Memories are important, as Elly well knows. All her memories before she was ten were lost to her, but she finds comfort in the future in the arms of her handsome painter fiance, Alec.
Happiness doesn't last forever, however, and one night she visits him to find him troubled by something. He rebuffs her attempts to speak with him, and with a spin of her heels she leaves him alone to brood. A single moment changes their relationship, and he's taken away from her forever. Or so she thought.
Elly's future has other plans than for her to mourn. She has a new beginning, and that starts with being dragged into a fantastical world of hidden inns, piggish men, and a pale stalker who has terrible plans for her. Her guardian in this new world is Shade, a mysterious man with an even more mysterious employer. Together they learn to survive this new world, and each other, and maybe, just maybe, her happily-ever after gets a second chance.
Worlds alongside ours. Worlds of darkness and light. I didn't know about any of that until that fateful night.
Or rather, I should say I'd forgotten all about it.
It wasn't really my fault, but I'm getting ahead of myself. This story-my story-starts at the beginning, or what was the beginning of my life out in the big wide world. I had spread my wings from college and joined the ranks of the working class in the city of my birth and upbringing. It was just like any other city with streets, cars, and more people than you could count outside of a census. One of those people mattered more to me than even myself.
There I go getting ahead of myself again. Let me start on that warm day, a day that feels like so long ago.
"You're looking at the clock again."
I started out of my reverie and whipped my head around to the desk that shared my small, lifeless cubicle.
A smiling woman of twenty sat there with a headset dangling from one finger and a grin on her brown-hair ringed face. The mischievous little elf, who went by the name of Roxie, leaned forward and her eyes sparkled with mischief.
"That's the fourth time in ten minutes you've looked at the clock on your computer," she teased me.
I spun my chair back to face my computer and shrugged. "I guess I can't wait for the weekend."
"I'm getting a head start," I defended myself as I tapped away at a few forms on my screen.
The young woman rolled her chair over to my side and leaned an elbow on my desk. "‘Fess up, you have a date with that handsome sketcher of yours."
"Painter," I corrected her as another minute on the clock ticked away.
"I keep forgetting," my friend mused as she tapped her lower lip with one finger. "How long have you guys been together?"
"Four years, right after we both graduated college," I told her.
She furrowed her brow. "Didn't he want to be a shrink and analyze your lost memory or something?"
"That was my first boyfriend," I corrected my friend as I winced at those lost-suppressed memories. "And the less said about that relationship the better."
"Weren't you in that program to try to figure out what happened?" she wondered.
Some of my good humor fell away as my face fell. "Yeah, but I never could get my memories back from before I was ten. . ."
My friend clapped a hand on my shoulder and grinned. "Don't look so down. What's that old saying? Look forward or you'll trip and fall flat on your face."
I couldn't help but snort. "Who said that? Socrates? Plato?"
"Roxie," she informed me as she leaned closer and wagged her eyebrows. "So has your handsome painter painted you yet?"
I snorted. "You mean a la the Titantic? No. He prefers still objects and landscapes so I can be jealous of fruit and happy little trees."
My friend winced. "He doesn't say that, does he?"
Another minute ticked away and the clock proverbially struck the hour. A pity digital clocks were so quiet. "No, he has the same reaction as you when I bring it up," I told her as I began to gather my things.
"He really should make his hobby his work instead of working that night-to-five job in that office," she suggested.
I laughed and shook my head. "He can't quit his day job until painting pays that much, and that's going to take a while."
"Well, maybe he could paint stuff people wanted," she mused.
I slung my bag over one shoulder and shrugged. "He's just not that kind of painter, but I really need to go. He gets off soon, too."
We exchanged waves and I hurried from the vacuous office building that I called home for nine hours out of every weekday. Some days I wished I could run away from home and make a new life at my apartment. That is, before I was thrown out for not paying my rent.
I joined the throngs of over office workers on the busy streets of the bustling city. Skyscrapers towered above us, dazzling we simple ants with their crystal-clean windows. The concrete jungle was swinging with taxis and cars as people hurried to leave its steel confines for the wide open spaces of suburbia and beyond.
I swam against the current to one of the larger buildings where the shimmering wall of glass held the man with whom I had fallen in love. The lobby bustled with last-minute work-a-holics and overachievers, while those like me crammed the front doors eager to leave.
I caught one of the few elevators going up and climbed to the midsection of this vast sailing vessel, powered not by wind but by cold, hard cash. Most of the high finances of the city passed through this building, as evidenced by the expensive furniture and exotic plants that decorated the hall as I stepped off the elevator.
My destination was a quiet little office tucked away in the far corner. I met a familiar face on the way there.
"Hello, Elly," the man called to me.
I stopped in front of him and grinned. "Hi, Jeff. Teaching the kids art?"
He tucked a crayon deeper into his front vest pocket and chuckled. "Nothing gets past you, does it?"
"Just a few minutes with Alec will teach anyone to spot a colored pencil a mile a way," I returned.
His humor faltered a little and he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the tell-tale office door to which I was headed. "Have. . .have you noticed something odd about Alec lately?"
I tilted my head to one side and furrowed my brow. "Odd?"
Jeff nodded. "Yes. He seems rather distant today. I had to speak to him several times to catch his attention, and even then I'm not sure he was listening to what I was saying."
I frowned. "I haven't noticed, but I'll talk to him about it."
Jeff grinned and patted me on the shoulder. "I appreciate it. If he'll listen to anybody, it'll be you. Now if you will excuse me, I have some finger painting to admire." He winked at me and continued on to the elevator.
My heart wasn't so light nor my step so bouncy as I walked down the hall. The office door with the name ‘Alec Blackwell, Financial Adviser' on the front was closed. I rapped my knuckle against the hard wood.
"Come in," came a soft and tired voice.
I stepped inside and paused on the threshold to take in the view. The office was immaculate, with a perfect balance of simplicity and elegance. There was a filing cabinet, large, thick-legged desk, and a great view to my left of the streets below. One of the drawers to the filing cabinet just to my right held folders in perfect alphabetical order.
Alec Blackwell himself sat behind the desk. He faced the large windows and one leg was folded over the other. The sun settled on his perfect features and added a tinge of gold color to his otherwise jet-black hair. While others looked stiff and puffed up in their suits, he wore the creased pants and vest like another layer of skin. Then again, he always looked perfectly dressed, even in jeans and a t-shirt.
Or maybe he just looked perfect all the time.
A few whispered words passed over his lips. "Fear is natural. Your response is what defines who are you."
I froze thinking my presence had been found out, but he didn't turn to me. There was something sad about those words, sad and a little bit terrifying. Still, I mustered my confidence and leaned my arm against the door frame and smile. "Hello, stranger."
Alec started from his reverie and whipped his head to me. His somber expression changed to a grin as he leaned back in his chair. "Have I ever told you you have a talent for catching people off their guard?"
"It wasn't too hard with you," I returned as I walked over and seated myself on the edge of his desk. "You looked like you were in another world."
His smile faltered and he returned his gaze to the window. "Maybe I was. . ." I tilted my head to one side, but he shook himself from his reverie and leapt to his feet. He wrapped his arms around me and swept me into a long, passionate kiss.
By the time we broke apart I was all flushed and out of breath. "What was that for?" I asked him.
He cupped one of my cheeks in his hand and brushed his thumb against my warm skin. "I just want to remind you that I love you."
I smiled and tapped the end of his nose with my finger. "How did I manage to catch you?"
"With both our lucks," he teased before he glanced at the clock. "But what are we staying around here for? There's a chicken salad in my fridge that's waiting to be eaten."
I snorted as he wrapped one arm around my waist and led me toward the door. "That wouldn't happen to be the same salad that was there when I visited two days ago, would it?"
He grasped the door knob and flashed me his wicked grin. "Perhaps."
"I hope it hasn't gotten so bad that it's held up the rest of the food for their condiment money."
Alec bowed his head. "If it has, I'll fend it off."
A soft rumble made us pause, and Alec whipped his head toward the window. I followed his gaze and noticed a dark cloud on the horizon. "Looks like a storm, doesn't it?" Alec didn't respond, but I noticed he clenched his left hand so tightly that his flesh paled. "Alec?"
He shook himself and looked back to me. "What?"
I leaned back and examined his tense face. "Are you okay?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I was just. . .just thinking, that's all. Now let's get to that grub."