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 Eternal
Flame


‐an
exclusive
short
story‐
 By
 Alyson
Noël


(Damen’s
Story)


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St. Martin’s Press
THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. ALL OF THE CHARACTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND EVENTS PORTRAYED IN THIS STORY ARE EITHER PRODUCTS OF THE AUTHOR'S IMAGINATION OR ARE USED FICTITIOUSLY. "Eternal Flame" by Alyson Noël. Copyright © 2010 by Alyson Noël, LLC. By arrangement with the author. All rights reserved.

St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010

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“The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”— Rumi

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Paris, France 8 August 1608 I lean back against the velvet-cushioned seat and close my eyes to the sound of hooves pounding hard against the cobblestone streets. Their clip-clopping harmony keeping perfect tempo with the rumble of carriage wheels, affording a sound as sweet as any symphony I’ve ever heard. It’s the sound of escape. The sound of goodbye. A sound that’s always served to soothe me in the past, providing the much-needed assurance that the unwelcome inquiries and suspicions of newly alerted acquaintances would soon fade—allowing for a brief respite in a new location, before I’m on the move again. I’m a gypsy. A nomad. A vagabond. A drifter. I am one who wanders incessantly—though not always by choice. The things others take for granted—a permanent address, an extended family, a group of close and trusted friends—are not for my kind. I’ve made that mistake before, learned my lesson the hard way. Having convinced myself it was okay to stay, to settle in—only to be awakened in the middle of night by the blaze of torches, the threat of drawn swords, and the rising hysteria of a fear driven mob. A mistake I will not make again.

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I gather the gold tasseled curtain and push it aside, peering out the small square window and gazing upon a blanket of night sky so dark, so dazzling, so littered with clusters of glistening stars I’m reminded of Drina’s jewel case—an oversized, silk lined monstrosity heaping with the finest assortment of gems money can buy. My mind filling with the thought of her—her blaze of red hair, her creamy white skin, her startling emerald green eyes and cool feral smile—making for a beauty so astonishing, so alluring, that for years, centuries really, it seemed like enough. But no more. Now my only hope is to rid myself of every last trace of her. Reduce the girl with whom I spent the better part of my life to a small, distant memory I’d prefer to erase. Though, in all fairness, it’s not Drina who’s changed. Throughout each passing year, she’s remained exactly the same—no different from the young girl I rescued from the orphanage centuries before.

Covetous. Acquisitive. Greedy.
Consumed by a whole host of needs and demands that run so deep it appears there’s no end—keeping the most voracious part of her appetite reserved just for me. And while it’s true that I once desired her too, these days, I can no longer find it within me. My carriage veers to the right but the view doesn’t change—it remains as constant and eternal as I am.

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The sun faithfully rising and setting, while the moon and stars glow as brightly as they did on the day of my birth just over two hundred years earlier. A display of nature I find myself taking for granted, never pausing long enough to appreciate the true and constant miracle of it. A lapse on my part I hope to remedy, just as soon as I’m freed from this place. My driver tempers the pace, a sign we draw near, and I can’t help but wonder if any of tonight’s party guests, any of my so-called friends, will notice just how much I’ve changed—that I’m no longer the same, admittedly vain and superficial person they all know me to be. Something has shifted—something I can’t quite define. It’s as though the old way of doing things—the old way of seeing things—the old way of being—no longer works. Leaving me with no choice but to move on toward the one thing I am meant to discover—whatever that is. The one, elusive, indefinable thing that holds far greater importance than anything I’ve ever yet known. Like the glow from the dock that beckons a sailor to port, it’s what keeps me moving forward—keeps me clinging to hope.

**

My horses whinny and nicker and stamp their feet hard against the cobbled drive—a cue to draw my curtain, run a quick hand over my hair and waistcoat, pocket the

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small package I’ve brought for my hostess, nod to my driver, and make my way toward the entrance, silently rehearsing:

Goodbye. Arrivederci. Au revoir. Auf Wiedersehen.
Words I’ve said so many times, in so many languages, you’d think they’d be much better practiced by now. And though I haven’t been in Paris long enough to raise any undue suspicions regarding the source of my wealth, or my never-changing, never-aging appearance—the two inevitable inquiries that always fuel my flight—these days I find myself restless, bored, eager to move on toward this untold destiny that surely awaits. A uniformed servant opens the door and ushers me inside a home so grand in scale and opulence it could easily house a thousand nobles quite comfortably. And just before making my way across an expanse of shiny marble floor where I’ll seamlessly blend into the dance of nodding and smiling and double cheek kissing, bestowing the sort of easily forgettable greetings that are always required in situations like this, I pause for a moment to soak up the energy. Tuning into the cacophony of each individual’s mind, eavesdropping on their innermost thoughts—before shutting them out in favor of my hostess’s on the far side of the room. An overdressed, harshly judgmental sort with a penchant for too much red wine and a taste for gossip of the most malicious kind—the moment I gaze upon her, the

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moment I overhear the spiteful words that ring in her head, I can’t begin to fathom why I ever thought her my friend. I trust the small velvet box to her greedy, outstretched fingers and bow down before her, knowing her salacious gaze is due as much to the expensive jeweled trinket nestled inside, as it is to my newly single status that has not gone unnoticed.

Nothing a quick change in the seating chart can’t remedy, she thinks, directing a
swiftly calculating smile at me. Seeing the same thing she always sees when she gazes upon me—an endless source of charm, wealth, and good looks she’s determined to use to her advantage. Having heard of my rumored fondness for beautiful and willing young things—she seats me beside Daphne—a pretty brunette whose batting eyes and flirtatious laugh would’ve been enough to amuse me on any other night—but not tonight. No matter how perfectly turned out the young single women may be, there’s not one among them who can hold the slightest bit of interest for me. Still, I release myself from the swirl of my hostess’s mind and focus on Daphne, going through the motions of nodding and smiling and timing my witty replies as perfectly as an actor in a well-scripted play. Amusing myself by keeping tabs on the number of times her hand finds its way to my arm (thirty-seven thus far), while counting each course of an elaborate meal I merely fudge my way through (so far there’ve been four—including the soup). Knowing that with every plate served and cleared I grow closer to goodbye—the real reason I’m here. “Monsieur?” The voice stirs me from my thoughts—the sound of it so light, so melodic, so

lyrical, it causes the hair on my neck to rise up on end.

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“Monsieur?” She repeats, but my response melts on my tongue. Never before have I seen eyes so blue, hair so golden, skin so smooth and creamy and inviting I’d give anything to press my own against it. Never before have I seen anything as extraordinary as she. “Pardon.” She bows, cheeks flushing the loveliest shade of pink as she backs away from my place. Mistaking my silence for smugness, arrogance, and conceit—taking one look at the cut of my clothes, the shine of my buttons, the full scale of my ridiculously opulent finery, and deeming me the type of high, lofty person who could never be expected to address someone as lowly as she. “Pardon, moi,” I say, my French, though not my native language, sliding effortlessly off my tongue. Grasping her hand, noting how the feel of her skin is so warm, so—electric—as it presses against mine, I’m tempted to linger and never let go. Unable to stop myself from uttering, “Who are you?” Then noting the way she glances toward our hostess, her blush deepening as she dips her head low. Knowing I’ve caused her great embarrassment, and possibly trouble as well, which makes me regret having spoken at all. “I am Evaline, sir.” She meets my gaze shyly, as she tries to free her hand from mine. “May I remove your plate, please?” She lifts her chin, looking at me in a way that causes a stream of quiet warmth to rush through me. But try as I might, I can’t seem to look away, can’t seem to forgo the feel of her skin. “Damen, please.” Daphne balks, poking my sleeve with the dagger-like tip of her sharp, pointy nail. Prompting me to let go of that remarkable hand—the sudden loss of which causes my entire world to darken. “What would Drina say to see you fawning all

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over a servant like this?” Her eyes move over me, cruel, glinting, having conveniently forgotten all about Drina just a moment ago when it was she who sought my attention, but all too happy to reminisce now in an attempt to put this girl—this beautiful, extraordinary girl—in her place. “Drina is in Hungary,” I say, forcing myself to tear my gaze away from the lure of those clear blue eyes and the soft golden tendril that’s managed to escape from the confines of her cap. Carefully taking note of each and every detail of her face, her stature, her mannerisms, the inflections in her voice, so that I might commit them to memory and never have to live another second without them. “We have gone our separate ways,” I add, knowing the statement will cause much scandal and tongue wagging, but no longer caring. I didn’t say it for them—I said it for the girl.

Evaline.
The most perfectly poetic name I’ve ever heard. My eyes follow as she makes her way around the table. Her lowered gaze and roughly calloused hands telling me she’s grown all too used to the numerous and frivolous demands of my supposed friends—though the tilt of her chin and slant of her brow hint at an intelligence and strength they’ve all chosen to miss. Unable to see past the plain and unflattering servant’s attire that’s been forced upon her, the drab little cap meant to hide what I know to be an abundant mane of golden blond hair—they’re impressed by the more shallow things in life—status, money, class— the very things I possess in abundance—the very reason they’ve invited me here.

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Failing to see what I see—unable to look past the dreary exterior to the glory beneath—they remain frustratingly blind to the very thing that to me, shines so clear: This girl—this servant—this Evaline—is the single embodiment of everything I’ve been searching for. She is my destiny. My reason for being. And now that I’ve found her, I have no need for leaving. Not when everything I seek—everything I need—is right here. I settle back in my seat, feeling more at home than ever before. Quickly reclaiming the role of charming dinner guest, which prompts my hostess to smile and nod her approval, and Daphne to lean toward me and grasp my arm once again. There are repercussions for fraternizing outside of one’s class—and now that I plan to stick around I’ll have no choice but to play by those rules. Or at least for now anyway. But tomorrow I will find her. Tomorrow Evaline and I will accidentally meet. Then again the day after. And the day after that. The coincidence continuing to repeat itself until I’ve had a chance to know her— to earn the depth of trust required to offer her the one thing I haven’t offered to anyone else in a very long time:

The elixir of eternal life.

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My eyes dare to meet hers once again, and I take a quick moment to slip inside her head. Needing the assurance that it’s not just me—that she feels it too—that wonderful swarm of tingle and heat and the beautiful promise it holds. A phenomenon we’ve no way to explain, it’s so unlike anything either of us has ever experienced before. Then, just as quickly, I’m out—averting my gaze and rejoining the party. Laughing, drinking, pretending to overindulge along with the rest of them—all the while profoundly aware that my life has forever, irreversibly changed. That from this moment on—nothing—nothing at all—will ever be the same. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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