"So," she hedged finally, her voice tentative, "Tell me about us. And you. And everything."

Shooting a longing glance at the pot, he acknowledged that he'd have to get enough to eat later, when Lyssa was deep in slumber.

Where to begin?

"Do you remember anything?" he asked carefully.

She winced. "Not really, no. It's more of feeling. Like you're familiar."

He blew out his breath. "Hang on."

Then he fixed her a stiff rum and soda. Setting it down before her, he stepped back and rested his hip against the far counter. His arms crossed of their own volition, and he accepted that he was feeling edgy and defensive. There was no way to explain without sounding like he was a nut. So he just started talking, refusing to cushion things with evasions or half-truths. He knew the tale was unbelievable on its face. It didn't need any embellishment to make it worse.

The whole time he watched her, trying to gauge her reaction, noting how she gulped her drink.

"More," she gasped when he fell silent, setting the glass down with a sharp click on the granite countertop.

He refilled it with a sigh, and waited silently as she downed a third of it in one swallow. "Are you okay?"

Her dark eyes were huge in her face, her creamy skin pale, her hands shaking as she released her beverage and wiped her palms on her satin shorts. Tears welled, clinging to long, dark lashes before slipping free and coursing down her cheeks.

"Lyssa," he murmured, his chest aching at the sight of her tears.

"I'm o-okay" she whispered.

Lyssa winced as her voice broke. Then she cried as Aidan came to where she sat on the bar stool and cupped her nape, tilting her chin up so that he could brush his lips across hers with heartbreaking tenderness.

"You're trembling." He nuzzled her nose with his. "And your skin is cold."

She knew that, knew she was in shock, but how was she supposed to react when the man of her dreams swore he came to life from her dreams? All the hopes she'd been harboring of this happiness lasting vanished like smoke, and something precious inside her died.

"Oh god!" she moaned, her stomach roiling as she was struck with a sudden, horrifying thought. "This Twilight… Is it like another planet?"

He exhaled audibly and tugged her ponytail free. His callused fingertips sank into her damp hair and massaged her scalp. She melted, her eyes falling closed. Her breathing was so shallow and the silence so complete that Jelly Bean's purring rumbled like thunder through the room.

"No," he murmured, "It's a conduit plane of existence. Think of it like an apple. Abbreviated space is the hole bored through the center by a worm. Instead of coming out the other side, though, the Elders found a way to suspend us in there."

How could she and JB both be so wrong about him? The man was completely insane. Those oversized clothes …Oh god, what if he was a vagrant?

"A wormhole?" she repeated. "Are we talking about the same type of wormhole as they have on television and the movies?"

"Yes, somewhat."

"But before you went into the apple," she said slowly, "you came from another planet, right?"

His lips pressed into her forehead. "Yes."

"So you're telling me you're an alien."


"Shit." She cried harder, her heart breaking so completely, she found it hard to breathe. Dropping her wet face into her hands, she gave in to her grief with deep, wracking sobs.

"Shush. I know this is a lot to throw at you. But please… you're killing me. I can't stand it."

He enfolded her in his warm, strong arms. She breathed him in, filling her mind with his unique essence, only mildly surprised by how it soothed her. She doubted she'd ever be truly surprised again.

Turning her head, she spotted where her purse was on the counter and reached for it, withdrawing the pepper pen and clutching it in her hand. In case of alien, break glass. The thought of using it on Aidan, of inflicting any kind of pain on him, only tugged her deeper into despondency.

Then the doorbell rang.

She wiggled free of Aidan's embrace, part of her mind wondering how to go about getting someone psychiatric treatment and another part thinking she didn't care if he was insane. There were all kinds of insanity, and Aidan's brand of hot sex and proprietary caring worked for her. She wasn't exactly normal, either. Who was she to bitch about a little mental instability? She was a woman who never remembered dreams and had so much trouble sleeping that it affected her ability to lead a normal life. Hell, Aidan thought she was a prophecy set to destroy him and everything he knew. "The Key" that was expected to annihilate worlds, including her own. Or something like that.

"Lyssa, just ignore it."

"No. No, I have to get that." Think, Lyssa. Think.

But she couldn't think when he was touching her. He short-circuited her brain cells.

Needing some distance, she slid off the stool and hurried toward the door. JB jogged alongside her, growling his demon cat growl. She knew Aidan followed, even though he moved silently.

Maybe it was Chad or Stacey. Oh jeez, not Stacey because she'd have Justin with her. Maybe it was Mom! Mom would be excellent. She would start charming Aidan, and Lyssa could sneak upstairs and figure out how the hell her life kept getting worse.

Relieved at the prospect of a moment alone, she opened the door without looking out the peephole. She remembered it only as the door swung inward…

… and her wide eyes caught the sword swinging downward.

* * *

Chapter 12

It was JB's arching spine and bristling hair that alerted Aidan to the danger. The cat was too inherently lazy to do more than growl to intimidate guests. So when JB hissed like a banshee, Aidan's senses went on high alert. As the door swung open, he caught Lyssa around the waist and yanked her back…

… just in time to miss the downward swing of a sword.

The marble that lined the entryway cracked under the force of the glaive.

"Chad?" Lyssa screeched, limbs flailing. "What the fuck are you doing? You almost killed me!"

A quick glance at the familiar man lunging through the doorway made Aidan's blood run cold. He set Lyssa on her feet and shoved her toward the stairs. "That's not Chad. Go!"

Aidan leaped back several paces to avoid a gutting by the thrusting weapon aimed at his abdomen. With his heart in his throat over what had nearly happened to Lyssa, he risked a glance in her direction. She stood frozen. Shock compounded by more shock.

"Run, damn it!" He landed a brutal kick with his bare heel to Chad's knee, bringing the other man to the ground.

"I'm calling the cops!" she cried, sprinting up the stairs. "You're both insane!"

"No!" He jumped, and Chad's glaive whistled through the air beneath him, the strike aimed to cut him off at the knees. Literally "Don't call anyone!"

Aidan was grateful for the loose-fitting pajama bottoms he wore. They allowed him similar freedom of movement as his battle dress. Chad, however, was dressed in jeans, and the heavy, unyielding material slowed him just enough to slightly mitigate the effect the Elders had on him. Seeing Chad's blank stare and lack of any facial expression at all, Aidan was certain he was dealing with a sleepwalker.

Determined to keep Lyssa safe, he led Chad away from the staircase and into the living room. His sword was located there, waiting near the entertainment center. As Aidan moved to the right, then feinted to the left, Chad pulled his arm back and made a wild swing. With a rapid spin on his heel, Aidan caught up his glaive, and before he'd completed the rotation, he had yanked it free of its scabbard and blocked the next incoming blow.

The clash of metal upon metal focused him. It was a sound he'd heard almost as much as he heard his own breathing. The familiar feel of the hilt in his palm and the weight of his weapon centered him. It was comforting in a way only others who lived by the sword would know.

Everything else fell away.

He thrust and parried with singular expertise, recognizing the skill of a Master in his opponent. Which one? Who would come for them like this? Was it Lyssa they wanted, or he? Perhaps both?

Disadvantaged by the fact that he could not kill Chad, Aidan was forced to talj:e a defensive position, a stance he hated and was relatively unfamiliar with. Still, he managed, aware that he could fight for days like this, switching his glaive from one hand to the other when his arm fatigued. Chad was fit, but lacked the stamina and finely honed muscles Aidan had cultivated over centuries. Despite the battle knowledge imparted by the Master who controlled him, Chad's physical form could not be enhanced.

The engagement continued. They were trapped in the small area of the living room and adjoining dining room. Stumbling around furniture, Aidan cursed as he bumped the bookcase.

"Would you fucking wake up already?" he yelled at Chad.

But there was nothing Aidan could say, no cajoling or threats that would shake his opponent's position, no sound or facial expression he could make that would inspire fear. Chad was asleep and incapable of being reasoned with, incapable of speech. Sweat poured down the other man's face, dripping from his lashes into his eyes, but he wasn't capable of feeling it.

Aidan kept a running tally of Chad's weaknesses, cataloging them in his mind for use, if necessary. The instant Chad began to move sluggishly and breathe laboriously, Aidan seized the moment.

Moving with tactical precision, he forced the other man to retreat until the backs of his legs hit the low coffee table and he stumbled. Falling backward.

Aidan tossed his glaive to the opposite hand and leaped to the tabletop, his knees bending, carrying the force of his downward descent in his fist. The connection to Chad's jaw was marked with a sharp crack, and then the man fell limp. Truly unconscious, far beyond the Twilight. He lay arched over the table with arms flung wide. His weapon fell from his slackened grip and landed with a thud on the carpeted floor.

"Oh my god!" Lyssa cried. "Did you break his neck?"