‘It’s not a dream. Do you believe that two people can share a love that is so deep that nothing can ever take it away?’

He doesn’t answer me. Instead he looks into my eyes with so much love my heart quivers. The look changes. My tears stop, the blood begins to pound in my head.

‘No need for words, Lana.’

He is right. There never was a need. His finger lightly strokes my throat. I draw breath sharply. I have been starving for his touch. He lets his finger rest on the desperate pulse. The tenderness in the gesture captivates me and starts the red-hot ache between my thighs. His mouth moves in closer and closer until his lips meet mine. I open my mouth to taste him. Ah…

He enters my soul.

In the shadows of our bedroom, time stills.

Four

I wake up in total darkness, shivering and realize instantly that I am blindfolded and naked. My hands are tied behind my back, but my legs are free. My nostrils are full of the smell of damp soil and dead leaves. Rocks and branches are digging into my back. It is eerily silent. I have no memory of how I got here. Where is Blake? Where is Sorab?

Suddenly, the air is pierced by a wail, despairing, monotone, and distant.

What the hell is that?

I freeze, bewildered and petrified. Precious seconds pass, with me holding my breath, staring into the blackness of the blindfold. Then: the knowledge, something’s coming. An abomination—stalking, circling.

My lips move. ‘Oh God!’

It is coming for me. It is almost upon me. The terror is indescribable. Frantically, I rub my face against the ground, gouging my cheeks on sharp stones. The blindfold shifts fractionally, but enough for me to make out that I am in a dark forest.

I scramble to my feet, swaying, my hands tied behind my back, and lurch away into the spooky shadows. The cold wind whips my face. Branches and leaves slap my bare body. I slip on moss, sprawl on the ground, pick myself up, and run blindly. In a panic, I glance backward, but it is impossible to see anything. The blackness is so thick. But I know it is still coming. I feel it in the chill that goes out like long tentacles before it to envelop me.

I take great gasping breaths: my lungs are on fire. Suddenly I hear men’s voices chanting, low and guttural, and I immediately start running towards the sound. They are gathered around a large bonfire in a clearing not far away. All of them are in long black and red robes with hoods, which are pulled so low down over their faces, it is impossible to see them. There is an air of menace about them. I remember them. I have seen them at that party. They all know more than they will tell.

They are the brotherhood of El.

Far away in the distance I see a lantern. I should have gone towards the lantern. But it is too late. They have all turned to look at me. I stare at them, appalled, and terrified, and consumed with horror. They begin to advance. I turn around and run. I hear them behind me. They are faster than me. I hear them closing in, their heavy grunts. They are almost upon me.

I stumble and fall on the ground among roots and creepers. They surround me. I look from one faceless figure to the other with abject fear.

‘You cannot escape.’

I freeze. Oh God. No! That voice. I know that voice. I look into the darkness inside his hood. There is movement. Shiny black eyes moving to look at me. I recognize those eyes.

‘But you are dead.’

An unpleasant wet, rasping sound comes from him. The rest of the group fall on me. Hands everywhere, on my br**sts, between my legs. I kick and struggle, but it is no use. The clawing and yanking are impossible to resist. They make a whispering sound. Insidious and unspeakably horrible.

They are taking me down, down into the freezing pits of hell.

Suddenly I hear a cry. A baby. My baby. My Sorab.

The hands still, and they turn towards the voice. It is not me they want… It was never me.

I see Blake standing there with Sorab.

No, no, no. Quick, quick, do something. Run. I open my mouth and scream to warn him but no sound comes. They have taken my voice. It’s too late. I’m too late. I begin to howl silently.

I feel hands on me. ‘Wake up. It’s just a dream.’

My eyes snap open and Blake is peering down at me. I stare at him in confused terror, my head full of gravel and evil. Then I throw my arms around him and clutch at him desperately.

He tries to lay me back on the pillows, but I can’t let go of him. I pull back just enough to look at him. ‘I am afraid for you.’

‘There is nothing to be afraid of.’ His voice is tender. He cradles me in his arms and gently sweeps away the hair sticking to my damp forehead and cheeks. ‘It’s over. It’s over,’ he croons.

But I am full of terror. The dream had been so real. ‘The men. The hooded men… In the woods. Who are they?’

He frowns. ‘What men?’

‘They want you back.’

‘It was just a nightmare, Lana. There are no hooded men. You’re safe. There is—’

‘Your father. He was alive.’

A bleak look comes into his eyes. ‘My father is dead.’ His voice is flat and lifeless.

I rest my forehead against his chest and begin to cry.

Again and again he reassures me, ‘It was just a dream. Just a nightmare,’ until I fall asleep clasped in his arms.

When I wake up again it is with a premonition that something is wrong. Raw fear. I glance at the bedside clock. It is the early hours of the morning. A warning burns in my head. I don’t dismiss it. I scramble out of bed, pull on Blake’s discarded shirt and run into Sorab’s room. It is still early and the child is fast asleep. Softly, I open the door and hurry down the corridor. Blake is in the dining room working, bent over a piece of paper. He lifts his head, sees me, and gets to his feet suddenly.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing,’ I say, but I run towards him and throw my arms around his waist. It is true nothing is wrong. So what is the little prickling at the back of my neck, as if someone was watching me, all about then? Is this the calm before the storm? I feel my stomach in knots.

‘Don’t become a slave to your fears, Lana,’ he whispers into my hair.

As if by magic I feel the fear slinking away. Everything is all right. Blake is fine, Sorab is fine and I am fine. Nothing is wrong. It must be just my own overwrought senses. I know it is because I don’t have all the facts. There is so much I don’t know.

I look up into his face. ‘Shall I make you something to eat?’

‘No. The only thing I am hungry for is you,’ he says, taking the lobe of my ear between his teeth. ‘I simply can’t seem to get enough of you. I want to devour you all the f**king time.’

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