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By: Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
“Stephanie! We need to talk,” Rook called out impatiently.




Ugh. I wasn’t ready. With Rook, it was just too damned complicated and painful. The things he’d done. The things I’d done. Everything we’d been through…

“Just a moment. Okay?” My hand started to shake as I took the towel from my hair. I still felt like Warner would burst through the door at any moment and kill me. I hadn’t seen him die. What if he got out?

No. Stop. Rook wouldn’t let that happen. My mind jumped to the protective man outside the bedroom door who’d made me feel every possible emotion in the space of twenty-four hours. I thought I never wanted to see him again. I thought I hated him with everything in my soul. But the moment I saw Rook in Warner’s warehouse back in Queens, my heart felt like it might burst from my chest, run across the floor, and fling itself into his arms. He looked so beautiful, so perfect, and I missed the way we felt together. I missed…him.

No. You miss the dream of him. The fantasy.






CHAPTER ONE





Rook


“What do you mean ‘Stephanie left the island’?” I set my glass of scotch on the bar, unsure if I had heard my nephew, Luke, correctly over the loud music. Tonight, my open-air dinner club was noisy as hell and crammed with employees, who would depart our island in the morning. A final farewell. Two planeloads had already left, and only those who shared my secret, those I considered to be my “extended” family, would remain indefinitely.

“Several people spotted Stephanie boarding the first flight out about an hour ago,” said Luke, his hazel eyes filled with concern.

Fuck. An hour ago, she and I had been talking outside. She’d refused to marry me tonight, as I’d hoped, because she wanted more—a commitment that I’d do everything possible to live longer. I’d said yes, though my days were undeniably numbered. Maybe she knew. But why would she simply run off? I didn’t understand.

I tugged on one end of my bow tie to release it and sat at the long bar in the back of the restaurant, my weight suddenly too heavy for my knees. I’d already removed my dinner jacket due to the sweltering tropical heat. It seemed there wasn’t a breeze to be found anywhere on the island tonight.

“But she said she loved me,” I muttered under my breath. “I’m closing the resort to spend my final days with her.”

Luke grabbed my shoulder and squeezed, his eyes filled with pity. “Perhaps it was all too much.”

For an ordinary person, yes, but Stephanie was special. Strong, beautiful, and resourceful. I loved her. With everything a man could possibly love a woman.

I shook my head, sensing something wasn’t right. Of course something isn’t fucking right. You’re aging five years every day. You’ll be dead in a week. But she had said yes to staying until the bitter end. Yes to a child—if we should be so lucky—so that a part of me would live on after my time was up.

“I am sorry, Uncle. Truly. But perhaps it’s a sign that we shouldn’t throw in the towel on the lagoon just yet.” Luke, who looked to be in his mid-forties, was much older than he appeared, but not nearly as old as me at two hundred and thirty. He was my last living relative aside from my aunt, Amancia, who’d been with me since the very beginning. She was two hundred and fifty-two.

And how had we managed to live so long? In short, I believed that everyone had a destiny, and death didn’t always stop a determined soul. Specifically, one of the original inhabitants of this island: Father Rook. He had been a gifted healer, a leader, a devout monk, and my mentor as a boy. Tragically, however, when I was ten, he was murdered alongside his brethren and my family by men we refer to as pirates in today’s terminology. Back then, we simply called them animals. The things they did to those monks, my stepmother and her sister, and my father and older brother gave me nightmares to this day, but nothing would haunt me more than the look on Father Rook’s face as those monsters slit his throat and tossed him into our lagoon. It was the moment I vowed to carry on his work. He would live on as long as I remained alive—a sad consolation for having to witness his pregnant soul mate, my aunt Amancia, die violently before his eyes. Father Rook had renounced his vows two days prior, intending to marry her.

But Father Rook’s death wasn’t the end.

For him.

Or my aunt.

Or me, for that matter.

Immediately after he died, a part of my aunt’s body had been touching that lagoon, and it healed her. She still lost the baby, but that was how we discovered Father Rook’s miraculous gift of healing had somehow stayed alive in that water, though that wasn’t all he’d left behind. His rage, his need for revenge, and his hatred of the men remained, too. Our lagoon became a fountain of youth for most, able to restore anyone to their ideal age and state of health, but it became a death sentence for anyone unlucky enough to be related to those savage pirates. Revenge became the lagoon’s fuel for healing, and my vow to take Father Rook’s place as a monk was the glue that held it all together. I was the anchor between the world of the living and this man with a miraculous gift.

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