Good Saturday morning, y’all! This is NaNo day 2 and while I’m over here pounding out the tale of Alex and Ana, I leave you a little tidbit from years gone by. When I first came into the industry, shapeshifters and paranormal romance were all the rage. While they still seem to be quite popular, back then they were absolutely huge. There were small presses just devoted to paranormal romance in all sub-genres. I do believe I remember even some of the big six having lines devoted to the paranormal genre which have since dissipated as the popularity of these romances waned slightly. I wasn’t really into it, but was challenged by a few friends to give it a whirl. What y’all will read below is one of the results of that challenge. It was published as a short by the small boutique press I was with at the time. That press has since closed and all rights have reverted to me, and the piece is solely my creative property and copyright. Bear in mind this is one of my earliest works and I’ve learned a good deal since then. I have brushed it up some and given it a bit of an edit to correct some of the more offensive misuses of punctuation that I know better than to commit now. I also feel I must post a disclaimer here letting you know, this piece does have a bit of an erotic edge in the imagery. Enjoy, sugars!
As the wind whipped over Andi’s face, her eyes watered and she reveled in the freedom she always gained from flight. High above the trees, she peered down and watched in wonder as she soared further, leaving the world of normalcy behind. She knew what was to come. It was something better than the feel of the air rushing over her, better than the knowledge that for this short time her life below was suspended. Immersion in the sun was imminent and her nerves pricked with anticipation. Further into the blue atmosphere she flew, closer and closer to the flaming orange ball that was her mate. For a fleeting moment, fear tinged her heart. It always did. She knew Ra would never hurt her, but the fear that he would singe her delicate wings still wormed its way into the fibers of her being. At least until she was there, held captive in his burning embrace. She flew as close as she dared and his fiery tentacles pulled her the rest of the way in. Sucked into his soul, it overcame her like a tidal wave of heat. Her nerves danced and her entire being shook with the release that only came from lying in the arms of her lover, the sun.
“Good morning, Haines!” the voice from the alarm clock radio blared out, jerking Andi from the arms of Ra with a jolt. “It’s thirteen degrees and sunny.”
Her recurring vision of mating with the sun had been going on for weeks. She wished she could figure out who Ra symbolized in real life so she could track down the mystery man and experience his skillful love making first hand. She drew herself from the bed and headed for the shower. There was plenty to do at the Chilkat reserve today and none of it would wait for her to go back to sleep.
* * * *
Ankaa sat perched on a branch of the alder tree outside Andi’s window. He watched as she writhed under the sheets with her long flaming red hair splayed out across the pillow like the sun’s rays. She was completely immersed in her dream. It was the same dream he’d shared with her for weeks now. For centuries, he’d been searching for her. She was the one. The two of them were the last of their kind and it was time to claim her and make her his. The legacy of Ankaa’s clan would rise again.
He waited on the branch until she emerged from the house, bundled from head to toe in a heavy parka, wool gloves, and elk skin boots. By now he knew her routine. She was headed to work at the sanctuary. Hovering just overhead, he followed her four-wheel drive Ford along the banks of the Chilkat River to the center that ensured the safety of the bald eagles that made this part of Alaska their home. Ankaa landed in a tree near the center’s front door and watched her disappear inside. Today was the day. He had to claim her tonight.
Ankaa waited patiently for Andi to complete her daily tasks. He followed her to and from the nesting sites where she checked the delicate hatchlings. Her every move spoke to him, from the unobtrusive way she handled the nests to the gentle way she spoke to her brood. She would make the perfect mother for their young.
* * * *
After a long, cold day of checking eagle nests and cleaning the rescue center, Andi decided cooking wasn’t an option. Turning toward Haines, she decided to drive into town and pick up a pizza. She had a good book she wanted to get into and a piece of pepperoni pie would be a good side dish.
Less than an hour later at the Fireweed, she picked up her pizza and headed back out the door only to be tossed sideways by a gust of wind into the arms of a stranger. They both fell backward and her pizza went flying into the street to be run over by a passing delivery truck. Andi sat up slowly, dismayed that her dinner was ruined. She looked at the stark contrast of red sauce splattered all over the dirty snow and cringed.
“Are you alright?” a deep voice asked. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you coming out.”
Andi looked up, took the stranger’s offered hand, and let him pull her up. “That’s okay,” she answered. “I’m fine. Just a bit miffed that my dinner is now a greasy spot on the street.”
“I’m sorry about that as well. Let me make it up to you. I’ll buy you dinner. Miss, are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, touching her arm.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she said on a sigh and turned to really look at the stranger, realizing she’d been so distracted by the mess in the street she was ignoring him.
How could she have missed him? He was well over six feet tall and had chiseled features with a sharp prominent nose and chin. His auburn hair glimmered with hints of red when the low light of the setting sun hit it and his eyes were virtually indescribable. They nearly glowed. In fact, if she had to name the color, they were amber with slivers of yellow jutting out from the pupils. They were almost disturbing.
“So, what about dinner?” he asked, brushing snow off her backside.
“What about it? It’s in the street,” she said, pointing one mitten covered hand in the general direction of the mess in the street all the while still engaged in the man’s eyes as another vehicle hit the now squashed pizza box.
“Yes, I can see that. I would like to buy you dinner to make up for that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “Who are you?”
Tourist season wasn’t in full swing yet and she couldn’t remember seeing the man around town before, yet something about him was almost familiar.
“I suppose that would be the proper way to begin, wouldn’t it?” He took off one glove and extended a hand. “I’m Ankaa Drakos. And you are?”
“Andrasteia Nicoli,” she answered, shaking his hand which sent a pleasant heat up her arm. “My friends call me Andi.”
“So, Andi, how about dinner?”
“Well, I’m not so sure I’m in the mood for pizza anymore,” she answered, looking again at the mishmash of pepperoni, cheese, and crust on the slush coated pavement.
“What else might I interest you in then?” Ankaa asked.
“You know that’s okay. I think I’ll just go home and microwave something, or have a sandwich.”
“That doesn’t sound very interesting,” he said, taking her by the elbow and leading her away from the front of the Fireweed. “Come on, I’d really like to take you to dinner and make up for our little mishap.”
Before she could protest, they were down the street and entering another local haunt. He located a table in a corner of the bar, helped her out of her parka, and pulled her chair out for her. Wondering what in the world she was doing, Andi took the menu the waitress handed her and opened it. While he may have been a stranger, and they were rare in this small town, he had ruined her dinner and she was hungry. Besides, the Fogcutter was a local as it got and she could feel all eyes on them. She’d just be sure not to leave with said stranger after he’d paid the tab.
“So, what’s good here anyway?” Ankaa prompted. “I’m new to Haines and haven’t a clue what to order.”
“I’m quite sure everyone in here knows you’re new to Haines.” Andi laid her menu down and looked at him closely. “Where are you from anyway?”
“I’m from everywhere and nowhere really. Are you native to Haines?”
“No. I moved here to take a job at Chilkat.”
“Ah, yes, the bald eagle reserve.” Ankaa sat back and crossed his legs. “What do you do there?”
“Help ensure the safety of the eagles,” she said slowly. “What are you doing in Haines?”
“Looking for someone.”
“Really. Did you find them yet?” Andi asked, sitting back in her seat and pulling one of her long red curls.
“Yes, I have.”
Before she could say anything else the waitress arrived to take their orders.
“Who’s your friend?” Jess asked, poising her pen over her order pad.
“He’s not my friend,” Andi explained. “In fact, we just met. I ran into him in front of the Fireweed. Literally.”
“Do you have a name?” Jess asked, turning to Ankaa.
“Ankaa. Ankaa Drakos,” he said, extending a hand. “I ruined Andi’s dinner and I’m making up for it.”
“Nice.” Jess tucked her pen behind her ear, shook Ankaa’s hand, and took the pen once again. “So, what would you two like to drink?”
“I’ll have water,” Ankaa answered. “And Andi will have a Royal Flush.”
Her favorite cocktail. How did he know? If she hadn’t been so intrigued by his charm and good looks, she’d have calculated the creep factor and fled.
By the time Jess returned with their drinks, Andi’s thoughts had turned from creep factor to, for reasons unknown, her recurring dream.
“So, kids, have we decided?” Jess interrupted Andi’s visions of flames and feel goods.
“Yes, we have.” Ankaa once again took control. “Andi will have an elk burger and I’ll take the venison filet, rare.”
Jess once again disappeared.
“Now, let’s talk about you,” Ankaa said, tracing a scar in the rough wooden table top. “What made you come all the way here to work with an endangered breed?”
“I’ve always been fascinated with birds. I love them,” Andi started. “Ever since I can remember I’ve wondered what it would be like to be a bird, flying free, being able to see the smallest thing from so high up. You know they have amazing eyesight.”
Ankaa sat and listened, a smile on his face.
“Of course, that’s just a fantasy.” One corner of her mouth turned up and she took a long sip of her drink. “An impossible fantasy.”
“Impossible? How do you know?” Ankaa asked, razing her with his eyes.
“You know, maybe I should get going.” Something about his tone of voice set her nerves to tingling. She pushed her chair back and started to get up.
“No, please don’t go,” he urged. “Sit, eat, rest. I want to hear more about this fascination with birds.”
Against her better judgment, Andi scooted her chair back toward the table, took another drink, and began talking. She told him she was from Greece, had studied at the university there, obtained a degree in zoological science, and when the opportunity presented itself, she moved on a whim to Haines, Alaska to work with the eagles. They shared a laugh about her anomalous red Greek hair. Two hours and three drinks later, they were feeding each other a piece of pie.
“That takes some guts,” Ankaa said. “Moving clear around the globe alone to pursue a career basically in the middle of nowhere in a rugged environment is certainly taking a chance.”
“Well, it took some getting used to,” she admitted. “But I love it here now and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“Not even the freedom of flight?”
“Well, maybe that.” She chuckled at that notion. She’d grown warm one drink ago and wondered now how she would make it home. Frowning at her own ill judgment, she pushed her chair back. “You know I really need to get home. It’s getting dark and the roads are rough.” She stood and wavered a bit.
“Easy, Andi,” Ankaa said, standing and steadying her. “You know, why don’t you let me drive you? I really shouldn’t have let you drink so much.”
It was then she realized that letting her drink so much was more than likely the plan all along.
“You know, that’s alright. I’ll just hang around here until closing and ask Jess to take me,” she said, sitting back down.
Ankaa placed his hands on her shoulders and a soothing heat ran through her and settled low in her belly. He leaned in and whispered in her ear. “Andi, I’m not a stalker, a murderer, or a vagrant. I am going to take you home. Then I will explain to you who I am and how I know about your dream. The dream about flying into the sun?”
Andi slapped her hand over her mouth and gasped. She looked up at him wide-eyed and saw the yellow slivers in his eyes danced like a forest fire.
“Yes, Andi, I know.” He reached out, took her hand away from her mouth, and helped her to her feet. “Come on now, it’s time,” he said as he aided her back into her parka.
Andi followed Ankaa from the bar and down the street to a Subaru as if she were in a trance. He opened the passenger door and helped her in. Once behind the wheel, he drove west. Andi sat in fearful amazement that he apparently knew where she lived.
After coming to a stop in her drive and cutting the engine, Ankaa got out and came around to her side, opening her door and gathering her from the car. He led her to the cabin, took the key from her, and opened the door. Ushering her in, he turned on the entryway lamp. He put her on the couch, stoked the embers in the fireplace, and took a seat next to her.
“Would you like another drink?” he asked, taking her hand and rubbing the back of it with his thumb. Again, his touch was like an invisible flame darting along her skin.
“No,” she whispered. “Tell me who you really are, Ankaa. Tell me what you’re doing here, how you know about me. How you know about my dream.”
“My name really is Ankaa Drakos. I have been hunting you for over five hundred years. We are the last of our kind.”
“What is our kind exactly?” she asked as her breath caught in her throat.
“I am the last Phoenix and you are my mate, Andrasteia.”
Andi rubbed her eyes then blinked. She had to be asleep and dreaming again. Only this time the dream was far too real and scary.
“Andi, look at me,” Ankaa said, crooking his forefinger under her chin and pulling her head to face him. “I’m telling you the truth. The fire in your dream is not the sun, it’s me.” In that instant, he transformed from a mere man to a beautiful wheat feathered bird surrounded by an aura of flickering orange blaze. “In order for our clan to thrive again, you must submit to me and become my mate.” As quickly as Ankaa had morphed into a bird, he changed back and the shimmering aura disappeared.
He stood and pulled her to her feet. He tucked a strand of her long red hair back behind her ear, gently took her face in his hands, and kissed her. It was as if something inside her soul meshed with his. They were no longer two people. They were one entity. Purple and gold flames engulfed the space around them, licking their bodies, searing their humanness. Andi tried to pull away but Ankaa kept possession of her.
“Don’t be afraid, Andrasteia. Look at me,” he said, holding her gaze with his. “There will be pain, but only for a while. And through this pain will come pleasure. Greater than you’ve ever known. Greater than in your dream. Trust me in this.”
The flames grew higher and engulfed them. Their clothes fell to ashes at their feet. All the while, Ankaa held her eyes with his, the flames reflected in them. Without effort, he lifted her and she wrapped her legs around his waist. She cried out as embers landed on them, singeing their naked, vulnerable bodies.
“Look at me, Andrasteia. Just at me.”
The world spun wildly out of control. The room and all its contents disappeared as they floated into the night sky, connected. Higher and higher they flew, the circle of fire dancing around them. It seemed they hovered over the earth for hours, burning from the flames, burning from the heat flying between them. When Andi thought they would surely perish, the most exquisite pleasure she’d ever known overtook her. She closed her eyes against it, clutching Ankaa’s arms.
“Open your eyes. Look at me, see that you are mine,” Ankaa demanded.
She did as he bade and saw the passion smoldering there. It was more than she thought she could bear, yet she craved it. It was horrid and beautiful, excruciating yet delicious. Her heart pounded and her blood rushed. A zenith overtook them in a spectrum of color, and a plume of flame shot into the atmosphere. Like the Aurora Borealis they flooded the northern sky with dancing light. For a moment they didn’t exist. Andi squinted against the blinding brightness and let the rush of warmth run through her, touching her every fiber. Ankaa’s arms fell from around her and she drifted away, ashes on the breeze. Downward she spiraled, mingling with the ashes of her lover. In a vortex of sparks, the essence of their beings landed on the frigid snow below, melting it.
Her eyelids fluttered and opened slowly. She found herself in Ankaa’s embrace, suspended in his wings. Soft new downy feathers covered her body. Her reflection shone is his eyes, revealing to her what she’d become, a wondrous golden Phoenix.
“You did beautifully, Andrasteia,” he whispered. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she rasped. “But how…?”
“We shall always rise from the ashes, Andrasteia. Always.”