallment for?
Angelia had felt like a bug splattered on a car windshield. And just as gross.
Seconds later, she’d almost wound up as exactly that.
If it hadn’t been for the Chimera’s quick thinking and his tremendous strength, they would both be mangled road kill, and a scrumptious meal for the billions of flies, which had descended in a swarming, stinging mass.
“Angelia?”
She stifled a sob. When Merrick had peeled back his one wing she had seen the nightmare boring down on them, the tortured, fanatical visages of the hundreds of thousands of souls raging by. Her thin skin had been pelted by thousands of stinging hornets and chips of dirt flung up by pounding hooves. Thank God she’d had the wherewithal not to open her mouth to scream. As it was, her lips and nose burned as if raw, and she wasn’t too sure they weren’t stripped clean of skin.
She certainly didn’t mind if the Chimera had yet to let her go. His arms kept her from freaking out, his hold on her body transferring to a grip on her mental state so she could take a few minutes to sort out what she had just seen.
Hell.
She just got her first glimpse of Hell, right up front and horrifyingly personal. Doubt crashed down on her, feeding the sobs mushrooming in her chest, threatening to choke her as the insects had done.
“Angelia?” She hadn’t answered him, and his tone seemed genuinely concerned, which squeezed at her traumatized heart.
“I’m okay.” Except her bottom lip, raw as it was, trembled as tears pooled to blur her vision. Not that she could see much anyway, only Merrick’s knees and his bare arms as he remained hovered over her.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 13 coming Tuesday, March 10, 2015

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 11

Installment No. 12  #hell #gargoyle
Angelia stood with Merrick’s pack in her outstretched arm, watching the Chimera sift through his emotions, seeing his mistrust shift to resentment as he reached toward her. She felt a pang of sadness for him, especially after having seen how affectionate and unguarded he’d been with his fellow Gargoyle only moments before.
The greeting had been a private moment, and one she guessed not many on the outside ever had the chance to see. That Merrick would let her witness it? A squirming twinge played in her belly, expunging the sadness, as she recalled the easy smile on his handsome face.
Like Darken’s eyes, Merrick’s had glowed warm, reminding Angelia of smooth-worn rocks on a sun kissed beach. He had looked down on her without masking his joy at seeing his friend, and her heart had stuttered at the sight of him.
If only she could elicit such affection from him.
Okay, so for now she’d be content with the bone he’d thrown her by not hiding his affectionate side, and ignore the tormented rage he was currently exuding the closer he got to her.
She was brave, darn it. She’d give him a bone, too.
“We should be going. The longer we take getting started, the—”
“The farther down we’ll have to go,” he snapped, snatching at his bag. But she didn’t let it go, and they both stood holding the bundle between them, united for an electric moment.
Was she feeling the heat of Hell, because it was getting awfully warm under her clothes.
Merrick’s smooth jaw ticked, his nostrils flaring like he was smelling something.
Dear God.
Angelia released her grip, and stepped off to preoccupy herself with adjusting the straps on her own backpack, making sure it fit snug, making sure the Chimera couldn’t see the flush on her cheeks, which she was sure was there, if the burning of her face meant anything.
She didn’t dare look at him, but started off, too self-conscious to look back. Yet each step that led her closer to Hell fluttered her heart, tingled her skin, like she was nearing her destiny. Which she felt certain was somehow entwined with that of the Scriptum.
And with the Chimera. Who was nothing like she imagined him to be.
Aside from her inexplicable fascination with the Kynd, Angelia knew she was just as prejudiced in her thinking as the rest of the world. She thought the Chimera chosen to guide her would look as hideous as those fashioned by the hands of man and mounted onto old buildings and churches.
Surprise, surprise.
She hadn’t expected him to have a Gargoyle form, or to have a physique like he posed for GQ in his spare time, or to have eyes that left his soul wide open when he let his guard down.
Not that she’d meant to, but she had seen the depths of his anger as she’d gazed into the slate of those eyes, and had felt like a trespasser. Never mind she’d yearned to drop the bundle she was holding to kiss those tortures out of him.
Well, she couldn’t overlook that part, actually—her cheeks still burned hot enough to remind her. So, she trucked along, oblivious to her surroundings while images of the Chimera and his leonine grace dominated her thoughts.
****
Merrick didn’t immediately follow Angelia. He stood as if planted as he waited for his heart to slog back to its natural rhythm.
Which it wouldn’t do so long as he kept thinking about the woman’s kind gesture and utter lack of retaliation. If she’d have just plunked his bag at his feet, he’d have understood. He would have bitten out some sarcastic comment and dragged her delicate ass down the path after that damned book.
Instead, she’d been nice, and that scraped at his rage without feeding it, confusing him. Ergo, his rapping heart.
Angelia’s backside grew incrementally smaller while he stood grounded like an idiot.
Finally taking off after her, he lied to himself that he didn’t want the view of that round ass a lot closer to him than it was.
He was merely concerned she was getting too far ahead of him for her own safety. They weren’t yet in Hell, but the rim around it contained its own dangers. For being one of the Literati she seemed awfully blasé about stepping across the threshold into the Vestibule.
Surely she wasn’t ignorant about what resided in the antechamber to Hell. It didn’t matter that all around them, stretching as far as the eye could see, was nothing but vast prairies of trampled grass, and an unattainable horizon, charred blood red.
The grass beneath their feet wasn’t merely crushed, it was macerated, the dents and crescent prints of unshod hooves and bare feet tattooed into the pulverized sod.
Yet, still the human walked on.
Undaunted or unaware?
Merrick wasn’t sure, but his mane thickened so the ends of it curled along the collar of his leather jacket. He wanted her safe.
For the deal I’ve made with Anton.
Yes. Of course, that was the reason why. It had nothing to do with the way his eyes kept drifting downward to watch her wiggling ass. Nothing whatsoever.
The woman swatted at bothersome flies, slapping one of the biting insects at her neck, which piqued that unfamiliar urge to protect her and made his chest too tight.
Scanning the plain they traveled across with renewed wariness, Merrick ignored his body’s reaction, and loped to catch up with her, even though he hadn’t a clue what he would say once he closed the distance.
He didn’t do small talk. He had spent too many centuries by himself to have mastered the art of chatting.
Yet, the second the smell of lavender drifted into his nostrils, his tongue loosened like a flapping sail in a stiff wind. “So, how does a human find herself as one of the Literati, anyhow? You’re no withered husk.”
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 12 coming March 7, 2015

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 10

 

Installment No. 10
The Chimera secreted his full self from view, maintaining just the Gargoyle part for Angelia to see. He seemed innocently unaware of his physique, like he had no inkling to the irresistible draw of it.
Angelia remembered to close her gawping, fly-catching mouth lest she embarrass herself. She was on a very serious, life-threatening mission. Any minute now, she was going to be passing through the Gates of Hell, nothing proverbial about it.
Turning her attention elsewhere, she noticed the bones scattered and half-concealed in the trampled and tufting grass. Like they were the stripped shells of cars at an abandoned junkyard. Ookaay. So, he wasn’t the Guardian in the sense that he took your ticket and let you in. The thrill from her flight drained south, abandoning her like rats from a sinking ship. What she needed was a life raft named ADOS, as in Attention Deficit-Ooh, Shiny!
Look at something else, idiot. Like that cheery sign etched into the keystone of the Archway.
Huh. It didn’t exactly say what she thought it was supposed to. “Why doesn’t the inscription read Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate?” Abandon all faith, ye who enter here.
Merrick pulled the leather of his pants up over his hips before turning to answer her.  “Because Dante got it wrong, and the world accepted it as truth,” he spit out, his anger over the mistake evident, and apparently too fresh, despite the centuries that had passed.
She felt an inkling of it herself. “So, there is hope after all? Why hasn’t anyone amended this?” Angelia knew she sounded a bit shrill, but she couldn’t help it. Dante’s error was colossal, and she couldn’t slow the wild threading of her pulse, the hammering of her heart as realization dawned. “There are people down there who can repent.” Not a question.
“Angelia,” Merrick warned, his tone a mere octave above a growl.
She gripped her pack, like maybe it could defend her. “Yeah?”
Merrick softened. A little. If she hadn’t been sucking up every gorgeous detail of him, she’d have never noticed. “Turn back.”
Quick as a spark, regret flashed in his granite eyes, then disappeared.
Well, well, well. Merrick wasn’t all stone. Her father had seen it, too, or he wouldn’t have agreed with the Triumvirate to let her go. Anton trusted Merrick, and so would she.
“I appreciate your concern—I do. But, I’ve got to do this. The Scriptum holds too many secrets to fall into the wrong hands.” She didn’t say she needed the boost to her self- esteem.
Merrick’s thick muscles stiffened as a growl boiled from the bottom of his lungs.
She would have been a block of wood not to feel the charge crackling through the air, or that growl rubbing across her flesh. Merrick thought she didn’t trust him with the Scriptum.
His anger was justified. The Scriptum was about the Kynd, after all. About him. But, Angelia didn’t trust anyone with such an important relic, not even the members of the Literati. The book had revealed its secrets to her, even if she was fuzzy about the details.
She felt wholly responsible for it because it had entrusted her with its encrypted knowledge, and it had been stolen during her whole damsel-in-distress routine. If she hadn’t fainted, it wouldn’t have been taken.
He needed to understand how responsible she felt about that, how compelled she was to right her wrong. “What I—”
Merrick spun around so all she could see was the length of his broad back tapering to his narrow hips. Which, sigh, were hugged in rich, brown leather. A nice view, but she’d been trying to explain something a little important.
“Hey, I was trying—”
Merrick glared over his shoulder. “Shut it, chickie. We’ve got company.”
Angelia clapped her jaw shut for the umpteenth time already that day.
Another Gargoyle maybe? Or something more dangerous?
She would not look at the bleached out bones scattered around her. Heck, no. Like squirrels gunning it for the nearest tree, her feet scurried her closer to her guide and protector. Feeling safer, she peered around Merrick’s side, and tried to catch a glimpse of who, or what, he was waiting for.

****
The woman’s touch to Merrick’s back went straight to his groin.
What in God’s name is she to rile me like this?
Without turning around, he curled his fingers around her hand to remove its temptation. He didn’t need the distraction, or the pain, of his thickening flesh in his pants. Not when he was going to be greeting an old friend.
He almost leapt the entire distance from where he stood with the woman, to the Archway, where their visitor scratched his way to the top of the keystone and curled his muscled haunches to sit. Merrick left Angelia to stand on the ground with her excuses on the tip of her tongue, and her electric hands empty.
“Darken, my old friend. I was afraid you hadn’t heard my call.” He pulled the other Gargoyle close for a hard hug.
Darken’s strong arms enveloped more than just Merrick’s body. They were a balm to his raging heart, and savoring it, he held his friend for several long moments, enjoying the rare touch of another Kynd.
“Anything for a change of scene, Merrick, you know that.” Darken pulled back to reveal a smile loaded with a beastly row of sharp teeth. Yet his gray eyes glowed warm. An uncommon sight, given the Gargoyle had little to be happy for. Darken lifted his chin. “Who’s the human?”
Merrick turned, as if surprised to find such an anomaly standing on the ground below them. “She’s my charge. She’s going in with me.”
Darken whistled appreciatively. “No! Such a wisp of a thing, too. What’s she done to deserve her turn in the Circles?”
“Nothing. She’s the Vampyre Anton’s daughter. Under direction of the Literati, we’re going in together, and coming out the same way. I’m her guide.” Darken’s rare affability ran contagious, and Merrick harkened to it, his mood growing light—a welcomed respite.
Darken choked, incredulous. “Her guide?” He looked around Merrick to call down to the human. “You do know there are lovely vacation destinations right here on the surface, don’t you?”
Angelia nodded, and pointed two fingers to her brow, acknowledging the Gargoyle’s playfulness with a salute.
“She’s a little daft, Darken, pay her no mind.” Merrick grinned, and a rusted laugh scraped up his throat, sounding more like an angry crow than any effortless bubbling.
Thank God it was Darken he shared it with, his dearest friend. As Kynd himself, Darken knew all too well the weariness borne by those of their station. He understood, too, Merrick’s particular hardship, that he never observed joy, or love, nor any of the finer emotions that made creatures beautiful.
At one time, the Kynd were unabashedly open in their affections for each other. But since the Great Schism when they’d been cast from Heaven, too many didn’t have the opportunity to indulge their natural geniality.
God had seen fit to scatter them to the winds, where it was impossible for them to share in each other’s company for longer than a few stolen moments. As a result of this forced isolation, they were turning into the Grotesques the humans thought them to be.
“Aye, well, Merrick,” Darken’s good humor faded as he slipped an arm around his comrade’s shoulders. “If they can bring a spark of happiness, it’s worth the gamble, eh?”
“You’re a bloody philosopher, brother.” Merrick clasped the Gargoyle’s hand. “You’ll watch for me, won’t you? They’ve given us seven days. If we’re not out—”
“Aye. I’ll not let you surrender so easily, you nancy. It’s only been two thousand years and some change, you can’t quit on us already.”
His gratitude swamping him, Merrick clutched Darken to his breast.
After a couple of claps to his back, the other Gargoyle nodded, indicating the woman on the ground. “Besides, you’ve got company this trip. And by the looks of her, you’ll be too preoccupied to dwell on your inner demons.”
Merrick gazed down on Angelia, who had perched on a boulder to better watch the reunion. She was braiding her long, blonde hair into a golden plait.
“She’ll keep me on my toes, for sure.” He grinned for Darken one last time, but knew shadows prevented any merriment from reaching his eyes.
But the specter that bothered him most was the same uneasy feeling he’d had back in the gallery with the Triumvirate, when Merrick had first seen the human woman consoling the Vampyre.
Jealousy.
Impossible.
Kynd didn’t do jealous. Or any other base emotion they associated with humans. At least, they hadn’t before they’d been cast to Middle Ground.
Merrick shrugged to settle his wings even though they were tucked and hidden. The jealousy thing was but one more torment he would have to quell as he navigated the Circles of Hell.
Maybe he should be the one to turn back, let the Triumvirate find someone else to guide the human in her search for the Scriptum. Because now as he prepared to set foot beyond the Archway, his doubts walked in on cold fingers, gripping his heart with a chilling fist.
He hadn’t been kidding about reminding Darken to come looking for them after seven days.
Two thousand years of observing the torment of millions of tainted souls, of destroying creatures trying to sneak through the gate to raise…hell, and Merrick wasn’t far from pitching his own lot in with the former Angel’s.
At least then he would no longer be Witness and Guardian, would no longer have to endure the endless burden of his Kynd.
In Hell, the Chimera could let his rage have its due. He could give in to the violence steeping like a fetid brine in his soul. Better that than to poise on a building’s ledge, his fury still shackled to him. He would be unable to vent its poison as he perched helpless, entirely consumed in stone.
Merrick stole another glance down below. The woman was standing now, moving toward their packs. “I guess it’s time to go.” He winked at Darken, masking the fear that crept in with his doubts.
“I’d say. She looks like she’d go without you. Who’s guiding who, anyway?”
Merrick shoved his fist against the thick muscle of Darken’s shoulder. “Funny. You’re a regular comedian. I’ll come back just to catch your show.”
The other Gargoyle nodded, his smile slipping as he grew serious. “No, but you will come back. See you soon, old friend.” Clapping a rough palm to Merrick’s back, he pushed the Chimera down the wall. “Now get going, you’re wasting my time.”
Merrick landed easily on his feet, and didn’t look back as he left Darken atop the Archway. Still, though, his thoughts remained behind on his brotherkynd.
They had been cast from Heaven together, along with all the other Gargoyles and Chimera. And Merrick might have plucked the short straw when he’d been assigned to watch over the Gates of Hell, but Darken’s lot wasn’t any better. The Gargoyle was shackled to Death, and it didn’t take much imagination to figure out how that particular duty ate away at a Kynd’s soul.
Darken knew full well the agony of too many centuries lurking within the rim of shadows, when such a fate ran counter to the true hearts of the Kynd.
Not that anyone bothered to know. Gargoyles and Chimera had been vilified, and there they would remain, eternally maligned.
Merrick shrugged his shoulders again, this time to slough off his gloom, and walked toward Angelia, who held his pack out for him.
For a brief moment, he thought she’d pay him back for his ill manners back with the Triumvirate, and he tensed, ready to snag his supplies before she could drop them on the ground as he reached for them.
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 11 coming Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

LOVER IN STONE, Installment No. 9

Installment No. 9
“Wait, I’m coming.” Getting breathless, Angelia turned back around to give her father a quick hug. “I’ve got to go,” she nudged her chin toward an impatient Merrick bounding toward the stairs.
“I could speed you there so you arrived before he did,” Anton lifted a dark brow, accenting the mischief swirling in his silver eyes.
“No,” she grinned, unable to resist his stoic charm. “He’s right. I’ll catch up.”
“It’s good-bye then, chickie. Be careful.”
“I will, Papa. And hold Mom tight, give her my kisses.”
“Of course.”
Angelia spun on her heels and ran for the staircase.
Of course her father would most assuredly hold her mother to him. He was going to have to. Marguerite was going to go berserker. Guilt anyone? She felt bad for leaving her father with her mess to clean up, but she had no choice. Merrick was right about needing to leave as soon as possible. Enough time had been wasted. The Scriptum could already be within the Second Circle and spiraling farther downward by the minute.
As she ran, she shuffled the pack to her back, cinching the belts across her chest and waist to keep it from bouncing. Her heart thumped too hard, but no telling if it was because of the daunting prospect of her mission, or the exhilaration of going on an adventure with a real Chimera.
She couldn’t separate the two things, not when her feet drew her closer to Merrick. Slowing as she neared him, she sized him up until she was standing so close she could smell the smooth leather of the clothes he was folding into the pack at his bare feet. Some other scent teased her senses, too, something crystalline and very male.
Merrick turned when she approached, and Angelia ripped her eyes from his broad, naked chest with its flat nipples, to look up into a tight face. Slate gray eyes hit her so hard she took a physical step backward. Away from him.
“That’s right, chickie. Not too close.” His sneer revealed one long, thick, and very sharp canine. “You wouldn’t want the big, bad Gargoyle to eat you.”
“If that’s to intimidate me, you’d better try harder. I was raised with Vampires.” She was a braggart, an empty windbag in the cruel face of his taunting.
“If you’re not scared, human, then you’re a bigger idiot than I pegged you for.”
Her retort never left her lips. Merrick abruptly yanked her snug against his taut, naked body, and exploded around her with a snap and flutter so thunderous she’d have cowered if he wasn’t holding her so tight.
She understood then, in one terrifying blur of black feathers that swallowed her body whole, that she was indeed an idiot.
And so very beyond her realm as the Chimera engulfed her in his wings and rocketed her toward Hell.

****

They stopped at the Archway, where for the past two thousand years Merrick had perched as Guardian to those passing into Hell. He felt the grass on his bare soles as he alighted, his bones registering the solidity of the earth beneath him.
Yet, his skin and muscles felt so much more as he basked in the warmth of the body he pressed to his. The human woman’s heart pumped fast, priming her blood so it raced beneath her skin. Her unique blend of honey and lavender puffed under his nose.
He wasn’t sorry for the nectar of her, he was chagrined to have caused her fear. He’d done it on purpose, like a lout, in a fit of temper. Because she unnerved him. The confusing part? She did so even in his distilled form.
The human woman wielded a power over him that shouldn’t be possible. He’d gloried in the contrasting silk of her cheek against the thicker skin of his torso, the heat of her breath, the clinging of her delicate, yet strong arms around his waist as he’d vaulted them into the sky.
So help him, he fought not to dig his lion’s claws into her, resisting the urge to press her tighter with his padded palms. God in Heaven, but the ancient Vampyre Anton and his wife had named their foundling correctly.
This human seemed like an angel.
And strike him dead if he harmed her. As it was, he danced on the edge of suffering his demise. Because he was holding her too tight, even with both sets of their feet solidly planted on the ground. He should release her, not stand there gripping onto her like a stricken imbecile.
He was Kynd, dammit, he didn’t do the mating thing. He was not a performer in the carnal arts of creation.
Folding his wings with a powerful ruffle, he slid the rest of the Chimera behind his bare skin. In his shift, he kept the human woman trapped upright in his changing arms, lest she wobble and teeter to the dirt.
He gazed down at her when he was finished, to register her alarm, her vertigo.
Well, wasn’t he the lucky one: his night just brimmed with surprises.
The woman seemed barely fazed, just a little flushed, gazing up at him with those dark blue eyes shining with the thrill of her ride.
Merrick released her as if her skin caught fire and would burn him.
****
Swaying like a lone two by four standing vertical, Angelia glanced straight up into the fierce glint of granite eyes, and clamped her jaw shut. Which did wonders for her balance. Good thing, too, since Merrick scraped her nerves until they sang for him. She didn’t need him knowing it.
But their passage through the sky?
Sheer terrifying exultation, unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The Chimera had gifted her with something wondrous.
Flight.
Scary, yes. But she’d felt incongruously safe in Merrick’s grasp. She’d forgotten all about his tenuously tamped rage as the air ripped over them, across the surface of his feathers, filling her ears with a sound she could only liken to the strains of a choir. A sound which resonated to the core of her, as though it was a deeply buried memory she couldn’t excavate.
But she’d dig later. Right then, she’d rather think about how being wrapped snug in those singing wings, she’d felt none of the frigid night sky. Only the Chimera’s strength, his heat, the rough skin of his chest against her face, as if he was encased within a film of stone.
Immediately, she thought of his eyes, so like slate, too, and stole another glance up at him, steeling herself against the vision.
He moved before her as naked as Adam. Well-built, powerful, his muscles dragging on bone, flexing as he bent over his pack to retrieve his clothing. She watched transfixed as his spine curved, his ribcage expanding masterfully as he drove his hand into the sack. Two symmetrical scars lined his back. Where he kept his wings?
~S.C. Dane
~Installment No. 10 coming Saturday, February 28, 2015