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Annie Nadine (Soul Sacrifice) 392



Soul Sacrifice

Annie Nadine

This book was self-published by the author Annie Nadine Cecil.

Copyright © Annie Nadine

All rights reserved.

The right for Annie Nadine Cecil to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior written permission of the publisher.

Cecil, Annie Nadine.

Soul Sacrifice / Annie Nadine.



PROLOGUE:

May 1805



The night was warm and the breeze was cool, which made a pleasant combination. The institution was abuzz with the news that Baden had been released. It had been a few weeks now but it still was the main topic of conversation amongst most everybody. Girls dreaming of meeting him, men wanting to defeat him and all the while one lay seemingly lifeless in a room upstairs, oblivious to the chaos his unexpected sacrifice had caused in so many lives. Never decaying but remaining pristine as he looked as if he were sleeping.

The very few who knew he was there had lost hope that he was ever going to recover but they could not bring themselves to say so. So they remained as hopeful as they could, trying to avoid thinking that it seemed he would be forever a perfect relic.

“I think Annie is getting worse,” Martha quietly commented to Everard as they walked towards the room to visit a lifeless Jory.

They visited on occasion thinking it might help but recently they started to avoid the room as it brought only worry that nothing was changing. They quietly walked in and Martha took a seat while Everard stood silently, trying to think of something that would fix everything. He came up short, as he always did when trying to rectify everyone’s problems.

“I think if you maybe visited Annie…” Martha suggested and something happened when she said that name.

She hadn’t noticed it the other times they said the name but this time she did. A noise…a sound…coming from where they dare not hope it came from. The two froze and looked over to the bed but he just lay there, still.

“Annie,” Martha repeated and they heard it again.

If they didn’t know any better they would place it as a heartbeat. One single, solitary heartbeat.

“Did you hear that?” Martha asked breathlessly. They walked over to the edge of the bed as quietly as they could and stared at him. Could he hear them? Was he alive? What was he thinking of? If only they knew…



It was another time yet a time quite like their own. Wars had been fought, diseases plagued mankind and people loved and lost. Still, all that remained was his love for her. His love for Annie.

He felt different. Things didn’t seem real and maybe they weren’t? He didn’t think he was breathing but it felt like he had life within him, a life that he should have been living. A life that was meant to be his. In this reality there were no soul snatchers or trackers, no half breeds like he once was. All who were dead were buried far beneath the ground where they were meant to be and everyone who was alive had earned their stay on the earth, merely by being lucky.

He walked across the grassy field, his tan skin drinking in the sun, his crisp white shirt unbuttoned at the top and rolled to his elbow at the sleeves. As usual his black pants were wrapped around him tightly with a belt. He walked with grace and speed as the breeze blew gently through his hair and he looked handsome as he moved. He spotted her near the tall grass by the willow tree.

His Annie.

She was lit softly by the afternoon sun and her hair reflected the hidden cherry red amongst the black as she peered down at the book in her lap. The soft pink of her dress brought out her rosy cheeks and creamy skin.

She hadn’t noticed him coming yet and she had no idea the joy she brought to his heart at just the thought of her. She twirled a tress of her hair between her delicate fingers concentrating on the words she was reading, feeling them. Her brow was furrowed and the love he felt overwhelmed him, bringing a smile to his face. She looked up when she heard him wading through the long grass and a smile already lived on her face before she saw him, for she knew it would be him. It always would be him.

“I missed you,” he said as she dropped the book to the ground and stood to greet him.

Their arms wrapped around each other as they should for they were in love and no one else was in the way. Their kiss was soft and sweet and warmed inside them where the sun would never reach.

“I love you,” she whispered when their lips parted. He pulled her closer, holding the small of her back like it was precious to him, because it was.

Her long hair fell onto his hands and softly brushed against them, sending a chill through him. She reached up to kiss him again and he melted against her. Their kisses turning to more than just kisses but rather drops of themselves spilling into each other. Falling onto the grass beneath them they were hidden from sight by the long grass and could become as mischievous as they wanted. She let out a giggle that drifted away with the afternoon breeze as he nuzzled her neck, playfully grazing his teeth against her skin.

The playfulness fell away soon and their kisses became more intense and eager for each other. Losing themselves in their love they enjoyed their closeness and intimacy that was theirs alone.

“Baden,” she whispered into his ear and he froze. He moved his head away and looked at her hoping that he had heard wrong.

“What did you say?” He asked feeling like his joy had been ripped from him. Her smile faded and she started to laugh expecting him to lose the joke.

“Do not be silly,” she said as he slipped away from her embrace.

He looked over to see a small pond nearby and he ran to it, panicked as it all started to make sense. As he made it to the water’s edge he fell to his knees and peered into his reflection. To his horror Baden stared back at him, he was Baden.

“What are you doing?” She asked from behind looking at him a little frightened. He turned to her with the shock written on his face.

“I am Jory,” he said pleadingly still bent over the pond looking back at her.

“Who is Jory?” She asked as if she had never known him.

And right there his heart broke as it did at the end of every dream. Though every dream had been in different places and he never expected the ending that always came. He was left broken once again as he realised that the only one he had ever wanted, wanted someone else. And just when his soul would start to stir back to life it was shattered again by knowing that he didn’t have her.

So Jory lived in his torment and hell, a moment of utopia to be washed away by the only pain that could truly hurt him. Would the dreaming ever end? Was he willing to give up his only moments with her, though brief and untrue, culminating in anguish? The frightening part was that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to or if he ever could.



CHAPTER 1:



September 1805



Pain is like the sun. Though it sets it never stops existing and sure enough it returns after setting…and it burns.

Love is like the moon. In all the darkness of the night it is your only solace and you would give anything for it to remain full. You would give anything just to touch the gentleness of it. Somehow it feels out of reach, always reflecting the rays of hurt from the sun…the pain.

Annie was constantly left with these thoughts. At first they were all she could think of but as time slipped away and life moved slowly around they dulled to a background roar, like waves crashing against the sand. To others it might sound beautiful but to her it was just another reminder of…him. She still couldn’t say his name and she hadn’t been back to his grave since that first time.

Baden knew she still wasn’t whole but he never lost patience with her. Or was it that she was just different now? He still loved her with everything in him but a part of her was broken and he was taking special care to put every piece back together.

However patient he was he still found himself becoming jealous whenever he found out something intimate between Annie and Jory. Like when Baden lay with Annie as she tried to sleep for the first time she cried so hard he was scared she would die but she explained it was because Jory usually slept with her. It felt like his soul clenched inside him and he wanted to smash the bed apart and burn it before scattering the ashes into the ocean. But he had held himself back, letting out a tight lipped smile that went unnoticed by Annie.

At times when they were moving into a more private time with each other Annie would find herself steering away from going too far. Which wasn’t difficult for Baden to respect but it was the fact he suspected it was because of Jory and he was right. Annie would never admit it, even to herself, but it felt like she was cheating on Jory somehow by being with Baden, kissing him and loving him. She had everything she wanted…well almost everything. Wanting Baden as much as she did just filled her with guilt.

Though her soul was still more beautiful to him than any other, there was an ever present shadow over it. Her pain had become so stitched through her that it was starting to cover the light and the scent of what made her soul special. With every piece of her that he placed back together her true soul shone through but soon enough the pain had managed to cover a different part of her. He could barely stand to watch it.

Seeing that Annie was struggling, Baden suggested they wait until they were married to take their physical relationship any further…however challenging that might be. It was really to give Annie the excuse and time she needed to work through how she felt. So without setting a date for a wedding or even proposing, their celibacy became continuous.

Though Annie did find it increasingly hard to not be with Baden in that way the other part of her, the Jory part, was fighting hard against her desires. It was as if he was standing in the room making it almost impossible to ignore.

But Baden would wait, as he always would for Annie. It was more acceptable this way, to wait until they were married. Not that he really cared about what others thought. He just wanted to make sure he valued Annie the way she deserved.

He distinctly remembered his father sitting him and Eli down when they were young and explaining how to treat a woman. His father’s actions spoke louder than his words because he had loved their mother to no end and it had sunk deep into Baden. It made him more ashamed of the things he had done in his past, made it all the more haunting but loving Annie felt like a form of absolution. Loving someone entirely, unconditionally, with everything of him. Loving Annie in all of her perfectness and loveliness.

And in the moments he felt like he had been given too much and went quiet with guilt Annie would somehow bring him back and rescue him from himself. Through all of her own pain she still looked after him and cared for him. She still loved him and it softened his soul more each day.

“Any softer and you would be a pillow,” she said with a smile one day when he had told her this.

“Any lovelier and I will wake to find you are but a dream, too perfect to exist,” he said gathering her into his arms.

The fact that Baden could pull her out of her misery, for even a moment, showed how strong her feelings were for him and in turn it showed the extent of her misery.

As for the situation of Annie being turned into a soul snatcher, well that was a topic she tried to avoid all together. She had said she wanted to wait until she was the same age Baden had been when he was changed but that was only a small part of the reason. The real reason was that she couldn’t bear the thought of being changed so close to Jory’s death because she and Jory had planned on going through that together. To wake up completely different all by herself felt lonely and altogether frightening, especially when she was meant to have him by her side. To share it with him. Though everyone had their reservations on the idea due to her safety they decided to humor her for the time being. They didn’t want to push her into something she wasn’t ready for, even though their common sense was gnawing at them to hurry it along.

So, on they all went with their lives; Martha and Everard spending most of their time at the institution, visiting infrequently and Martha more than Everard. Annie lived with Adam, Stewart and Baden in the manor. Baden was generous enough to supply the men with their everyday needs…well the only need being clothing really. He allowed them to build up a hefty tab in his name at Antoinette’s shop. Of course she didn’t mind the job of outfitting the two strapping gentlemen. Baden didn’t mind the cost at all, he had enough money for everyone and he didn’t care what was done with it.

Occasionally Annie would sneak out to the barn to be alone. Every now and then Micah would visit then run away like a little mouse before anyone could catch them. He made her laugh and it felt good, it started to feel like old times but this time it was a real friendship forming not one based on lies and agendas.

Though one day Baden had found them in their fun and became furious at the danger she was putting herself in. She stood up to him of course and seeing no use in fighting her he and the others reluctantly allowed Micah to visit under their strict supervision. The only rule was he was not allowed anywhere near the house when Martha and/or Everard were visiting. Micah accepted their generous offer humbly and as much as it annoyed each of the men to admit it they were starting to see that Micah might have actually changed.



One night as Baden lay beside a sleeping Annie, as he did every night, she stirred from her light slumber and looked around dazed. Her thin nightdress was caught around her legs and her hair was a tangled mess as she looked around lost until she found him next to her.

“Baden,” she whispered his name feeling her panic ease at seeing him.

She fell back onto the pillow and curled into him, which he rather liked. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. The warm bare skin of his chest felt nice to touch and she enjoyed that he was only wearing long johns.

“Annie,” he said mimicking the way she had said his name because he liked the way she had sounded. It didn’t have quite the same effect but still.

“I want to marry you,” she said in her sleepy haze and he froze at her words.

He didn’t think she realised what she was even saying but the thought must have been on her mind to say it…to possibly be dreaming of it. Her soul looked closer to what it had always been whilst she slept that night and it made him happy.

What he didn’t know was that she had been dreaming of them getting married and that everything was as it should be, no pain or loss and it was just the two of them. He kissed her head as she mumbled something inaudible then she drifted back into her dream. Her dream of Baden.

Baden quietly slipped off the bed and crept out of the room. He didn’t want to leave Annie for a moment but he had to tell someone what he just heard. He rushed around the house until he found Adam and Stewart in the library musing over some poems that they were reading. They sat in casual, everyday clothes and if anyone else saw them they probably would have laughed because it was the middle of the night but Baden was used to it. The two men sat in their own reading chairs by the lit fire as they talked.

Both of them looked up at Baden in question when he just stood there looking at them without speaking a word. They were completely unfazed by the lack of clothing he was wearing.

“Is there something you would like to say?” Stewart asked trying to hide a smile. He could see Baden seemed flustered by something and it wasn’t often that happened.

“Yes,” Baden answered but didn’t elaborate.

“Would you like to tell us or should we guess?” Adam teased and dropped the smile when Baden glared at him.

“I want to ask Annie to marry me,” he announced and both Adam and Stewart’s eyes widened and mouth fell agape with surprise. He looked at them brows raised, to try and spur on a reaction and when they could see he was waiting for them Stewart chimed in.

“That is….” He looked at Adam for some help.

“Excellent,” Adam said after sifting through a group of discouraging words to find a positive one. Baden usually gave them their privacy but this time he decided to peek into their soul and he could see their hesitation.

“You both think that I am making a mistake?” Baden accused, anger obvious in his voice.

“No!” Adam and Stewart chorused together seeming a little frazzled. They looked at each other with a scolding expression.

“It is just….” Stewart faltered. “Should you wait?” Baden’s look forced his next words. “Not too long…”

“Do you doubt her love for me?” Baden asked and Stewart’s eyes filled with panic.

“No!” Adam jumped in. “No, not at all. Her devotion and love for you is quite clear.”

“However,” Stewart carried on where Adam left off. “She still seems….” He couldn’t quite find the word.

“Bereft,” Adam tried. Baden looked almost enraged at the word. “Not bereft!” He retracted in panic, trying to rectify his mistake.

“Baden,” Stewart said as evenly as he could to try to calm Baden’s rising anger. “You must admit yourself that she seems a little…lost.”

Baden thought for a moment as he took in his friend’s words. Without thinking he sat down on the brown leather divan close by, the seat already warmed from the fire.

“She just told me that she wanted to marry me,” he reasoned. The surprise was obvious on Adam and Stewart’s face so he confessed the detail he omitted. “I am not certain if she was completely awake…but she said it none the less.” Adam and Stewart looked at each other then back to Baden.

“At the end of it all, it is obviously your choice,” Stewart said deciding that he had already volunteered his opinion and didn’t need to say anything further.

“Well…in that case I am going to ask her,” Baden declared, deciding that even though Annie was hurting she still desired to be with him and obviously wanted to marry him.

“Then I suppose we best get to planning,” Adam suggested enthusiastically. No use in fighting someone when they had already made up their mind. And in truth Adam and Stewart were elated for both their friend’s future.

So Adam and Stewart placed their poetry books down and Adam quickly grabbed some paper and a quill from a desk nearby and the men got to planning how it should all come to pass. A lot of the time Baden was quick to dismiss their ideas that didn’t sit right with him and they took it with a grain of salt because, quite frankly he didn’t really like most of their ideas.

In the end they all felt they had come up with something that would be unforgettable for Annie. They were happy to be part of something that was so uplifting after all of the burdening sorrow. Now it was simply a matter of when.



CHAPTER 2:



Baden lay with Annie on the bed one night talking as they did most every night. Even though it was raining outside and the weather was getting cooler she was wearing a rather light nightdress. Baden opted for just his long johns which she didn’t object to at all.

Sometimes they shared their dreams, other times their fears. Sometimes they talked about the useless, silly things because after exposing your soul to another so often it’s nice just to stay in the shallows and wade rather than in the deep and swim until your limbs hurt.

This particular night they were laughing at how Adam had done something clumsy, as he seemed to do often, even though he was a soul snatcher. It was an anomaly to them all because he was meant to be agile and graceful, which most of the time he was, but sometimes it was as if he forgot that he wasn’t human and would do something so clumsy it looked bizarre. This time, his mistake resulted in him trying to piece back together one of Martha’s expensive vases. The look of distress on Adam’s face, his frantic attempts to gather himself and the porcelain together were priceless.

Annie was clutching her stomach as tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks from the memory. She tried to say something but she couldn’t quite push the words out and it made Baden and her laugh even harder.

“You should tell him it was a family heirloom,” Baden said through his laughter.

They were crumpled on the bed with their faces close together on the pillow as they let out their fun together. After the laughter faded and Annie had wiped the tears from her face they drifted into a comfortable silence that brought them some peace. He fiddled with her hand and kissed it after a time.

“How are you?” He asked looking at her through her fingers. She let out a giggle that was left over from their boisterous laughter before she answered.

“I am good,” she answered looking at him as if he wasn’t making any sense.

“I mean, how are you?” He repeated trying to show his meaning without changing his words. She saw that he was referring to Jory and he hadn’t said his name because they had a strict ‘no naming’ policy.

“I…” She was about to lie and say she was fine but she decided not to.

There was no use in lying because she was so terrible at hiding her emotions. It’s not that she would want to keep anything from him, it’s just that she didn’t want to burden him with her pain.

So far she had been open with him about how she felt. Unless she thought it was something that would only hurt him, like the reason she didn’t want to be changed. In that case, as long as she knew the way she felt was going to change she decided to keep the process under wraps. He knew she was hurting and he knew why, no use adding more pain by showing how much she was hurting.

“I feel like it will get easier,” she said, sidestepping having to really answer.

It was the best she could do but it would do for now. Baden pulled her into his arms and she closed her eyes from the pleasure of it. If she was honest with herself, she actually did feel a little more… mended? Maybe that was too big a call but it was close enough.

“Can I take you out tomorrow?” He asked, his hand tickling along her back.

His touch started to send that certain tingle through her that made her forget who she was. Her nightdress was sheer and thin, him shirtless with sleepwear only on the bottom, not leaving much between them. She was enjoying touching his bare skin and their physical proximity became more distracting as the lighter mood from earlier drifted away.

“And where would you like to take me?” She said flirtatiously. He leaned his face towards hers and grazed his lips against her ear.

“To my secret lair so I can have you to myself,” he purred seductively and her face went warm from thoughts of what they might get up to in that ‘secret lair’. She wrapped her arms around his neck and brushed her face against his.

“And what will we be doing there?” She whispered not being able to muster her usual voice. He caught onto her meaning and couldn’t help the raised eyebrow that shot up of its own volition.

It was easy to get carried away and forget all the rules that you previously had in place when you loved someone and they were laying, half naked next to you.

“Well,” he whispered getting swept up in her intensity. “I think I might have to discover if that blush covers any other part of you.”

His hand drifted down her back slowly and it caused her to shiver against him. He smiled, pleased at her reaction and it made his own body respond to hers. When his hand went low enough and knowing she felt safe with him he gripped her backside, pulling her closer to him. Her face felt like it was on fire and her heart raced with excitement.

“Can you bite me?” She asked before she could keep the request to herself.

Surprise lit his eyes and she felt embarrassed that she had revealed her fantasy. She bit her bottom lip as if she was waiting to be scolded.

“I mean…like when we were at the house…when I first realised what you were.” She tried to explain her desire but felt it came out sounding even more absurd. At least he had told her about the special bane he had used, so it made more sense with that reason.

Baden’s mouth started to water and he had to swallow to hold himself back. Annie’s breathing was heavy and escaped from her mouth and over her lips, brushing over his on its journey. His hand gripped harder on her and made her take in a sharp breath of pleasure. He couldn’t help his gaze as it first fell to her lips, then her neck and then her breasts. It was obvious he was trying to hold himself back.

“I know you will not hurt me,” she encouraged. Finding more nerve she moved further into his body and whispered in his ear. “You can bite me anywhere you like,” she offered as she wrapped her fingers into his hair and looked at him pleadingly.

He swallowed hard and tried to steady his breathing. They were well and truly tangled together amongst the sheets on the bed, pressed together with nothing between them but heat and desire.

“I do not want to frighten you,” he said losing the battle with himself.

“You will not,” she assured. Now that it was out there and he hadn’t laughed in her face she wanted it even more. She could feel how much he wanted it too.

“We might go too far,” he reasoned, referring to waiting until they were married.

“It will just be one…solitary bite…one,” she bargained. “No further.”

At the moment she couldn’t even care less if they went further or not. She secretly hoped that they would. For the first time in so long she was completely lost in the moment and forgot about any pain and heartache. All she could think about was Baden.

The silence was thick as he contemplated doing what she was asking. It felt like an eternity passed before he answered.

“Where?” Was all he asked. Her eagerness went into overdrive as she realised he was asking where he should bite her.

“Anywhere…” she said it so quietly it was merely a breath and anyone else would have missed it.

He looked at her neck and she could see he was going to go for the safe option, so she tilted her face to the side to expose her skin a little more. He rolled them over so she was on her back and he was leaning over her, pushing against her. She slipped either leg beside him so he could get closer, as close as he possibly could. He leaned towards her slowly, giving her enough time to ask him to stop if she wanted to back out.

He started with her lips, kissing her slowly…intensely. Her body responded in kind and it made her heart beat to the tone of their craving as her breathing deepened. Moving from her lips he dragged his mouth along her skin to her neck. She reached her arms around him and held onto his back as he gripped her hips. He had to control himself so he didn’t tear the material off her body and give in to his urge to have her.

He grazed his teeth against her neck and is sent a shiver through her. She wasn’t able to stop her body moving closer to his. Then his teeth sunk into her and suddenly the bane rushed through her veins. It was like when you’re sitting in the dark and someone unexpectedly lights the room. It’s blinding and takes a moment to adjust but when you do, everything is clearer.

She bit her lip to hold back any noises that tried to escape and her body was filled with sheer pleasure as he pushed himself hard against her and gripped her hips as if it was his only anchor. She felt his warm, tingly bane sink into her and through her and it was saturated with love and desire.

Baden was nervous before he took the bite. He was worried that she would be scared but as she breathed heavily into his ear trying to hold back the pleasure it was causing her, his worries were abated. She gripped the back of his neck and pulled him against her more and he drank from her, taking her into him. No one had ever tasted the way she did, all milky and sweet. But it was more, she not only tasted good but she felt good. She felt like peace and desire and love all wrapped into one comforting gift as she seeped into him. It was sublime.

When he had measured out that he had taken enough he drew his last mouthful and covered her neck with his hand. It was a neat bite and would heal quickly and without pain thanks to the overdose of bane he had leaked into her. The bane was prone to heal the wound it had created which made the experience more enjoyable for the participant.

Annie lay against the pillow with her eyes closed still feeling the effects of him through her body.

“That was…” but she couldn’t find the words. He smiled a little as he checked her neck, it was starting to look better already.

“You are incredible,” he said leaning down and kissing her lips briefly and softly.

“You are,” she said drowsily.

“Now, keep in mind you will feel as if you have been drinking and are intoxicated,” Baden warned as he slowly pulled his hand away from her neck after seeing it had closed over. “The last time this happened your fear would have overthrown anything else.”

“Not this time,” she said a little loudly and laughed for no reason. He smiled at how cute she was. She looked around the room and everything was spinning.

“Now, I am just going to clean your neck,” he forewarned. “Do you have any objections?” He asked knowing she wouldn’t. She shook her head erratically, being silly, and he smiled even wider.

He leaned down and sucked the rest of the blood of her neck, which she rather enjoyed. It brought her back from the intoxication feeling and now everything was concentrated on how much she wanted Baden. She sat up abruptly and he looked at her as if she was a wild animal he had to watch.

“Careful now,” he said as he wrapped his arm around her waist and fell onto the bed, placing her next to him. She scurried on top of him and straddled him, pinning his arms down.

“Now you must do as I say,” she demanded with a cheeky grin on her face.

“You may be slightly stronger because my bane is running through you,” he said before he moved so quickly she didn’t even see it.

Suddenly they went from her domineering position to him holding her down, using his body against her and holding her hands above her head with only one of his. His other free arm was comfortably wrapped around her waist. He was gentle with her and she felt safe with him.

“But do not forget, not as strong as me,” he said playfully.

She snapped her teeth at him playfully, pretending she was the ferociously, feared snatcher instead of him and he outright laughed at her fun. He nuzzled his face into her neck and he almost asked her to marry him right there but something stopped him. Maybe it was that he wanted her to be completely in control of herself and not drunk on his bane…or maybe it was that he was scared she would refuse him. Either way, he kept his question to himself and decided to say the next thing on his mind.

“I love you,” he said and kissed her neck where he had bitten, in a way to apologise for harming the perfect skin of her neck.

“I…love…you,” she said and though she meant it, it was obvious she was still running high on his bane He pulled his head back and looked at her.

“Tomorrow we will have an outing,” he decided, getting back to his plan.

“We will do anything you like,” she answered through a yawn. “Why am I so tired all of a sudden?”

“You may not be accustomed to the ways of a drunk but after a night full of drinking it usually tires the person,” he explained as he watched her eyelids become heavy.

“Will you promise me something?” She said as he released her. She cuddled into his side as soon as she was free and he willingly held onto her.

“Anything,” he said before he knew what it was.

“Can you always be mine?” She asked as sleep crowded in.

“Always,” he vowed as she drifted off to sleep.

Baden spent the night going over in his mind the plan for the next day. Most of his fears were gone but any that he had before tonight were washed away.

As Annie slept peacefully in his arms he realised that he was one of the fortunate ones who had gotten everything he never deserved and he was more grateful for it than anyone could ever know.



CHAPTER 3:



Tomorrow came and it was a brilliant day, no sight of rain and the sun was shining to its brightest. It literally couldn’t be any more prefect, even the breeze was warm for that time of year.

Baden took Annie in town for afternoon tea. It was all so she could be distracted whilst Adam and Stewart set up his other part of the plan.

Baden was dressed decently in a suit but he left off most of the items he found useless, which was most of them. So he was left in trousers, shirt and jacket which found him preposterously handsome in its simplicity. Annie was in a simple but lovely town dress that he had bought her. The soft blue colour and the delicate material were flattering and they made a striking couple. She wore her hair up in soft curls, atop her head because it was Baden’s favorite hairstyle. Eyes followed them where they went as they drew people to distraction with their combined loveliness but they didn’t care for they only noticed each other.

Annie and Baden sat in a quiet booth, off to the back of the establishment that was obviously equipped for the wealthy. It was sophisticated and regal with its overstuffed leather chairs and dark lighting. The waiters were well dressed and a small but dignified stringed quartette was playing quietly off to the side. It was an elite and unique place and Annie wondered how Baden managed to secure them a reservation. She started to think he may have planned ahead for something but she wasn’t sure why.

Their conversation was light and fun as she drank champagne, ate delicious cheeses and fruits in their private booth. He liked watching her eat, her delicate hands managing the food almost seductively without her realising. The way she let her drink fall over her lips and into her mouth made him wish he was the champagne itself.

“Tell me, if you could go back through time or forward towards the future, what would you choose?” Baden asked her.

He always enjoyed how her mind worked and was fascinated by who she was. He loved asking her random questions because she was random herself and if she hadn’t already pondered on a subject that he broached, she could easily come up with some opinions in an instant. They sat close in the booth, his arm resting around her shoulders as she leaned into him with ease as he waited for her answer.

“Let me think…” She said tapping her finger against her chin as if she was concentrating. He smiled at her loveliness.

“How would I travel to either?” She eventually asked and he had been so distracted by her that he had to think for a moment as to what he had asked.

“Oh, it would be…” he paused, trying to concoct an answer she would most enjoy. “There is a mysterious enchanted river, in a far off country,” he started saying as if it might very well be true. “If you drift with the current you are taken into the future but if you swim against it you are taken back to the past.” Her eyes lit up with his exciting explanation and he could tell she thoroughly enjoyed it. “No one has returned from the river,” he added to make it more fun for her.

“Then I would say that I might do neither,” she decided looking pleased with herself. He looked at her in question not sure why she answered that way. Seeing his expression she explained. “What is done is done,” she said trying to forget the most recent past event that had changed her life. “Firstly, trying to change the past is too much of a risk for no one can tell the outcome of the change. Secondly, there is no need to travel to the future.”

“And why is that?” He wondered seeing she wasn’t going to elaborate.

“Because I have all that I want in the present,” she said looking at him with such love his throat became thick with emotion. “And I am hoping that you will be my future,” she added softly.

Not being able to find any words he drew her closer and kissed her to show how much her words meant to him. In their distraction they didn’t hear when someone had approached their booth.

“I see now that one man is out of the picture, another comes in his place easily,” Eli said cruelly referring to Jory’s absence. “If you could even be called a man,” he said to Baden.

They broke away from the kiss and Baden turned to his brother with loathing on his face. Annie looked at him shocked and hurt from his callous words. Eli stood looking down at them as if he were disgusted with the very sight of them. As if they were an abomination, and to him they were. Annie felt Baden’s grip tighten around her and the anger felt like it was radiating off him.

“Annie, could you please wait for me outside,” Baden requested through gritted teeth.

She wasn’t sure if she should leave them alone together but she didn’t want Eli to see how much he had hurt her. Reluctantly she left, refusing to look at Eli on her way out. When she was outside she let her tears come as she hid her face from the passersby on the street.

Inside Baden was trying his hardest not to kill Eli right there. He had a special night planned for Annie and he didn’t think killing his brother was going to make it any better, for her at least.

“You may not see me as the brother you grew up with any longer…” Baden said quietly as he casually moved out of the booth and took a step towards Eli. “But I know how to speak to a lady. And in my estimation that makes you less of a man than a creature like me is.” He started to walk away but Eli caught his arm. Baden subtly pulled it from his grasp whilst barely holding his demeanor.

“Savor what little time you have,” Eli threatened with a smile that looked sadistic.

“I already value every moment I have with Annie,” Baden whispered violently. “And I will especially cherish the moment she becomes my wife.” He left before Eli could say another word. He had paid for the reservation before today so he went straight to Annie outside.

The sun was setting and even though Annie had wiped away the tears it was obvious she had been crying. Baden pulled her into an embrace then kept his arm around her as he led her to the horse. He had opted for a horse instead of a carriage because it meant that he could hold her. She sat in his lap, leaning against his chest and it comforted her. They rode in silence for a time but Annie was determined not to let the selfish actions of one person ruin her night.

“So you told me not long ago that soul snatchers are able to eat food?” Annie said bringing up a passing comment Baden had made weeks ago. He smiled at her randomness but also her tenacity to not let others bring her down. It was one of the many things he admired about her.

“Yes, we can,” he answered, “The bane would merely burn it up in an instant once we had swallowed it.”

“Could food suffice for a snatcher, if they ate enough?” She wondered as she played with a loose strand on his shirt.

“If one were to eat a field of crops then it might be sufficient enough for a day or so,” he said holding back his laughter as he remembered a bet he had made with an impetuous snatcher years ago.

The story was comprised of a snatcher trying to consume a farmer’s field of corn, which he had done quite easily because he hadn’t fed in some time. Though feeling so full he forgot his need to drink blood and he had almost died. After remembering the snatchers franticness at the time Baden couldn’t help but laugh.

He explained the story to Annie who could see the humor in it but couldn’t quite bring herself to laugh about it.

“Does food still taste good?” She asked thinking how much she enjoyed the experience of eating.

“Yes and no,” he answered as he skillfully directed the horse through the dimming light. “It still has a taste and can be quite satisfying but when you do not need it to survive it becomes monotonous to eat it.” He looked down at her to see her looking up to him and he leaned down and kissed her. “Let us say, it does not taste quite like you do,” he complimented after breaking away from the kiss. She liked the cheeky smile that came across his face when he said it and just like that she had forgotten about Eli and his hurtful words.



Meanwhile, Adam and Stewart were down by the pond that was located in one of Martha’s paddocks. It was secluded from the manor but was still on her land which meant it wasn’t open for public access.

They were setting up the pond the way Baden had instructed and doing it as fast as they could. As soon as night was approaching they had come out with hands full of lanterns and a small wooden boat, just big enough for two. If they had been seen by a human they would have given away their strength and provoked suspicion but they could sense no one was near so they didn’t care. When they made it to the pond they put everything on the ground and got to work.

The floating lanterns they had bought were made completely of glass, even the dome shaped base. There was a place for a candle to sit on top of the plate which was surrounded by a cylindrical wall, with an open top. The glass was coloured with many different hues of purple, pink and yellow. The soft wisps of colour resembled when ink is spilled into water and undulates through it, only in the glass the colour was suspended instead of moving.

They lit the candles one by one and slowly glided the lanterns onto the still pond. It was quite a large expanse of water so it took many lanterns to fill it just enough to keep space for the boat to drift along it.

As Adam was lighting one if the candles he didn’t realise that his sleeve was catching alight.

“Do you smell something?” Stewart asked looking around to see what it was.

Adam stopped and tried to place the smell as well but before they had any luck his shirt was well and truly alight. Out of shock he fell into the boat that was floating near the shore and Stewart had to think quickly. Without ceremony he grabbed Adam and threw him into the pond. He did it in a way that was like skipping a stone so it wouldn’t make too much of a splash but would douse him in water.

After regaining his footing Adam stood up in the shallows, hair and clothes slick to his body with a look of shock on his face. Before either of them had time to laugh Adam’s face was bright from the light of something else burning and his face was a mask of horror. Stewart turned to see that the boat was on fire.

“For goodness sake,” Stewart said as he ran to grab the boat. He threw it into the lake causing Adam to duck but of course with Adam’s luck it landed upside down on his head. The lack of oxygen extinguished the fire and Adam was left hidden underneath the smoking boat.

Adam simply walked out of the water, balancing the boat on his head and holding the sides with his hands. He placed it on the shore and looked to Stewart as if he hadn’t almost just come close to his own death. If Adam had caught well and truly on fire then it probably would have burned all of his bane and killed him.

They both looked down to the boat to inspect it. The wood was charred black but the structure remained intact.

“Do you think they will notice?” Adam asked and Stewart looked at him sardonically.

“Go and get a sheet to cover it,” Stewart demanded and Adam was off and back in no time at all.

Stewart lined the boat as best he could with the white sheet and to his credit it looked half decent. They checked the candles and Stewart relit the ones that had been snuffed out in the chaos. They heard Baden and Annie approaching so they gently placed the boat on the water’s edge and left before they arrived.

“Anyone would think that you purposely sabotage yourself,” Stewart joked as they went into the house.

“Sometimes I seriously consider that to be the case,” Adam countered and they laughed all the way to the library.



CHAPTER 4:



Baden and Annie rode up to the pond and she looked up at him for an explanation. He gave her a mischievous smile but didn’t say anything. Bringing the horse to a stop close to the pond, Baden jumped off and helped Annie down with him. She took in the scene with wide eyed approval.

The candles gave a majestic feel in the simple field. The water rippled slightly with the small breeze that had picked up and she thought it looked like a fairytale come to life. Taking her hand, he led her to the edge of the pond where the boat was waiting for them.

“I am not a good swimmer,” she said warily before they could step into the boat.

It’s not that she didn’t know how to, Micah had taught her years ago. It’s just that she never quite had enough strength to develop the skill. Maybe if she had practiced more? But she had always been too afraid to try. Baden slipped an arm around her waist and took her hand.

“I do not intend to let you fall in,” he whispered into her ear and it sent a shiver through her.

Baden stepped into the boat first and steadied it before he reached out his arms for Annie. She hesitated for a moment feeling frightened of falling in but when she looked at him her fear was replaced by her trust in him. Reaching out her arms towards him, he took her hands and she stepped into the boat. Never having done so before, she lost her balance but before the situation became disastrous he pulled her close to him and balanced the boat again. Letting a nervous laugh escape her, Annie clung onto him for dear life. He couldn’t help but smile as he held her close and carefully helped her sit down.

She felt better when she was sitting and especially better when he sat close to her. The boat undulated along the water as they slowly drifted further onto the pond. He liked how she chewed on her bottom lip when she was nervous.

“What are you smiling at?” She asked trying to distract herself. He hadn’t realised he had been smiling as he stared at her lips so he took a moment to think about what she said. His smile grew wider and he pulled her into his lap.

“Your lips,” he answered and before she could question him further he kissed her to distraction.

Her nerves fell away as she was overwhelmed with desire for him. She wrapped her arms around his neck so tightly that it would have almost strangled an ordinary man. He had to remind himself to be gentle with her as he became caught up in their kiss. She shuffled to try and get closer to him but her foot slipped in her hurry which rocked the boat. She grabbed hold of his collar and froze in panic. He moved them so they were more in the center so they could steady the movements and after a moment the water settled.

“Maybe we should go to dry land?” She suggested looking longingly towards the shore.

“It is not very deep,” he tried to assure her, holding her a little tighter.

“Will it reach over my head?” She asked worriedly. He hesitated for a moment and that was enough to frighten her. “Baden, take us back,” she demanded looking over to the solid ground that she missed so much.

“Annie, I promise I will not let you drown,” he guaranteed, gently turning her head back to him. She looked up at him with all the fear in her eyes but when she only saw truth in his, her fear was eased once again. She gave up and let out a smile trying to ignore her worry.

“Fine, we will stay,” she conceded.

“Perfect, because there is something I want to talk to you about,” he said and it ignited her curiosity. She looked at him with a million questions in her eyes.

“What exactly would you like to speak about?” She asked feeling something in the back of her mind searching for what it might be.

“Well,” he started. He pulled her closer still and looked her over until his gaze reached her eyes. A blush came to her cheeks and it made him smile with pleasure. He gently touched where the colour flourished and it deepened. “Did you know that out of every other person in the world there is no other that I would bother to spend my time with?”

“I do now,” she answered him breathlessly, liking where this was headed. He moved his face closer to hers and it made her heart race.

“And did you know that before I met you….” He paused for a moment and his look turned almost sad. “I was looking for a way to end my existence on this earth.”

“Baden!” She said harshly not towards him but towards what he had intended to do. She was filled with so much fear that she completely forgot that they were on water. “Promise me that no matter what, you will never consider that again,” she demanded.

“The point of me telling you that was not to frighten you, it was to show you that I did not have a reason to be here,” he said wanting to calm her.

“Promise me,” she said not letting it drop.

“I promise, Annie,” he answered laughing a little at her urgency.

“If I lost you…” this time he paused with true sadness in his eyes and it took a long moment for him to regain himself. “Though it may cross my mind to do that, I would not be capable of bringing myself to it.”

“Why?” She asked glad that he would not try to hurt himself.

“Because losing you would be wrong in itself but losing the memory of you would make it even worse,” he explained. “If I ever cease to exist, I do not know what will happen to me...afterwards. But here I know I can still remember you, I can still have you with me and just the thought of you is better than a lifetime of uselessness of never having known you. I would live through to pain to have the joy of your memory.”

Annie looked at him, eyes wide with shock, and she felt more loved than she had ever felt in her life.

“But I refuse to let anything happen to you,” he added. “So let us hope that day never comes.”

“I can agree to that,” she said with a little smile. He loved how she made him feel more human by the second.

“In saying that, I cannot even begin to imagine my life without you,” he continued. “And I do not see any reason to even contemplate it. You have completely remade me, Annie.” He sat up straighter and looked at her with a sincerity that was almost overwhelming. “When I look into my life ahead I can only see you.”

Her eyes started to well with tears from his love and when he saw them it made him do the same. Gently but urgently, he moved her out of his lap so she was sitting facing him and he was holding onto her hands.

“I promise to love you every day of my existence,” he vowed and she was nodding her head frantically to show that she believed him. “Annie, I would be the most fortunate man to have the privilege of loving you forever.” His complete euphoria blocked out everything else around them and he focused entirely on Annie.

Before he could get any other words out something came crashing down upon them with such violence that it knocked them out of the boat. Suddenly Annie was thrown into the cool water, her dress and hair tangled around her in a chaotic mess. She thrashed her arms around trying to grab onto something, anything that might help her pull herself up to the surface. Even if she wanted to frantically kick her legs, there was no hope with her dress so entangled amongst her legs. She could feel her feet hitting the bottom of the pond and her dress became caught up in some long reeds on the bottom. Regardless, she felt like she was the wrong way up and even though she could feel the ground her body still felt all turned around. She couldn’t see and her lungs were burning in protest for air because she hadn’t had enough time to take in a sufficient amount due to the surprise of it all. Her only hope now was Baden, wherever he might be.


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