Can love defy fate?
From Kindle Nation Fave Delia J. Colvin…
Book Two of The Sibylline Trilogy, the addictive romance fantasy that weaves Greek mythology with a modern tale of eternal love…
now just 99 cents!
by Delia Colvin
The Symbolon is the passionate second novel of the stirring Sibylline Trilogy.
For 3000 years, oracle, Alex has dreamt of a life with his mortal beloved, Valeria. And it appears that they may at last have a chance for a life together.
But when they approach the ancient council of immortals, for approval of the marriage, they discover that sinister forces object to their union. Soon they find themselves faced with terrifying threats including a devastating separation that neither may survive.
In this deeply romantic trilogy, The Symbolon is the story of a love so enduring that it can change destinies — no matter what, no matter where, no matter when…
5-star praise for The Symbolon:
“Ms Colvin takes Greek mythology, and turns it into the most evocative, engaging, and visually arresting characters I have ever encountered.”
“If you don’t find yourself living the story line, feeling the angst, the longing, the betrayal, the emotions, along with the characters, you may be living impaired.”
an excerpt from
by Delia J. Colvin
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,”
Shakespeare Sonnet 116
653 B.C. Carrara
Alex stirred sleepily and opened his eyes. He shook his head in mild amusement; even in her sleep she needed to possess him! Kristiana was lying naked, except for the long crystal that was strung on a leather cord and permanently bound around her neck. Her soft body, with its delicious curves, straddled his, as her arms and legs wrapped around him in ownership. She was beautiful, he had to admit. Her curves, along with her sexual appetites, were intoxicating, taking him to pleasures he had only previously imagined.
To have lived his long existence without the secret knowledge of a woman…then to feel Kristiana alive in his arms, and to make love to her, was extraordinary! It was a welcome distraction from the previous 500 years of extreme loneliness and devastation that had been his life.
Mani and Melitta had been right; it wasn’t good for Alex to spend his life mourning. Cassandra was dead and gone and nothing could be done about it. Alex was immortal and would live forever…and his soul mate, his symbolon, was gone.
And if, in fact, he would live forever, he had to find something more in his life! As Mani had said, Alex had been gifted with immortality for a reason. Still, it struck him as unjust that he should have survived the drowning. Over the years, he had continued to believe that the gods would smile on him and bring Cassandra back…somehow. But now it really was time to find some way, impossible as it seemed, to move on.
Melitta had told Alex that the first step to a new life was for him to at least attempt to be distracted by something other than Cassandra. He had tried. But it seemed that any activity that didn’t include thoughts of her were wrought with a never-ending grief.
Once, he went an entire year without sculpting or painting her. He had kept his mind engrossed in the precarious task of climbing the great mountains north of his home. This was an enterprise that should have occupied his mind completely but several times, during the night, despite his exhaustion, he had caught himself beginning to draw her face in the ground.
He almost held his breath as he counted down the final days of the year. On the last night, he didn’t sleep. He sat perched, waiting for the sun to crest the mountains. Then, leaving behind all of his supplies, he ran possessed by the need to see and touch the paintings and sculptures that were all that he had left of her.
He wondered what was wrong with him. How could a woman that he barely knew, except for his visions of her and their brief time together as children, affect him even after all these years? But thankfully now, because of Kristiana, thoughts of Cassandra had become only a dull ache in his heart. He tried to shake off the melancholy that had become his constant companion over the years.
Trying to convince Kristiana that he was not the man for her had been a challenge equivalent to convincing a hungry lioness that a bleeding lamb would cause her indigestion. Once her sights were set, she persevered regardless of the cost! He knew it was a tremendous hardship on her to be married to a man that seemed only capable of loving a memory, but she felt certain that she could make him love her. And her physical efforts were certainly proof of that, he thought with a wry smile.
Kristiana’s long bronze hair spilled over most of her face. He brushed it back, noticing the occasional gold strands, from their time in the sun. The honeymoon had been fairly brief—only a month, too short from her perspective, too long from his. Alex was not an idle man and now that rendering artistic representations of Cassandra were no longer appropriate he struggled to find worth.
Still Kristiana seemed happy and her insecurities were reasonable considering that he was still obsessed with his Cassandra. During their first sculpting lessons, three years prior, Kristiana had tried to get him to sculpt someone or something else. He had explained to her that he was there only for Cassandra, and if Kristiana wasn’t able to help him with that, he would find another tutor. With the sizable remuneration he was paying her for her services, Alex knew that Kristiana could not afford to turn him down. He was certain that she had been hurt, but she needed to know the truth.
It had never been his intention to lead her along and he often thought that he should have refused to marry her. But after that early June evening he had agreed, not out of the joy of new love, but to resolve her desperate need for him and his desperate need to have something in his life other than grief.
Their courtship, if it could be considered that, had begun recently, after three years of Kristiana’s constant flirtations. She had asked him to join the townspeople at her home to celebrate the sale of one of her sculptures. When he arrived, it was evident that he was the only guest…and her dress suggested that no one else was invited. Alex decided that he should leave. But she begged him to stay. Of course, he knew that she had not invited anyone else. The men and boys in town would have flocked in had they been asked. Kristiana had offered Alex a drink and he sipped it. When she began to dance provocatively, he told her it was time for him to leave. Alex stood and realized that he was incapable of walking. That was all he remembered.
The next morning he awoke, stunned to find that they were both naked in her bed. Kristiana arose, almost covering herself with a blanket, and spoke of Alex’s promises and seduction the night before.
He knew it was all a lie but watching her, despite his headache, he felt something other than grief. It certainly wasn’t love. He knew she was not to be trusted. There were rumors around Carrara that she could cast spells and Alex had suspected that her interest in growing and blending various herbs was not purely medicinal. However, it was the first time in 500 years that he had been distracted by other thoughts.
He felt a touch of exhilaration at the possibility that he could enjoy life. And frankly, he had been flattered by her efforts. Within minutes, Kristiana’s brother burst through the door—no doubt to witness the impropriety. Paolo stomped through the room, insisting that Alex had taken advantage of his poor sister and demanded that the pair marry. Alex had difficulty containing his snickers at her brother’s sanctimonious shock as Paolo was known for his legions of sexual exploits! And although Alex was quite certain that nothing had happened, he ensured that there was no further question of his conduct while they discussed what the future might hold.
Despite his attempts to convince Kristiana that she should marry someone else, she had no doubt that he would eventually love her. And perhaps she was right. It wouldn’t be the same as his love for Cassandra—a connection and love that he could only have with his symbolon. But perhaps he could have something that, it appeared, he could never have with Cassandra—a life.
Even after the wedding, Alex’s obsession continued to be like a burr under the saddle to Kristiana. During their honeymoon she had insisted on seeing his home, Morgana. He knew that despite what he had told her, she expected far more than the simplicity that he preferred…and he had warned her! She had been shocked to find the simple shack that had been built by his father. Of course, he had fortified the structure with more modern enhancements but Kristiana was stunned into a rare silence to see its contents; almost every open space was occupied by artworks of Cassandra.
Still, he felt that Kristiana had handled it better than expected. She had merely asked what he would do with them now that they were married…and refused to sleep there. And she did that all without breaking a single thing, Alex recalled, with some relief! Before leaving, she asked him if he would torch the shack along with his tribute to Cassandra. It had never occurred to him that Kristiana would want his centuries of work destroyed. Alex had tried to reason with her and hoped that she would understand that this was his life’s work. But in truth, to destroy it would be like killing Cassandra and that, he could not do. In order to maintain their marital bliss, Alex had agreed that they would return to Carrara and build a home that would be more to Kristiana’s liking.
Watching her sleep, Alex realized that even now she appeared to be scheming. Then she drew a deep breath and stretched, pushing the long, clear crystal around her neck into him. He reached over to move it and she jumped up now wide awake, her eyes alarmed. She snatched the pendant from his fingers then seeing his surprise she relaxed and gave him a sensual smile as her mouth moved to his.
Alex hadn’t expected to like the tiny Etruscan village, but Carrara had grown on him, as Kristiana had. The discovery of the extraordinary, white marble, heralded as the finest in the world, had changed not only his fate but the fate of the residents of Carrara, as it created a major industry in the sleepy town.
It was still early when the sun slowly rose over the mountains, in Kristiana’s studio. Alex watched as the light shifted dramatically through the various hatches in the ceiling of the studio capturing the white dust that clung gracefully to the air and coated everything within yards of the building, including Alex and Kristiana, with its mystical sparkle; transforming an otherwise drab room into a magical place.
“Why are you striking it there?” he asked, amazed at Kristiana’s adeptness with the hammer and chisel.
“Watch!” she ordered, without taking her eyes from their position on the glistening white stone. The chisel sat angled on the delicate face of her sculpture. Alex held his breath as the hammer gently tapped on the marble and the piece broke away perfectly, leaving what would become the delicate chin of a woman.
The room held numerous works that Kristiana had completed recently and had not yet been sold. Most of her sculptures were of women that rose, arms outstretched, from the sea. Her work was a marvel to him in that is was ageless and appeared to be effortless.
Noticing his expression after her last tap, she signaled for him to come closer for another lesson. “As I tell all of my students,” she quipped, seductively placing Alex’s hand on her chest, “You must feel the cut in your heart first before you cut with your hand.” She pulled his arms around her. With Kristiana, he could almost imagine what it would be like to be happy.
“But you must practice! I never see you practice anymore,” she scolded, softly. An unfinished work sat in the corner. Neither Kristiana, nor Alex had the nerve to move it. The face could be transformed into someone else but he didn’t have the heart for the work anymore.
Analyzing one of her works, Alex said, almost distracted, “You need the marble more than I do.” It wasn’t a complete lie. He had told her that he would go up the mountain to select and purchase more marble—it gave him something to do. He envied Kristiana with her passion of creating art for the sake of creation. His goal had only been to see Cassandra and Alex had no desire to create other works. He knew that his hands and heart knew only that subject. It was better not to sculpt.
She rose, facing him, with a mischievous smile, and turned his palms towards her, “To be a great artist you must have the marble in your veins.” She placed his hands on her hips, covered in white dust. He smelled her hair and felt her curves. “But we will begin with it on your hands.”
He kissed her lightly and offered her a rare smile. Then pulling back, he said, “I need to leave now, if you wish me to return this evening.”
Until then, he had been concerned that too much time away from her would cause his mind to wander back to Cassandra, causing his pain to return. But now, after a month of togetherness, he knew that he needed the time to himself. And Kristiana needed marble.
She sighed, “Tonight then.” She kissed his neck and pressed into him to close the sale.
The narrow, dirt road wound its way through the village of Carrara and then up the hills to the marble quarries. Alex could see the serpentine pattern from the numerous hairpin turns up the precipice. Although he recognized that his seeming immortality kept him safe from most of the hazards of the roads, he still preferred his own two feet, as opposed to a cart or horse. Flying marble and ox were constant companions on those roads so he walked and would gladly pay the price for delivery.
From the village, he could see Kristiana’s brother, Paolo, directing the crew on the construction of their new home, a veritable palace, which she had decided to name Bella Vida—Beautiful Life. It was good to see Paolo take an interest, as it appeared far too easy for him to get into trouble.
With a friendly wave, Alex wondered what Paolo and Kristiana would be scheming while he was gone—perhaps an additional wing for Paolo’s pursuits? Alex shook his head in amusement. Paolo was a few years younger than he and tended towards self-indulgence. With the olive skin of the Easterners and blue eyes of the Galts, Paolo was striking and the responses that he received, particularly from women, tended to support that viewpoint.
Alex had spent a great deal of time attempting to instill humility and ethics into Paolo to no avail. He was, like his sister, high-spirited and single-focused on whatever was occupying his attention at the moment, whether it be the virtue of a new girl, or plotting to increase his wealth. Still, outside of the Trento family, the family of oracles on the other side of the country, Paolo was his closest friend and Alex tolerated his antics, knowing that Paolo did have a good heart…besides, now they were brothers.
With the town behind him, Alex turned off the road to cut through a field where the wild flowers sprung up towards the sun and framed the base of the marble mountains in yellow and deep blue. Arriving three years earlier, he had climbed across those mountains, seeking a famous sculptor; a teacher. He had been attempting to capture his memories of Cassandra for centuries—her as a child, her looking at him, her sleeping, her and the visions that had dominated and preoccupied both of their lives. He constantly clung to his memories of her, while attempting to create something new. But he needed a new medium. When he realized that painting would never be able to capture her spirit, he began experimenting with bronze with amazing results. However, once he had seen the white, Carrara marble, he had to learn to sculpt with it!
Stepping through the deep field he brushed his hands over the soft blossoms, and then abruptly sensed the ocular flickering, both a gift, and a burden of his destiny…a vision. Already he knew that this was not a minor vision regarding wealth or other relatively unimportant issues. It had been over 500 years since he had felt an impulse this strong! Alex’s heart dropped into his stomach as he realized it was like…his visions of Cassandra.
The flickering formed a circle in his range of vision. Soon it would obscure his view and his ability to walk. He felt a slight trembling, as he suddenly became desperate to see her beautiful face again…and then just as suddenly, he felt his chest tighten in dread, terrified that a vision of her from the past would send him reeling back into that nowhere land where his grief ruled. Still, to think of seeing her face…he felt his heart rate climb as he closed his eyes. Then the thought occurred to him, causing hope to germinate—what if she had come back?
Immediately Alex realized the error of his thinking. The vision could be of Kristiana’s safety. Then he shook his head as the corners of his mouth turned up momentarily. He would hate to see the fate of anyone attempting to best her! Kristiana was a woman of fire…she was well-known for her adept handling of a dagger.
Giving into the inevitability of the moment, Alex slid to the ground, as the kaleidoscope effect overtook him. He placed his head in his hands, with his eyes closed, and he looked…
The breeze gently caressed the tall grass as two women moved along the trail.
His heart leapt! It was Cassandra! But not a vision from 500 years ago—her clothes were more modern. She was alive! He choked as his heart rushed to his throat…and then he remembered Myrdd’s instructions. He must pay attention to the details! Alex pushed back the emotion and watched. Oh, to see her beautiful face!
She was wearing a Roman toga and her brown curls were tamed in a long braid, with tiny tendrils that escaped around her face and neck. He noticed that her eyes were no longer the extraordinary shade of oracle blue that they had been; though they were still breathtaking, with the deep blue framed by her dark lashes.
Furrowing his eyebrows, he wondered for a moment if this vision was some kind of trickery. But he immediately disavowed that thought, in what he realized was a desperate attempt to believe that she could come back to him.
A fast moving cloud moved over her, creating a momentary shadow. Then he heard the soft resonance that he loved above all others, her laugh—beautiful and joyful. He breathed it in, attempting to make it a permanent part of his soul. He had forgotten the sound of her voice.
To see her face after all these years was surely a gift from the gods…or a curse. His only desire, at that moment was to take in the vision of her. But he knew to protect his heart, he had to force reason into this new reality. Cassandra had died. He had watched her body disintegrate until Mani had insisted that he bury her. This could not be real—but Alex watched, just the same.
Habit forced him to determine time in the vision; it could be only a few years away. She looked to be 16, he decided, as he wiped the tears of joy from his face.
She was walking with another young girl, possibly a servant, who ran ahead to the river. It appeared to be the Tiber. Cassandra stepped in the crystal clear water to cool herself.
He tried to guide his glances, feeling that he was peering on a private moment—betraying her. But he could not. As usual the vision would dictate.
From a bend in the river, the servant girl was talking to someone. A moment later, Alex saw the servant, face down on the now blood-stained bank of the river, out of view from Cassandra.
Alex involuntarily sucked in a deep breath; he couldn’t bear to see Cassandra harmed again! But he forced himself to pay attention to the details—he heard Myrdd’s wise council from the past; the old man who was the first oracle, and Alex’s mentor. “Where is it, boy?” Myrdd would ask.
It was obviously summertime; the vegetation was a deep green along the river. There was a hillside ahead; a stone building peeked from behind the trees.
Hearing the footsteps in the water, Cassandra turned and smiled, and then seeing something, out of Alex’s view, her eyes became suddenly wary as she started to back up towards the shore. The water was so clear Alex could almost see a reflection. Then he saw the struggle…and the flash of a dagger.
Easily controlling her, the attacker skillfully drew the dagger in a fine line over Cassandra’s throat. The loss immediately caused his gut to wrench. He watched as the red line on her neck rapidly widened, while Alex choked in pain. He saw the horror of realization seep into her eyes…and then he felt the enormity of the loss of his symbolon renewed in his soul.
The murderer carelessly dropped his beloved in the river, and the film that coated the water parted, allowing a clear view through the water of the face that he adored. She stared blankly upwards and red ribbons of blood clouded around her. His Cassandra was dead…again.
Once the violent sobs and retching had ended and the shaking had subsided to a point where he could see something other than that final vision of her, Alex stared helplessly at the sky analyzing and reanalyzing every detail. Was it now? Did it already happen? Was she alive? Was there any possibility that he could change it?
Then he remembered—Kristiana! How could he tell her? But there was no choice!
The ground moved by in a blur, as he rode on one horse, while leading a second. He would arrive in Rome, nearly 200 miles to the south, by midday, if he rode all night and only stopped to water and feed the horses.
Kristiana had taken the news as expected. He had broken her heart—though she knew no outlet for negative emotion other than rage. Alex didn’t have a chance to talk to Paolo, though he was certain that Paolo would insist on a physical battle to defend his sister’s honor. Alex had no intention of fighting Paolo!
As the sun set behind the hills to the west, Alex tortuously replayed the scene in the vision, searching for clues; he remembered the clear water as the murderer approached, and he scanned for anything that might be a reflection. Then his thoughts jumped to that last awful scene, with Cassandra’s eyes staring up at him. The water was clouded with debris…a fine mist that prohibited any reflection.
Suddenly, Alex’s eyes narrowed in thought, with the realization of the incongruity. The debris in the water floated on the surface, but wasn’t there before the murderer approached—the murderer had tracked something into the water. Alex drew a deep breath and ran it again. There was something familiar about the debris. Was it pollen? No, he decided, pollen was yellow and this was white. Then he noticed something that had escaped his attention before—because it was something that had become a part of his new reality; a crystalline sparkle on the water. His eyes narrowed…was it Carrara marble?
Asleep in a tee shirt and pajama bottoms, Alex struggled. Valeria saw the signs of another one of his nightmares—his tense movement and sweat-drenched brow, the rapid breathing and near-words. In fact, they had occurred almost every night since her return home from the hospital. He would refuse to tell her about them, saying it was all “old news” but she wished that he would talk to her.
Camille had said it was to be expected; he had spent eons fighting very real threats to Valeria’s existence. How could that all be forgotten in the few months since what they had termed, optimistically, “the final battle”. In her mind it was akin to calling World War I, “the war to end all wars”; it simply begged to be proven wrong. But she would keep her sentiments to herself. Alex had been through enough!
She had finally recovered from pneumonic plague and the near drowning. Though not in 24 hours as she would have if she were like the rest of the oracles. On the bright side, an MRI at 10 days revealed that the massive lesions in her lungs had completely healed! The doctors, stunned by the results, said it should have taken at least eight weeks for her lungs to heal and asked for another MRI. Mani had halted those discussions fairly quickly. However, she still seemed to need a lot of sleep. Mani had warned that although the lesions were gone, pneumonia was still a very real possibility due to the weakened state of her lungs.
Still, they all clung to the dream that she was now immortal. She had survived the curse that had killed her over numerous lifetimes on her 27th birthday. Valeria remembered the moment when Tavish had asked the question that was on most of their minds. Could the curse have been delayed a year? As soon as he let the words slip from his mouth, she could see his regret. The momentary flash of terror in Alex’s eyes had been almost more than any of them could bear. Tavish was crushed!
Despite the fact that he seemed like a big, tough Scotsman, she had discovered just how sensitive he was that day. He slowly kneeled in front of the leather sofa where Alex and Valeria, sat, with what she was certain were near tears in his eyes.
“Laddie” He drew in a breath, “Lass…I dunnot know what causes me mouth to ramble on without thought!” Then he stopped as if he was afraid of his emotions. The whole room sat speechless, no doubt trying to find the right words to erase the fears and hurt that had just been released.
“Tav…it’s alright,” Valeria said. Leaning forward while clinging to Alex’s hand, she stroked the side of Tavish’s face. In response to her touch, Tavish pulled back and dropped his head as if ashamed of himself. “It’s alright,” she soothed as he shook his head.
Camille jumped in, “Tavish, we all know that you were simply talking through what was going on in your head and that you don’t really believe that as a possibility. Isn’t that right?”
Swallowing, Tavish nodded and rose.
Finally Alex was able to push his fears back and speak, “Thankfully, we no longer need to concern ourselves with curses.” His arms worked around Valeria in a way that displayed a hint of his fear that his love might not be with him permanently.
Still all indications were that the threats had been handled and that she was now immortal! It also seemed that they had rid themselves of their enemy, the immortal Aegemon, who had probably placed the curse. And her eyes had returned to the extraordinary color that they termed, “oracle blue”, that was really multiple, extraordinary shades of blue. It was still a shock for her when she looked in the mirror.
In addition to that, Mani had tested Valeria’s blood before and after the final battle and discovered that on both tests she carried the DNA of an immortal oracle. The question was did she only have that DNA this lifetime or since her life as Cassandra of Troy? And based on the DNA, why didn’t she recover as an immortal might. Needless to say there were a lot of questions that didn’t appear would be answered unless Valeria became sick or started to age.
Aging was the other question. Had she already suffered her Prima Mortis—the first death of an immortal that would stop the aging process and identify her Achilles’ heel? If so, was her Achilles’ heel the plague, drowning, pneumonia, hypothermia or high fever? They might never know the answer to these. She laughed and said that she had decided to steer clear of all of them…at least for a while. But as much as Alex loved that she was happy, he simply didn’t have the ability to find any humor when it came to talk of her possible mortality.
Over the past few months, with all they had been through, Alex and Valeria had grown even closer. As he continued to struggle in his sleep, she brushed his face and whispered his name. He always had that moment when he took a harsh breath—as if a door had closed and he seemed to be wondering which world he was now in.
Then his arms would find her and cautiously, as if she might disappear, they would move around her with so much longing, that she could almost feel his eons of pain. It always brought tears to her eyes. But she tried to hide it from Alex. Especially today!
“Hey,” she said, gently stoking his face. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.” His breathing slowed as he clung to her tightly.
Finally he relaxed and pulled her into him affectionately. He took a deep breath, trying to cleanse himself of the memories and brushed her hair back from her face.
“Are you kidding?” He smiled, but the dream still clung to him. “It’s way more than okay!” He pushed the smile to his eyes. “I’m marrying the woman of my dreams in just a few days!” And then she saw that the dream was now behind him. It was always a marvel to her how he could do that!
Cocking her head to the side, she thought about asking him if he wanted to talk about it. But now seeing his spark back, she didn’t want the worry to return to his extraordinarily beautiful face.
She pulled his left hand into hers, in a move that was now familiar to him, and began tracing the triangular mark on the back of his hand between his thumb and forefinger that was formed by continuous loops.
“Tell me about it again,” she said, as she pressed her mouth to his hand.
“It’s our unique mark; the one that is only for you and me. This particular shape is called a triquetra or more commonly, a trinity knot,” he said, his voice still sexy with sleep. “Apollo gave a special mark to symbolons…soul mates, if you prefer,”—the corners of his mouth turned up in the way she loved—“so that we would know our other half.”
“But our mark is more significant,” she said, her eyes focused on his.
Alex brushed her face with his free hand, as his eyes glowed with love, “Yes. Most of the marks I’ve seen appear fairly arbitrary. And ours does seem to have particular significance.” They laced the fingers of their left hands together, in a need for more closeness.
“I do think that Apollo could have made it easy on us and placed mine someplace more obvious,” she joked, and then lowered her brows. “Alex, do you really think I have our mark?”
“Absolutely!” he said, and then glanced down towards their hands. “But…you know, I have never needed a mark to know that we belong together!”
The sun flitted through the windows and he smiled, as he pulled her head down to his and kissed her sweetly, then with her face still inches from him, his eyes filled with playful joy, “Besides, I was thinking that searching for your mark would give me something else to do…”—he drew a quick breath—“on our honeymoon!”
It was the first time either of them had mentioned the honeymoon and what occurred in her body at that moment was a reaction of a previously unknown magnitude and it shocked and thrilled her! She felt an electrical charge that forced her heart into high-gear and revved her internal engines. He responded by running his hands down her spine, as his mouth covered hers.
Then just as suddenly he sighed and rolled her onto the bed next to him. With his voice husky from sleep and desire, he drew a deep breath muttering, “Just a few more days…”
Shaking it off, Alex offered her a cursory glance and a smile before jumping up. “Coffee?”
She pulled up on her elbow. “You need to ask?”
“Good point!” He grinned.
“I’ll shower, while you make the coffee,” she proposed.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the water, and then while the temperature of the water warmed, she peeked into the great room, “So where exactly are we going?”
“You’re just going to have to wait and see,” he said without turning his head from the task at hand. But she could see the hint of his smile from the angle.
She pouted, “But you know I don’t like surprises!” He turned to bring the coffee pot to the sink on the marble island. Now facing her, he began filling it with purified water.
“Yes, I do know that.” He winked. “And as you well know, I did share that with Camille. But she has insisted.” He raised his eyebrows innocently and shrugged, “I am therefore…sworn to secrecy.”
This had become a standard line of question and answer between the two of them. Because she was still looking at him expectantly, he sat the pot down and cocked his head to the side. Leaning his arms on the counter, the corners of his mouth turned up in a mischievous smile. She attempted to match his expression, except her eyes widened in expectation when he began to snicker…which always caused her to giggle, effectively ending the stand-off. As he went back to the coffee-making, she went back to the bath.
Stepping into the warm shower, she realized that it was useless—she had been trying to get it out of both of them for months now. Despite the fact that he said it was Camille’s secret, Valeria knew that a part of Alex was anxious to surprise her. He seemed to live to please her!
Camille, being very organized about things, had come by daily with a very long list of details from colors to flowers. Valeria hated to admit it, but it was kind of the best of both worlds; she didn’t have to plan the wedding or worry about the results. She just had to show up to what she knew would be just what she would have wished for…and then marry the beautiful man that was well beyond anything she could have ever dreamed up. Tears of joy formed at the thought of how very fortunate she was that he had found her…and loved her. She blinked back the tears as she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in the rich Turkish towel before heading into the bedroom.
To her surprise, Alex was sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for her, holding her coffee cup. He normally avoided being near her when she wasn’t fully dressed. Especially fresh out of the shower—the temptation was just too great! She gave him a brief quizzical look before taking the coffee.
“Here you go. Just the way you like it.” He winked.
Sipping the coffee, rich with cream, she sighed, “Hmmmm!” And then taking advantage of his sudden mood, she leaned in just enough to kiss his neck. “Thank you!” She smiled seductively at him.
Then she noticed that he was looking at her with…that look. With a hint of embarrassment, she posed. He let out his beautiful laugh that always lifted her heart and she started for the closet.
“Hang on!” He grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him.
Carefully moving the coffee cup behind his back, she leaned into him. He wrapped his arms around her amorously, running his hands over her shoulders and down her back. Stunned and excited, Valeria wished she could get rid of the full cup of coffee in her hand and lunge at him.
She reasoned that perhaps he was feeling more relaxed because the threats seemed to be gone and they were actually going to be married in only a few more days! She was breathless…and still holding her cup of very full coffee—perhaps that was his plan! Then Alex released her.
“Wow!” She raised both eyebrows, attempting to hear her voice over her pounding heart, “Where did that come from?” she asked breathlessly as she gently pulled her cup from behind his neck, being careful not to spill a drop. Her responses to him were always such a wonder to her!
He smiled and took a deep breath, “I just want to be married to you!”
“Well now.” She leaned back into him, and said softly, “That is an amazing coincidence!”
She sipped her second cup of coffee as Alex laid out his jeans, tee shirts and short on the bed. Camille had informed her that she only needed to bring her comfortable clothes and the rest would be supplied. When Valeria tried to argue that Camille shouldn’t be spending money on clothes for her, Camille replied, “Oh don’t worry! I’m sending the bill to your fiancé—he can afford it!” Alex had smiled a perfectly contented smile and kissed her neck.
There were only a few things she knew for certain. First, that it would be in Greece—unless something had changed in the past couple of months; second, that they were going to request approval for an immortal marriage from the Ancient Council of Delos, a secret society of immortals, and lastly, that Weege, her closest mortal friend from Manhattan, wouldn’t be able to join them. That was disappointing, but she understood. That’s what happened in corporate America.
Camille had very quickly become Valeria’s best friend and was taking the Maid of Honor role. She was quite a planner! Although there truly were far more details than Valeria was interested in; she was interested in being married to Alex! While the wedding would be nice—it was the marriage that she desperately wanted.
Pulling her suitcase out from the closet, she remembered the last time she had seen it. It was the night that she had gotten up the nerve to declare her love to Alex. That had been a monumental moment for her! She was here with Alex because she had found the courage to tell him that she loved him!
She smiled, remembering her confusion about his love for Cassandra. It seemed so obvious now that he had been trying to remind Valeria that she was his symbolon—the reincarnation of Cassandra. At the time, her insecurity had kept her from being able to see that! Not that her confidence had taken giant leaps forward. But being with Alex and feeling wrapped in the warm cocoon of his love had changed things for her. The world had become a brighter place full of hope and wonder! She realized that she hadn’t fit in with her previous world…because it wasn’t her world. This was her world! Here in their beautiful cottage north of Trento.
From the time Valeria had left the hospital, she had tried to talk Alex into just sending for a justice of the peace so that they could be married and enjoy all of the pleasures of marriage…and so that he didn’t feel that their life together was quite so fragile. But obviously it was important to Alex to treat this marriage in a manner that honored the vision that had carried him through 3000 years. She also suspected that the sweetness of the vision of their wedding night was a dream that he desperately desired and was willing to wait for.
As she packed her toiletries in the bathroom she glanced at Alex who had just pulled his sports bag from the closet. “So, do I need to be nervous about this council thing?”
“Not at all!” He sat down. “I hope you don’t mind, beautiful.” This wasn’t the first time for this conversation. He pulled her onto his lap. “Besides, I would like you to have the experience.”
She recalled the story that Alex had told her. Apparently Apollo had selected a secret and sacred location for the council meetings and presented that location only to Cassandra, the last oracle, Myrdd, the first oracle and Aegemon, a priest. Apollo and Cassandra had even recorded the laws of immortals, though Valeria didn’t remember any of it.
“I understand…I guess. You want our marriage to mean that we are together forever.” Valeria leaned her head on his shoulder. “To me, you are forever, no matter what anyone else says.” She smiled. “I do understand that you’ve waited much longer than I have for this. But I still don’t understand why this council would even care!” She kissed his cheek and then rose to continue packing.
“Look at it this way,” Alex said as he began rolling his tee shirts and placing them in the sports bag, “when an immortal marries a mortal, that union is short term—basically it is similar to dating in terms of commitment. The immortal is with the person such a short period of time that there is no requirement to get council approval.” He zipped the bag shut.
This discussion always caused her to wonder if having her declared an immortal was for the purpose of providing Alex with some validation that she would now be with him forever. Or perhaps he expected that she would suddenly remember all of her past by going to the sacred location.
He continued, “Council approval wasn’t always necessary for immortal marriages. But because an immortal marriage is for an eternity, it can cause a lot of issues if there is a bad pairing. In fact, it’s been the cause of several major wars.”
She giggled as if he was pulling her leg, “Really?”
Raising an eyebrow, he said, “The Trojan War, of course, and World War I to name just a few. Two ticked off immortals can create a world of havoc!”
There was a concern that perhaps she was not immortal. Was she going to marry this beautiful, sexy man and in ten years be older than him? What about in thirty years—if she was fortunate to live that long this round. He didn’t seem to care about her aging. But her ego did!
Her other concern was that even if she was immortal, what if her “clock” had been reset and she continued to age until her “new” Prima Mortis? She didn’t want to be like Jeremiah, who was 147 and still ticking. Still there could be worse things than to spend her life with the most beautiful man in the world who would never age and loved her unconditionally.
“Darn!” she said, standing in the closet. Alex looked up from placing his toiletries in the suitcase to see her walk out with a handful of crumbled burgundy knit, another one of the many Christmas gifts from Alex.
“Oh well!” He cocked his head to the side. “Your favorite sweater will be here when we return! You won’t have much need for it for…”—his eyes sparked—“at least a while!”
She smiled, placing the sweater back in the basket in the closet. She wondered, did he mean that they would be where it would be too warm for sweaters? Or better yet, that they would have little need for clothes? She loved that thought, and felt her face flush in response to it. Their housekeeper, Ingrid had been instructed never to wash Valeria’s clothes. It made Valeria feel ridiculously pampered and besides, Ingrid did enough without worrying about the clothes that Valeria could easily care for.
As she closed the suitcase, she watched as he zipped the garment bag that carried several tuxedos and a few suits. She bit her lip imagining him in a tux…and had to sit down when she thought of him out of the tux! Then a sudden feeling of dread overtook her.
“Alex? What happens if the council denies your request?” She could have sworn she saw his pupils flash.
“Not a problem.” His smile broadened, but she was certain it was for her benefit. “The first step is for the council to declare you an immortal. With the documentation we have from Mani, that shouldn’t be an issue. But really, beautiful, I don’t want you to concern yourself with this! There is no reason for them to deny it!”
“Still, what if they do?” She persevered, as she wrapped herself into his arms in an attempt to halt her increasing vulnerability.
“If they decide, for some insane reason to deny our union, we’ll be married by a justice of the peace!”
“Promise?” Her eyes narrowed at him.
Giving her a confident nod, he leaned down and kissed her. He knew she had a tremendous amount of insecurity regarding this council that held her future in their grips.
From where she stood, she could see the family portrait over the fireplace. Knowing that she had spent most of her existence truly isolated from the rest of the world, with no pictures even desired to mark time and relationships, the family had surprised her at Christmas with framed pictures of her with the family and then a photographer had arrived and they posed for professional portraits. It was the one thing that she would never have thought of, and the thing that meant the most!
Now, there were pictures of her and the family throughout their cottage. Over the mantel was the largest of the portraits. It was a picture of her with the family surrounding her. As much as the official family portrait meant to her, the candid shots meant even more. They seemed to capture the spirit of her family.
The picture of her and Alex laughing together the night before her birthday was her favorite, then there was the sweet picture of her arm around Caleb’s neck, while her other hand messed up his hair—the boy who had never before experienced human touch. The look on his face was priceless!
Valeria loved the pictures of her, Ava and Camille—the three musketeers! She glanced to Alex’s side of the bed and saw another one of her personal favorites; it was a picture of her sleeping in his arms. It had been taken the day that she had returned from the hospital. The day he thought would never happen! She had survived the curse and had committed to their life together. The glow in his eyes was so beautiful, that she couldn’t look at that picture without feeling the extraordinary depths of his love.
Still curled in Alex’s arms, they heard Lars tap his horn from up the hill by the main house—they were leaving! She smiled excitedly and went to the door. As she was about to step out, he stopped her.
“Your jacket?” He reminded her gently, as he held it for her and she slid into it, he wrapped his arms around her, happily holding her for a few moments.
The horn honked again. The family had taken to this system of announcing their impending arrival due to Valeria’s inability to receive their non-verbal communications. She grabbed her purse and bounded out the door.
There was two inches of fresh snow on the ground that had already been cleared from the steps and the area in front of the cottage. Valeria took in the look of her beloved home with the fresh snow piled heavily on the evergreens, causing the deciduous trees to almost disappear, except for their thick trunks. The sky was brilliant, winter blue and the temperature a crisp 30.
Homer, the ancient caretaker of the property, stood nearby shoveling snow off the main drive. Alex stepped outside, with a book in his hand.
“Val, I think I’ll bring The Odyssey, what do you want?”
She wondered why she hadn’t considered something of this magnitude earlier. They could be gone for weeks, or more…she hoped. “Uh, Pride and Prejudice—oh, and maybe Shakespeare’s Sonnets!” That would keep her occupied.
Alex nodded and glanced at the old man shoveling the walk, “Grazie, Homer.”
Although she had heard his name numerous times, hearing it in conjunction with the poet, Homer’s, The Odyssey, and then noticing the old man’s ancient movement, suddenly leant itself to a new idea. Noticing her unspoken question, Alex mouthed, “What?”
She mouthed back to him, “Homer?” As Homer slowly lifted another scoop of snow, Valeria wondered how he had possibly cleared the walk so quickly.
Finding her question quite hysterical, Alex let out a beautiful, rollicking laugh, a sure sign indicating that the old man wasn’t “The” Homer! Immediately, the caretaker turned back around and Alex bit his lip to stop the snickering.
Homer didn’t seem to notice and uttered, a low, guttural, “Prego.”
Lars’ classic black Mercedes pulled up in front of them and the windows came down revealing Lars, Ava, Camille and Caleb.
“I’ll be right back.” Alex said as he returned to the house.
Valeria walked towards Lars’ car. She smiled at Camille, who had her straight, black hair pulled into a shiny ponytail. She was wearing a black sweater dress that set off the dark mahogany of her skin and her brilliant blue, cupie doll eyes.
“Hey! We’ll see you there tomorrow!” Camille yelled excitedly and then added, “And don’t worry about a thing! It causes wrinkles!” she teased.
Seeing only four of the family in the car, Valeria asked, “Where are the rest?”
Lars responded, “Tav and Daphne are flying down tomorrow.”
Ava cut in, leaning an athletic arm out the car door. “Couldn’t stand the idea of listening to them arguing all the way there!” Valeria laughed.
The front door reopened as Alex came back out wearing his down vest and sunglasses, while carrying the two suitcases in one hand, a camera bag hooked around his neck, and two bottles of water in the other hand. Valeria knew she should have helped him—as if he would have accepted the help!
“Where’s Mani? Is he flying with Daphne and Tav?” Valeria asked.
She noticed Alex’s slight flinch, “Uh, sorry love, Mani won’t be there.”
Stunned and disappointed that Alex’s closest friend wouldn’t be there for the wedding, she asked incredulously, “Mani isn’t coming?”
“Caleb’s filling the bill as best man!”
The ever 13-year-old Caleb, who was concentrating on his computer game, looked up and lifted his hand in a victory fist, “Yes! Best man!” He was such a sweet boy and meant even more to her since saving their lives.
“I think Caleb is a wonderful choice.” She winked at Caleb, who still had a major crush on her.
“All right, well, we’re heading out. We’ll see you there!” Camille said as the car began to roll down the drive. Wherever “there” was, Valeria thought. As the Mercedes disappeared down the drive, Alex tossed the suitcases in the trunk of his car.
“Why isn’t Mani coming to our wedding?”
“He’s…” Alex carefully positioned the garment bag in the trunk, but she suspected that he was stalling. “Don’t worry—we’ll celebrate with him later.” And with that, he closed the trunk, tossed the camera bag in the backseat through the open door and said, “Got your passport?”
She nodded, looking at her “real” Louis Vuitton bag that had been a Christmas gift from Camille—the only stipulation was that Valeria had to get rid of the “knock-off”. She gave the bag to Ava, to Camille’s chagrin…and Ava’s delight! Not that Ava cared about style whatsoever! Still, she liked a sturdy leather bag that wasn’t “frilly and feminine”.
“So…are you going to tell me now? Alex, where are we going?” she asked for the hundredth time.
Giddy with excitement, he said, “Let me have my surprises!” He closed his arms around her waist and kissed her sweetly, and then suddenly overwhelmed with joy, he swung her around.
The Porsche easily plowed through the snow as they wound along the drive leading to the highway and off Morgana. Valeria glanced through the forest and appreciated the way that everything seemed to be aglow with hues of pale pink and blue. Once they entered the highway the snow quickly became a wet mess and then as they continued out of the mountains and into the valley towards Venice, the roads dried. All the while, Alex’s smile had continued to broaden.
“I hope you don’t mind that we didn’t go with the rest of them, but I wanted to have the day alone with you.” He winked. “I know we’ll have the honeymoon…but I really haven’t had an opportunity to court you.”
The honeymoon! Her face flushed just thinking about it, as that marvelous warmth ran through her body. He noticed her reaction and his mouth turned up in the delightful smile that she loved. He hadn’t told her where they were going. But frankly, she would have been absolutely content to spend their honeymoon at the cottage or in her Manhattan brownstone which she had decided to keep.
In fact, her only requirement for a honeymoon was that the two of them were there alone for as much time as possible. And Valeria was quite certain that there was not enough time in a mortal life for her to express what she felt for him!
She turned away, regaining her composure, “I never mind being alone with you! It’s being without you that I can’t take!” And with that she was surprised to find a tear come to her eye. He gave her an inquisitive look.
“Well fortunately, you won’t have to worry about that! Beautiful, I am yours forever!” He took her hand and pulled it to his mouth. And then, while still miles from Venice, he pulled into a field. Now it was Valeria’s turn to give him an inquisitive look.
“I always wanted to show you Venice. So I thought we would take the morning—unless you’re anxious to…get ‘there’,” he teased.
“Isn’t Venice still several miles away?” She pointed to the southern horizon. Alex’s eyes sparkled.
“You know, you’ve been so weak that I wanted to wait until it warmed up a bit to do this.” Then he pulled around a hill and there was a feast set out in the field, along with a hot air balloon that was still laying flat on the ground.
Valeria’s jaw dropped! She tried to find something to say, but again, he had taken her breath away with some remarkably romantic gesture. He parked and jumped out, opening her door for her. They ate a wonderful breakfast while the crew filled the balloon with hot air.
Then he took her hand, helping her into the basket. They both sipped their Mimosas as the balloon rose. Within minutes they were over Venice seeing the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. She looked down on the ancient city with its green waterways filled with gondolas, and the magnificent domes of St. Mark’s Basilica with the extraordinary piazza that looked out to sea.
“Fantastic!” Valeria enthused.
Alex nuzzled her neck, “Napoleon dubbed the piazza ‘Europe’s finest dining room’ because of the spectacular views.” She pulled his arms around her tighter.
It was so very romantic and beautiful; she turned and kissed his cheek as they landed in a field east of Venice.
“What about the car and our luggage?” she asked, drinking him in from beneath her lashes.
Just then a boat pulled up. Alex led her to the motorboat and gave the driver instructions in Italian. She loved hearing him speak Italian! It was just so…sexy! She felt herself blush. Valeria was very certain that the only sound more extraordinary than Alex speaking Italian was his beautiful laugh. He winked at her and she drew a deep breath as the boat jetted towards Venice.
“You know what you do to me, don’t you!” she gushed privately to him and kissed his ear. His smile widened, as he looked on.
“I’ll keep that in mind!”
They pulled in near St. Mark’s and crossed the bridge to walk through the pigeon-filled square, stopping in one of the shops to get a cappuccino. They toured St. Mark’s and then walked back to the Grand Canal. An elegant gondola awaited them, “Buon giorno, Il Signore e la Signora Morgana!”
Stepping onto the gondola, Valeria’s eyes lit up at the gondolier’s assumption.
“Like that, do you?” He sat down next to her.
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “More than you know!”
The gondolier began singing Puccini, as they moved effortlessly through the canals of burnt pastel buildings. Valeria felt the anxiety that had affected her earlier drifting away.
“I’ve always wanted to ride in a gondola…it’s so Venice, and so very romantic,” she said.
“Mussolini tried to ban them.”
“He thought they were archaic.” A bit of sunlight flitted over them, as the gondolier continued his romantic serenade. Gesturing towards the gondolier, Alex continued, “Most people believe that the gondolier punts, or pushes off from the floor of the waterway. But see what he’s doing?”
Valeria watched and noticed that he was gently turning the oar back and forth. Alex continued, “That method of turning the oar actually exerts less energy than that of walking.”
They pulled up to a restaurant and Alex thanked the gondolier in Italian, glancing at Valeria to see if it had the desired effect…it did. Then he took her hand and they walked a few blocks before turning into a quaint restaurant. Again, the staff was waiting for them.
They ate a marvelous lunch and then strolled along the ancient brick streets passing an ornate building that looked like a fortress with numerous sculptures of lions. Squeezing her hand, he told her that it was known as the Arsenal, the first mass production, moving assembly line in history! In the 1400’s, while it took most shipbuilders months to build a ship, the Arsenal could produce them in hours. She smiled dreamily. She could listen to him forever!
“You know,” Alex said with a wink, “there is one little detail of the wedding that Camille and I agreed would best be decided by the bride.” Coming around a corner, Valeria saw an extravagant bridal shop with the most exquisite wedding gowns that she had ever seen. He steered her into the store.
“Alex, my guess is that these are all special order.”
He cocked his head to the side and lifted an eyebrow, “They may be for others…but not for you!”
An older, very attractive woman, probably the owner of the shop, greeted them by name in Italian; while a man, obviously her assistant, rushed to get Valeria a glass of champagne. Then the man and woman talked while critically analyzing Valeria’s figure and coloring. They made her turn around and then both smiled, approvingly. Then the woman gave several orders to her assistant, which he hastily executed, while the woman led Alex and Valeria to a comfortable lounge that had two dressing rooms large enough to be bedrooms.
They sat in a comfortable loveseat while the shopkeepers brought back various gowns for them to look at. Alex didn’t say a word while he observed Valeria’s responses. The woman held out several lacy gowns that were beautiful. Valeria didn’t want to offend her, so she just nodded a yes.
As the woman was about to hang the gowns in the dressing room, Alex said, “Scusa per favore.” requesting that the shopkeeper give them a minute before placing the dresses in the dressing room.
“You don’t like them,” he challenged Valeria.
“But?” He raised his eyebrows. The male shopkeeper attempted to tell Valera something, that she was certain was encouragement to try on the dresses. Alex kindly held up a finger, to silence him, and waited for Valeria to speak.
“I don’t know. They’re really beautiful. I’m just not sure that I see myself in something like those gowns. Probably we should have just gone to the justice of the peace because this big fancy wedding is just…I don’t think it’s me.”
Alex pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes for a moment and then raised an eyebrow, “Let me try something. I want this to be fun for you!” She nodded, feeling like a pigeon in an exotic bird shop.
For the next several minutes, Alex explained to the shopkeepers exactly what he was looking for. They nodded and listened, anxious to please him. Valeria thought she heard the names of several designers, but she didn’t know enough Italian…or about designers to determine. She did love his voice!
Valeria leaned towards Alex’s ear as he finished speaking, “I think you’re going to have to teach me Italian.”
He beamed and kissed her forehead. Then the assistant noticed the blush moving over Valeria’s face and down her neck. The shopkeepers both laughed and the woman made a comment to Alex that made him turn his head in mild embarrassment as he brushed his finge