Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice, page 21
Sabina met them at the entrance to the stables looking beautiful in her gray riding breeches, crisp white shirt, and polished black riding boots. Her long raven hair was unbound, and she looked exquisite breathing in the cold winter air. Her jacket was draped over her arm as she leaned against the railing of one corral while she waited for Alex and Jack to join her.
Alex called out a greeting to let Sabina know they were approaching, and she motioned for them to come to her. Sabina pointed to a young mare that was running around exercising with an immortal named Reuben. The horse was spirited, but he was helping her channel that spirit into a desire to run with an immortal astride her, not from them in fear of the saddle.
“Are we able to communicate with them directly?” asked Alex, astonished.
“Some of us can. You most certainly can. Come, let me show you,” said Sabina, inviting them into the structure ahead.
It was the most beautiful of stables that Alex had ever beheld. If money and time were no object, then that would have been the kind of stables she would have built, Alex decided. It, too, was several stories high, with windows high above the individual stalls so that light and perhaps air could be let in. The main structure was built of stone, with room for over a hundred horses and dark polished wood abounding inside.
The stalls were immaculately clean and large enough to hold two or three horses per compartment. But there was only one mare or stallion assigned to each if the name plaques on the doors were any indication. She was happy to see that each animal had so much space in which to move around. Alex felt heat and asked Sabina if the building was now climate controlled. Sabina confirmed that it was and that the horses had seemed most happy when that new invention was added. There were also mahogany benches down the center for riders to sit on either before or after a ride or just to take in a little time with the animals there.
Sabina showed them the rooms at the back of the stables which were equally impressive. They had their own veterinary clinic, in the event they had to perform any surgeries or procedures to keep the horses healthy. There were tack rooms and a large room dedicated to shoeing the steeds. Sabina went on to point out changing rooms, restrooms and a large, gourmet kitchen devoted to the preparation of the horses’ meals.
Alex had started opening doors along the tour, and she found she could pick out elements which felt new to her, things that had changed since she last walked through the structure. Coming back to the horses, Sabina led them over to two stalls housing glorious white mares. Both animals were at least sixteen hands tall by Alex’s estimation.
“Alex, these two beautiful ladies are actually some of the stock we have which are descended from mares and stallions you rode over a century ago when your soul lived as Arianna. They were bred to keep the best attributes of their ancestors in the line. You will find them gently spirited and very strong. They can carry a great weight, and they have incredible stamina. This is Eimhir, and this is Aileas. I’ll ride their brother, Helion, today.”
Sabina stepped forward and opened the stall doors, then looked back at Alex. “You can speak aloud or with your mind. It won’t feel like a two-way conversation, but you will feel vibrations of what the animal feels. You once told me you were able to see through the eyes of any animal and gain insight from their perspective. Imagine riding them and see what they think. Ready to try?” she encouraged.
Alexandria stepped forward and held both hands out in front of her, with her palms facing up. The light from the windows overhead dappled her skin with shadows and patterns. Aileas’ muzzle brushed against one of her palms, looking for a treat. Alex looked into first Aileas’ and then Eimhir’s eyes. She decided to speak aloud so that Jack could hear her and have a better understanding about what was transpiring.
“Hello, I am Alexandria. Before I was here and before you were here, there were others in our places. An immortal stood where I am, and your ancestors stood ready to aid her when she needed their legs and speed. But like you, I feel the one who came before still here with us, standing in my place along with me. So should you feel those from whom you have descended. Shall we see if we remember?”
Alex stepped forward and touched a cheek on each horse so that she was sandwiched in between them. The two mares leaned in closer, and she could see their wide eyes taking her in and feel their breath warm and steady on her forearms. Alex looked into those dark pools that were their eyes and saw herself reflected back. Her image began to change, and she saw herself as Arianna standing before horses in the same stables, talking to them before she placed a blanket, then saddle on their backs.
She watched them exit the huge double doors at the entrance and saw herself on their ancestors, laughing and racing through a path in the nearby forest. The wind in her hair and in the horse’s mane rejuvenated them both. It felt so good to fly like that, so free.
“Shall we?” Alex whispered with her mind.
Eimhir snorted and then reared up on two legs as if she, too, was ready to feel the air in her mane.
Jack looked startled, but Sabina reached out to reassure him. “She’s fine, Jack. Alex, I knew you could commune with animals before, but I’ve never seen you enter into a memory with an animal like you just did. That was incredible!”
Eimhir was back on all fours, but pawing the ground now, indicating her impatience. They all laughed at the mare’s reaction.
“I suppose I don’t know what the limits are. I’m just feeling my way along as I go.” Alex shrugged.
“Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with what you just did. It was just amazing, that’s all.” Sabina laughed softly. “Let’s take our cue from Eimhir and have some fun. Ready, Mr. Campbell?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Jack gave them a slight smile. Riding was not his favorite pastime, but if Alex was heading out, then so was he.
Sabina’s excitement fueled Alex’s until they were both grinning like school girls. They quickly brushed, blanketed, and saddled the horses with the help of two other immortals, Leaman and Raeburn, who had already bridled them. Alex thanked them for their help and stepped onto a small stool designed to help her achieve Eimhir’s saddle alone. She watched Sabina jump and propel herself into the saddle gracefully.
“Let me guess, we can mess with gravity too?” quizzed Alex.
“Some of us can,” said Sabina with a smile.
Jackson climbed onto his stool and seated himself astride Aileas. The three headed out of the enormous double doors at the stables’ entrance and breathed in the crisp, winter air.
“We’ll have snow tonight,” said Alex, looking up at the sky. “Let’s fly while we can.”
“Hold on, Alex. It’s been years since I’ve ridden, so can we take it slowly to begin with?” Jack asked, hoping he was not cramping her style.
“Oh, of course, Jack. I’m sorry.” Alex looked pointedly at Aileas then. “Be careful with him, please,” she thought. “He cannot ride well, so don’t unseat him, Aileas.”
Aileas brayed and stamped her foot in compliance.
“Did you just say something to my horse?” he asked, feigning shock.
Alex smiled at him and nodded. “She’ll keep you safe, no worries.”
Jackson just shook his head and leaned forward, stroking the mare’s neck. “Thanks, Aileas.”
The three rode slowly through the upper lawns and then through the lower meadows. Alex marveled that so much land could be hidden away and that no GPS had spotted them yet. Sabina shared several stories of Arianna’s past with them, noting the work the two had done in Israel and the surrounding Middle East over the last two thousand years. She also told a few embarrassing tales which had Alex and Jack in stitches.
As they turned and made their way back, Sabina asked Jack if they could pick up the pace just a bit. He felt ready and found that it was not as bad as he had remembered from his high school days. Though they were going much faster, they still were not lett
“Jackson,” she said, looking around Alex to address him. “You may not attempt what Alexandria and I are about to do. We are close to the castle and stables now, and there are Nephilim everywhere, so Alex is safe. Come back to the stables behind us, but know that we’re going to go a bit faster now.” Sabina’s words sounded like a command and left little room for argument.
Still, as much as Alex wanted to set Eimhir free to run, she looked to Jackson, waiting for his consent before she left him. Alex did not want him to feel like she was ungrateful for the effort he had put in that afternoon, no doubt becoming very sore just so that she could ride.
Jack nodded at her, letting Alex know he appreciated her consideration. “Have fun ladies.”
His words were all the permission Alex needed.
Sabina looked at Alex. “You first, Alexandria,” she encouraged.
Alex leaned down and looked into Eimhir’s eyes, thinking back to the memory of Arianna flying on a mare through that stretch of land. “It will feel so good, won’t it, no one holding us back? Let’s go, my friend,” she intoned. Alex did not need to use her heels because Eimhir was ready. Eimhir opened up her legs, and the power of her muscles thundered over the land.
Alex closed her eyes and willed herself to see through Eimhir’s eyes. She felt the cool sting of the winter air on the mare’s pupils and sensed how her nostrils flexed as she took in huge lungfuls of air to support the pace they were keeping. There was a horse jump up ahead built into the fence, and Alex mentally encouraged Eimhir to go for it if she wanted to.
The two soared over the gate and barely made a divot when her hooves hit the earth. Alex could feel the horse’s glee at this feeling, and she reveled in it as well. Eimhir picked up the pace even more, and now Alex could feel the blood racing through the mare’s veins and her heart keeping steady pace with the exertion. The horse was not bothered by it, so Alex did not worry. Finally, Eimhir began to slow, and Alex leaned back into the saddle and opened her eyes. She had not realized she had moved so far out of the saddle and up the mare’s neck.
Alex hugged Eimhir and whispered her thanks. She had never in her lifetime ridden so fast and with such carefree abandonment. It was incredible, she thought with utter delight. Alex pulled lightly on the reins so that the mare would turn and she could see Sabina and Jack. She thought Sabina would be right behind her, but she was still far in the distance next to Jack, both horses standing still. They finally began a trot and made their way to where Eimhir was now turning figure eights to pass the time.
“Hey! I thought you were coming with me?” asked Alex, teasing Sabina.
“I wanted to, believe me. But that was something I have not beheld in such a long time that I had to see it from a distance and appreciate the full scope of such splendor. You were one with the wind, Alexandria. It was a moment of beauty and grace. Just splendid, my friend!” Sabina’s eyes looked moist but fiercely proud. Her appraisal made Alex blush.
She looked to Jack, and he caught her gaze in his.
“That was either the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, Alex, or the most reckless. But it did seem like you and Eimhir were having a blast,” Jack conceded.
“Thank you, Sabina,” said Alex, nodding gratefully. “I think I should do this every day. What do you think, Eimhir?” Eimhir reared up to voice her agreement. Sabina and Alex giggled, but Jack placed a hand over his heart.
“Don’t know about tomorrow, Alex. Let’s give my heart a few hours to recover and then we’ll talk about it, okay?” he asked, chuckling softly to himself.
“Okay, Jack,” she agreed.
The three made their way back to the stables, and Alex nodded her greeting to many Nephilim along the way who had apparently come out to watch her final run in. She saw so many smiles and looks of pride on their faces. Perhaps she was doing well with all of this, after all, she thought.
They helped Leaman and Raeburn take off all of the riding tack and cool down the horses. Alex had always loved to brush down a horse, whether she was getting to ride or not. The slow arching sweeps of the brush were soothing to her, and she loved having the time to just be, not really having to think about anything in particular. Apparently, all three of the horses like to be brushed as much as Alex liked doing it.
When they were finished, they turned the horses over to the care of the stable masters and began the trek back to the castle. Jackson was already walking a little stiffly, and Alex knew that his legs would pay him back for the exercise he had just engaged in. Often people who were very fit were surprised to find riding worked their legs out to the degree which it did, and the three of them had been riding for quite a while that day.
Sabina was apparently noticing too because she addressed him regarding his uneven gait, and Alex was mortified.
“No, Alex, do not be embarrassed. It is good that we can take away the pain and discomfort of others. Healing is a great gift, and it is one of the few abilities that we all share. It helps our work with humans, for wherever we find suffering, we can ease it. May I, Mr. Campbell?”
“Um, sure, I guess?” Jack’s voice sounded very unsure, however. He did not know what Sabina had in mind, but he also thought denying her would be futile.
Sabina stepped closer to Jackson and extended her hands in front of herself. She concentrated on Jack’s legs and then closed her eyes, breathing slowly. Alex’s eyes never left Jack’s face, and he finally lifted his gaze from Sabina’s hands to look back at Alex. He shrugged his shoulders to try and muddle his way through the awkwardness.
She smiled at him and then looked at Sabina. Alex began to concentrate on Sabina’s aura of silver, red, green, and royal blue. She watched as the shimmering flow of energy cascaded from her friend’s hands towards Jack’s legs. Alex started to sense the intention of the flow, moving in and chasing away the muscle strain and building lactic acid in his muscles. There was a warming sensation massaging the tenderness away, and then it spread upward working on his back and finally out through his arms. When Sabina was satisfied that she had erased all of Jack’s soreness, she lowered her hands and stepped back, opening her eyes.
“Wow!” he whispered. “I’ve never felt anything even close to that. It was like a massage from the inside out. Thank you, Sabina.”
“You are very welcome, Mr. Campbell.” She turned to Alex and patted her on the shoulder. “Come, you look hungry. Shall we make a sandwich for ourselves?”
In answer to her question, Alex’s stomach grumbled loudly. “Yes,” she laughed, “I think that sounds like a good plan.”
Several other Nephilim were in the kitchen when they arrived, as preparations for a large New Year’s dinner were underway. They collected the supplies they needed from around the kitchen and sat at one end of the island eating and talking, at ease in each other’s company now.
Once they had cleared their places, Alex offered to help with the large meal’s preparation but was shooed away. Sabina told them that she was going to head back to her room for a shower and that she would see them again later in the evening. She stepped forward and gave her friend a tight hug before walking away.
“Alexandria, I so enjoyed our ride. We shall do this again soon, yes?”
“Absolutely! Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the stables now, no pun intended,” Alex teased.
“Good. Until later, Alex. Jack.” Sabina nodded at both as she turned and began walking away.
Alexandria heard Sabina humming the same tune she had earlier in the day when she had left to find Jackson some riding clothes to wear. Alex paused and tried to recall it. It was an old melody, she was sure, but her mind was still searching for its origin in her memory.
The music swirled around in Alex’s head, and she tried to remember wh
She was searching for someone, and she could not seem to find him. Alex could not even remember his name to call out for him among the crush. More and more people pushed in on her from all sides, and she started to have trouble breathing. But did they not understand she had to get to him? Where was he, and why did he not come to her, Alexandria questioned? He must know she needed him, Alex thought, as her unease began to build.
The heat, tight corset, and ornate dress became too much. Alex felt herself tilt and her vision began to fade when she heard him. He was calling her, panic clear in his voice. He had come for her, and it was like water to her parched lips. But this voice was not the one she had expected. She was confused, and she tried to understand why another man was looking for her, too.
“Alex, open your eyes, baby. Alexandria, can you hear me? What do I do?”
He sounded so anguished that she wanted to reach out and end his torment, but if she went with him, how would the other man find her? Alex looked around, still not seeing him, and decided to go with the one who was calling her. Perhaps he could help her find the one she was truly seeking.
Alexandria willed herself to open her eyes. She was lying on a couch in the library with a cold compress on her head. She noted how heavy her limbs felt, and her mouth was as dry as the desert sands she had touched as a child in Egypt.
“There she is. See, Mr. Campbell, I told you all would be well. Where did you go this time, Alex?” asked John. He had pulled a chair up beside her and was checking her pulse and timing it with his old Rolex.
Jackson had also pulled up a chair to John’s left and was holding the compress on her head, just as he had done the night before. But unlike the previous night, Alex detected panic on his face that had yet to retreat from his features. She reached for his hand and took it in hers.
“I’m okay, Jack,” she said, trying to soothe away his worry, but the dry smacking sound her mouth made did not aid her at all.
“Here, drink this,” John said as he pressed a cool cup of water with a straw to her lips.
“Can you talk about it yet, dear?” Archimedes asked.
Alex had not noticed him in the room. He walked closer and pulled up a chair for himself to John’s right.
“Um, yes, just let me sit up.” She started to move, but Jack did not let her get far. He just placed a hand on her shoulder and shook his head, as if he was not going to entertain her sitting up just yet.
“No,” agreed John, “let’s have you lie still a little longer while we all talk. You were about to tell us what you saw.”
“Okay. We were in the kitchen talking with Sabina, and as she left, she was humming a tune. I’m getting better at remembering things from Arianna’s past and placing them specifically where they belong in her timeline, but this melody seemed just out of reach somehow. It was so hard to focus on it, and I almost lost it, but then I remembered hearing it at a ball.”
Alex looked away from their faces and let her eyes lose focus. She could see the scene right in front of her as if she were watching a movie that a projector was displaying in front of her eyes. It was surreal to watch herself go through the memory, which she had just experienced firsthand.
“I was walking down the staircase, trying to lift the heavy burgundy gown I had on. I remember seeing water through the windows, perhaps we were close to a river or lake, I don’t know. But I was desperately searching for someone, and I couldn’t find him. The longer I looked, the hotter I became in the heavy dress, and I finally felt myself starting to faint. That’s when I could make out someone calling my name, so I tried to find a way back to that voice. Was it one of you?” she asked, looking back at the three.
“It was me,” breathed Jack. “You took the longest time coming ‘round. And you didn’t just faint away as I have seen you do now, you actually shook and had tremors. I’m just glad you’re with us again.” His voice held an intense edge as he placed the cold cloth back on her forehead.
“I’m here,” she answered, patting his hand. Alex noticed that Archimedes and John were sharing a look that she now knew meant they were conversing only with their thoughts.
“Stop that, both of you,” she scolded. They both looked down at her in surprise at her censure. “Don’t talk like that while we’re here. Spill it!”
Archimedes chuckled over her brashness and answered her call for information. “Very well. We were speculating that this was not a memory at all, but rather a dream tied to some of Arianna’s memories. She never, to our knowledge, experienced a faint at a ball as you described seeing. She would have been able to heal herself if she were taking ill, as well. So, perhaps, the tune you heard triggered some feeling that Arianna might have experienced and your mind was struggling to work it out for her.”
“Maybe. I don’t know though, Archimedes. This felt like she was desperately searching for someone and greatly panicked when she couldn’t get to him. She expected him to come for her and he didn’t. I just don’t know.”
“Well, I am sure that we’ll work through this in time. No need to worry yourself, Alex.” John shook his head. “Now, there’s some time before we all celebrate New Year’s at dinner, so why don’t you take a little nap and then have a bath before you come down?” he proposed.
It sounded like a good plan, so she agreed.
“I’ll stay with her,” Jack offered, and the two took their leave.
But Jack would not let Alex finish her statement and he gave her a look of warning.
“If you apologize again, I swear, I’m going to throttle you,” he said with no real force behind his empty threat. “Alex, I know you have no control over this now; that will come in time, I hope. But it seems to be taking quite a toll on you. I just want to make sure your body can handle it all, and there’s no way to really know.”
He was slowly stroking her hair back from her forehead as he confessed his worry to her. Alex doubted Jack was aware of the tender way in which he was comforting her, even though he seemed to need it more than she did at the moment. It was making her very drowsy.
“Have you ever been with someone else like this, Jack?” Alex’s eyes flew open in surprise that the words had come unbidden from her lips, and her gaze met his. He looked surprised too, but not angry.
“What do you mean, Alex?” Jack asked softly, deliberately forcing her to explain her question.
“I mean, have you ever had to protect someone who needed you around so much?” Now Alex knew she sounded like an idiot. How else could he protect someone if he was not around them, she asked herself. Alex wanted the floor to swallow her up.
Jack chuckled at her poor choice of words. “I think what you’re trying to ask me is have I ever gotten close to one of my clients before. And the answer is no. It breaks the trust between the security team and the person or persons we are monitoring. We can’t be objective and at the ready, if we’re not focused on the task at hand.”
Alex could feel her facial expression fall. What in heaven’s name was the matter with her, she mentally chastised herself? This was the correct answer, and she knew it, but for the first time in her life, Alex found herself actually attracted to a man. And as her luck would have it, she liked the one man she could not begin to pursue.
Alexandria felt the need to put some distance between herself and Jackson. She stammered out an apology for being so forward, despite his warning for her to stop the habit, and began to push herself off of
Alex had just gained her feet and was turning to head for the door when Jack reached out and took her hand, halting her in her tracks.
“Alex, look at me,” he softly commanded.
She really did not want to turn and face him. Alex was so embarrassed and hurt, and she could not explain it to him. She honestly did not want to see the rejection in Jack’s eyes.
“Alex.” He squeezed her hand again. “Look at me.” Jack slowly enunciated each word, letting them hang in the air between the two of them.
She finally turned, and when she saw his slow smile, she almost turned away again, but he reached out with his other hand and took her free palm so that she could not retreat and leave him.
“You asked if I have ever been close to another charge, and I answered you truthfully. I have not. But there is a first time for everything.”
Alex’s gaze shot up to meet his. Her lips parted, but she did not know what to say. What was Jack telling her, she asked herself?
“You are the most amazing person I have ever met, with or without all of this,” he said and gestured around the large library with his head. “You’re graceful, smart, stubborn, accomplished, and so very brave. You’re in such a precarious position right now, trying to find yourself and take care of everyone you love, but you’re not running.”
“Alex, I have lived through live firefights, and I have seen some of the toughest warriors I’ve ever known want to turn and run. It’s a natural inclination when faced with death for self-preservation to kick in. I haven’t seen that in you, not once. You’re here, no matter the cost to yourself.”
“Quite frankly, I’m in awe of you. I couldn’t walk away from you right now if I tried. I’m glad I’m here with you to see who you will become through all of this. It’s just a joy to see you awakening, for lack of a better term.”
“And, Alex,” Jack said, reaching up and tucking her hair behind her ear, then letting his fingers trail down her cheek, “I’d be blind if I couldn’t see what a beautiful soul you are inside and out.”
Tears pricked her eyes at his tender words. Never had anyone really noticed her in that way. She had never really tried to have a relationship, but Jack had snuck up on her and worked his way into her heart so quickly.
“Shhh, don’t cry, Alexandria,” he whispered.
Jack stepped forward and cupped her face in his hands and used his thumbs to brush away her silent tears. He hesitated for the briefest of moments, as if warring with himself, and finally closed his eyes, giving in and losing the battle. His lips met hers, tentatively at first, then more fervently. They wrapped their arms around each other, he holding her body to his, and she gently touching first his neck and then letting her fingers climb into his hair.
This was all new for Alex. She had only let two boys briefly kiss her throughout adolescence, but this passion was new and full of promise. It consumed her, and she felt her hands shake. His hands reached up for her face again, and Jack angled her head to give him better access. He rained kisses down her cheek, onto her neck and back up to her lips. Alex felt like she was melting and on fire at the same time.
When finally they pulled back, they both were breathless and amazed.
“Oh my Lord, Alex. I’ve never,” he panted and could not finish his sentence.
“Me either.” She smiled, reaching up to trace his lips with her fingertips. Such a simple piece of flesh that could make them feel that way. No, Alex was kidding herself, it was not just those lips. She had passed by many a handsome man before and never thought about sharing something such as that with them. It was her growing affection and comfort with Jack that made those feelings possible, she told herself.
“I should hope not.” Jack grinned. “Are you okay?” he asked with worry in his tone.
“I’ve never been better.” Alex giggled. “Oh, Jack. What are we going to do?” she asked as she reached up to run her hand back through his hair. It was so soft and given to curl at the ends.
He hugged her tightly and rested his chin on the top of her head, slowly rocking her. “I say we do what we’re doing. Seems to be working, wouldn’t you agree?” He breathed out a contented sigh.
“I’ve never let anyone hold me before, either,” Alex whispered shyly.
“Lots of firsts on this journey, then.” He pulled back and looked down into her eyes, one hand on her lower back and the other gently stroking her face. “This won’t change my focus, Alex. I swear to you it won’t. I’m still going to do my damnedest to keep you safe, okay? With everything I’ve got.” His expression was so serious as he pledged himself.
“I know, Jack. I don’t doubt you. But know this too – I’m just as concerned about your safety right now,” she confessed as he drew back and narrowed his eyes at her slightly.
“No, don’t give me that look. You know what I mean. We know now that some very angry immortals are most likely seeking me out to finish some old business. For the same reasons I worry about my family, I worry for you, too. I would never forgive myself if you were caught in the crosshairs and harmed because of me.” Alex shivered all over thinking of what someone like Bertrand would do to Jack. He would most definitely fight back, and they would crush him.
“Well then, we’ll look out for each other. But if it comes down to it, Alex, you let me do my job, okay? No heroics,” he pressed.
Alex opened her mouth to argue that his way of thinking was quite backward, as it should be she who should do the protecting, but Jack leaned down and kissed her again, effectively cutting off any arguments she had.