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An unshakable sense of premonition settled upon Aleksandra Byrne as she stretched out in her bed. Her Sight had never failed her in the past, and she had no reason to think that it would do so now.
Tonight it was nothing more tangible than a conviction that something unknown was nearing, circling inescapably overhead; but it was enough to force her to slip silently out of the bed she was sharing with her boyfriend, Tom, and dart across the room to stare out of the window.
Their tiny cottage - or love nest, as Tom laughingly referred to it - was silent, and no wonder, for it was nearly midnight. The soft sounds of his deep breathing were the only ones to break the peace. Alex felt a fleeting urge to retreat into the safety of his arms to be protected there from whatever it was that was drawing nearer with each breath that he took.
Fighting back the compulsion with a low, pained sigh, for her unease would only disturb him, Alex’s heart picked up its pace further as she turned away from the window. Nothing was moving outside. She and Tom were undoubtedly alone in the cottage; yet still, her sense of agitation grew stronger with every passing moment.
Her mouth was dry. She moistened her lips nervously and gave up on any idea of returning to bed with her sleeping boyfriend. Snatching up the shirt that she laughingly tugged away from Tom’s tall, slender body earlier in the night, Alex wrapped it around her naked body. She buttoned it up to protect against the unseasonable chill of the late spring night before cautiously opening the door and wandering along the creaking floorboards of the hallway as her mind turned to thoughts of the Sight that was driving her.
The Sight was a constant yet gentle thrum in her blood, a low hum of something that she could not comprehend. It had been with her as long as she could remember, but somehow, Alex instinctively knew that it wasn’t normal. She knew that this feeling, nestled just underneath the surface and impossible to touch or define, wasn’t something that other people possessed.
She spoke of it to no-one, not even Tom, for fear they would dismiss it - and her - as irrational, superstitious or perhaps far worse. Yet despite her efforts to ignore it, it haunted her every move throughout her life. The good it had done couldn’t be discounted, for it brought her together with Tom, but its constant presence meant she lived her life on edge, always awaiting the next moment it would force its way back to the surface and shake her foundations once more.
It seemed that tonight was that night.
Without thinking Alex had wandered into the small spare bedroom at the rear of the cottage. All was undisturbed in there - the perfectly pressed white sheets on top of the guest bed were just as they should be, and the drapes across the windows swayed slightly in the gentle breeze intruding upon the room through the window she had left ajar.
Moonlight flooded the room, breaking the grip of the intimidating darkness to soothe her nerves. Alex smiled slightly when her eyes alighted upon the rickety wardrobe in the corner of the room, for she felt a sudden compulsion to check both inside it and under the bed itself for the monsters she imagined tormented her as a child.
Trying to convince herself that it was only anticipation that had unsettled her - for tomorrow would be her twenty first birthday - she forced herself to slip between the sheets and turn her back on the door. Though her Sight still prickled uncomfortably, her fatigue was slowly overcoming it.
Alex anticipated a night of disturbed dreams ahead, so she nestled her head into the collar of Tom’s shirt to draw comfort from the familiar scent of his cologne upon the cotton. Instead of the soothing effect she expected it to have, the scent of her boyfriend awoke a consuming panic inside her.
Though she was bemused and anxious by the unwelcome and unfamiliar sensation, she was too drowsy even to think clearly about it. Unable to fight the abrupt exhaustion that descended upon her, Alex pushed aside her unease and closed her eyes. She fell asleep as the clocks downstairs softly rang out the chimes of midnight to mark her birthday.
Mere moments later her eyes flew back open in terror. A hand was pressing down upon her mouth.
Fear raged through her veins, inflaming her blood and giving her a strength she never knew she had. Alex wrenched her face away from the long fingers that were caressing it and playing lovingly around its contours - for it wasn’t Tom now in the room with her.
Three tall, imposing men were stood around her bed. The one whose hand had been so intimately touching her face was nearest. His silken, jet black hair fell in long curtains around the harsh and chiselled lines of his face; a face so firm that it seemed that the alabaster skin covering it had been stretched across carved marble.
Behind him was another man with hair so fair it was almost white. His blue eyes seemed to dance with amused laughter, but there was a cruel, smouldering spark behind the thin smile quirking back the corners of his lips that sent a marked shudder coursing through Alex’s body.
She tore her eyes away from him and drew a sharp, rasping breath as her gaze settled upon the last of the three. Leaning against the wall to the left of her bed, he seemed almost bored and disinterested in proceedings as he irritably swept his dark hair back out of his eyes, exposing the intensity of his piercing yet forbidding stare as it focused upon her.
They were beautiful, all three of them, but it was a cold, unattainable sort of beauty, far out of the reach of any ordinary mortal; Alex knew that to be a certainty. All of them were bare-footed and bare-chested, exposing the toned, rippling muscles across their torsos. They wore trousers, but even those were so tight as to be almost a second skin.
It seemed very apparent to her what it was that they wanted from her. Alex’s breath caught in her throat in horror as she scrambled up the bed and snatched up the sheets to hold them defensively against her chest.
Her piercing scream echoed loudly throughout the little cottage, loud enough to wake the dead, but no answering call came. Terror spiked in the pit of her stomach as she screamed for him again, but still he made no answer.
“Do not waste your breath, Aleksandra. He cannot hear you.”
It was the man who touched and awoke her who had spoken. His ominous words achieved what Alex would have thought just moments before was impossible. They filled her with yet more fear. Her heart clenched tightly inside her chest, as heavy and painful as if it were a block of ice that rested there instead of the living, wildly pounding flesh. “What have you done to him?” she demanded hotly. “Have you killed him?”
“Why would we waste time and energy doing that? Aleksandra -”
To her deep unease, her curt correction brought a whisper of a smile to his face as he bowed his head. “Do you dislike the names that were chosen for you, Aleksandra Sybilla Byrne? Your names were chosen for their connotations with famous seers and prophetesses; and they are beautiful names, wholly apt for one as lovely as you!”
“My name is Alex…” Her stubborn insistence, though, faded away as an abrupt realisation descended upon her that these men should not know her names, any of them; she never went by her full name, and her middle name was known to no-one outside of Tom and her remaining family. “How do you know my damned names - and what the hell have you done with my boyfriend?!”
Fire burned in her eyes. Alex glanced from side to side for anything she could use to defend herself and clenched her fists triumphantly when she saw a heavy lamp at the side of the bed. Her intentions must have shown in the angry lines of her face, for before she could reach it, the black-haired man sprang forward to close the remaining distance between them and pin her arms to the wall she was backed up against.
“Do not waste your energy in fighting us, Alex!”
His low snarl rang out with barely-restrained fury, wrenching a terrified gasp from her parted lips. “Don’t hurt me -”
“Alex, we want only your pleasure! If only you will permit us a moment in which to explain to you, all will become clear. Will you give me your silence, or must I force it by occupying your mouth in another manner altogether whilst my brothers make the explanation?”
Tears of rage and fear stung bitterly at her eyes as his long fingers dug sharply into her arms, holding her inescapably in place. To her distress and confusion, his touch upon her body was intensely pleasurable, even through the thin cotton that still separated their skin. Desperate for a distraction from the sharp twist of desire that had briefly flickered inside her, she opened her mouth to reply. “What choice do I have?”
Arching one slender eyebrow, he leaned in closer and allowed his smile to widen triumphantly when her breath quickened. “You could choose to have the kiss - and more - first, and an explanation after…but for you, Alex, we shall honour you with the explanation before taking what you must give to us. Your boyfriend, then; he is sleeping. It is a deep, deep slumber, and he will not awaken until we permit it -”
“Another interruption?” The man to the left shook his head reprovingly as he sat down next to her. His weight pressed down the mattress as he began to toy with the collar of Tom’s shirt and allowed his fingers to press against the vulnerable curve of her throat. “One would almost imagine that you were eager for us to silence you in the most pleasurable of ways, Aleksandra!”
Twisting her head to the side, she shook it wildly. “I –I’m sorry. Continue, please!”
“As I was saying then, Alex,” the black-haired man continued calmly, “he is sleeping. No harm will come to him tonight. And as for the reason why we know so much about you, it is because you are ours. You have been ours since the moment of your conception, and you will be ours until the end of time itself. Everything about you is known to us, and everything that you are belongs to us. Would you like to know the names of those who possess you so completely?”
“You will tell me even if I insist I don’t want to know, won’t you?”
He inclined his head again with a low burst of laughter that made her stomach give a wild and unwelcome leap. “Indeed. You are at my mercy, Alex, in every way, and I wish for you to know our names. My brother with the fair hair is Rauzel, to your left is Koraum, and I am Vazaroth. Repeat that for me. We wish to hear our names upon your lovely lips.”
Alex’s eyes widened. Struggling to think clearly or rationally as his eyes raked coolly over her body and Koraum wrenched the sheet away from her chest, she fought to calm her breathing as the strange, foreign words obediently fell from her lips of their own volition. “Rauzel, Koraum and - and Vazaroth.”
“Very good. Now, the man who shares your bed - Thomas.”
“Tom,” she corrected Vazaroth automatically, her eyes widening when his hands drifted almost nonchalantly to rest on the curve of her waist.
“Thomas, Tom - mere monikers matter not to me, Alex, not when they are not yours! I want to know how the two of you met.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but the fair-haired man - Rauzel - raised a finger to his lips to silence her. “You need not speak it, beloved, merely immerse yourself in the memory.”
Unbidden, the memory rose to the forefront of her mind as Koraum and Rauzel leaned in towards them.
Alex quickened her step as she moved along the bustling London street. Keeping her head down, she allowed her red hair to fall forwards and shield her face. As she forced her way through the heaving crowds, she clutched her coat tightly closed against her chest and hung grimly onto her bag.
She was out far later then she had intended to be, and she was alone. Her Sight was tingling uncomfortably in the back of her mind, making it imperative that she returned quickly to the sanctity of her grandfather’s home. She could not shake the sensation that somewhere amongst the heaving crowd, a pair of eyes were fixed intently upon her. Unfortunately, though, there were still two streets to cross and a bus ride to endure before she would be back at the only place she felt safe.
With a tight grimace when someone jostled her arm and knocked her out of the steady stream of flowing people, Alex stumbled sideways and teetered on the edge of the pavement. Regaining her balance as a tall, messy-haired man in a suit and spectacles broke free of the crowd at her side, she shook her hair out of her eyes as he glanced towards her with a swift smile.
Alex staggered backwards and cried out when he then lifted his foot to step out into the road, clearly spying a gap in the speeding traffic. Her Sight burst forth in her head with an explosive ferocity; crimson-streaked images of screeching tyres and of the man’s mangled body lying underneath the wheels of a black car, his glasses lying broken and askew, spun through her mind.
She impulsively leapt towards him, caught hold of his arm and tugged desperately upon it, jerking him back towards the pavement just as the same black car she foresaw careened around the corner and sped past them - precisely where the man would have been if Alex had not stopped him.
“Jesus!” His astounded cry broke through the consuming explosion of Sight inside her head. His hands flew to Alex’s waist to steady her before he stood back and ran his hands through his hair. “Thank you - I mean - how the hell did you see that coming?”
“S-sixth sense, I guess.” Alex’s voice was faint and trembling as much as her hands. A flush crept up her face, adrenalin fading away to be replaced by dizzying relief and a rush of attraction. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I’m glad I’m okay too.” They laughed in unison, neither of them paying attention any longer to the crowds around them or the cars racing past. “Do you often get those useful flashes of sixth sense then, sweetheart?”
“Now and again.” She smiled up at him, mutely urging him with her eyes not to walk away from her.
“Strikes me, then, that you’re the kind of girl that I want to keep close - if you get what I’m saying?” He stared at her, the loaded question hanging in the air between them as she met his gaze, watching his eyes visibly darken as they filled with lust.
“Oh, I get what you’re saying,” she finally said softly, thrilling in the racing of her heart as he took the smallest of steps towards her. “My name’s Alex, by the way.”
“Tom - Tom Lewis. Then to that end, Alex, might I be allowed to take my guardian angel for a coffee to thank her? I don’t think I can bear to relinquish you, not when I feel so damned compelled to keep you in my sight…amongst other things.”
He reached out for her hand as he spoke, and the sensation of his fingers entwined through hers took her breath away.
Vazaroth’s curt command brought an abrupt end to the memory before it could progress to the coffees they drank together or the night they shared in Tom’s bed. They hadn’t been apart since. Alex warily met his possessive stare. “You can’t possibly tell me that you saw all that as I thought about it?”
Koraum snorted softly, dismissing her incredulous words by reeling off the number plate of the car that so nearly killed Tom and rendering Alex dumb with astonishment. “A question for you, Aleksandra,” he continued as her jumbled thoughts swam through her mind with an agonising lack of clarity. “You love him, I presume?”
She swallowed hard as she fought to compose herself. “Yes, of course.”
“But as no more than a friend now.”
“Yes.” Koraum’s cool assertion unnerved her, but before she could take even a moment to rebut it or try to make sense of the twist of guilt that had shot through her, Vazaroth shook his head irritably and drew back her attention.
“Never mind that now, Koraum. Alex, you saw the future?” Vazaroth queried sharply. He wound his hands through her loose waves of tousled copper hair as he spoke.
Alex flinched away from his touch, but she did not attempt to break free. Not only did she realise how futile her efforts would be, but the mystery of who these three men truly were and how they knew so much about her occupied her mind so fully that it was as if she were bewitched. “Yes. That was the only time I saw the future so clearly, though. Usually it’s just a sensation of something nearing or visions of the past.”
Vazaroth jerked his head. His face tautened as one of his hands worked downwards to rest on and caress the nape of her neck. “Your Sight should not have such clarity, Alex. Visions of the past are your birthright, I am afraid, the curse you must bear, but to see the future in such a way? It surprises me, and I am not one to be easily surprised. I am intrigued by you, far more than I expected that I would be - but come, I sense you have more pressing questions for us before we proceed.”
Fighting the urge to arch her back and revel in his sinfully pleasurable touch as his fingers soothed away the tension in her stiffly held neck, Alex nodded and forced her face to harden. “I still don’t know how you know my names. Clever words mean nothing to me - I want the damned truth.”
“The damned truth?” he echoed mildly. “So be it then, Alex. We know your names, as do all those who reside in Hell, because we witnessed your conception and birth. Your father named you at the moment of your birth and your mother’s death, and your name has been sung by the demons of Hell ever since.”
Ignoring the impossible for the moment, for Vazaroth’s talk of Hell could be nothing but that, Alex’s eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Brendan? Actually, he didn’t name me,” she said dismissively. “He and Grandfather told me that my mother chose my names.”
“That is a lie that your grandfather propagated; and Alex, your father is not Brendan Byrne -”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Ridiculous?!” A darkening storm of rage descended upon Vazaroth’s face, sending another shiver of ice shards through Alex’s veins. “Alex, I am many things, but I am not ridiculous. You will not speak to me so! As I was saying, your father is as we are, and his name is Deures -”
“Please, stop!” Alex pulled away from him as his fist tightened around her shirt, threatening to rip it open. Terrified of the forceful compulsion that had arisen in her to aid him in his obvious intentions, she choked back a loud sob. “I don’t understand! Who - what are you?!”
Her low, fearful moan seemed to give them pain, for their beautiful faces contorted in unison before Rauzel drew a deep breath and spoke. “We are incubi, demons from the realm of Hell - and we have come to claim that which is ours.”
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