Valley of the shadow, p.1

Valley of the Shadow, page 1

 

Valley of the Shadow
 


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Valley of the Shadow


  “I’m sure of you. Everything else, we’ll figure out along the way.”

  Valley of the Shadow

  For eight years, Baojia and Natalie have pursued their goals: family, career, friendship, and love—trying to carve out an ordinary life in an immortal world. And for eight years they’ve been mostly successful save for a world-bending adventure every now and then.

  Except that their life was never ordinary. It was never going to be.

  Natalie and Baojia might have made plans, but when ordinary life comes crashing down, they’ll have to turn to the family they have chosen—vampire and human—for help keeping their world together.

  Five couples, four kids, three weeks, two paths… and a partridge in a pear tree? Return to the Elemental World for a Christmas reunion of old friends and forever loves.

  For Natalie Ellis, it’s time to come home.

  Valley of the Shadow is a novella in the Elemental World series by USA Today bestseller Elizabeth Hunter, author of the Elemental Mysteries, the Irin Chronicles, and Love Stories on 7th and Main.

  Valley of the Shadow

  An Elemental World Novella

  Elizabeth Hunter

  Valley of the Shadow

  Copyright © 2019

  Elizabeth Hunter

  ISBN: 978-1-941674-48-2

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the US Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

  Cover: Damonza

  Content Editor: Amy Cissell, Cissell Ink

  Line Editor: Anne Victory

  Proofreader: Linda, Victory Editing

  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it or it was not purchased for your use only, please delete it and purchase your own copy from an authorized retailer. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Recurve Press LLC

  PO Box 4034

  Visalia, California 93278

  USA

  This book is dedicated to every

  Natalie and Baojia fan

  who has asked over the years…

  So what happens?

  Thanks for being so patient.

  “I would be giving up everything to love you. I wanted a family. I wanted a normal life. I wanted what my parents had no matter how it ended. Do you know what loving you would mean for me? For my life?”

  * * *

  “Yes. Love me anyway.”

  Blood and Sand

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Afterword

  The Elemental Legacy Series

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Also by Elizabeth Hunter

  Chapter One

  Baojia lived his immortal life from sundown to midnight. He and Natalie had decided as a family that midnight was as late as two small children could be allowed to stay awake, even if they had a nontraditional school schedule and slept until noon. Though his security work sometimes interrupted, the primary focus of his life from sundown to midnight was his children and his wife.

  He carried his squirming daughter under one arm and nudged his son with the other. “Bed.”

  Jake yawned loudly. “I’m not ti-ired.”

  “Clearly.” He mussed the boy’s dark brown hair. “We can finish the game tomorrow.”

  “But not until you wake up,” Jake whined. “I don’t want to wait that long.”

  His daughter, Sarah, did her best impression of a boiled spaghetti noodle and flipped backward in his arms.

  “It’s good to want things.” Baojia wrangled Sarah upright. “It teaches you patience. Don’t play dead, Monkey. You’re going to hit your head.”

  Sarah’s lively brown eyes were not tired in the least. “I’m not playing dead. I’m playing vampire!” She patted her father’s cheek. “Let me see, let me see.”

  He forced himself to snarl and allowed his fangs to fall. “Rawr.”

  Sarah squealed in delight and nearly twisted out of his arms again. “Rawr, rawr, rawr!”

  Jake looked up with adoration. “I’m gonna have really big fangs when I grow up.”

  “That”—Baojia nudged him into his room—“is a very mature decision that you cannot make until you are very old.”

  “How old?” Jake hopped into his bed.

  Baojia slung Sarah over his shoulder to keep her from crawling out of his arms. She truly was their monkey. She crawled and climbed on everything in sight. “Hmm… let me think.”

  Jake wasn’t budging. He crossed his arms over his skinny seven-year-old chest. It was a gesture he’d recently begun copying from Baojia. “When can I decide I want to be a vampire?”

  Baojia went with his gut. “When you’re forty-seven.”

  Jake’s mouth dropped. “What? No way, Dad. I don’t want to be an old man.”

  “Forty-seven isn’t old.”

  “It’s really old.” Sarah grabbed Baojia’s head and pulled herself up to sit on his shoulder. “That’s almost a hundred, Dad.”

  He laughed low and long. Nothing made him laugh more than his children. They were the light and life of his eternity, and words could not express how grateful for them he was.

  Even when they were being restless.

  “Bedtime, Jake.”

  He swung Sarah onto his back and sat on the edge of Jake’s bed while they said good-night prayers. It was a habit Natalie had begun with both the children, and while Baojia wasn’t religious, he appreciated the habit of gratitude it engendered.

  “And thank you for our house,” Jake said. “And thank you for my bike.”

  “And my bike too,” Sarah whispered.

  “Thank you for Sarah’s baby bike.”

  “Jake.” Baojia’s voice was a warning.

  “And thank you for fishing. And thank you for Ariel and Miss Olivia.”

  Baojia murmured, “Wrap it up.”

  His son could be very grateful. For close to an hour if he didn’t want to go to bed.

  “And thank you for Uncle Lucien and Auntie Mak and for Cousin Carina and also for Butch. Amen.” Jake finished his prayers and opened his eyes, his lips pressed together.

  Baojia raised an eyebrow. “Butch?”

  “He’s out there, Dad. We just haven’t found him yet.”

  Jake was bound and determined to have a dog. He’d been begging for two years. Natalie and Baojia had resisted. They already had enough people in and out of their house simply to help take care of two active children. A dog seemed like another thing to keep track of.

  “I know it.” Jake yawned loudly. “When Butch finds us, you’ll know too.”

  “I’ll keep my eyes open.” He bent over and kissed Jake’s forehead. “Good night. I love you.”

  “I love you too!” Sarah sang. She giggled when Baojia stood and swung her from his back into his arms.

  “Love you, Dad.” Jake punched his pillows to get them exactly as he wanted. “Tell Mom I hope she’s feeling better.”

  “I will.” He held Sarah in place as she tried to crawl up his shoulder and onto his head. “Sweet dreams.”

  He walked out of Jake’s room and into Sarah’s. A bathroom connected the two rooms, but while Jake’s bedroom was decorated plainly with dark green trim and dinosaurs scattered everywhere, Sarah’s was an explosion of purple.

  Purple curtains. Purple bed
. Purple-painted monkeys crawling along the top of each wall. Baojia tossed Sarah onto her bed and smiled when the little girl erupted in giggles.

  “Do it again.” She held out her arms.

  “No.” He sat on the edge of her bed and tried to settle her down. “I’ll read you a book, and then you need to sleep.”

  “I want Mama to read it.”

  “Mama is not feeling well,” Baojia said, “so we’re letting her sleep.”

  Sarah pouted. “I want to go say good night.”

  “You already did that.”

  “I want a glass of water.”

  Baojia pointed to the water bottle by her bed. “Done.”

  “I want…” She huffed out a breath. “I want… a stuffie.”

  “Sarah.” Baojia stood and gave her the look she had to recognize. “Seriously?”

  Sarah looked at the line of stuffed animals decorating her bed and shrugged helplessly. “Someone is missing.”

  He stood and watched her from the corner of his eye as he walked over to the hammock of stuffed animals in the corner. “Lion?” It was an adorable fluffy thing that had no basis in reality, but she loved it.

  Sarah shook her head.

  “Unicorn?”

  Eyes wide, she shook her head again.

  “Snake?”

  She considered it, but it was a firm headshake. Not the snake, but he was on the right track. His smallest child had a warped sense of humor and a fondness for the macabre.

  Not unlike her mother.

  Baojia lifted another one. “Bat?”

  She cocked her head and considered it. “Mmmm. No.”

  Baojia sighed and picked up the one he would have grabbed first if he hadn’t wanted to go through the mock trial Sarah loved so much.

  “Vampire?”

  Eyes wide, Sarah grinned and held out her arms.

  Baojia sighed and tossed her the ridiculous joke his wife had bought the Christmas before. It was a stuffed cartoon vampire with a purple cape and felt fangs. It looked like it belonged on a cereal box.

  Sarah absolutely loved it. Just as Natalie had known she would.

  You married an evil, evil woman.

  “Okay. Book, then bed.” Baojia sat next to his little girl as she snuggled under the purple blanket, hugging the ridiculous vampire and sucking her thumb. “And remind me what the silly vampire’s name is?”

  Sarah took her thumb out of her mouth. “Giovanni.”

  Baojia smiled. “That’s right.”

  He pulled his shirt off before he slipped into bed next to his wife.

  “Hmm?” Natalie rolled toward him, her face pale and her long red hair piled on top of her head. “Hey, handsome. Kids in bed?”

  “Yes.” He scooted next to her and pulled her into his chest. “How are you feeling?”

  “I’m just overtired.” She yawned and snuggled in. “I had those two deadlines last week, and I’ve been running on empty.”

  “You need to sleep more.” He stroked a hand over her hair. “Maybe the kids’ schedule—”

  “Shh.” She put a finger over his lips. “The schedule is fine. I’m fine. Just working too much. Thanks for putting the kids to bed.”

  “It was my turn anyway.” He kissed her hand. “Did you want to sleep more?”

  “Maybe.” She drifted a little, still drowsy. Her hand traced the lines of muscle on his chest. “Give me a minute.”

  If she wanted to sleep, Baojia didn’t mind lying with her. His wife was his favorite person. He could sit all night just listening to her heart beating and hearing her breathe.

  He loved watching Natalie, seeing the changes in her face and her body as the years passed. They’d been together over eight years, and Baojia felt the privilege of witnessing her mortal years because she had chosen him to be a permanent part of her life.

  Natalie had transformed during pregnancy, a fascinating and frightening time for a vampire unaccustomed to change. Her belly swelled and marks appeared on her skin. Her lips and breasts were fuller. Her feet grew bigger. Her dark red hair had thickened, and even her heart sounded different. Her blood tasted richer, and he had to be very careful when he took her vein. He’d tried to abstain, but she’d put her foot down.

  During the first pregnancy, he’d been more than a little alarmed. Then it happened again, and he wasn’t alarmed, but their three-year-old son had been.

  Family life, Baojia had decided, was the greatest and most unexpected adventure.

  “Is Sarah sleeping?” Natalie murmured.

  “Hopefully.”

  “With her vampire?”

  He grunted. “Yes.”

  She let out an evil laugh. “I’m going to get Sadia one for her next birthday.”

  Baojia smiled. “What an excellent idea.” He loosened her hair and began playing with it.

  “Ugh.” She batted his hand. “It’s dirty. I need to wash it.”

  “I don’t care if your hair is dirty.” He spread it out and feathered it over his skin. “It’s still sexy.”

  She lifted her head from his chest and wriggled her eyebrows. “My dirty hair is sexy?”

  He ran his hand down her shoulder, under her arm, and along the side of her breast. “Everything about you is sexy.”

  “Mmmm.” Her eyes turned from sleepy to playful. “I see someone doesn’t want to leave the bed.”

  He smiled and scooted down so he could kiss her. “Why would I want to leave the bed when you’re in it?”

  She met his lips in a long, languid kiss, sighing into his mouth. “Don’t know. Thought you might have…” She stroked her tongue out and flicked the tip over his already-extended fangs. “…work or something.”

  “Something.” He sank into her kiss, ran his hand down her thigh, and hiked her leg over his hip. “I do have something… to do.”

  “Oh yeah?” She ran her hand along his nape, playing with the ends of his short hair, which needed to be trimmed. “What’s that?”

  “I need to debrief you about…” He traced the lace trim on her panties. “…something very important. This underwear has to go.”

  “Just the underwear?” She bit his chin. “I mean, I can leave the pajamas on, but you might have to get creative.”

  “Ha ha.” He began tugging. “I could rip these off.”

  “You better not. This is my last clean pair of pj’s.”

  She quickly shoved her sleep shorts and underwear down her legs, kicking them down to the foot of the bed. Baojia lifted her shirt up and teased her breasts, making her arch her back and sigh happily.

  He was just pulling her shirt over her head when the door creaked open.

  “Mom?”

  Nooooo.

  “You forgot to lock the door?” she hissed.

  “Stay.” Baojia poked his head up from the covers. “Sarah, go to bed.”

  “I’m thirsty.”

  “Uh-uh.” His voice was sharp. “Bed. Now.”

  She pretended to sniff. “But I miss Mom.”

  Natalie shoved the tangled hair out of her face and lifted her head. “Sarah, honey, what did Dad say?”

  “But—”

  “I said good night to you earlier.”

  “But—”

  “I’m gonna use amnis on her,” Baojia muttered. “Don’t think I won’t.”

  “Shhh.” Natalie was trying to bite back a laugh. “You are not.” She raised her voice. “Sarah, I already said good night. You’re not getting in bed with us. What did Dad say?”

  Sarah sighed.

  “What was that?”

  “S’ timefrbed,” she mumbled. She let out one last pitiful sigh before she closed the door.

  Baojia waited to hear her little feet walk back to her bedroom, shuffling the whole way. Her door creaked open. Shut. He could hear her muttering under her breath as she got back into bed.

  He looked down at Natalie, whose lips and cheeks were still flushed. “We are the worst.”

  “The meanest parents ever.”

>   He smiled and settled back down in bed. “Horrible and rotten.”

  “Come here.” She hooked her arm around his neck. “Let me show you what I do to horrible, rotten, mean vampires as sexy as you.”

  “Hold that thought.” He slipped out of bed. “And let me lock the door.”

  Baojia woke the next night in the small room they’d built into the farmhouse where they lived on the Northern California coast. He took a moment to orient himself, listening for the voices he expected beyond the thick cement walls of his day chamber. It had been built to withstand storms, earthquakes, explosive concussions, and gunfire. In it, there was a small bathroom and enough provisions for four humans to survive for thirty days.

  His day chamber also doubled as their panic room, which was necessary when you were the senior security chief for the immortal in charge of the Pacific Northwest, much of Canada, Alaska, and a not-insignificant part of Russia.

  Baojia listened for the expected sounds of life beyond the walls of his day chamber.

  But the sounds were unexpected.

  “Mom?” His son sounded scared.

  “Are they awake yet?” It was the nanny, and her voice was panicked. “Natalie, would Baojia be awake yet? The sun is down. How about Lucien and Mak?”

  He didn’t wait another moment. Pulling on a pair of sweatpants, he unlocked the dead bolt that secured his room and rushed toward the voices, which were coming from the kitchen and dining area.

  “Natalie?”

  He forced himself to remain calm when he saw her lying on the kitchen floor. Sarah was crying. Jake was sitting next to his mother on the floor, and Ariel, their children’s nanny, was on the phone.

  She spotted him. “I’m on the phone with Lucien.”

  “Tell him to come.” He bent down and looked in her face. Her eyes were open. She wasn’t unconscious. “What happened?”

 
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