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Authors: Cindy Miles

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Into Thin Air

BOOK: Into Thin Air
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Into Thin Air

Cindy Miles

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Epilogue

Copyright

For all the wonderful, wacky women in my life whom I adore: moms, grandmas, daughters, sisters, aunties, cousins, in-laws, and sister-friends. Thanks for the
bleeping
chaos. Without it, life wouldn't be nearly quite as much fun.

And for the most wonderful, wackiest woman of all—my mom, Dale, who happily exclaims her pride and joy for my accomplishments to anyone with a good working pair of ears (and sometimes to those without). Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Acknowledgments

For the following, I'd like to express my sincere gratitude for their part in this incredible journey.

Jenny Bent, my superduper agent, who guides me and encourages me along the way.

Laura Cifelli, my fabuloso editor, whose fantastic suggestions make my stories so much better.

Sheri Dotson, Tracy Pierce, and Nikki Nixon, my silly, fun, and fantabulous sisters, who support me in everything.

Tyler and Kyle, my wonderful kids, who listen to my ideas and keep me "hip."

Kim Lenox, my best pal and sister-writer, whose constant encouragement, zany sense of humor, and phenomenal brainstorming are the best (said like the boy in
The Sandlot
).

The Denmark Sisterhood, and especially the matriarch, Dona Denmark, for their support, love, crazy-fun spirit, and wonderful afternoon tea parties.

Betsy Kane, Molly Hammond, Eveline Chapman, and Valerie Morton, my demented, rather sick-minded sister-pals, whose nutty humor gives me plenty of fodder for crazy character ideas.

Cynthia Reese, Nelsa Roberto, and Stephanie Bose, all fantastic writers whose friendship and support I cherish.

And for the wacky guys in my life (that'd be all of them), who are probably pouting because I dedicated this book to all the wacky girls in my life.

To all my new reader-fans, including the dedicated ladies at the beauty shop, whose encouraging words of praise for my work continue to truly inspire me.

And to everyone who has given me unflagging support.

Thank you.

Prologue

Northeastern England

A Midwinter's Night

Somewhere in time, high in a blanket of darkness, three stars furiously blinked ...

"I'm not at all in favor of this decision, Fergus. I daresay it's rather selfish. Why have They assigned him another charge now? After all, the boy has proven his worth far more than once."

"Pah!" Fergus' starlight sputtered. "You whine overmuch for a Moorish warrior. Dunna be such a ninny, Aizeene. 'Twill give the lad character!"

"Not tae mention secure our promotion," said Elgan.

"But the boy's worked hard these past centuries to shed his wings. There's nothing more he desires and deserves than mortality." Aizeene fretted. "His retirement is less than a pair of fortnights away!"

"Blast you, Aizeene, this is unavoidable! We've no choice in the matter."

"What mean you?" asked Aizeene.

Elgan sighed. "I'm afraid there's a small problem." He coughed. "His charge? 'Tis a girl. She's the
One."

Aizeene gasped. "Nay. Mean you, the
very
One?"

Fergus snorted. "Aye! She's the boy's soul mate! His bloody Intended! Nigh onto dead, the lass is, and because of her, he may lose that blasted mortality he so heartily desires." He harrumphed.

"Lasses. A fickle-minded lot of trouble, if ye ask me."

"The lad has a will stronger than any I've ever known," Elgan interrupted. "He's managed for nearly a thousand bloody years, don't forget, and not once has he lost a charge. Besides, I grow weary of twinkling up here with you witless fools. We need that bloody promotion!"

Aizeene puffed out a blast of star shine. "What of Nicklesby? He used to be one of us. Can he not give any aid at all?"

Elgan blew out a gust, a spray of starlight scattering about. "Nay, other than offer what knowledge he has on the matter on the girl's condition. Besides, he has no inkling of this new development. 'Tis forbidden to inform him likewise and you know it. Now. Like it or no', Gawan of Conwyk is indeed faced with this new challenge, and if he succeeds, 'twill guarantee his mortality as well as our positions.
All
of our positions."

Aizeene relented. "What of the boy's heart, though? What of
hers?
By the saints, there's much at risk." He sighed. "What if he doesn't succeed?"

Elgan drifted closer. "Well then, my old Moorish friend, it appears his fate lies in the hands of an addle-brained modern lass."

Ferguson cleared his throat. "Isn't there anything we can do?"

"You know there isn't, old crow. Fate has a much stronger will than any of us, and 'tis against all rules to interfere," Elgan said. "All we can do is hope. Pray. And watch. Now begone, the both of you, and help me maintain sentry over these two. But brace yourselves, lads, for what you're about to witness is not for the faint of heart ..."

Northeastern England

A Midwinter's Night

Present Day

Frigid water lapped at her cheeks, sloshed over her insulated jacket and jeans, seeped into her skin.

A howling wind whipped overhead, sucking the air from her lungs. She couldn't move, couldn't open her eyes, and the ache in her head was like being bludgeoned with a sledgehammer. Where the heck was she? It felt like she'd been run over by a team of horses. Before that, though, she'd been floating, gasping for breath, and tasting a lot of salt. Scared. Had she fallen? Finally, rocky sand had been under her feet, and she'd dragged herself out of the water. The next thing she knew, she'd been sailing through the air. God, she'd been
hit.
Car, truck—she didn't know which.

A gruff voice grumbled above her, slurred, disjointed. "Oy, girl, why'd ye have to ...? Ye appeared out o' bloody nowhere ... No bloody moon out tonight ... Aww, Jaysus, I can't let 'em find ye ..."

Ye?
Who says
ye
anymore? She tried to open her mouth, tried to scream, but no words came out, though she still made an attempt. Who was this guy?
Hey, pal, can you give me a hand? I'm
freezing my butt off here ...

In the next second his rough hands tried to lift her from the icy water, but dropped her with a splat.

Oww!
Can you go a little easy, guy? Something might be broken.
She tried to move, but her body was dead weight.
Why the heck am I lying in freezing water?

More disjointed words faded in and out. "... too bloody heavy ... shouldna be here ... gotta hide ye ...

oy, girl, Christ Almighty, yer already dead ..."

Dead?

Those same rough hands shook her so hard her teeth rattled. "Not dead yet, anyway ..." He grabbed her by the wrists and dragged her over rock and sand.

Oh, God, she was being abducted, probably even murdered. They'd find her dead, frozen body floating in the icy water, all cross-eyed and fish nibbled.
"Ow!"

Her teeth clacked together as her head grazed a rock, and a dizzy queasiness stole over her. The frosty air touched her soaked body, and she floated, the muffled voice seeming more distanced, yet ... not. Pain seized her, making pricks of light flash behind her eyelids. She grew colder. And, ugh, that nauseating smell of rotten sea life. What was happening to her?

She felt herself being picked up and settled none too gently on a hard surface. Then an arctic blackness engulfed her. The roar of an engine and the gruff muffled voice faded farther and farther away ...

Chapter One

Northeastern England

A Midwinter's Night

Present Day

God's teeth, the bloody fool wasn't going to give way.

Gawan peered into the drizzly night at the headlights bobbing toward him, and from the looks of it, whoever it was didn't plan on stopping. Probably a lost tourist, he'd wager. Lost, and on a one-track lane, no less.

His
one-track lane.

The lights bobbed at an alarming pace, erratic and faster as they grew closer. With a grumble and a curse, and nowhere to go except backward, Gawan slowed, stopped, and put the Rover in reverse.

Half turning in his seat, he steered toward the small byway he'd passed, backed in, and waited for the vehicle to go by.

Seconds later, a beat-up farm truck blew by. Not a tourist, he suspected. "Witless fool," Gawan grumbled. The truck didn't belong to anyone he knew—not that he knew many—but he'd be sure to keep an eye out for it. Bent side-view mirror and a missing headlight, both on the same side. He'd bank that to memory. The reckless idiot could kill someone.

Throwing the Rover in drive, Gawan pulled back onto the lane and continued up the track. The rain picked up, and he flicked the wipers on high. Probably not the best of nights to crave a fried Milky Way, but Nicklesby hadn't learned to make the bloody things yet, and Mrs. Cornwell had indeed called him to come round and collect a fresh batch. By the saints, he'd nearly burned the larder down when he last tried to make them himself. "Bleeding priests!"

Gawan slammed his foot to the brake and skidded to a stop. Throwing open the door, he jumped out into the now-pouring rain.

A woman, soaked to the bone, stumbled over the guardrail and landed flat on her bottom. Wet hair plastered her head and hung forward in thick strands to cover her face. She didn't move.

Reaching her, Gawan went down on one knee and placed a steadying hand to her elbow.
"Ti'n
iawn?"
he asked.
Not in Welsh, fool.
"Are you all right?" Mayhap she was drunk? He bent close and took a whiff. She didn't smell of alcohol. He looked around. No car, not even a bicycle. He peered over the guardrail. Nothing below. She was drenched, alone, and in the dead of a cold North England's December eve.

This, he suddenly decided, did not bode well.

"Girl, are you ill?" Gawan hooked a finger through her wet tresses and slid them to the side. He bent his head to get a better look. "Are you hurt?"

The girl lifted her face, her eyes rounded and glazed. Rain dripped off the end of her nose, and her lips quivered. But she said nothing. After a quick scan of her person, he noted no blood. Passing odd, indeed.

Standing, Gawan yanked off his weatherproof and draped it over her narrow shoulders. He pushed his own wet hair from his eyes. "You're bound to freeze to death, if not drown in this downpour.

Come. I'll take you—"

She shook her head, opened her mouth to speak, and when nothing came out, she cleared her throat a time or two. "No. Um, I mean," she stammered, the words raspy, and in an intriguing American accent, "I'm fine.

Really." She wiped the rain from her eyes and looked around, then shook her head again. "I'm really okay." On shaky legs she stood, patted her thighs, her belly, then down both arms, mumbled something Gawan could not comprehend, then walked with timid steps to the guardrail and peered over the edge. "I, uh ... is that the ocean down there?"

"Aye."

She looked around, shook her head, and cleared her throat a score of times more before mumbling a bit. She seemed completely lost and bewildered.

"Girl, come with me out of the rain. There's nowhere to go for miles around. I live"—he nodded his head toward the lights at the top of the cliff—"just there. Please." He took a step toward her.

"Nicklesby can see you settled into a room for the night."

She stared at him, and crazy as it was, standing on the one-track lane on a frozen Midwinter's night in the icy rain, he noticed with intensity how beautiful she looked.

"Who's Nicklesby?" she asked, the wariness in her eyes evident in the Rover's head beams.

"He's my man," Gawan said.

One of her eyebrows lifted. "Your man?"

Gawan nodded. "Harmless, I assure you. Besides, you can't just wander about in the cold rain.

You'll catch your death. Come." He inclined his head to the Rover.

With a final glance around, she pulled the edges of Gawan's weatherproof closer and walked to the
driver's
side and got in.

BOOK: Into Thin Air
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