7. “He was bound to love you”

Either Dankmar or the transporter always stayed close to Pagan’s side. Thanks to them, she was terrified of me. The orange flames in her eyes caused by my nearness were the only comfort I received from being in her presence. I hated knowing she was scared of me. ME! The reason she was alive. Her source of comfort.

I was going to fix that. If everything went as planned she’d be rushing out of that door any moment. Hopefully, heartbroken and ready to listen to me.

As if on cue, the backdoor flew open and Pagan’s tear streaked face immediately made me question my actions. I didn’t like seeing her cry. I’d set Dankmar up. A voodoo spirit in the form of a very attractive female made Pagan think she was seeing something that really wasn’t happening.

“I’ll take you home,” I said from a distance. I needed her to come to me.

She spun around and stiffened immediately as her eyes found me in the darkness. Her hands lifted to wipe the tears rolling down her face. I ached to go wipe the tears for her. Before I could move and screw up my perfectly developed strategy to get her alone. She took a step toward me.

“Sure, thanks Leif. I could use a ride.”

That was not what I had been expecting. This was just too easy. Opening the passenger side door, I stepped back and let her climb inside. Touching her was too much, too soon. First, she needed to see that I was still the same boy she’d once cared for. Not the evil Voodoo Prince she was told to fear. Once she was safely inside, I closed the door and took one last glance back at the door. Dankmar was drawing closer. I wouldn’t have time to take her away safely. He’d find her. I had to take her to my home much sooner than expected.

I knew apporting Pagan was dangerous. But then, I figured Death protected her body and I owned her soul. How bad could it be? She’d been sleeping since we arrived. Her body hadn’t been able to handle it as well as I’d hoped. Stirring in her sleep she mumbled, “Dank,” then whimpered. I hated him.

“Shhhh, it’s okay Pagan. Don’t get all worked up. I’ve got you.” I assured her brushing the hair back from her face.

“Leif?” she whispered.

“Yes, I’m here,” I replied loving the shiver that coursed through her body.

“Where am I? Why can’t I open my eyes?” I could hear her uncertainty.

“You’re with me for now. Where you belong. Where you’ve always belonged. You’ve been mine since the moment I chose you when we were both just children. And as for your eyes they’ll open soon enough. Your human body had difficulty dealing with the travel and for that I’m sorry.”

“I don’t understand.” She replied. No, she wouldn’t understand. Not now. There was so much I had to tell her. But not while she was like this.

“Just rest. You’ll feel better soon.”

She slowly drifted back to sleep. Carrying her to my bed, I laid her down. I’d let her sleep this off a little while longer. Father needed to know I’d brought her here. It was better if I explained things to him first. Just in case Death descended on us sooner rather than later.

After speaking with Father I hurried back to check on Pagan. Having her here, in Vilokan, in my bed, felt complete. Finally. Although, I couldn’t keep her. Not yet. I just needed to talk to her. Get her to understand. It had been impossible to speak with her any other way. Dankmar was always with her or that… that… annoying as hell transporter who I didn’t want to cross. The blonde transporter was one scary female.

“You’re awake,” I said smiling as I entered the room and found Pagan awake standing in the center of the room.

“Where are we?” She asked in a shaky voice.

“My place. You like it?” I quipped hoping to ease her anxiety.

“Why am I here Leif?”

“Because you belong to me.” I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that. Bad timing.

She took a step toward me and a fierce expression had taken over her worried frown. “I don’t belong to you, Leif. I’m not a possession. I’m a person. Please take me back home.”

Oh, hell no. The fury at the thought of her belonging to Dankmar began churning inside me. “So that Dankmar can have what I created? I don’t think so Pagan.” I had to calm down. She’d fear me if I lost it. She was saying what she believed to be true. I had to get a hold of myself.

“You see he was bound to love you. You’re different. He saw that. But what he failed to explain is that you’re different because I made you different. Not him. Not fate. Me. Everything about you has been molded into my creation. You were chosen for me.” Holding out my hand I took a step toward her, “it’s okay, trust me. My touch would never harm you.”

Pagan shook her head frantically and began backing away from me. Why? All I’d ever done was protect her. Why did she have to see me as something dark, something evil? I loved her. “Have I ever hurt you, Pagan? Listen to your soul. It knows where it belongs. The fire flashing in your eyes right now is your soul reaching for me.” I closed the distance between us, “give me your hand.”

“Please Leif, take me home. I just want to go home,” she pleaded.

Dropping my hand back to my side, I gave up on trying to get her to touch me. We were going to have to work on the trust issue.

“What must I do to make you trust me? You trust Death without question. Death, Pagan—he is Death. How can you trust a creation meant to take souls from earth and not trust me? I’ve never let you get hurt. I’ve never left you alone. But he shows up and you fall mindlessly under his spell. What did he do to deserve you? He didn’t save your life. He would’ve taken your soul when you were a kid. Left your mother grieving the loss of her child and not thought of it again. It’s what he does.” I was desperate to get her to understand.

“But why did you save me?” her question didn’t surprise me. She never did understand how incredibly special she was.

“I’m not your darkest dream, Pagan. I may walk in the darkness but I saw a life worth saving and I chose it. My father chose it. He agreed you were meant for me. Now it’s up to you to accept that the life you have always lived is coming to an end. It’s past time. You were supposed to die that day on the road and when Death came I was to take your soul instead. You would’ve trusted me. Your soul and my spirit are one. But Death broke the rules.” The frustration in my chest became a growl and I stalked away from her. Growling wasn’t exactly something that would ease her fear of me. I stopped in front of one of the many candles I’d used to light the room. “I’d become lax in my judgment. I knew Death was with you but I believed he was doing what he does when he takes a special interest in a soul, preparing you. Instead, the fool was falling in love with you.”

Holding my hand over the flame I grabbed the warmth and energy flickering against my palm and held it tightly before turning back around to look at her. “I may not control Death but I do control the dead; those who made less than intelligent choices on earth. They walk among the darkness under my father’s command. Under my command. I need someone to fill the loneliness. You’ve been my companion for over fifteen years now even if you don’t realize it. But your memories will slowly return. You’ll see that you do, in fact, belong to me.”

Pagan shook her head as her eyes focused on the ball of fire in my palm. “You’re just going to take me from earth? What about my mother? I can’t just leave her.”

No. That wasn’t what I planned to do. Shaking my head, I extinguished the flame in my palm and walked back over to stand in front of her. “I’ll take you back soon. She won’t even realize you were gone. I just needed a place where I could talk to you. To explain, without,” unable to control the distaste over her affections for Dankmar, I snarled, “that stupid transporter or Dankmar continuously botching my attempts.”

The sigh of relief in her voice told me she’d once again thought the worst of me. “You were worried I would hold you prisoner? Come on Pagan, you know me better than that. When have I not made sure you were happy? When have I ever intentionally hurt you? Never.” I reached out and took her hand in mine. When she didn’t snatch it out of my grasp, I pulled her beside me.

“What is it you want to talk to me about?” She asked studying me. She was calmer now. The rapidly beating sound of her heart had eased.

“That’s better. Your heart has slowed down. I don’t like having you scared. I never want you to fear me,” I squeezed her hand in reassurance of my sincerity. “Come for a walk with me, please. We can talk while I show you around.” I reached for the stone wall that I knew would open up onto Bourbon Street.

Pagan stepped out into the warm New Orleans evening. Her eyes widened in shock as she scanned our surroundings. The bars, dance clubs, and voodoo shops were all lit up against the darkness of the night. Tap dancing kids, drunken men, and topless women all claimed her attention as if it were a play being performed just for her. The familiarity of the scene in front of us suddenly seemed vulgar as I watched Pagan take in the lewd behavior I’d grown up amidst. I didn’t want her watching anymore. It was all-wrong. She didn’t belong. She was too good, too pure.

“Come on Pagan, you’ve got your eyeful. Let’s go for a ride,” I replied leading her toward the buggy I’d summoned.

“We’re going to ride?” She asked as I picked her up and placed her safely inside. I suddenly wanted to take her somewhere that was good enough for her. This was too dirty. It wouldn’t do.

“Yep,” I replied taking the seat across from her. “So, what do you think of Bourbon Street? Everything you’d ever imagined?” I wanted to make light of the inappropriate behavior I’d just forced her to witness.

“These shops, the Voodoo ones...,” she asked trailing off.

Chuckling, I glanced over at one of the ridiculous shops set up to take advantage of tourist with hopes of finding a spell for true love or a skinner waist line or revenge on their enemies. If they only knew.

“Are owned by regular people sucking the tourists dry. Not one of them hold any power. I’d guess if a real voodoo spirit were to grace their doors they’d close up and leave town. The real voodoo isn’t along these streets. It can only be found deep in the swamp by those chosen by the spirits to embody it.”

“This is the Garden District. It’s a nicer area. The most well preserved southern mansions can be found right here.” I explained relieved to be leaving the filth of my world behind us.

“What did you want to talk to me about Leif? Why am I here?”

She was ready to talk now. Okay. We could talk. I leaned forward resting my elbows on my knees and held her gaze. “I know you understand now what your mother did. You remember all the times I’ve come to you in your life. You know it was me that day in the old Voodoo queen’s home that removed the sickness from your body. Yes, I did it and I require, my father requires, restitution for it. All gris gris comes with payment. Not the monetary kind like the voodoo shop owners require. Real Voodoo requires something more. The more difficult the request, the more the payment will be. I wanted you to live Pagan. I’d watched you from the moment you arrived in New Orleans. The nurse watching over you was the granddaughter of the voodoo queen. She brought me to see you the first day you arrived. I was fascinated with your spunk. My father was looking for my mate and I went to him with the request to have you. He said we must wait. That if it was meant to happen then fate would play into our hands. When the doctors said you would not see another day, your mother went to the nurse and she brought you to the old voodoo queen who summoned me.” I forced myself to stop. She needed time to process all of this. I’d just been waiting so long to tell her all these things. Time was short. Dankmar would find her soon. Our time was limited and I wanted so badly to make her understand.

“A life cannot be spared for free. The cost is a life for a life. I saved your life and in doing so bought your soul. It has been mine since the day you were healed. I’ve been near you ever since.”

The frown on Pagan’s face puckered her forehead. “None of this makes sense. Why did you become human? Why did you ignore me for years? Why did you pretend with me? Why do you want me? Why can’t you just let me go?”

She was ready to listen.

Then I felt his power. The life around us stilled. Not even the birds would remain in Death’s presence. I’d been so close to making her understand. So damn close.

“He’s here. How the hell did Dankmar get here so quickly?” Without a backward glance I left her there. I wasn’t ready to face Dankmar. He still held all the cards— her love and his authority over life.

8. He is Death. See him for who he is

“If’n de gurl won come den ahm gonna take an udder,” Father informed me announcing his appearance. Standing outside the high school where I’d been following Pagan for the past three years, watching her and waiting on her, I’d thought taking her from her soul’s mate would be my biggest hurdle but her mate had made it way too easy.

“Father,” I replied in greeting. “I don’t want another. You know that. I want Pagan.”

“De gurl needs a push in da right direction, huh.”

“You taking another soul isn’t going to affect her. She won’t realize that you took a soul in her place. And I’m not telling her that. It would make me appear as an even bigger monster in her eyes than I already do.”

Father let out an eery chuckle, “I dinna say who woulda take her place, hmmm.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked concern at his humor jerking my thoughts off Pagan and my reentrance to her human world.

“Ahm gonna make shur dat gurl makes da right choice. Dats all.”

“What do you mean?” I asked but it was too late. He was gone. With a frustrated sigh, I jerked my backpack up on my shoulder and headed for the front doors of the high school. Pagan wasn’t scared of the boy she’d always known as a classmate. I needed to remind her that I was still that guy. Nothing had changed.

“Speaking of hotness, here comes your last drool-worthy boyfriend,” Pagan’s best friend since childhood whispered as I made my way toward them.

Right as I reached her locker, she closed it a little too loudly before turning to face me. I wanted to laugh at her angry glare but I figured that wouldn’t win me any points. Seeing her brave enough to be angry with me was a nice change. Anything was better than her being terrified of me.

“Leif,” she mumbled. Her eyes darted everywhere but directly at me. She was so dang cute.

“Pagan, it’s good to see you too.”

“What do you need?” She snapped and Miranda elbowed her a little too hard. I clinched my fist to keep from reaching out and grabbing her friend’s arm and moving her away from Pagan.

“Well, I was wondering about the tutoring. I mean, now that I’m back I need to keep up my grade and you know I can’t do it without your help.”

Pagan’s eyes finally focused on me and went wide. That hadn’t been what she was expecting me to say. Good. “Ah, well, when you left I filled your spot. But I’m sure there are other tutors available if you feel you really need one.”

“But you were so helpful. I doubt anyone else will be able to help me the way you did.” Anger flashed in her pretty eyes as she pulled her backpack up her arm and stepped around me.

“I’m so sorry, Leif. I don’t know what has gotten into her today,” Miranda began babbling. I was affecting her. The emotion was a good thing.

“It’s okay. I did leave without a word. I’m sure I have a lot of making up to do.”

“Well, she has kind of moved on, ya know?” I didn’t want to listen to Miranda tell me about Dank Walker and his claim on what was mine.

Brushing her off with a nod, I walked away without a word in response.

The sirens drew me from my path to the homeroom I would now be sharing with Pagan. Instead, I headed out to the backdoors and followed Pagan and Miranda who had both broken into a run toward the football field.

As I neared, I saw the field filled with emergency technicians, students, and the sounds of panicked cries drifted through the air as Miranda draped herself over Wyatt’s lifeless body. Lifting my eyes, I found Dankmar standing there unnoticed by the crowd. The pain and confusion on his face told me all I needed to know.

Wyatt had been what my father’s riddle was about earlier. He’d taken Wyatt in Pagan’s place. He hadn’t taken just any soul but a soul she would mourn— a soul that would get her attention.

Pagan lifted her eyes and I watched as she glared at Death. She finally understood. She didn’t understand that this death was not one taken by Dankmar but she did get a taste of what his purpose in life consisted of. He wasn’t the rocker that girls fawned over. “He is Death, see him for who he is,” I whispered before turning and leaving the tragedy behind me.

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