Elianne Adams – Annie Nicholas
Gina Kincade & Kiki Howell
Lucy Leroux – K. de Long
Ever Coming – Holley Trent
K.C. Stewart – Rozlyn Sparks
Sylvina Storm – Rachael Slate
Lisa Swallow – April A. Luna
Crystal Dawn – Sky Purington
Phoenix Johnson – Angelica Dawson
Tierney O’Malley – RebekahR. Ganiere
Naughty Nights Press ● Canada
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From the 20 USA Today, Amazon, International, and Award Winning Bestselling Authors of the Beyond the Veil boxed set, we start you off with steamy, magical & paranormal romance short stories to introduce our characters and whet your appetite, leaving you panting for more.
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Under The Veil: Paranormal & Magical Romance Short Story Boxed Set
Shakespir Edition March 2016
Published by Naughty Nights Press, LLC
Credit to the individual editors of each author.
Copyright © Naughty Nights Press 2016:
Elianne Adams – Annie Nicholas – Gina Kincade – Kiki Howell – Lucy Leroux – K. de Long – Ever Coming – Holley Trent – K.C. Stewart – Rozlyn Sparks – Sylvina Storm – Rachael Slate – Lisa Swallow – April A. Luna – Crystal Dawn – Sky Purington – Phoenix Johnson – Angelica Dawson – Tierney O’Malley – Rebekah R. Ganiere
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Jordan trailed his fingertips down the long expanse of Savannah’s back, pushing her long blonde tresses to the side. Goosebumps rose on her flesh in the wake of his touch. “Please stay,” he whispered in her ear as he leaned forward and pressed soft kisses on her shoulder and neck. She always tasted so good. He could feast on her skin—on her body—forever.
Groaning, she turned over, pulling the sheet along with her to cover her breasts. “You know I can’t. Let’s live in the moment and forget about the rest for a while.”
He should have kept his mouth shut and enjoyed the time he had with her, but every part of him was desperate to keep her with him. Not just for the night, but forever.
In the beginning, their relationship had suited both their needs, but after more than a hundred years, he needed more. He wasn’t some fucking ‘booty call’ as humans called it. He, of all people, understood the meaning of loyalty and responsibility. Enough was enough. He deserved better than a couple of hours of her time when she was passing through.
He closed his eyes, the pain in his chest growing with each breath he took. He had promised himself he would do it. This time would be the last. One way or the other, it would end. Just like he’d promised himself the last time she’d breezed into his life, and the time before that. She would have to choose. But each time he’d tried to break it off, she’d looked up at him with her gorgeous blue eyes filled with tears, and his resolve had fled.
“Don’t,” she begged as she stood and wrapped the sheet around her body.
He looked at her and shook his head. If he didn’t do it now, he never would. “I can’t keep doing this.”
“Please don’t, I can’t. I don’t have a choice. If I did, things would be different.”
As they had every time before, her eyes shone with unshed tears. More than anything he wanted to pull her close and tell her everything was going to be okay, but he’d only hate himself more in the morning. And that resentment would transfer to her. It already did each time they came together.
He got up and pulled on his jeans. There was no way in hell he was going to do this standing there naked. “You do have a choice, Savannah. You always have.”
“What am I supposed to do? Give everything up? Rot in hell?” She let the sheet drop and took a step toward him, but stopped when he crossed his arms instead of opening them to welcome her in. “You’re serious? You don’t want to see me anymore?”
He clenched his teeth so hard his jaw ached. What they had—what they could have—was worth so much more than anything she stood to lose by defying her father. Sure the god had threatened her with damnation, but Ares would never, even in all his fury, condemn his precious daughter to Hades.
“You know what I want. I need more than this, Savannah. I deserve more than a romp in bed every few months when you finally remember I’m here and grace me with your presence.”
She gasped, and her eyes widened. “I never forget you, Jordan. When I leave here, I think of you every day, every moment. Don’t cheapen what we have.” She grabbed her dress from the floor and tugged it over her head. When she looked at him again, the pain in her eyes was like a sucker punch to his chest, ripping the breath from his lungs.
Jordan hung his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Savannah loved him. He didn’t doubt that. But it wasn’t enough. Not anymore. He needed her to be there when he woke each morning and snuggled up next to him when he drifted to sleep at night. There was too much evil in the world, and he needed a bit of paradise to make it all seem worthwhile again.
“No, you shouldn’t have.” She found her sandals next to the bed and wound the strips of leather up her calves, securing them in place. “I have to go.”
Shit. He couldn’t even look at her. If he did, he’d take her in his arms, tell her he was sorry, and beg her to come back when she could.
Savannah stopped next to him, bringing her hand up as though she’d stroke his cheek, before letting it fall again. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to stay where he was as she walked out the door and out of his life.
For weeks, the hollowness in his heart ate away at him. He didn’t want to work, had no desire to see anyone, but he didn’t have the luxury of staying home and hiding from the assholes of the world. He did his job, meting out justice to demons and humans alike, just like any good fucking angel should. So what if he only did it half-heartedly and one or two of them slipped through the cracks? The humans would still be there when he went back, and he had a little league of daemons out there making sure the demons didn’t take over the world. If there were a real problem, he’d know. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.
But the niggling feeling haunting him over the past three days was getting stronger. It was the sick tightening in his gut that told him that something bad was about to happen in the human realms. He’d had the same feeling, only on a much larger scale, when the first and second world wars broke out. The same disgusting sensation had plagued him for the duration of the Holocaust.
This wasn’t a huge event. Just a blip in comparison, but something was going on. Damn it. As much as he wanted to stay in the heavenly realms, he had to investigate.
He followed the thread of darkness to Earth, recognizing the place instantly. He never spent more time than needed in the earthly realms but, if he had to be here, this was where he most enjoyed being. One of his favorite daemons inhabited—and protected—the city.
So where was Libbie? Why hadn’t the little half-witch, half-daemon dealt with the threat? When he reached the warehouse district, the pungent smell of sulfur singed his nostrils. Fuck. A demon. And not a lesser one, either. He should have come sooner. He followed the malevolent thread down a long alley where the single streetlamp didn’t quite chase away the darkness.
On her knees at the base of a ramshackle building, Libbie had her hands up in the air. Eyes closed, she chanted with her face turned up to the sky. The pale blue light of her spell shimmered in the air, only to fall flat all around her.
A small sob escaped her lips before she tried again. Her incantation grew louder. She stood, opening her eyes, and looked up to the roof before her. A man stood there, looking at the ground far below, his body swaying back and forth as though the slightest breeze might propel him to his death.
Electricity crackled from Libbie’s fingertips. The magic rose higher and higher. It was almost halfway up the building before a maniacal laugh came from the roof. The dark aura of the beast hovered just behind the man, but that wasn’t what caught Jordan’s attention. It was the beautiful blonde woman standing off to the side. Savannah.
No, don’t do it. There was no turning back. Once you took an innocent life, there was no way to remove that taint from your soul. The heavenly realms would never tolerate your presence, no matter if you were born deity.
Her gaze met his. The demon crowded the man, making him tip closer and closer to the edge.
With nothing more than a thought, he flew to the top of the building, intent on stopping the demon—on stopping Savannah—but he was too late. Libbie’s scream pierced the night. The demon’s laughter echoed against the metal warehouses until the muted thud of the man hitting the ground sounded. Then, in a cloud of noxious smoke, the demon was gone.
Jordan looked at Savannah and shook his head. “Why?” He forced the word out around the lump in his throat. “What have you done, Savannah?”
She opened her mouth to say something, then shook her head. “It seems I’m my father’s daughter after all.”
He didn’t have time to say anything more. One moment she was there, the next, she was gone.
Even though he could have, Jordan didn’t try to go after her. He had to help Libbie. Losing a human was always tough on the little daemon. By the time he was down at her side, Libbie was hunched over the man. Sobs tore from her body, and for once, he wanted to crumple down next to her and let the pain ripping his soul to shreds to break free. But he wouldn’t. Not now.
Shoving his anguish aside, he brought her home in a wink of light. He laid a hand upon her head. Part of him wanted to erase the whole thing from her mind, but he wouldn’t. Not yet, anyway. He waited for her to have a shower, then sent her to sleep. She wouldn’t awaken for a few days. Hopefully the time and distance would ease the pain emanating from her and he wouldn’t have to do it at all.
Rather than go home to Savannah’s scent on his sheets, Jordan headed to the seediest parts of the city. He’d keep watch while his little daemon healed, and figure out how the hell to deal with Savannah’s treachery while he was at it. As much as he loved her, he would do his duty and send her to justice.
For a non-full moon night, the pack house was crowded. Poker game in the garage, standing room only in the kitchen—Marie had made her famous lasagna—and a Dexter marathon played in the living room.
Nobody lived here permanently. Not even their alpha. The house, and Ian used the term loosely since it was really an abandoned gas station, was where wolf shifters gathered in New York City if they were part of the Wolfsbane pack. The city really contained five packs and none of them got along.
Not like that huge pack in Chicago, the Vanguards. What a pansy name for a pack. Ian only knew about them because they sent someone last month, offering to train recruits in the art of being werewolf. His alpha had attacked before they learned more. Wouldn’t want them to abandon his pack. What an a-hole.
Ian dug at something stuck between his teeth with a toothpick while leaning against the hallway wall, stomach full. He came to the house for the meal. Rent was due this week and he was short of funds.
The alpha kept the cupboards stocked. He didn’t want hungry shifters prowling the city streets. They could hang here and crash on one of the cots in the attic when needed, but the alpha maintained the place mostly for the silver lined cages in the basement. That was where those who lacked control were kept.
Ian had spent his first month as a wolf shifter behind those bars. Broke a pack record for the person who had taken the longest to get his shit together after first being infected by the werewolf virus. At least, he hadn’t died like ninety percent of the recruits, but he thought his alpha wished he had.
From the kitchen entrance, a thin, handsome shifter was shoved out into the hall. Thomas stumbled and fell to his knees.
The wolf stayed in that position as three others followed him from the kitchen. “Who said you could have seconds?” One of them shouted at Thomas.
Ian flung his toothpick to the floor. It bounced, landing in front of Thomas’ face. He lifted his head, his terror filled gaze pleading with Ian’s.
Hell, Ian was already in trouble for borrowing the alpha’s car without permission. What would a little fight matter, and Thomas owned a car.
“Stay out of this, Ian.” None of them dared lay a hand on him, because he’d already kicked their asses in dominance challenges as he climbed the ranks in the pack. They could gang up on him, but nobody was sure how the alpha really felt about him. Including Ian.
They had a love-hate relationship where the alpha loved to hate him.
“Thomas promised me a ride home. I need him whole.” He grabbed the omega by the shoulders and dragged him to his feet.
“I did?” Thomas’ voice faded as Ian glared.
“See, he’s already scared witless.” He shoved the small male toward the front door. “Get the car. It’s boring here.”
Thomas made a fast exit.
Ian didn’t dare turn his back on the others. This wasn’t how he had pictured shifters living. They excluded the brutal beatings from the recruitment videos or the fact that as soon as his jobs found out he was a werewolf they’d found any excuse to let him go.
Broke, unemployed, and the alpha’s private punching bag. Yep, every girl’s dream mate.
Thomas pulled up in his Geo Metro as Ian left the building. He didn’t have the heart to tease the omega about his crappy little car, because, at least, the dude owned one.
“Take me home.” He filled the passenger seat and didn’t bother with a belt. Knees to chest and head bent to the ceiling, he doubted any accident would throw him clear of the car. Hell, the airbag deploying would probably send his lungs to meet his tonsils.
Twenty minutes later, they stopped in front of his apartment building. He leaned forward to leave.
He stopped, hand hovering by the handle. Dread a knot in his stomach. He didn’t want a mushy moment. He’d done what was right, what his conscience would let him live with. That was it. Nothing more.
“Thanks for the save.” Thomas couldn’t meet Ian’s stare. Not because of embarrassment but because of his rank in the pack as an omega. The way Thomas explained it to him was he didn’t fight for dominance. He didn’t care about it like most wolves. Instead, he cared for the pack in general like the other omegas. They threw parties and kept things fun, until some assholes decided to pick on one of them. Then things seemed sad for a while.
“Just stay away from the pack house for a few days, okay? Let them forget about you.” Ian exited, slamming the car door behind him, his focus on the lit third floor window. He hadn’t left it on.
He ground his teeth. Seriously, he had nothing to steal. With supernatural strength, he leaped in one bound to the small balcony. The old metal clanged and rattled from the sudden weight of his landing. He smashed the window with his elbow and climbed through. He didn’t have time to shift to beast form, but in human shape he was faster and stronger than any man. He crouched just inside the apartment and froze mid-attack. He hadn’t considered his intruder would be non-human.
His alpha, Roy, sat on the couch, eating the last of Ian’s food. Cold pizza hung halfway to his lips. “Nice entrance. Very dramatic.”
Straightening, Ian struggled to drop his gaze. His wolf always strove to fight first and ask questions later. Ian had no outlet except the occasional pack challenge and his alpha had noticed his sudden rise in the ranks. Ian didn’t want to take his place. He didn’t want this pack of mutts. “Make yourself at home.” His heart drummed a warrior’s beat, but he didn’t dare move.
Roy didn’t make house calls. Ian wracked his brains for any wrongs he might have recently done, but nothing leaped forward. Hell, the alpha hadn’t even shown up here after Ian had stolen his car—oops, borrowed. He had sent his top wolves to drag him to the pack house for his beating. Ian had worked hard since then to keep his nose clean since the alpha had threatened to kick him out of the pack. He might not fit in, but that didn’t mean he wanted to go lone wolf.
The alpha set the slice of pizza in the box. “I have a proposition for you.”
“You’re not my type.” Oh for Christ’s sake, why couldn’t he keep his fucking mouth shut? Ian had no preconceptions about challenging Roy. He’d pound Ian to a pulpy mass. Ian knew this from experience.
“Ian.” Roy spat out the name like acid. All pretense of being congenial gone out the window with Ian’s heating bill and apartment deposit. “I don’t know why I thought you’d be compliant.” Roy picked up a roll of duct tape from the worn coffee table. “You always need to do things the hard way.” He stalked forward, his eyes reflecting the moonlight streaming through the broken window.
Ian held up his hands. “Wait a minute—” He retreated, his booted feet crushing the broken glass on the floor. His heart raced faster with each of Roy’s steps bringing him closer. Ian wasn’t ready. The training he’d been doing showed how little he knew about challenge tactics.
Before he could blink, Roy had him by the throat and slammed him onto the living room floor. Broken glass cut into Ian’s cheek. The threadbare rug smelled of old sex and stale beer. He really should toss it.
Twisting around, Ian kicked Roy in the chin, sending the alpha pin wheeling over the coffee table. It shattered into kindling. “I liked that table.” Ian growled low in his chest. He hadn’t money for food let alone furniture. He rubbed his throat. “What’s this about?” Leaping to a fighter’s stance, he faced his alpha.
Roy took his time getting to his feet. He wiped the wooden splitters off his jeans. “You need discipline.” He punched Ian straight in the nose, giving him whiplash and busting any hope of escape. His alpha was an expert at challenges.
Ian’s knees wobbled from the impact and he fought the tunnel vision. If he lost consciousness, God knew where he’d wake up. “Look, we can fix this. I’m trying.”
“I know you are. That’s why I haven’t made you a lone wolf yet.” Roy managed a swing kick that laid Ian flat on his back. The alpha flipped him over with his supernatural strength and pressed his knee to Ian’s spine. He held him in place like this while taping Ian’s wrists behind his back and his ankles together.
“What are you going to do with me?” Terrible things ran through Ian’s head—slavery, sex toy, death. He struggled to get free.
Roy grabbed the back of Ian’s head by the hair. “What I should have done weeks ago.” He slammed Ian’s forehead against the floor hard enough for him to taste blood. Then the lights went out and he tumbled into oblivion.
“You beckon and we all come running don’t we? Well, we have no god-damned choice, do we?” Saoirse sighed as she ran a finger down over the doorframe in some sort of nervous fury. Even without a sane reason to back up her instincts, she still had yet to step over the threshold of the room where her father’s ritual had gone so horribly wrong a few hours ago. “You remained purposefully vague, of course. Still, you demanded I come work with you as if the whole house had caught fire and I was the last person on earth with water. So, you’re going to have to explain what happened here to me again. And, details please. I’m begging you for details.”
The small backroom in the basement designated for spells and rituals looked as if a bomb had gone off in it. Her father cleaned slowly, as if he hadn’t a clue how, with his face drawn, mouth tight, and eyes disturbingly something akin to teary. Scattered about their feet, remnants of broken candles, shattered bottles, and torn books lay discernible among the debris. The smell though, the combined scents of essential oils and herbs, made shallow breathing a necessity.
The man stopped at her voice, went rigid. Suddenly, all Saoirse wanted to do was fall apart herself. She had several missions though: to help her father figure out exactly what had gone wrong with his ritual, and to investigate if foul play had somehow been involved. Of course it had. The secret society her father had joined due to his own desires for power and money, had come back once again to bite them. Whatever her father had done to them, with them, whatever, they were hell bent on revenge now, and yet he still wouldn’t explain anything to them other than they had to lift the curse on their family. At this point, the phrase, clear as mud, came to mind.
Her father didn’t make magical mistakes. He respected his craft, and had a wisdom that defied his years, but in life he never played by the book. Saoirse groaned as she looked around the room, her hand now white-knuckled from her death grip on the doorknob.
“Listen, I will take over on clean up detail while you start explaining.”
Her father merely nodded to no one in particular as an insistent knock, hard and fast, beat on the door at the bottom of the stairs leading into the basement. She’d locked it just seconds ago.
“Who could that be at seven in the morning?” Saoirse spoke fast, a flurry of words that matched her heartbeats since she’d jumped half out of her skin from the mere sound of knuckles on wood. Her sleep-deprived brain proved more than a little bitchy.
“My sorcerer I hired to work with you,” her father offered. He started to stand from his crouched position over a pile of broken glass she’d swept into creation.
“No, I got it,” Saoirse hissed as she turned to walk to the door to meet yet another sorcerer she’d be forced to work with.
Through the crude peephole in the door, she could see the figure was tall, male, slim and sculpted. Her breath left her. Crazy as the thoughts even sounded in her own head, there stood the most drop-dead, gorgeous looking man she’d ever seen.
Piercing blue eyes knifed through her. His long hair, dark auburn with copper highlights juxtaposed to black lowlights, glistened in the light from a single swinging bulb over his head. His chiseled jaw line, along with the cut of his cheeks and forehead, took on a symmetrical perfection when he smiled at her though she hadn’t even opened the door yet.
Suddenly conscious of everything about herself, her lips tingled, and she couldn’t help but touch them. Her hair felt alive on her head. Energy ran hot through each red curl. Her hips swayed as she ran her hands over them to smooth the silk of her lacy, black dress. Each click of her heel stepping down on the floor resounded through her, kindled a fire deep in her core. Insanity. Get it together. You’re tired, not some sex-starved teenager.
“I’m losing it,” she said aloud, startled by her own voice.
She clammed up when her hand moved of its own volition to the door, as it gave into a call, a pull of energy. Her fingers met with the old metal knob at the same moment the man outside the door touched his side of it. A shock struck her fingers, but not of static electricity. Real lights sparked from the door, ignited a click. A short scream burnt the back of her throat as the heavy ancient door opened.
She stepped back to give the door space to grant him permission to enter. The movement hadn’t been optional on her part, but as necessary as breathing.
“My name is Darcaryn,” he stated briefly. “Your father is expecting me.”
Only, the fact that she wanted nothing more than to take his hand and guide him through the dungeon-like rooms of the basement frustrated her more than anything else did at the moment. Odd thoughts rolled through her mind. If someone had decided to check up on the situation they’d created here last night, if some member of this secret society her father had pissed off had interfered with her father’s ritual, as he believed, of course they would send the cute sorcerer to eye the damage. How could her father trust this man?
“It’s insane, the connection between us. You feel it too, right?” the man stated matter-of-factly in a deep, steady voice.
He reached out his hand but stopped inches from her cheek. She noticed his long fingers tremble there, suspended, so close to her flesh she could feel the heat of his skin. Some rational part of her brain thought to throw this sinister and intimidating man out, but her mouth and body, her heart and soul, wouldn’t cooperate.
“I’m afraid to touch you, of the consequences of it, as much as I can’t resist the draw…” He sighed aloud as his shoulders sagged a little. He let his hand drop, balled into a fist at his side.
“Who the hell are you?” Her voice screeched as damnable tears welled up in her eyes.
Whatever the cause of them, she wanted to cry and cry hard. Worse, she wanted to rush into this mysterious stranger’s embrace. The door slammed shut on its own, made the thought dawn on her that somehow it appeared this visitor knew more than she did. Of course he would, her father told everyone more than he did her, the evasive and intense man he was
“Trapped. I’m not surprised. Please show me where your father did the ritual to lift the curse from this house. I know you don’t know me, but you have to trust me. You just have to. I wish I had some way to prove to you I’m indeed trustworthy.”
“Follow me,” she sighed, turning on her heel, just happy to have an excuse not to stare at him. The mere sight of this man, this sinister god, simply mesmerized her, and that she didn’t need right now. She’d never felt anything like it before. She’d seen handsome, well her definition of the word, but never her definition of perfection. She couldn’t deal. Not today of all days. “I was just going to start helping in the clean up process, and do a little magical sleuthing myself. I’m trying to get answers out of my father, but he can’t seem to stop cleaning long enough to tell me. Honestly, I think he’s avoiding telling me the truth.”
Why are you telling him all of this? She rolled her eyes.
“I figured. And, so I’m here. I think I have some answers for you both.” His voice soothed her nerves, brought her shoulders down an inch.
“Well, that makes one of us.” The slight giggle in her tone sounded strange even to her.
This time, when she came to the door to the back room, she walked right in. A wave of negative energy hit her like a gale-force wind. She stumbled backward, right into Darcaryn’s arms. The room actually started to shake, papers flying across the room rather than to the floor. Bottles rattled together but didn’t fall from the shelves. Candlewicks burst into flames. When she stepped out of the man’s hold to get a better look in the room, the whole place stilled.
“It’s okay,” he soothed. “It’ll take some time, I assume, for our combined energy to stabilize. Right now, the two of us meeting is just getting the power of the spell going again, more a backlash from whatever happened here.”
“Where is my father?” she screeched. “And, what are you talking about? Combined energy?” she demanded without taking a breath.
“Was he here?”
“He was when you knocked on the door. The door that is the only exit out of this place.”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you know? I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot more than me,” Saoirse yelled as she held herself up by clinging to the doorjamb just inside the room.
Every part of her shook. She couldn’t prevent the hot tears. They stung her eyes and started to fall down over her cheeks. The overwhelmed feeling made her fear she would hyperventilate. Her mind whirled in a million directions. About to take a step toward the door, she stopped suddenly.
Darcaryn reached out to her, but his hand hesitated just inches from her skin before he pulled his hands into tight fists and dropped them at his sides once again.
“I get it, your fears, but for your father, wherever he disappeared to, for your family, we must get to work trying to discern this curse so we can break it,” Darcaryn muttered so seductively Saoirse’s mouth went dry while other parts of her started to get wet.
She sighed and shook her head, then rubbed her temples where pain seemed to vibrate.
“Look,” Darcaryn sighed, “your father knows they are coming for you next. This secret society uses people like he does, and your powers are enticing them to take you, to use you, in ways even I fear…” He stumbled over the last words, his hands moving through the air like he was trying to conjure just the right thing to say.
Saoirse looked up at Darcaryn’s face, and her thoughts took off again.
Darcaryn shook his head, and then rubbed his temples as well.
She found the whole stressed show of emotion sexy, and knew she was in more trouble than even her over-worked imagination was capable of contemplating.
“Our combined powers could be dangerous to use,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“I feel like I can’t take in another ounce of information right now, but since we don’t have much of a choice…” Saoirse left off as she weighed her options a second. “Look, let’s get the alter set up for a summoning spell. At least we can try to find the books he used to start the whole process in here last night.” She rolled her eyes and then sent a forced smile his way, scanning the room for what she needed. Then she stopped suddenly. A chill snaked down her spine again.
Saoirse’s shoes crunched over the crap still on the floor. She turned in circles as if she could find a secret passage her father had somehow slipped through, but it only added to her frustration. In a few seconds, she found herself close to hysterical, though totally out of character for her, as she gripped her hand into a fist, grabbed for a doorknob that didn’t exist, until she thought she would scream. Then, scream she did. She called out her father’s name.
When no answer came, Darcaryn reached for her. Something sparked between them, stunned them both like a mild electric shock.
“I don’t think we’re meant to touch right now,” he hissed as he rubbed his fingers on his jeans, and then trailed them across his forehead again. “I’m sure he’s fine, wherever the hell he went to. Tough guy, right? I mean, he survived whatever caused this mess.”
The door to the small back room they were in slammed shut then, the lock clicking audibly. Darcaryn went to it immediately, twisting and pulling on the handle to no avail.
“Looks like the room doesn’t intend for us to get out, though.”
“The room doesn’t?” Saoirse threw her hands up in the air. “Oh, good, well, I’ll just get used to taking orders from a damn room then! Shouldn’t be an issue since I’m also taking orders from a wacked out father who lured me here in the first place to help him, once again, clean up his mess that impacts his whole family!”
She paused to take some deep breaths. With a new scrap of calm, she went on just a little less than hysterical, “When he’d bellowed for me to come help him early this morning, my father did say that he set something in motion, and things were going to get weird and strange fast. I would call this weird and strange and fast.” She couldn’t prevent her eyes from giving the man a once over. A deliberate reach for distraction, perhaps, or that he just was one she didn’t have time to work out.
“Maybe we should start a tracking spell, try to figure out if there is some magical spelled object set on the premises. And, hopefully your father will show back up soon,” he offered.
She nodded her agreement. He stood so close to her, she swore she could feel him hold back from touching her, from getting even a smidge closer.
Saoirse set to anoint the candles with oils, while Darcaryn got out a few crystals and other herbs they needed. Much to her surprise, stuff remained on the shelves. She couldn’t help but notice he glanced her way as much as she did his. Freaky didn’t come close to the right word to describe the connection between them, like opposites attracting, she would say if she knew the first thing about him. Still, their connection seemed magnetic. Like there stood a charge between them you could feel, maybe even see. The energy drew her to him, gave her this constant urge to touch him, this insistent need to want his arms around her.
If she wasn’t a bloodline witch, if she’d not grown up with magick, she imagined she would be insane by now rather than just freaked. For the record, it took a lot to freak her out, too. This shit of a secret society cursing her family for what her father did, for his sins, wasn’t fair. That his ill deeds could connect her to this sorcerer now, this stranger, and them have a connection this strong, what must be the definition of animalistic attraction, irritated and infuriated her beyond all rational thought.
“I need to be honest here, if I am to work with you. I feel something, a spell gone awry in this room or not. Something far beyond magic. No, not just something…a lot. An instant attraction toward you. I mean, the minute I saw you…” He shook his head again.
She noticed he’d done a lot of that since he’d walked in the door, as if it cleared his train of thought or something. “It’s crazy.”
“Well, I’ve dreamed my whole life of meeting a man, having some instant attraction, but this is not exactly how I dreamed it would go. Not under these circumstances. On the other hand, I feel something…a lot, too, as you said.”
He nodded, then cleared his throat and completely changed the subject. “The magic residue in this room is intense. The secret society must have scyred demons for this curse, or sold someone’s damn soul to the devil for this one. And, obviously with what happened to your father in here last night, it’s a dangerous and powerful black magic spell,” he said, stepping really close to her.
So close her body felt warm and wet in places she shouldn’t even be thinking of now.
“This is messed up,” she spat. The damn tears stung her eyes again. The infernal drops of salt water just waited, threatened to mortify her further in this situation, if possible.
She looked away from him, tried reminding herself of the strong woman she was, the powers she possessed. But, with the damages done to her family of late, her home, all the talk of curses, her father just up an disappearing into the thin air, the weight of her burden to save them all with this drop-dead gorgeous sorcerer, it proved too much.
“It is. Wait. Are you crying?”
He made a move as if to touch her, to pat her back or something, but he tensed and held back, again. His actions made sense, though.
She didn’t blame him at all. She wanted to be touched by the man as much as she wanted to run and bury herself in a hole somewhere where no one could speak of magick. Plus, when they touched last, a small explosion had occurred.
“Sorry, I’m not usually like this, so emotional and all. But, with all that is going on. My apologies.”
“None necessary. There’s not a lot we can do about any of it right now. I don’t think, anyway. We just have to try. Something.”
He smiled, reached out to touch her again, but hesitated just the same as last time, and the time before that. A sense of déjà vu fell over her.
He dropped his hand back to his side and breathed out slowly. “Well, your father and I talked a bit last night, and we don’t think any spells should be done against this curse. Not yet, not until we decipher exactly what it is, how it was done.”
He touched her arm then, finally, even though his fingers barely rested there. The room started to vibrate. Every candle in the room lit itself. The flames grew several sizes bigger than they should’ve been in the natural world. A few bottles flew across the room, hit against the opposite wall, shattering.
Darcaryn grabbed Saoirse, pulling her against him and protecting her with his arms. He wrapped his jacket around her, trapping her against his body. Despite the commotion around them, his smell, spicy and male, eased her fears.
A book glowed on the shelf. It moved on its own, inched out at a rough pace, and then stopped before it flew to the floor. The illuminated book had brought two other books with it to land on the edge of the circle painted on the floor.
The room trembled again, but not violently, just a small shake, and then stilled. The temperature suddenly changed. Saoirse allowed the stupid thought that the room was just cold, its walls shaking like a human would, run through her mind, justifying what had just occured. She half laughed at her own ridiculousness, surely brought on by fear frying her brain.
Finally, a sudden and all-encompassing peace descended upon the room, her. She relaxed against Darcaryn as she felt him do the same. She felt his chest still heaving like hers, though. He bent over her a little, their weight supporting one another.
Suddenly, the candle flames grew again to impossible sizes.
Her father appeared inside the circle markings, a glimmering, shimmering haze while the small candles still raged like torches. He appeared in full color, his burgundy ceremonial robe around him. The man looked like a ghost, even though Saoirse had just seen him alive.
“My daughter,” the apparition-like image spoke. “I’m so sorry. I’ve failed you in coming to you this way. But, they have me trapped, and all I could do was appear to you in this manner. I’m safe. For now. No worries. I should be there with you, helping you through this curse I brought upon us. I’m sorry, I didn’t know beforehand about what could happen if I messed up…or tried to use such powerful men toward my own agenda. I need you to know that I love you, my dear Saoirse. You, my dear, though, are strong enough to do this, to break this curse on your own. I have complete faith in you. But, a warning. This curse, it’s dark, it’s solid, and it isn’t going to be broken easily. When I saw this curse…how powerful and how twisted…I tried to banish it. But, the protective parameters to the dark magick backlashed, practically took my life last night, if I’m to be honest,” the ghost-like image of her father spoke his last run of words uncharacteristically soft.
“It’s alright, Father. I love you…” Saoirse left off as a sob clenched her lungs, made it impossible to continue to speak.
Darcaryn held Saoirse tighter with one arm while he stroked her hair with his other. He pressed his face against hers, cheek to cheek, supporting her as if they were old lovers, had known each other forever.
“Now listen, I don’t have much time here, and neither do either of you,” her father went on. “I’ve felt a bit of this spell. You must respect it. It’s your only hope of survival, the survival of your own magick along with that of our family’s. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t beat it with what we know, but I also fear what would happen if you ignore it just as much. I hate to ask it of you, but I have no choice. You’ve met. You and Darcaryn. Now, don’t leave each other’s sides. Your magick combined will be more powerful than you can imagine. I’m afraid only time will tell what will come of all this.”
And, with those words, his image disappeared. With that single change, the candles went back to giving off their small amounts of light from small flames.
Saoirse crumbled to the floor in tears, sobbing.
Darcaryn followed her body with his, scooped her up as he came to a seated position on the floor, and pulled her onto his lap.
Saoirse couldn’t help it. Every muscle in her body froze at the thought of just being here with this man.
“My father is right. We have to do this.”
He stopped her by putting his fingers on her lips a second until she quieted.
She smiled as his hand fell away from her, even though her lips pulsed. Her heart had skipped a beat from his touch and now ached.
Darcaryn looked into her eyes a moment, searching, as if he could read her soul.
She fought her own instincts as she let him look —a shiver traveling down her back, her neck prickling warm. When he blinked, she threw herself out of her comfort zone and kissed him, not lightly, but full on the lips, hard, gave in to all her body wanted. Maybe it was a grasp for life, for some moment of good before they went forward with something so dangerous, but she gave into the needs of her body, ignoring her mind for a moment.
One thing led to another after that. She fanned whatever was between them, and it continued to burn. They stood without breaking their kiss, moving in toward each other. She fought against every self-preservation instinct she had.
They groped, petting and rubbing against each other.
He had one on her ass, and one on her thigh as he trailed upward, bumped at the apex, and played there until she moaned out loud.
She not only pushed aside every rational thought or inclination she had, she squashed it completely. To be so wanton, to throw all caution to the wind…
She trailed her hand through his soft hair, over his hard chest, and down over his erection. The ferocious groan that came from deep in his chest distracted her for only a moment until he wrapped his hand around her wrists, pulling them up above her head, pushing her back up against the wall.
He rested his rested on her wrists, above her head now, pressing his forehead against hers. His breath bathed her face in a mixture of mint and coffee. He dipped his hips down and moved forward, pushed his hard length, held in only by his jeans, against her soft mound.
The butterflies in her belly stilled. She swore the poor things had to be enflamed by the fire there now. Her nipples tightened, throbbing. Rather than flee like her mind told her to, she let vivid pictures of what it might be like to be with him slither, unbidden, into her mind. She rubbed against him and let herself get all hot and bothered. The craving to be with him consumed her. Spell or no spell, the whole idea of this encounter, to give into her every sexual whim with a virtual stranger, one so powerful, suddenly thrilled her to no end.
As his lips brushed over hers again, he started to pull up her long skirt, inching it up bit by bit and then sliding his hand underneath. He trailed over her thigh, circling over her lace-covered mound. She could barely breathe from the anticipation. When his finger smoothed over her opening, still covered, she experienced a fleeting thought of this being wrong, a moment of concern of what would happen tomorrow if she allowed this to go further. Rather than give into the thoughts as usual, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes tighter, silencing the voices in her head and spreading her feet apart in invitation.
He slipped his finger under the lace of her panties, and slid easily along the wetness of her swollen folds.
She wanted to scream from the sheer pleasure of the sensation. Instead, she sucked in more air, gasping when he quickly pressed his digit in and out of her slick core.
He circled around her opening, coating his finger before moving it up to glide over her engorged clit.
Tension wound tight inside her. She panted, wanted more, and good goddess, she didn’t have to wait long.
He scooped her up into his arms as if she weighed nothing, and carried her to a couch in the back of the store. Before she knew it, she’d straddled his lap. She ripped off his shirt and let her fingers roam over the sculpted muscles there. Her blissful wantonness, it appeared, made all the bottles of herbs on the shelves throw themselves to the floor. Saoirse and Darcaryn jumped, but held tight to each other as they surveyed the broken glass.
“Forget it,” he sighed once the commotion was over. “Just our magick, together, so powerful, so inflamed.
With the bottles stilled, she returned to his chest, licking the fine hairs there, and gently biting his nipple.
As his breath hitched, the herbs and glass on the floor began to move about, as if some magick broom swept them in an aimless fashion.
“By the time we get done here the room could be a pile of rubble.” she panted between kisses.
In answer, the candles on the shelves lit themselves. Their flames rose dangerously high. For as many candles of all shapes and sizes that were in this main part of the store, they each saw stars for a moment from the tiny explosion of light.
“Let me try to add to the mess,” he teased.
He pulled down the straps of her dress, lowered the hem, and fingered over her now exposed, erect nipples. Looking around them, he huffed when nothing happened.
“Wait a minute. What I did wasn’t good enough?” He had spoken as if to the energy literally crackling audibly around them.
“Oh no, the man has been challenged, I dare say.”
With that, he sucked one of her nipples between his teeth while rolling the other between his thumb and finger.
Heat and tremors shot through her core. So much so, she didn’t even notice until he whooped and hollered that the displays of goods on the shelves trembled as well. Runes, tarot cards, wands, gemstones, and whatnot, they all shook, rolled, and some even seemed to dance.
“I can see this is now somehow motivating you or something by the smile of triumph on your face,” she teased. “I don’t want to think about the clean up after this.”
“Then don’t. Focus on me. Why not enjoy ourselves? I’ve never been with a woman like you. So strong, so powerful. I can’t help myself. At the same time, there is this very evil, incredibly powerful, and extraordinarily sinister presence in this room. Like we have an audience. It’s just not our powers mingling here, but the curse, a deep blackness that clashes with our powers.”
“I feel it, too. I was just trying to ignore it.”
He went right back to work then by stripping her of her dress and panties. She felt like a rag doll in his hands, the way he picked her up and moved her. And, goddess forgive her, she loved every minute of it.
Once he had her naked and seated on the couch, he took a pillow to clear a spot for himself among the rubble, got down on the floor on his knees, and spread her thighs apart. His fingers explored, rubbed over her wet skin lightly.
Drawers of incense and oils opened and closed. The scents permeated the room, strong, but not sickening. Thankfully, they’d not been lit or spilled, just moved. In fact, her hips now moved to the same rhythm as the drawers that slid and banged.
“Focus. Breath, Saoirse.”
She moaned but obeyed. Damn, he’s good!
He massaged, rubbed, played until whatever went on in the room faded away into background noise. That is, until a larger crash happened, one that shook the couch so much she grasped for something to hold onto.
He jumped up and covered her body with his as he scanned the room. A large box that had been on a back table had fallen to the floor. The contents now lay strewn in disarray all over the floor.
“Is this getting too dangerous?’ he asked, his breath hot in her ear.
“No! Yes.” She moaned as she grabbed for his pants. “I don’t know. Let’s see.”
Her body buzzed, complaining about the loss of his hands. She had one focus now, and she channeled all of her energy into it, into him. When she released his cock, it stood out straight, reaching for her.
He groaned deep in his chest when she feathered her fingers over the veins bulging along his length. When she squeezed his balls, he growled, picked her up, and then sat down placing her over his hard shaft.
The store went wild then. Objects flew in complete disorder, but never did anything touch the seated lovers. Rather, wands, clothes, and even cauldrons circled around them.
She opened her eyes wide as he stretched her with his full erection.
He smiled at her, groaning his concurrence.
The moment swept them both away, far away from thoughts of the spell, the mess, the uncertainty of their future. The subtle pulses over her skin, the way her heart raced to match his, all seemed an undeniable truth of something. Something she couldn’t name, quite put her finger on yet.
As they both climbed to release, true magic happened. Everything in the room stood still, suspended, decorated the air itself. The energy in the room became palatable, a live entity they could see, feel, and smell. The charged waves of energy changed hues, painted the air, as they flowed around them.
Dreamlike, harmony reigned over the discord that had pervaded moments before. Her pussy throbbed, her nipples tight to the point of painful, and every muscle in her stomach stretched taut. She could smell the musk, sweet and spicy, of them together.
There was a look exchanged between them, a brief second where time stood still, and then he grabbed her. In his tight embrace, he continued to move them, to thrust inside of her. Her nipples brushed his chest as her hands caressed his face, combed through his short, soft hair. Energy pulsed where they connected, the force so strong she swore she could reach out and grab the waves around them. Her inner wall squeezed him as they came together. Chimes began to play as every set hanging from the ceiling gently swayed.
Beyond the light notes, thunder rolled and the earth shifted. She was sure of it. Yet, she felt safe and secure in his arms. They collapsed together on the couch, side by side as their bodies trembled, released. The explosions inside her body permeated every molecule of her being.
“This feels a bit surreal,” he whispered, “but I feel so connected to you right now. I hope you feel the same.”
“I feel the same,” she sighed.
“Where does this leave us?”
Candles sprung to light and the smoke circled. Peace fell over the room, even as everything succumbed once again to the laws of gravity. They actually laughed aloud, their voices in tone with each other’s, as the air rained, well, released magick-related, magick-possessed objects.
“Do you think we did it then?” she questioned, “Did we break the curse?”
“I don’t think so. But, for now, we’ve dulled it, at least. Diminished some of the powerful hold it had here, I’m sure.”
“So we will just have to keep at it then, this sex magick?” she proposed, a sly grin marring her features.
Moira ran headlong over the barren cliffs, the weight of her skirts slowing her down. The distant sound of dogs barking behind her sent a bolt of fear shooting up her spine. She could barely breathe, but she had to keep going or she was going to die.
You’re already dead.
She had sealed her own fate through her rage. Her former fiancé, Duncan, might never walk again, and he had lost the use of his right eye forever.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Right now she and Duncan were supposed to be on their honeymoon in the English countryside. Instead, he was maimed and she was being pursued by his father, Boyd Fraser, and his men.
Don’t forget the dogs.
She lifted up her skirts, and then mentally tried to reach inside herself, tapping reserves she didn’t know she had. Putting one foot in front of the other, she forced herself on, stumbling occasionally over a rock or hole.
She should have never agreed to marry Duncan. He’d come to her village with a group of men doing business with the village elders. She had been infatuated with him from the start and was flattered when he seemed equally taken with her. He had come back to see her several times over the course of the next few months. She’d been foolish enough to believe he loved her when really all he’d wanted was her small dowry.
Her mother, Helen, had never approved of Duncan. Moira should have listened to her, but she’d been blind to the warning signs, intent only on her romance. He proposed a few months after meeting, and she wouldn’t hear a word against him. Despite her mother’s protests, she had left Carrbridge to marry a near stranger. She had never spoken to her mother again.
Moira had followed Duncan to this home village of Stonehaven, believing their marriage was only days away. Then in a blink of an eye it had all been over. Duncan had come to her and broken their engagement, explaining that he’d found another girl with a bigger dowry and that he never wanted to see her again.
She had been devastated by Duncan’s defection, but might have been able to forgive him for breaking the engagement if it hadn’t been for what followed.
The day after Duncan had come to see her she was asked to leave the room she had let at the local boarding house. The landlord had told her that they didn’t want her kind of woman there. When she asked what kind of woman she was supposed to be, they told her soiled goods had no right to mix with decent people.
Moira had died inside when she heard that. It wasn’t enough that Duncan had forsaken her; he’d had to destroy her reputation too.
Her love had turned to hate and she’d struck out, determined to hurt him as much as he’d hurt her. Her magic had always been used to heal, to concoct salves and potions that helped the weak and the sick. But betrayal had made it a weapon.
The hex she’d mixed up was meant to inflict pain—the same pain Duncan had dealt her times three. She’d wanted him to suffer, to give him a memory of fear and anguish that he would carry for the rest of his life. But he wasn’t supposed to be permanently harmed.
She had underestimated her own rage. The emotion she’d channeled into her spell had overwhelmed it. When Duncan was struck down, his body hadn’t been able to contain the force of her anger. His leg had broken in two places with the violent contortions, and he’d managed to claw at one eye—partially blinding himself—before members of his family had tied him down. They dosed him with enough laudanum to make him insensible, but not before he’d whispered in his father’s ear, giving Boyd Fraser her name because she’d been fool enough to tell her fiancé what she was.
When everything had gone wrong, Moira had fled to a cheap inn. Boyd’s men had come for her early that morning. If she had been asleep in her bed, it would already be too late. However, the unfamiliar noises of the coaching inn had woken her well before dawn. She’d heard them coming and had jumped out of the narrow ground floor window, hurtling past the morning bustle in the courtyard and toward the cliffs near Stonehaven.
The landscape was different from Carrbridge. Here on the coast the plants were sparse and scraggly from too much salt air. There were no trees to hide behind. Her only hope was to stay ahead of the dogs. If she could only stop, she might remember a spell to divert the animals and help her hide. But there was no time.
Even if she had a chance to escape, she didn’t deserve it. Moira had broken the most important rule her mother had taught her about her gift—to do no harm. Their magic was meant to heal, to help the sick and ease the torment of those poor unfortunates beyond their skill. Moira had forgotten that in her pain. Maybe she did deserve to die because of it.
Nevertheless, she couldn’t stop and surrender herself to Boyd. It had only taken one meeting to know that he was a man without a mercy. She shuddered to think what he would do to her if he caught her.
Her only option was to escape in a manner of her own choosing. The rocky cliffs were high above the shore. With luck, she would die instantly. Especially if her head struck one of the many rocks littering the water’s edge. It would be a kinder death than letting Boyd get his hands on her.
Don’t think about it. Whatever you do, don’t think. Keep moving.
Tears ran down her face when she thought of never seeing her family again. Not her mother or sister. And she wouldn’t be there to watch her niece, a brilliant little girl with hair the same color as her own, grow into womanhood. Her life was over, all her dreams shattered by her own hand.
Ahead of her, the uneven ground ended abruptly. Beyond it there was nothing but sky. The cliffs. Slowing down, she leaned on a tall boulder a few feet from the edge. Her limbs were shaking, the muscles in her legs twitching and leaping independently as she struggled to stay on her feet.
She was bent nearly double when she rounded the tall rock—which was why she didn’t see the man waiting on the other side.
When his arms came up around her, trapping her against his chest, she couldn’t scream. That required air in her lungs. Instead, her legs gave way and she slumped over in defeat.
How was she going to die? Would they hang her? Burn her at the stake?
“Moira, look at me.”
The voice was familiar, although the accent was jarring. She cracked open an eyelid and met the pale blue eyes of Nigel Smythe, Duncan’s English cousin. He was a poor relation of the Fraser family, up for a visit before he moved away from his home in the north of England, although she couldn’t remember the reason for the move. Moira had only met him once, shortly after arriving in Stonehaven with Duncan.
Nigel was a minister in his country. He was supposed to officiate their wedding. No doubt he would be asked to preside over the new one if Duncan’s new fiancée was still willing to have him.
“Let me go,” she pleaded, deciding to throw herself on his mercy. “I’m going over the cliffs. I will never hurt anyone again, I promise. Just let me go.”
Nigel’s pale handsome face contorted in a sympathetic wince. “I can’t do that. You see, I’m here to save you.”
The inside of the hired carriage was very dark. She sat in the corner of the bench, trying to ignore the jostling movement while she studied Nigel sitting across from her.
“I did it.”
Perhaps she shouldn’t have admitted that, but he didn’t look surprised.
“I know,” he said quietly.
“Then why are you helping me?” she asked, despite being afraid to hear the answer.
Nigel looked away, his attention fixed on the small sliver of rolling green that was visible between the gap in the curtains. He had a handsome face now that she was looking at him. But there hadn’t been much of a reason to before. Not when Duncan had been in the room.
Nigel was slighter than his cousin, his features just as defined and attractive, but in a setting so pale as to look ghostly. His ice blue eyes were nearly colorless in the weak light, and his pale blond hair did little to call attention to the fineness of his visage. His coloring combined with his quiet manner ensured he would blend in at gatherings.
When he didn’t answer, she repeated her question.
“I’m not sure,” he said finally.
“For what it’s worth, it wasn’t supposed to be that severe. I just wanted to hurt him as badly as he hurt me.” She paused. “Don’t you want to punish me? Burn me alive? You’re a man of the cloth. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“I…I believe that God put people like you on this earth for a reason. And it’s not to be an evil we must fight.”
That sounded like he’d had experiences with others of her kind. “Have you met anyone with magic before?”
He nodded. “There was an old man who lived outside my village. We…used to throw stones at his house. When I grew into manhood that troubled me. It still does. He was harmless.”
“I’m not,” she whispered.
His eyes narrowed. “No, you’re not. But you won’t hurt anyone again, will you?”
“No,” she admitted.
Her guilt was flaying her alive, and he could probably see it. She couldn’t live with herself if she harmed someone again.
“They won’t stop looking for me,” she warned him.
“Uncle thinks you’re dead.”
Her eyes widened.
“When you changed into the clothing I brought you, I tore your old dress and took pieces of it down to the bottom of the cliff. Part of it will be caught in the rocks along with some blood. A larger part will be found in the water, if at all.”
Her mouth fell open. “Whose blood is it?”
“I didn’t kill it,” he said with an ironic twist to his lips. “I bought it from the butcher, fresh this morning. He thought I was making a pie.”
He had spent a considerable amount of time on the details.
“You thought of everything.”
He frowned and shrugged. “I had all night to plan after Uncle Boyd gathered his friends. He expected me to come with him this morning, but I told him my patron had recalled me.”
“The Viscount Anders. He has given me a living in my hometown, near the border, but I am going to ask him for on farther away, on his southernmost property.”
He stared at her for a long moment. “Because, although my Scottish relations would have little reason to visit me in Northumberland, they will definitely not be visiting as far south as Eastbourne…so they would have little reason to meet my wife.”
Color crept up into his pale cheeks. “It’s one idea. If you would prefer to strike out on your own, I can help you disappear. You can travel with me as far as London, and I can give you a little money to help you on your way.”
“I thought you didn’t have any,” she said quietly, staring at him in wonderment.
Why would he offer marriage after what she had done?
His fingers drummed on the seat next to him. “I’m not wealthy. Not compared to my cousin,” he admitted. “My father was a fourth son, but I have a little saved. I realize that your prospects were considerably higher before Duncan came into your life. I couldn’t offer you riches, but you would have a home and eventually a family.”
Feeling slightly dizzy, she sat up straighter. “Don’t you believe I’m going to burn in the fires of Hell for witchcraft?”
“Duncan will live,” he said, in a tone that suggested he wasn’t sure if he was happy about it. “His leg was set yesterday. He may be lame and will most likely require the use of a cane, but he will live. You didn’t kill anyone. Even his eye may recover. Only time will tell.”
More relieved than she could say, she nodded and then slumped slightly in her seat. Her throat was thick, and her eyes stung. “That still doesn’t explain why you would sacrifice yourself to marry me. You’re a man of the cloth, and I’m a witch. Don’t you believe I’m damned?”
He coughed slightly and turned very red. “I don’t believe God would create something so beautiful and make it evil.”
Her stomach gave a funny little flutter. “You think I’m beautiful?” she asked slowly.
His smile was a touch too wry for a minister. “My cousin would hardly propose to a homely woman. Although his new fiancée is only passable, in my opinion, but I suppose her considerable fortune enhances her charms.”
Moira’s brows drew down. “You’re not like any priest I’ve ever met before.”
“I’m a minister, not a priest. Although, if I’d had the funds, I would have been a gentleman farmer instead.” He paused. “Also, I believe Duncan behaved very dishonorably. Even if he’d come to the realization that he no longer wished to continue the engagement, he never should have admitted that he had…that you…had…”
Shame flooded through her. He knew. Of course, everyone did. She was a fool to believe otherwise.
“And you still want to marry me?”
A would-be husband had the right to expect a virgin on his wedding night. That a man of the cloth would willingly marry a woman who had lost her honor—it was unthinkable.
“Yes,” he said simply, his pale eyes gleaming with a silver edge.
Something about that look made her very warm inside. Sure that her blushing face matched her hair, she looked away. Dropping her eyes down to her lap, she admitted something she hadn’t wanted to acknowledge, even to herself.
“I didn’t want to,” she whispered so quietly her voice was barely audible over the sound of the horses’ hoofbeats.
Duncan hadn’t forced himself on her, but he also hadn’t given her much of a choice. He’d said it didn’t matter because they were going to be married soon anyway, and then wouldn’t let her leave the room at the inn unless she submitted to him. Rationalizing that he was right, she would soon be his wife, she had allowed herself to be pressured into acting against her own judgment. It hadn’t been a pleasant experience, and remembering it now made her angry all over again.
When she finally looked at Nigel, he was watching her sorrowfully. “I figured it was something like that. I am very sorry. But there are things that I know about my cousin that you do not. You see there was this other young lady, very poor and pretty. I…I think he got what he deserved.”
So many things suddenly made sense. Had Nigel loved this girl? Why else had he been willing to save her, crossing his own family? Reading the stiffness in his expression, the firm set of his lips, she knew her guess was true. He had loved another girl. And he had lost her.
Was this poor and pretty girl dead? Moira guessed that she was, or Nigel would be married to her now. He was that kind of man. That was as clear to her as daylight. She could feel his goodness with every fiber of her being.
Why hadn’t she had this kind of insight about Duncan? She could have spared herself so much heartache simply by staying away. Shutting her eyes, she pushed away the painful regret. It hurt too much to dwell upon what might have been. This was her new reality.
She was going to be Nigel’s wife. Even if he was simply doing it to get back at his cousin, or if she was to be a replacement for the woman he had lost, this was her best option. Perhaps in time, she could repay him for his kindness.
“I don’t want to disappear,” she said. “I would prefer to marry you, if you’re certain that’s what you want.”
He didn’t look pleased exactly. It was more like satisfaction, but there was only a brief flash of emotion and then he sobered.
“I should warn you it will not be easy. We won’t have many comforts. The living down south is rather small. And there is another thing to consider—you won’t be able to contact your family. Not ever. My uncle Boyd is a vindictive man. If your family knew you were alive, he would hurt them to find you.”
Oh Lord, he was right, she realized with a sickening pang. She could not endanger her loved ones in that way. Not on top of the shame her actions had already caused them. As it was, they might not want to speak to her again, anyway.
The carriage hit a bump, and she braced herself against the wall before answering. “I understand,” she said hoarsely and then tried to decide what else to say. How did one thank a man for saving your life?
“I will try to be a good wife.”
A corner of Nigel’s mouth quirked before he stepped across the carriage to seat himself next to her. He held out his hand. Tentatively she reached out and touched his palm with her fingers. His hand closed around hers.
“I believe you,” he said quietly.
Moira hung the clean sheets on the line, savoring the sun on her face. Though she missed Scotland, this little hamlet near Eastbourne was like some sort of dream. The weather was so much warmer in southern England, and the sun shone so often they could hang the wet linens outside this late in the year.
Though it was out of necessity, Moira didn’t mind doing the washing herself. They only had a cook and a part time maidservant, but she enjoyed contributing to the housework. Working hard kept her mind occupied. It helped alleviate some of the guilt she felt in letting her family believe she was dead. Someday she hoped to be able to contact them and let them know she was still alive.
Truthfully, she also felt a considerable amount of satisfaction in her domestic accomplishments. Her new life was nothing like she’d imagined.
When she’d decided to marry Nigel, she pictured a life of quiet solitude, one where she had to be vigilant of discovery every second of every day. That had been the case for the first few months. However, over time she had relaxed. And now, in addition to a small but comfortable home, she had a role of prominence in the community and, surprisingly, a few friends.
She also had Nigel.
Heat flooded her cheeks as she thought of her husband. Her marriage was different from others she knew. Though their lives were simple, Moira was happy. More than she had any right to expect.
There was only one thing missing, a secret longing she buried down deep and only acknowledged late at night—once her husband was asleep lying next to her.
She wished Nigel loved her.
No, I don’t need that. She already had more than she deserved. Nigel did everything he could to make her feel cared for and protected. And she wasn’t some substitute or tool for revenge. Now that she knew him better, it was obvious to her. Nigel had saved her because he was a decent and brave man. He couldn’t stand by and watch as others suffered. It was what made him such a skilled minister and an even better husband…although there were many reasons for the latter.
In addition to the thousands of small kindnesses and courtesies he extended to her as his bride, theirs was also passionate union. For a man of the cloth, Nigel was surprisingly carnal—and a generous lover. She had come to enjoy the marriage bed.
Although, enjoy seems too weak a word for it, she thought, her body tightening in anticipation when her husband’s light step alerted her to his presence.
Nigel’s arms came around her, embracing her from behind.
“Hello, wife,” he murmured, pressing a hot kiss to her neck, just below her ear.
Reaching up, he fingered a lock of her black hair.
It was one of the safety measures she and Nigel had decided on when they married. He called her Mary in company, and she had darkened her hair with a dye solution of her own creation. More importantly, under her husband’s tutelage, she worked at disguising her accent. Since most people this far south had never heard a Scot, she muddled along by staying quiet until she was certain how to pronounce the words she had difficulty with.
“Hello,” she whispered huskily when he continued to press kisses down her neck.
She wasn’t capable of further speech. He had learned very quickly how to derail her train of thought. But right now they were outside, in full view of anyone that might walk by.
“Um, darling, if you don’t want to shock your parishioners, perhaps we should go inside.”
Nigel lifted his head. “I’m disappointed you were capable of such a long sentence. You can’t usually think when I do that.”
She blushed and glanced around, searching for imaginary observers. “It is difficult, I assure you. But I don’t want you to scandalize your flock and possibly lose your living.”
He laughed with a wicked little gleam in his eyes. “Then by all means, let’s go inside.”
“But the washing—”
Her words were cut off as she was swung bodily up into his arms. Suppressing her naturally loud laughter with a hand over her mouth, she closed her eyes and prayed no one had seen them.
When he carried her into his library, she protested. “Nigel, the maid!”
“I sent her to the village to buy some ink,” he said, busy undoing her bodice as he kicked the door closed behind him.
“And the cook?”
“Will stay in the kitchen if she knows what’s good for her.”
Moira giggled and then sighed as he kissed her. Deciding to help her husband undress, she reached for the placket of his breeches. Her hands were too slow, however, so he tore them open himself before spinning her across the room. Sitting, he urged her down on top of him on the little sofa where he liked to sit and read.
His hands ran up the smooth skin of her legs, moving aside layers of cloth with deft fingers. Teasing and probing, he coaxed her into readiness to receive him. She stared deep into Nigel’s eyes as his thick member began to penetrate her slowly from underneath. He had to do it cautiously because, as he teased, the powers that be had been overly generous with his endowments.
She loved watching him possess her. His normally pale cheeks flushed red, and his eyes gleamed like molten silver. Sighing as he slid home, she wrapped her arms around his head as he began to thrust and grind with rough motions that eroded her self-control.
Instinctively she tightened on him, trying to hold on to the tight center of pleasure hidden deep inside her, the one only her husband seemed able to find. He groaned in response, moving his hands to her back. Urged forward with gentle pressure, she closed her eyes in ecstasy when his mouth closed over the swollen tip of her exposed breast.
Heat built on heat and soon she was overcome, weakly holding onto his shoulders as they rocked together in a rhythm older than time. One of his hands moved up to tighten on her waist, and she threw her head back as he laved her nipple in time to his measured thrusts. A few heartbeats later, and she was in paradise.
The helpless flutter of her inner muscles drew Nigel into his own climax. Inside of her, his cock swelled and jerked, spilling his hot seed in powerful bursts that she could feel. The weight and friction of him extended her orgasm, drawing it out until she was drained.
Collapsing against him, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Definitely the most wicked clergyman I know.”
“Well, I certainly hope so,” Nigel teased breathlessly before his playful demeanor fell away.
His hand moved up to trace the soft curve of her cheek. Running an index finger over her full lower lip, he fixed his eyes on hers.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Moira gasped, and raised her head to stare down at him, mouth open in shock. Was he serious?
Apparently she was quiet too long because his expression closed up. “It’s all right. I don’t expect an answer in kind. Perhaps you can let me up. I think I should get back to work on Sunday’s service.”
She burst into tears.
His brows drew down. “Moira, sweetheart, don’t cry,” he said, stroking her shoulders.
Covering her hands with her hands, she hastily wiped her tears away.
“I love you, too,” she said with a little hiccup.
Amusement crinkled the corners of his lips. “Then why are you crying?”
“Because, I don’t deserve you.”
Underneath her, he relaxed. “Moira, you deserve the world. I just wish I could give you more—be more for you.”
Bending forward, she pressed her forehead to his. “You’re everything I need you to be.”
Lorelei glances at me, telling me to play along. “You think my friend’s pretty, right?”
The man she’s talking to fixes me with a close look. “Yeah. She’s alright.”
“We play together, if you know what I mean… you in?”
I grit my teeth at the casual pickup. I’ve tagged along with Lorelei on several of these assignments, but I still don’t have her easy confidence. The man she’s propositioning, Brad, is our assignment. I can’t fathom why the elders think his semen matters, but that’s the elders for you. They aren’t exactly forthcoming with the rank-and-file. It’s not my place to ask Lorelei, either.
“Vanya says you’ll be free, soon. If this one goes well. I know you’re still a little shaky, but it gets better. The training wheels need to come off, Letty—”
At the time, I was more preoccupied with her using that stupid diminutive, again. Lorelei was almost a big sister to me, right on down to the chafing at her calling me something less formal than my full name, Aletta. Now, I’m preoccupied at everything it means.
The bar’s crowded, filled with both predators and prey. I count Lorelei and myself among the predators, although we’re fairly harmless, all told. It’s my duty to let Lorelei lead us, reading Brad’s wants and desires so that we can fulfill them. To be fair, it shouldn’t be tough. He looks at me like he wants to love me, and that stings.
I was a virgin when I died, and in the life I’ve found after being reborn as a succubus, I’ve yet to stop feeling like I’m a child playing in my older sister’s clothes. Still, getting assignments solo would be the culmination of a century and a half of intensive training—and it would afford me additional privacy, so I could emerge from under Lorelei’s wings.
Brad grins at me, and I do my best to smile back, shyly. “Lead on,” he says, and wraps an arm around my waist. Lorelei cocks an eyebrow at me in mute triumph.
“Your place,” she says decisively, and downs the rest of her glass of wine. I take another gulp of mine, but it bites too much for me to just drink the rest at once.
I lean into Brad as though I’m enjoying his strong arm around me. Maybe I would, under other circumstances. But with all of my nerves coming alive with fight-or-flight at how much is riding on Lorelei’s evaluation of me today, it’s difficult to relax into his touch.
“So, you guys do this often?” Brad asks.
I’m not entirely sure what he thinks this is. “Sometimes. We have fun.”
“Ooh, mysterious. You two girlfriends?”
“Sometimes,” I say, not sure what else to respond.
Lorelei grins widely at the rise that gets out of him. With the two of us hooked into him telepathically, leaching his energy and excitement to keep us there, make us real in this world, his own personal sex goddesses, we know before he does every time his mind drifts to daydreams of the three of us writhing together, lost in pleasure.
“Anything I should know?” he asks. “Any rules? No kissing, blah blah?”
Lorelei and I both shake our heads. “We’ll let you know,” she appeases him. “Relax. Don’t make a huge thing of it. It’s just fun. Harmless, sexy fun.”
“And you’re not gonna rob me the moment you get me alone?” he asks, a wary glint in his eyes. What’s too good to be true often is.
Lorelei guffaws, as though she’s drunk and reckless. She’s reckless, certainly. Just not drunk. At least not drunk the way humans get drunk. No doubt his own intoxication is hitting us as heavily as the wine we sipped with him. “Come on. Look at us. Ally here looks like she’d drift away in a stiff breeze—”
I glare at her, and interrupt her. “-And Lori here isn’t gonna be fit for human companionship ‘til she’s at least two more wine glasses, and three orgasms deep.”
She laughs. “Right as always, Ally.”
“Big expectations, eh?”
I taunt him. “Well, if you don’t think you’re up to it…”
Brad sweeps me close, and his lips crash against mine. “Sure I am. I like that you two don’t play games. You don’t play shy—”
I raise an eyebrow, since I’ve said four sentences to him all night, and he still thinks I’m the epitome of friendly. “Well, you are shy. It’s different,” he amends. He cuddles me close, his hand creeping lower on my ass. “How’d you discover you’re into this, anyways?”
Lorelei glances away, her eyes a little misty. “You know how it is. You’re close friends, you practice kissing, and then at some point you realize you like it. Plus, Ally here likes having a strong wingman on her side. And it’s safer, for something casual. At least, so long as we don’t get to your place and discover an ambush or something.”
He snorts. “Not likely. I just kicked my last roommate out last week. If anyone’s there, I’ll be as shocked and scared as you.”
The apartment is quiet when he opens the door for us. Lorelei nods at me, waiting for me to take the lead, and I wrap my arms around Brad’s neck, and kiss him hard.
He’s handsome, all strong cheekbones and close-cut dark hair, setting off full lips and wide brown eyes only a little lighter than his skin. I haven’t seen him stop smiling yet, and while some of it might be our own influence on his psyche, it’s surprisingly infectious.
His palms gather me against him, arching my body into his with steady pressure at the small of my back. It feels good being held, being wanted like this. Maybe Lorelei was right, and this does get easier.
Lorelei whoops and cheers. “Not wasting any time tonight.” When he and I separate, she leans in to kiss him as well, reaching for the neckline of her dress. He shuts his eyes, and in a blink, she’s pulled her own clothes back into her malleable substance, and is tugging him into the other room, so he won’t notice they aren’t on the floor. They only ever were illusions, crafted from her own flesh. I imitate her, helping lead him into the other room, her and I buck naked, and both of us reaching for his clothes. He corners me against the wall outside his bedroom with a fierce kiss, and I jerk his shirt open, sending buttons flying.
He shrugs the fabric off his shoulders, leaving it on the floor as we back into his darkened bedroom. Lorelei kisses me and whispers “So far so good,” as she does. And it is. The first time I rode shotgun with her, I couldn’t focus on my physicality enough to stay concretely here. Her partner ended up deciding I was a drunk hallucination after his touches kept drifting through empty air. It was extremely awkward, and more than a little frightening, too, since you never quite adjust to someone else’s hand passing through you.
Brad’s hands skim along my sides, his fingers tracing the curve where my breasts push against his chest. But the muddy emotions surging through him make it clear where his mind really is—on watching me and Lorelei kiss. Men are strange.
Lorelei kisses me again, her lips soft, but somehow clinical. I don’t have many memories of my mortal life, but somehow I know it’s not my first time kissing a woman. Or a girl, really. I think my first kiss was when I was young, and she was only a year or so older. She kissed me, because I was afraid of it. I remember blond hair, the smell of sweat and resin in the evening, the smoke of the stage lights.
But no more than that. Who I was is as much a mystery to me as who I am. Lorelei says I might recover more memories in time, but every new glimpse of my past is so few and far between that I’ve given up waiting for them.
Brad is so fixated on us that if we were inclined, we could bleed him dry, sucking his very spark of life out, leaving him dead with that smile on his face. But that’s not why we’re here. Lorelei and I part, and turn back toward him, needing to keep things moving in the right direction. Apparently while we were kissing, he took his zipper down. Now his cock’s in his hand, stroking himself hard as he watches us.
Lovely. Things are moving along right as planned. Lorelei’s still coaxing me to lead, so she can watch me work rather than letting me rely on her prowess. She’s been seducing people for a thousand years or more—she’s never exactly said. At this point, it comes naturally to her, transforming her into a creature of life and sensuality, no motion too small to manifest with an erotic edge. In contrast, I’m all elbows and blushes, and downcast gaze. I can hardly look anyone in the eye, knowing the reason I’m talking to them.
Avoiding her hints, I pull his mouth down to mine again, knowing he’ll taste her lipstick on my lips. Indeed, his tongue traces the seam of my mouth, and his psychic bleed shifts again, with deep satisfaction.
In his arms, insulated safe in his mind, it’s easy to let go. I moan and part my lips for him, my body seared by how hard his body feels against mine, and the shocking warmth of his cock, rubbing against my stomach. It’s easy to lose myself in him, in the flow of ideas about every filthy thing he wants to do with me and Lorelei.
Lorelei steers me to the bed, no doubt a little impatient at how long I spent kissing him, walking at my own pace, rather than hurrying him along with her own urgency. Her hand slides between my legs, her short-trimmed nails and long fingers parting my curls and slipping to my entrance. I gasp and put on a show, moaning at her touch and spreading my legs to give her space to work. His eyes bright with excitement, Brad follows on our heels, kneeling next to Lorelei and memorizing her own curves with his fingertips as she lowers her face to my sex.
His eyes meet mine as her tongue darts out to caress my throbbing button. I’m past self-consciousness with her, but knowing he’s watching somehow adds an edge to her teasing, flicking tongue, and her soft lips. He can’t take his eyes off us, and it’s hard not to feed on that power.
I can do this. I can focus, and please him, preserve his semen for an incubus to use to father our young. I can please Lorelei by doing so, earn my freedom, and can finally start truly living.
If I can just calm the sensations ricocheting through me. My mind and body are chaos, a tangled stream of information I just can’t keep up with. Lorelei’s mouth feels good, and Brad’s enthusiasm is endearing, but my thoughts are disjointed, and there’s no question that my substance is straining to drain back into Brad, where I won’t have to focus on it so much.
Lorelei pulls back, feeling me flicker. She raises an eyebrow. Without her touching me, it’s easier to concentrate. I’ve gotta get this done fast. I pull Brad onto the bed alongside me. “But I didn’t taste you—” he says, when it’s clear I’m positioning him between my legs. “Either of you.”
“I want you now,” I whisper, my cheeks red. Lorelei must be losing faith in me.
“We’ll compromise,” Lorelei says, and shoves him lightly until he’s on his back between us. She throws a knee over his face, and tweaks his nipples affectionately.
“Do you have a condom?” he asks, and she withdraws, giving me a puzzled look. It’s not the end of the world if we have to use one, but the less comes in contact with his seed, and the less time it takes to get it stored, the more potent it’ll be. It’s a gambit, that he’ll think we don’t have one, and that temptation to fuck us bare will win out.
I sigh, huffily, adding fuel to the fire. “Screw it,” he mumbles, and tugs Lorelei’s thigh to tell her it’s okay to move past it. She arches her back, bringing her hips to his face, and I glance away, more uncomfortable watching Lorelei at work than letting her watch me.
I straddle him, stroking his lean musculature, and enjoying his rigid length between my legs, pressed against my slit, already slick with my own arousal. Lorelei gives me a get on with it look, and offers me her hands to brace myself. I rear up slightly, and his cock flexes, impatient at the loss of contact. I squeeze Lorelei’s hands as I angle myself so he’s at my entrance, and sink down onto him bit by bit. He stretches me, and it takes me several seconds to adjust before I can move comfortably. He’s so warm, a contrast to my and Lorelei’s chill, a dull coolness to our flesh that Brad seems inclined to assume is simply the nighttime air. And feeling him inside me, burning me from the inside out, it makes me feel alive. Feel hopeful.
My form starts to fade again, my mind more preoccupied with his touch than with my purpose. I can do this. I bear down, and force myself to stay unequivocally present. He gasps, and one of his hands finds my hip, though the other stays on Lorelei’s thigh. He moans, and she echoes it, grinding her pussy against him. I want to laugh at the wanton look on her face. She winks at me as I get to work, riding Brad, writhing against him until he almost slides free of me, then impaling myself deeply all over again. He gasps again, and it’s my turn to smile, at the noise.
Maybe there is something charming about seeing someone so thoroughly disarmed as this. Maybe this is why Lorelei loves what she does so much. Maybe it’s something I, too, could grow to love in time. Just not yet. I’ll cling tight to that hope, that someday it’ll feel normal to be wrapped around a stranger.
Lorelei backs away from Brad, and his eyes seek me out. His chin is glistening with Lorelei’s cream, and his eyes drift away from mine as Lorelei leans into me for another kiss, and caresses my breasts. His cock jumps inside me as he watches her. She winks at me, encouraging me.
One of his hands drifts between my legs, his thumb rubbing against my clit as I ride him. I gasp, pleasure mounting inside me, amplified more than a little by the knowledge that he’s right there with me. Even if we weren’t mind readers, it’d be damn obvious that he couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable fantasy if he was trying.
Lorelei reaches behind me to stroke his balls. Every motion rubs my ass lightly against her hand, but he gasps and bucks upward almost immediately, taking me deeper than I would have thought possible.
He’s close. Here comes the hard part.
I fix the pattern of molecules in my mind in preparation, building them into my being, ready to catch his gift. Brad’s eyes open wide, and then half shut, as he pulls me onto him in a faster, harder rhythm. He gasps through his release, and his warm seed fills me. I strain to snap the trap shut, wrapping his genetic material up in fibers of my own being to insulate it from the corrosiveness at my core, preserve its potential for life until it can be used. I moan, my own body contracting and tightening around him as the spell works, trapping that little bit inside me completely, so that I can walk away from him satisfied at the job well done.
He chuckles, a little out of breath. “Damn. That was—that was great.”
“Yeah,” I murmur, smiling at him. “I should go wipe up. You two can—”
Before I’ve gotten off him, Lorelei’s back on top, her mouth wrapped around the head of his cock, sucking him back to life. If he has another round in him, she’ll get him there, get a backup supply of his come. She may not even know whether I was successful or not. I won’t take it personally that she’s double checking my work like that.
Their moans follow me into the bathroom. I stare at myself in the mirror, the tanned skin and highlighted hair I wore earlier melting away into the appearance that seems most natural to me—a slight, freckled woman with hair that’s somewhere between a medium-brown and an ash blond. It may or may not be the right appearance, but it feels close enough to be reassuring. I rake fingers through my hair, testing the bonds around the little capsule of seed inside me. But it’s safe. Good to go. Lorelei will be thrilled.
When we report back, I’ll be a full-fledged succubus, ready for her first solo assignment. Lorelei hinted she had one ready for me, just waiting, with the expectation I’d have succeeded tonight.
I’m powerful. I’m sensual. I am sex, made flesh.
So why do I feel so wrong? So empty. Like the core of me’s warped and I’m straining to get back to who I was, or who I should be.
My reflection in the mirror distorts, as an alien feeling pricks my skin. My hair lightens to a purer blond, my jaw line squaring off, and my eyes’ color shifting nauseatingly. What the hell?
There’s another woman looking back at me now, one whose body feels natural to me. But she’s not me.
Who is she? Why am I drawn to see her? My eyes are glued to my reflection, to the stranger staring back at me.
“Ally, you okay?” Lorelei calls, outside the door. “You’ve been in there a long ass time.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I say, hurrying to wash my hands. “I’m surprised you noticed.”
I strain to remember what I’m supposed to look like and smooth my body back into that shape before I open the door and step out with her. “We’re all done. You ready to go home? Early day and all—”
“You’re not sleeping over?” Brad asks, a little disappointment in his voice.
“No, sorry. I’ve got a midterm tomorrow,” I tell him. Lorelei slides into the bathroom with me, and we build our clothes back out of our beings. Time to say goodbye.
“Well, that was fun. Did I give you my number—”
I smile and shake my head, going through the motions of writing it down. He’ll never hear from us again. That’s just how it is.
Lorelei carries on the small talk, and the moment his apartment door shuts behind us, we sever the telepathic connection binding us to him, and let our own homeworld, Limbo, pull us close with a magnetic tug. We materialize a short distance from her doorstep, and start walking. You need to keep moving in Limbo. In the open spaces, the world will swallow you if you linger.
“You did it,” Lorelei says. “I was worried, for a minute there. But you came through.”
I nod. “Yeah. You want to hold it? I think everyone usually comes looking for you when they need more, anyways.”
She nods, and rubs my shoulder. Her hand sinks into me, and comes away with the glowing, magical capsule. She parts the flesh on her own stomach to place it inside her, and then rebuilds her body around it. “Got it. That was good. Double or nothing, I guess. That’ll be good news in case the first try doesn’t take, when we pass it on to the inkies.”
I can’t quite make myself echo her optimism. The inkies, or incubi, who’ll use our stolen riches to further our species are intimidating to me. It’s irrational since the difference between us is cosmetic at best—plenty of us have worked in the opposite role at some point—but somehow I’ve never managed to become comfortable around incubi.
“You ready for the big leagues, kid?” She beams, full lips stretched wide.
“Sure,” I say, my hands trembling.
She gestures at the ground, drawing my attention to a folded paper sitting on her welcome mat. I bend to pick it up, and unfold it. There’s only two words on the inside, written in ornate script. I take my time reading them, as the spell binding that mark to me takes effect. Though it only feels like a burning heat under my fingertips, it’s actually a strong curse, should I deviate from the Elders’ wishes. The rules are simple, and final: no true affection, no attachments, nothing that might tip your mark off to what you are.
There’s a bitter taste in my throat, considering what the Elders might do if I, even for a second, let my guard down. No. The training wheels are off. I trace the curves of those letters all over again, letting my gaze linger along every flourish.
Ahanu Jones. My first solo assignment. Finally, the key to living up to my birthright.
“You want to go over a plan of attack, Letty?”
“I’m fine, I think. I’ll figure it out.”
“If you’re sure.” Lorelei beams, stretching. For all the world, she looks carefree, adrift in afterglow. In a thousand years, will I look like that? Sink or swim, Aletta. Sink or swim.
Come tomorrow, I’m gonna be fucking Ahanu Jones.
The more I say it, the more right it feels.
Liv stared down at the two pink lines as she crumpled to the floor. It was too soon. She was supposed to have a full life with Jack before this day came. Her mom had told her stories about her amazing life with Jack and the daughter they would someday create, but he would never know. Not once had she mentioned that they would have less than a year together. A year was far too short. The stick had to be wrong. It simply had to.
An array of sticks later and what she knew to be true from the moment she bought out the pregnancy section at the drugstore, was staring at her. She was pregnant. How could this happen? Liv had known before their very first kiss that pregnancy would be the end of their time together and they had been more than careful. There should have been zero chance that any of his soldiers got close to one of her eggs, yet here she was…pregnant.
If only her mother were still around, she’d know what to do. Liv wished she’d had more time with her. Her mother had been taken from her far too soon. The hollowness in her chest from the loss had never completely healed over and, in times like these, it amplified.
Her mother was so very powerful. She was the one who told her about their beautiful love and even more beautiful child. She was also the one who broke Liv’s heart by letting her know that theirs would not be a forever love. Liv inherited some of her mother’s skills, but her control of them was weak on a good day and she never knew things the way her mother did.
How their love would end was still a mystery. All she knew was that Jack would never hold the baby she was carrying. Her stomach tightened as the realization hit her. He was going to die. She had assumed, as a teen, when her mother told her the fanciful tales of true love slapped down with the reality that the love wouldn’t be forever, that he would leave her over their child. She had seen it time and again with her friends. They had no dad because their sperm donors never wanted children.
It was different with Jack, though. He was a doting, loving, and compassionate man. There was no way he wouldn’t want a child. Or was there?
Thinking back, he had been quick to agree to the super- crazy “no baby” regimen Liv had suggested when they first explored the naked fun side of their relationship. He never questioned her motives and never even hinted he wanted to go unwrapped. He just told her that he would do whatever she wanted.
Did he not want kids? That was a better option than dying, for certain sure, but it still was awful. There was no solution. None.
Her face now began to sting, the salty tears burning a path on her cheeks. What was she going to do? This baby was hers and she already loved her. Jack was hers and she loved him with all that she was. There was no way this was going to work out well.
Placing her hand on her belly, the sobs returned and thoughts fled as she allowed the sorrow to overtake her. She was going to lose Jack.
Please let it be a dream.
Liv rolled onto her side. The warmth of her blanket hugging her with security as the rich voice of Jack, her Jack, roused her from her sleep. She was in bed. Safe. Warm. Loved.
“It was a dream.” Relief filled her as she stretched her legs. No baby. Not yet. She still had time.
“What was a dream, love?” Jack’s arm pulled her in close. She had yet to open her eyes, wanting to savor this moment.
“Nothing, Jack. Just hold me close.”
“It’s not nothing. When I got home, you were asleep on the floor, shaking terribly. I tried to wake you, but you wouldn’t open your eyes.”
Fuck. It wasn’t a dream. She was going to be sick.
“I brought you in here so I could call 9-1-1 without taking my eyes off you, and the second you hit the bed, you visibly relaxed and your breathing normalized, so I covered you up and lay beside you all night, watching you breathe and hoping I made the right decision by not calling the ambulance.” His voice was shaking as he spoke. Her Jack, her confident, strong, nothing phased him Jack was freaking out.
“Did you see anything in the bathroom when you came in?”
He tensed up behind her.
“What about the bathroom?” Fear emanated from him in waves. Jack had always been good at hiding that side of his ability, protecting her from the intensity. He said she felt them so strongly because they were destined to be, but she knew it was more than that. He was powerful in his own right.
Liv rolled over, after numerous attempts. His arm was wrapped so tightly around hers it was less than easy, but she had to look him in the eyes when she told him.
“So…” Liv cupped his cheek with her hand as she met his eyes. “I’m going to be…well, we are going to be parents.”
Staring at her, he swallowed loudly. He must not have seen any of the peed-on sticks littering the bathroom, nor the one she had in her hand when the sorrow of her loss and joy of her gift slammed into each other and she’d crumpled into a mess on the floor.
“It’s a girl,” she let out in a whisper.
His eyes never left hers, unshed tears glistening down at her as his hand rested on her belly. “A girl?”
“Yes. My grandmother told me we would have a girl someday. I just thought it would be far in the future.”
“A girl.” She nodded as a tear escaped his eye. Where were all of his emotions now that she wanted to read them? “Are you mad or sad or what am I seeing?”
“I’m so beyond happy and terrified at the same time.” His leaned over, his lips caressing hers briefly before he enveloped her in a hug. Happy was good. Terrified not at all.
“Terrified?” She wanted to live in denial and focus on the happy, but it wasn’t the two of them anymore. She needed to protect their daughter and Jack never showed fear like this and certainly never expressed it so freely.
“Yes. I’m a Skuld. You know this.”
“Remember the stories I told you.”
Liv thought back to the stories he told her on nights when she had a hard time falling asleep. Stories of the bodarks, werewolves so different than their shifter friends. They were the ones from tales of horror, not the ones she knew in real life and considered family.
“They weren’t stories were they?”
“No.” His hand was rubbing circles on her lower back, his attempt to calm her growing anxiety, she was sure. “Skuld means oak.”
Not fucking good. Not at all.
“She’s in danger from the moment she’s born.” Liv felt her body begin to shake as she spoke, her voice cracking multiple times. Her precious daughter was in danger of the deadliest kind. She would be hunted and killed to make monsters, causing countless more to suffer.
“More so than I am.” When they had first met, he told her he was a bad guy and should stay away from her, but he couldn’t. He told her he was dangerous for her but needed her. She never believed him because he’d always loved her so, from their very first date. She could feel it.
Now she knew those words meant more than she ever gave them credit for. They meant he was hunted and she would get caught in the crossfire. Not that she would change a moment of their time together. He. Was. Hers. That was all there was to it, even if their time was short. “I have the protection of the pack and my own powers.” Liv never understood why Garrick’s pack was so willing to accept her as one of their own when she wasn’t a wolf, and neither was her mate, but they’d been family to her, filling the void left with her mother’s passing. They were also friends. “She will be but an infant.”
“What do we do?” She wasn’t sure she could emotionally handle the answer to her question, but it wasn’t only her now. She needed to wear her big girl panties, even though it meant she was going to have her heart stomped on or put in a blender or something else as equally horrifying.
“Now?” In one swift motion, he had her on her back, his body pressing against hers, his needs physically pressing against her middle and hers instantly responding. Darn true fated hormones always took over in emotional times and while she knew she needed to get back to the situation at hand, her body was shouting at her to give in to her physical needs. “Now I make love to my beautiful mate and revel in the joy that we created life, the life of our daughter.”
“And after that?” Her breath, was already stolen as his finger traced the spot below her ear, down her neck, to the top of her breast.
“After that we need to make a plan.” He started kissing the same path. She was already mush and it took all she had to focus on his words. “A plan to keep her safe from those who would do her harm. A plan to allow her to grow into the woman she is meant to be.” He loved their daughter. Maybe her mother had been wrong. Maybe this would work out perfectly, white picket fence and all. Maybe… no, there was no maybe to it. Her mother never shared the bad, so, on this one occasion when she had, there had to be a reason.
“A plan that’ll be the end of us,” She mumbled under her breath, hoping that mumbling somehow made it less true. It didn’t. She was right as much as she desperately wanted not to be. “Never.” A growl in his throat built, almost identical to one she had heard Garrick use during a pack event she’d been to. Jack was no wolf, but wolfen ways seemed to be rubbing off on him. “You’ll always be in my life. You. Are. Mine. We just may need to be a bit unconventional.”
“Uncon…” He cut her off with his lips on hers and his hand caressing her belly, effectively ending the conversation, for the moment, anyway.
Making a Plan.
“I love you.” Jack was still out of breath from their fevered lovemaking, for as hot and heavy and out and out explosive as it was, it was just that. Love making.
“And I you.” She wanted to hold onto this moment forever. Love emanated from Jack and he freely allowed it. No pulling his emotions in to protect you from the toll my emotions would add to you, whatever that meant. He never could quite explain it and since he indulged her whenever her insecurities got the best of her or when his emotions were too strong for him to contain, she accepted it at as what he needed.
“And I love her.” His hand was once again on her middle. She had a feeling it would be there a lot. Well, until…
“You’re leaving.” His emotions pulled right back. She’d nailed it in one. He was leaving her. Them.
“I have to.” His voice cracked as he spoke and Liv felt her heart do the same. “If they even begin to guess that she’s mine, they will stop at nothing to get her.”
The truth of his words hit her hard and she felt the room close around her. There had to be another way to keep her safe.
“What about asking Garrick for help?”
“They have their own cub to worry about. Jesse is but a toddler.” He was right, asking Garrick would be beyond unfair.
“I know.” The tears were once again freely flowing. How were there more tears? “I’m just…I… it’s too soon.”
“It is,” he agreed, pulling her in close. “I planned always and forever with you.”
“That’s the way it’s meant to be.” Liv held onto him as if her life depended on it. She had to be hurting him, but he just comforted her with sweet kisses on her head and small circles on her back. Never once telling her it would be all right because it wouldn’t. “Yet, here we are.”
“What if we could still be together, but only at night?”
Hope began to swell within Liv.
“Like you sneak back…” No, not sneak back. She would visit him, in his dreams. “Ohhhhhhhhh. I’m not as good at it as my mother or her mother.”
“No, but you are getting better and we are true mates.”
“Do you think it could work?” She had only managed to visit him once and that was on accident. Her mother had been able to do it on demand, so, in theory, she could. It wouldn’t be the same as being together, but it was far better than saying good-bye.
“I know it will.” Confidence filled his voice.
“But you still won’t know her.” Her heart ached for her little girl. Liv knew what it was like to not know a father and she would never wish it on anyone.
“Unless…” Jack gave her shoulder a squeeze before tipping her chin up until her eyes met his. He was blurry behind her tears, but the glimmer of hope in his eyes shone through the haze. “Unless we build your power strong enough to have her come with you.”
“I don’t think even my mom could do that.” Could she do that? Visit two at once. It was rumored that it had been done in past generations, so, in theory, they could.
“She never had the motivation we have.” Therein lay the solution. No one would be more motivated than Liv. Her daughter and Jack meant everything to her and she would make it happen. “We will make it work. For her. For ma jolie.”
“That’s her name. Jolie. She will be our Jolie and we will make it work.” She rubbed her cheek against his before whispering in his ear, “We have to. Fate couldn’t be so cruel to us as to take away our happily ever after before it arrives.”
“It will work,” he whispered back. “It will, my love. One day we will all be together again.”
Sadly, that day would never arrive.
Bagadata of Shiraz—known commonly as King Brandan Horan of the Sídhe—had lived through countless wars. He’d watched borders and allegiances change. He’d watched in silence as Persia become Iran, and as the remaining fae in the land ceded their territory foot by foot to avoid the encroaching human threat.
All over the world, the fae lived in secret—watching mankind from afar. They avoided getting their hands dirty, although that was what they had evolved to do. They’d evolved to aid.
But no one did anymore.
Tending mankind was too much of boondoggle, they’d thought, so the fae had stopped. They’d set themselves apart—as better-than.
The truth was, they couldn’t even care for themselves.
As always, he remained quiet and unmoving on his throne like some sort of crown-wearing statue. The scene changed, but his actions never did. After fifteen hundred years of life, making himself care was hard.
He was a reluctant king. A reluctant husband.
He’d married Rhiannon to merge the fairy group in Europe with the one in western Asia. For the temptress Rhiannon, the marriage had been a political coup. Her currency was energy, and every fairy in her domain lent power to her magic. For Brandan, the union had come out of him having no better option.
He could have had any woman. Kings, and especially kings with his amount of magic, had no trouble acquiring warm bodies for their beds, should they want them.
He hadn’t wanted them.
Hadn’t wanted Rhiannon.
Hadn’t wanted anyone. He courted solitude, not romance, but he’d had to fulfill the prophecy—had to undo some of the mess the Sídhe had made.
His children were the keys. His son Heath. His daughter Siobhan.
He’d endured nine hundred years with his wife before she’d conceived.
Nine hundred humiliating, anxiety-laced years.
Everyone thought he was cruel—loathsome, because he never reacted to anything. He didn’t rein in his wife. He didn’t stop her from being terrible and abusing their subjects.
He didn’t do anything.
Not even for his children.
His closed his eyes, tipped his crown back, and let out ragged exhalation.
If he concentrated, he could tune out the yelling. He could keep his heart rate down and his body from coiling as if he actually would spring up from his throne.
If it hadn’t been for the prophecy, he wouldn’t have had children. He’d been more surprised than anyone that his instincts as a father worked just fine, even if he didn’t act on them. No one had been more shocked than he that he loved his children.
Heath for his intelligence and tenacity.
Siobhan for her big heart and spirit of generosity.
They were reflections of him who looked back with their mother’s blue eyes.
They were hard for Brandan to look at because he couldn’t stop himself from remembering how much he’d failed them in two centuries—how much he’d had to fail them.
He forced his eyes open and made himself to look—to watch his wife terrorize them yet again.
Weapons were drawn. Not a magical fight, but those were rare anyway. Their magic was too destructive, and they wouldn’t bring down their own home, even if for the children it had never felt like much of one.
Rhiannon had the point of her sword at Siobhan’s throat and Heath had blade against his mother’s neck in warning. Heath would never allow Rhiannon to harm his sister, but she was the easier target between the two children. Siobhan didn’t have her brother’s reflexes.
Brandan could stop the fight with just a breath. Send them all crumbling to the floor along with their weapons. Steal the life from them for an hour or two.
But he couldn’t—not without showing the cards he held. He had to watch it all play out without interfering or he’d risk unraveling the potential future the Fates had arranged.
All he could until the time came do was sit impotently on the throne he didn’t want and remain married to the wife who wasn’t truly his mate.
No one knew when that time would be. The oracle was gone. The receiver of the prophecy was dead. Few people even knew of its existence, and all of them took the surname Mithradatha now—the name he didn’t give his children because he hadn’t wanted his wife to have it, too. Besides, the god Mithra had turned his back on his fae subjects long ago just as so many as the other gods had to their kind.
When the fae had stopped aiding man, the gods had rescinded their favor from the fae.
“Are you just going to sit there?” Siobhan shouted at him.
Her pretty face was pulled into a mask of anger and confusion, but she stood defiant, even as a narrow stream of blood tracked down her neck and sullied the pure white of her modern T-shirt.
“What do you expect him to do, child?” Rhiannon asked her. “After all these years, you would try to pit us against each other? You really are daft.”
“I expect him to act like my father.”
“He’s giving you exactly what you need.”
Rhiannon’s tone grated, but in a way, she was right. Siobhan and Heath had to act without him. He couldn’t interfere in matters concerning them—not now. All signs pointed to the suggestions that they were past the ages when it would have been safe for him to do so. Brandan had run out of time to be their father.
“I would have fewer problems if I’d disposed of you at birth,” Rhiannon spat. “One child was enough.”
And that one, she’d never let live long enough to take the throne, if she had her way.
Heath had to have been thinking it, too.
Brandan could always tell when his son was at his limit. Heath may have been silent and patient, his sword level and still, but Brandan recognized his own magic in his son, even if his wife didn’t.
And at that moment, that destructive magic was welling up in Heath. He’d do something he’d regret. He would kill his mother to save his sister, and because he had a heart, he’d be ruined by it. Rhiannon may have killed her own parents to seize the throne and suffered no guilt for it, but Heath was a Mithradatha. He’d give her more chances than she deserved.
“We’re leaving,” he said quietly after pulling in a long breath. “We’ll do our jobs and collect your fugitives as we’ve been tasked to.”
“You don’t get to pick and choose who you bring back, Heath. That’s what this argument is about.”
“So it is, Mum. Put down the sword. Siobhan was only speaking the truth as she knows it. I hardly see that as a killing offense.”
“I’m warning you, Heath,” she said in a low, ominous tone. “I don’t care if you think I’m being harsh or overly rigid. Everyone knows the rules. No one leaves this realm without my blessing. If you encounter fae in the human lands, you bring them back. Whatever you’re doing on the side—suppressing trolls and gnomes or whatever other bloody thing you’re doing in the US right now—make sure you’re doing it on your own time. Find my fugitives and bring them back.”
“I want to hear her say it.” She tipped her chin toward ever-defiant Siobhan.
Just say it, Bonnie. Say it and go, Princess.
Rhiannon would all but forget the altercation the moment the children left. She always forgot how terrible she was and climbed into Brandan’s bed every night with a sweet smile on her lips and a purr on her voice as if she hadn’t been terrorizing his children. She thought he didn’t care, but he did.
Siobhan peeled her lips back from her clenched teeth and spat, “We’ll bring back your fucking fugitives.”
Rhiannon canted her head and dug her sword’s tip a bit deeper into Siobhan’s flesh. “Excuse me?”
It was a risk, but Heath yanked his sister back and notched his sword against his mother’s. “Just stop, okay? We’re leaving. Fuck both of you.”
And they left, both tossing glares over their shoulders toward the throne as they stormed to the throne room’s tall, heavy doors, and Siobhan holding a hand against her bleeding neck.
Rhiannon sighed, let her sword clatter onto the floor, and then wiped her hands on her voluminous skirt. “Hawke!” she shouted.
A servant appeared from the shadows and bowed low to her.
She pointed to the sword. “Have someone clean that, would you? And have someone bring me another before the next group comes in to beg of my favor.”
“Of course, Queen.” He picked the sword up gingerly, and held it reverently with two hands. He scurried away with it.
Rhiannon’s red lips stretched into a smile as she climbed the steps to her throne.
She looked at Brandan with enticement and lust, and the best he could do was to not show any emotion at all. A difficult task for fairies his age—tamping down their passion became harder with each passing century—but Brandon did it because he had no choice.
He’d be that statue—that useless, uncaring figurehead his children thought he was—until the time came.
Rhiannon danced her fingertips up his arm and chuckled low. “I’m going to have so much fun with you tonight, my dear. I’ve been thinking about nightfall all day.”
As he’d been dreading it.
“Tonight, then.” He closed his eyes and wished for some solitude.
And more than that, he wished the time would come.
He hoped he’d keep himself breathing long enough to see it.
It was like being on a Tilt-A-Whirl without the obnoxious amusement park price, and with much more alcohol. Sadie wasn’t sure if it was the tilting or the whirling that was worse. In hindsight, she probably should have been a bit more careful when drinking from a bottle with a duct tape label marked “Wine.”
She stumbled over a root and almost face planted into a tree. The magical duct tape wine also gave her the brilliant idea to go home. Lee would have a fit when she found out her ward was missing, but could she really blame her? Sadie was in a holding pattern as she waited to find out just what kind of damage Jack had done to her soul. She would either shift into a wolf like everyone else in this town, or she would still just be Sadie at the end of the day.
Both options kind of sucked.
There was nothing wrong with who Sadie was, she just tended to attract stalker personalities. The idea of being more than what she was now did have its appeal. It also came with a healthy dose of fear, as she would be changing her basic physiological makeup. That was bound to have some drawbacks even if she didn’t know what they were yet.
But, right now, she was bored with waiting around. Lee had an upstanding play date with her gamer friends each night, which left Sadie alone. Tonight she had decided to drink her woes away and then caught a case of homesickness. Sadie wanted points for not driving; she was at least sane enough to know that would have been a horrible idea. But now, as she wandered around the forest, she couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t such a brilliant plan either.
“Alright, you can do this,” she told herself. Although it might have come out a bit more “Alllllriight. You, and this, it’s done.” There may have been hand gestures too.
A few more steps and the Tilt-A-Whirl had whirled a bit too much. “Fudge,” she cursed as she bent at the waist and expelled the entire bottle of duct tape wine out of her system along with those cheese puffs she had thought were a good idea. When she looked up after wiping off her mouth with her sleeve, Sadie saw a dim light.
She smiled, stepped over the pile of vomit and stumbled the rest of the way.
Tyson had just found a book to occupy him when Sadie’s phone rang. He ignored it like he did every time it rang. Squatters didn’t answer the phone. It tended to give them away. The machine picked it up, and Lee’s terrified voice was yelling at him to answer.
“What?” he barked into the receiver.
“Sadie is missing. I found an empty bottle of Scotty’s wine and no Sadie.”
Tyson growled. “Why are you calling me?”
“Oh, I don’t know? Maybe because you watch over her, gifted her, and are now staying in her house while she is here with me.” Tyson didn’t appreciate the way her voice sounded like an eye roll.
“Not my problem.” It was the same thing he had been telling himself since he found her being stalked by Jack, another wolf. He was only hanging around here until she changed, then he was leaving. The longer he stayed, the fine line of turning feral he had been testing was getting harder to see/notice. All Tyson wanted was oblivion; it’s what he deserved after all. But Sadie had unintentionally pulled him back. There were times he hated her for it, like now, but usually it only lasted until he saw her again.
As Lee yelled at him for being an insensitive, lying asshole, Tyson looked outside. He smirked. That hadn’t taken long. “Found her.”
“What!” Lee shouted.
Tyson hung up on her. Sadie was trying her hardest to walk normally, but she swayed every which way. There was a smile so big on her face that it made him smile back. Tyson knew he should shift into “Fred,” the wolf she had come to know, but she was very drunk and it would be hard for him to hold her hair as a wolf when she inevitably got sick.
Tyson opened the door as she came around to the porch. Sadie was frowning at the steps, and he knew she was wondering how she was going to conquer them.
“Need some help?” he asked.
She raised her head, her eyes going wide. “Oh man, who are you?” It was said with so much excitement that he actually laughed. Tyson couldn’t remember the last time he had done that.
Sadie was drunk. Beyond drunk actually. Scotty’s brew was like the moonshine of wines. It could knock you on your ass after a glass of it, and Sadie had drunk the whole bottle. With her little frame, she wouldn’t remember a thing about tonight, which gave him a unique opportunity. Tyson could spend some time with her as himself without any fear of repercussions.
“I’m Fred,” he said. She stared at him for a moment, her eyes squinting to see the wolf she had come to know by that name. And then she smiled, her whole face brightening like the sun.
“Oh, ok. I thought you looked familiar.”
Well, that was odd. As far as he knew, Sadie had never seen his human form. As of three days ago, even he hadn’t seen it for the better part of a year.
“Let me help you,” he said coming down the steps and taking her hand. Together they made it up to the porch and then inside. He made her sit while he got her some water.
“Drink this.” Tyson placed the glass in her hands and as she took a sip he asked, “Why are you here, Sadie?”
“Wanted to come home,” she mumbled over the rim of the glass. “Missed my dog.”
Tyson smirked. She missed him. It shouldn’t have pleased him so much, but it did. Sadie carefully set the glass down on the table. When she leaned back, it was against him with her head on his shoulder. “Mmmmm,” she hummed, snuggling into him. “Warm.”
His arm dropped off the back of the couch and onto her shoulder. He pulled her closer to him, enjoying the way she molded herself to his chest and the smell of her hair under his chin. Tyson could have sat like that for hours, but Sadie was a talkative drunk. Soon enough she lifted her head to look at him and with a hand on his cheek, she said, “Pretty.”
“You think so?”
She nodded her head. “Mmmhmmm.”
She was so close that all he had to do was drop his head a few inches and he could kiss her. How long had it been since he kissed someone? Hell, how long had it been since he allowed someone to touch him and yet, since he found Sadie, that’s all she ever did. Tyson may have been on the edge of going feral, but he knew better than to take advantage of Sadie’s intoxicated state. Even he had standards.
Tyson turned his head and her hand fell away. Sadie moved down the couch some and then laid her head in his lap. “Sleepy,” she muttered as she got comfortable nuzzling her head in places that need not be nuzzled. To save himself some embarrassment, he pulled a pillow off the floor and slipped it under her head.
“Tanks,” she said and patted his knee. “Good dog.”
Tyson snorted a laugh.
He spent the next twenty minutes stroking her hair, her face, her arms, and her back while she slept. Tyson couldn’t remember a time he was so at peace. It was like the last year had never happened. The softness of her skin and the way the little hairs on her arm stood up after he ran a finger over them mesmerized him.
The crunch of gravel underneath tires broke the moment.
Tyson gently shook Sadie awake. He got her into a sitting position right as the door opened. Owen walked in with a smirk that needed to be smacked off his face. Tyson was a willing volunteer.
“I didn’t know this job required an Alpha’s presence,” Tyson said to his old friend. However, it didn’t surprise him at all. Owen was involved in everyone’s lives, in a good way. But ever since Tyson got back he felt Owen’s attentions were more meddling than helpful. He didn’t need help, didn’t deserve it. You kill your own sister for the good of the pack and you lose that privilege.
“Lee called, I answered. It’s what I do. I was in town anyway. I’ll take her back to Lee’s and she’ll wake up tomorrow and think this was all an intoxicated dream.” Owen moved closer to check on Sadie who had fallen asleep again. He laughed when she moved back to Tyson where she tried to cuddle again.
“Scotty’s wine,” Tyson said in explanation.
“I heard. Hey Sadie,” Owen said trying to rouse her. “Ready to go?”
Her face scrunched up waving her hand around her face like she was trying to hit a fly. Owen smiled, but when he looked over to Tyson all emotion dropped from his face. Tyson was trying not to react as Owen positioned her so that he could carry her out to the car. He was trying and failing. The growl was stuck in his throat as he fought between reining it in and clawing at Owen’s hand where it touched her.
Owen stepped back from Sadie. “Tyson, would you mind carrying her?”
Tyson pushed him out of the way and gathered her to his chest with a hand under her knees. When she was a comfortable load in his arms and his anger had ebbed away, he realized what a fool reaction that had been. One Owen wouldn’t be forgetting anytime soon.
“This way,” Owen said.
Sadie smiled dreamily at him as he walked her out of the house. “Hi, Fred.”
“Hi, Sadie,” he answered back with a smile of his own. She really was adorable like this.
“You’ve gotten taller…and less furry.” Sadie ran her hands through his hair and he all but purred in contentment. “I like this less hairy look, but I miss your ears.” Her eyes had a glassy look to them. Part of him wished she would look at him with clarity—really see him—but he knew it was best this way. Sadie didn’t need to know him. Not the real him at least. She was safer this way.
Owen opened the passenger’s side door and Tyson set her inside. “Be good,” he told her. Sadie pouted, making him laugh again. Quickly he raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. “Goodnight.” Tyson closed the door and came face to face with Owen.
The smug bastard was smiling. “You look good,” he said casually. There was more, with Owen there was always more, but he must have realized that Tyson had no desire to talk to anyone, let alone Owen. “Thanks for helping tonight.”
Tyson walked back inside after they left and found the house to be a bit lonelier than it had been. Sadie’s presence, even unconscious, had warmed the place up. He picked up the book he had started before Lee’s call and opened it. A moment later, he closed it. He had lost interest in the book. Tyson stretched out on the couch where she had used him as a pillow and found it smelled like her. Surrounded by Sadie’s things and her scent, Tyson let himself fall asleep with a smile on his face.
Locked away in the prison of her Master’s home, Kendra had been under constant supervision since the moment she’d been turned. Becoming a vampire had ruined her life as it had been, cutting her off from those she had so desperately wanted to be close to. Not a day had gone by since her turning that she hadn’t thought about Marcus. If she’d only reached out to him instead of letting Hector steal her life away things might have been very different.
The four walls of her bedroom were nice enough, painted in warm tones, decorated with abstract paintings and mirrors. She had even been given a shelf filled with books and been promised to have anything she ever wished to read. Radio and TV were her companion too, while she was awake and not being used by her master. Her comfort had been cared for, all the way down to fresh blood delivery, but she’d not been allowed outside of her gilded cage. This was the reality of her new life as a vampire.
Kendra set aside the book she’d been reading and turned on the radio, needing to hear something other than the sound of her own breathing.
Marcus’s amazing voice floated along the airwaves bringing a smile to Kendra’s face. She turned the radio up the instant his voice reached her ears. She could have heard the song perfectly if it was on the neighbor’s radio, but somehow turning the volume up made her feel as if he were right there, singing only for her. His voice touched her in places she never let anyone else. Metaphorically, emotionally… physically.
The song was an upbeat one but there was something else in his tone that spoke to her. A longing for something—or someone—lost to him. Raw emotion carried through the airwaves and reached all the way into her soul.
They belonged together, Marcus and her. If only she’d had the chance to tell him. If only that bastard hadn’t interfered, taken her from the life she’d had, and the life she could have had.
Years had passed since their last meeting but still the image of him, young and virile, so pretty it almost hurt, was burned into her mind. Sun- kissed skin, long muscles lean from hard work carrying equipment and loading the van after shows. He and his band had made it to stardom but she bet he was still just as hot. Probably even more so than he’d been in their youth. Experience looked good on a man.
She set herself down on her bed and allowed his image come into focus as she closed her eyes. The sharp outline of his jaw, the mop of golden hair, and those beautiful hazel eyes that could light a path through the darkness.
Kendra sighed and leaned back against her pillows, relaxing her entire body into the soft firmness of the mattress. Marcus, she could only imagine, would feel just as firm against her body. His nimble fingers would make quick work of unbuttoning her shirt. He’d be so warm against her cool skin, and the simple tenderness of his caress would feed that warmth into her like sustenance.
She worked open the buttons of her shirt, mimicking her daydream, allowing her hands to be his for the moment.
In the background, Marcus’s sweet, pining voice crooned on, singing of love lost and the hope of one day finding it again.
She could have been his love, and she’d gladly take the role any time. She would do anything for that man. And, oh the things she’d let him do to her.
With his voice singing sweetly in her ear, filling her head with erotic imagery, she allowed her imagination to take her away, shucking off her pants and underwear, letting her fingers glide over the snowy softness of her skin and wishing like hell they really were his.
In her mind, it was only her and Marcus now. His lean muscles glistening with hard-earned sweat after another killer show, waving his hands around him as he spoke, flushed with the excitement of adulation. His whole body flushed with a wild, coltish energy that could be spent only one way. In her mind she was lying back on the bed, drawing his attention with nothing but her own stillness and nudity. Pulling his eyes to her with a force like gravity until he fixed his gaze on her with predatory intent. She would be the most willing prey he’d ever conquered.
She closed her eyes and he was suddenly there. It was so real she could almost feel it in her bones. Those wild hands of his became calm on her body as he explored her, touching, and mapping out every inch of her as if committing her skin to his memory.
He glided his hand down between her legs, and captured her lips in his again as he found her clit with his nimble fingers. She was so wet, so hot, and it was obvious to her that Marcus loved the way she responded to his touch, both verbally and physically.
Kendra moaned into his mouth as he rolled her nub between his fingers, squeezing and releasing, pressing hard and then easing off. She reached out and wove her fingers into his soft hair, tugging softly and fisting it as he hit just the right spots.
Marcus gently pinched and parted her nether lips, then dipped a finger into the heat between.
She was already sopping wet.
Marcus shucked off his clothes and knelt before her reverently, as if praying to the gods for the bountiful feast that lay before him.
He slipped his hands under her thighs and lifted her legs up, pulling her closer so he could drag in a long, slow breath. He closed his eyes as if taking in and savoring every note of her sweet perfume, maybe to write a song about her later. And then, as she’d been desperately craving, he gave her a gentle lash of his tongue.
Her body jerked of its own accord as his velvety tongue swirled across her engorged clit, the rippled surface seeming almost as rough as a road, yet as smooth as cream. He nibbled at her bud and sucked it hard into his mouth, sending her almost into paroxysms of pleasure.
Kendra couldn’t hold back her whimpering sobs, begging with each panting breath for more. She wished more than anything that he could spend eternity drinking from her fountain.
He traced all the ripples and ridges of her lips with his tongue as if mapping out every delectable inch of her pussy.
She reached down and knotted her fingers into his hair, tugging and pulling, writhing on the bed, begging for him go deeper, harder.
He growled, burying himself further into her mound, curling his tongue deep within her slit. Her breath stuttered and her body twitched, driven by sensations that simply bypassed all thought. She tightened her thighs around his head in a vice-like grip as he swirled his tongue faster and pressed harder and ground his mouth into her. She edged closer and closer to release, driven on by the relentless passion of her dream lover.
On a keening cry she came. Marcus held her thighs firm and rode the cresting wave with her, lapping up every drop of her cream and moaning in pleasure with that sweet voice, cracking slightly with desire.
When the aftershocks subsided, Kendra allowed her eyes to open. Marcus’s song had ended, and so had the fantasy. She allowed herself to lie there in bed, reveling in the happiness the daydream had given her, albeit briefly.
Just a few minutes.
A few wonderful, blissful minutes.
Marcus had almost been hers once. If only she’d taken the opportunity, taken a chance, life might have been very different for her. For them both.
No one could have predicted how the future would unfold.
She might have lost him then, but she still had him in her dreams. And she could enjoy him there any time she wanted.
The woman beneath me sighed, closing her eyes as I slid my hand from her collarbone to her breast. I swept the dark brown strands of her long hair to the side. When I bent to capture her nipple between my lips, she arched into my touch. I pulled on the dusky nubbin until it hardened on my tongue.
I knew we tarried in the Realm of Dreams. To everyone else, the scene portrayed a nocturnal fantasy. For me, the Realm existed as a tangible place. When it suited me, I manipulated the underlying fabric of a person’s joy and terror, whether they slept or not.
I couldn’t discern her features; only a vague image. As I caressed her blurry face, I yearned to see her. This detestable censoring occurred whenever I encountered visions of my own future.
She had captured my heart, and I didn’t know her name. I’d been in love with her for years, but we hadn’t met. When she joined me in our shared dream, every sensation felt more vivid than reality.
The bed dipped, and I released her to look at our lover. Darian smiled as he knelt beside her and laved the other breast with a wide sweep of his tongue. She reached up to trace the silvery scar on his cheek, but he held her still as he brought her bud to a peak.
I returned my attention to her as I trailed my fingers over her abdomen. The muscles under my fingertips rippled. She pushed my hand lower. Happy to oblige, I slipped my palm under the edge of her panties to cup her mound.
She squirmed as Darian moved down her body. He tugged the blue thong off her hips. Then he nudged me aside as he pulled the material down her legs.
She arranged me until I straddled her shoulders. When her mouth enveloped the tip of my arousal, I groaned. She looked up at me as she drew me into her warmth. I tried to hold back, but her nails dug into my ass as her lips grazed the base.
She swallowed and tightened her grip on my erection. I withdrew an inch before she reeled me in again. Looking behind me, I saw Darian’s head between her thighs as he parted her folds.
She grasped my balls, caressing the sensitive skin beneath them as she massaged my length with her tongue. As her moans vibrated my cock, I resisted the urge to come. I wanted this to be as good for my lovers as it was for me.
Before I passed the threshold of my endurance, I wrenched free. The dream shattered around me and I searched for the cause of the disruption. Darian’s distress rippled through my awareness.
I clung to the fragmented Realm of Dreams and hunted for his signature amongst the various entities within my domain. Although he slept down the hall from me, locating him in the vast, inky expanse took several minutes. The moment I spotted the violent shades of his essence, I breached the sequence of images surrounding him.
His pain enveloped me, but I shook it off as I whisked away his torment and worked my magic. The chains fell from his wrists, and I eased him to the floor. As I held him, I soothed the raw wounds encircling his emaciated flesh.
The darkened cell and its misery adhered to his psyche, but I coaxed the environment until it let him go. Once his room surrounded us, I tried to pull away. He locked his arms around me and I embraced him as he cast off the remnants of fear and agony.
I comforted him in silence, enjoying the feel of him though I cursed the Nightmare which allowed this intimacy. In our waking hours, I ignored the attraction between us by necessity. Only after I rescued him from his terrible memories did he let me in.
For two years, we'd gone on in a similar manner. Unless exhaustion left him too weary to dream, the Nightmares claimed him. I yearned to go to him in reality, but my visions warned me to wait. If I gave in to my desires- if I told him what he meant to me- he'd run, and everything would fall apart. But soon. Soon, we'd be together.
All three of us.
“Come on, Ryleigh.” Tobias sighed. “I know you want to go. Don’t be mad.”
"You know I shouldn't risk my job for a night of fun." I glared at the side of his head as he turned onto the two- lane road, taking us from Boston. Annoyed, I contemplated how dangerous it would be to throw my shoe at him.
“But you’re leaving soon. Once you get to the dig site, you won’t have a way to contact me for weeks.”
I spent the day convincing the university board they’d chosen the right candidate for the archeology internship. Exhausted, I wanted a quiet evening at home. He had other ideas. He’d all but kidnapped me from the college campus instead of returning me to my apartment.
Toby fiddled with the heater as he drove. I pushed the vent away, annoyed that my nipples seemed to possess a mind of their own. Every time the silk fabric of my blouse brushed against my bra, the sensitive beads reared their traitorous heads. It’d been all I could do to make it through the meeting without embarrassing myself.
As if my professors needed another reason to question my qualifications. Reminding the patrician directors I belonged to the ‘fairer sex’ weakened my already tenuous position. As it was, I downplayed my Dominican accent and heritage. Fortune had blessed me with light skin, but many aspects of my background remained impossible to hide.
Paying attention during the interview had proved difficult. Each movement set off a cascade of sensations straight to my clit. I longed for a hot bath and my battery operated boyfriend- fast.
My phantom paramours had seduced me night after night for months. Was it possible to fall head over heels for a dream? If only the men in real life were as attentive as my imaginary lovers, I wouldn’t need to keep a steady supply of batteries on hand.
Toby hit the gas, going well over the speed limit. I bit back the protest, knowing he did it to annoy me. Since he’d been nice enough to tune the engine today, I wouldn’t berate him for mistreating my poor Chevy.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were afraid.” He glanced at me. “What happened to the woman who chased off grave robbers from the dig in Bolivia last year? The girl I grew up with never backed down.”
He curled his r’s, unhindered by his sexy Puerto Rican background. The New York twist on his accent made the girls, and a good number of guys, swoon. But it had no effect on me. He was more brother than best friend, and always would be.
“I can’t risk my internship to go to a sex club,” I said.
“Nah. Those are in Vegas, sista. Just ‘cause there’s kink don’t mean there’s sex.”
“But you go there to have sex.”
“Yeah, and I ain’t near as grumpy as you.”
He moved my vent toward me again, and the gentle current reignited the tingles cascading from my breasts to my clit. Damned dreams. When my alarm interrupted the climax, I hadn’t had the time to take care of my needs before the interview.
“You know what your problem is?” He looked over at me. “You need to get laid. Any of the fellas you meet tonight would love to give you an experience you’d never forget.”
I scoffed. “If I wanted a meaningless fuck, I’d go out with my ex.”
“What’s wrong with having a little fun?”
“He only wants a ‘piece of hot Mexican tail.’ The bigot can’t even get my heritage correct.”
“Shit, girl. He said that?” Toby’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, causing the aged leather to creak. He’d gone from playful to angry in seconds.
My best friend had always been my protector. From the moment the kids teased me on the playground, he’d had my back. Although I managed my own scrapes just fine without him, it felt nice knowing he was there for me.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, “but I wasn’t supposed to hear it.”
I didn’t want Toby fighting my ex. Not that I doubted he’d win, but my last boyfriend retained friends in the courthouse. Tobias couldn’t afford the intense scrutiny of an investigation due to his side hobbies. Besides, we weren’t in the schoolyard anymore.
“Doesn’t make it right.” He smacked the dash in aggravation, but took his foot off the gas as we neared our destination. “What about the other guy? The one from college?”
“No. Just no. All those men want to add an exotic notch to their bedpost. I need more.”
We pulled into the parking garage and I slid from the car. Toby met me at the door and handed me my keys. As always, I’d agreed to play the role of designated driver at the end of the night.
“I’m better off on my own, anyway.” I took off toward the building, but he stepped in front of me.
“You’re never alone, Lia love. You got me.”
I let him pull me into a hug. He wasn’t the scrawny boy from our childhood any longer. We’d been separated for less than a year after high school before he’d followed me to Boston. He’d grown up in the interim.
He emerged from an awkward puberty as a tall, dark, and yummy man in his prime. His lean muscles begged for a lover's touch, from his six- pack abs to the firm arms wrapped around me. Too bad he didn't light my fire.
“You’re my rock. I’ll miss you, you know?”
“Did you think you could get rid of me?” He smirked. “Girl, the minute you get settled, I’m going to visit. No ocean comes between us, hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re just coming to find trouble.”
“All I gotta do is look for you.”
We walked toward the side access to Tainted Eden. The club commanded the first floor of the hotel, but only the VIP patrons knew what the establishment’s unassuming facade concealed. My steps slowed as we reached the entrance.
Toby took my hand, suddenly serious. “What are you worried about? We both know tonight won’t jeopardize your internship. That’s a shitty excuse. This is just a place, Lia. It’s not like your whole life will fall apart if you allow yourself one night of excitement.”
I sighed and tried to walk around him, but he wouldn’t let me off easy.
“Are you afraid you might meet someone? Or maybe you’ll like what you see?” He asked. “I don’t expect you to jump into a scene on your first trip, you know.”
“I’m not ready to go into the private rooms. We can go in the main bar, but not the back.”
“You’re kidding? Damn. Not kidding. Fine. Let’s get a drink or five, go dancing, maybe have some fun. Whadda ‘ya say?”
“I’ll get you to loosen up and take the plunge one day, girl.”
The mob pressed in on me the moment we opened the door. My anxiety flared, and I fought the urge to run back outside. I excused myself to use the bathroom while he found us a table.
Although I wouldn’t admit it, I’d come here once a few weeks ago. Well, I’d pulled into the parking garage under the hotel. Something held me back, and I left without going inside.
But as I pushed through the crowd again, I decided it was time. Time to let go of my worries. Time to enjoy myself.
And time to embrace my destiny.
Arsenius spotted Kyme by the mainmast, brushing her fingers across the manacles that kept his crew safe whenever the beast took hold.
As it had last night.
Squeezing his fists, he inhaled the scent of briny sea water and steadied his feet against the gentle rolling of the ship’s deck. As he unclenched his fists, he forced aside the tinge of crimson threatening to cast its shadow across his vision once again, and stalked toward her. “Careful with those.” She gasped and spun around. Good. She ought to fear him, to tremble before the madness of his frenzy.
Her terror just might prevent her from unleashing it again. He’d rather not reflect on what would have happened if he hadn’t managed to chain himself…
He pried the cuff from her grasp, a silent warning to be wary. Fashioned from a dangerous source, the manacles were powerful enough to squelch the compulsions of a deadly monster.
“What happened to you last night? Did your father curse y—”
He sneered at the mention of Ares. “You and I would call it a curse. Ares claims the war frenzy is a birthright.” His frenzy turned him into a crazed savage, incapable of any action except wreaking violence. The embodiment of pure, raw bloodlust.
Her gaze shifted to his right arm and upper chest. “What about those markings?” She’d witnessed his inkings the first time they’d met.
The generous bucket of ice water his best friend Thereus had dumped on his head this morning had rinsed away the ones from yesterday. Bloody centaur.
“They form whenever the beast inside me is let loose. I cannot control it, Amazone, so for your sake, don’t ever draw my blood again.” Though he knew better, he leaned in closer. Tempted by her despite every reasonable argument of why he should stay away.
Her stare fixated on his lip… The lip she’d bitten last night, drawing his blood and provoking the darkness inside him.
“Thereus said… He told me I am your mate.” Bright midnight blue eyes flashed at him, half daring him to concede the truth.
You’ll never be my mate. His jaw tightened at her question and he eased back, away from the intimacy of their closeness. “Do not fear, Amazone, Artemis would never permit such a union.”
Never, regardless of whatever assurances Thereus, also the first mate on Arsenius’s pyrate ship—the Adrasteia—had claimed. The lie stung his tongue, but Kyme seemed to accept it as valid. Why shouldn’t she? He gazed into those shining depths, unclouded by any lack of faith in her goddess, Artemis. The small spark of fear over his possible bonding to her had vanished.
If only he experienced the same confidence in his father. But he was no hero, no matter how hard his war god father, Ares, pushed him to become one.
He held her gaze, steady and unfailing, full of conviction he did not feel. At length, she nodded. Aye. There was no sense in holding any hope of bonding to her. She might be his mate, but neither Ares nor Artemis would ever permit them to bond—to unite their souls forever.
She’ll never be mine.
Better to accept the facts and crush any seeds of longing before they bloomed into true hope.
He glanced down and the high hemline of her belted chiton teased him with a glimpse of her bare, toned legs. Tearing his stare off them, he focused on the task he’d planned for this morning. Training her. “You fight well, Kyme, but you should learn some of the skills a pyrate must have in order to defend his or her ship.”
“Such as?” She perched a hand on her hip, her nose scrunching slightly, invoking ferocity despite her small size. Like any Amazon warrior, she didn’t appear to take kindly to having her abilities questioned.
Arsenius cocked his head. “You handle your daggers well, but how are you with a sword?”
Her brows drew together. “Capable enough.”
“Show me then.” He grabbed the pair of blades he’d placed on the deck earlier. They were about two feet in length, with a slight curve at the ends. “This is a cutlass. It’s light and short enough that most sailors keep one on them at all times, and it makes a good weapon for confined spaces. Very useful for slashing through ropes, canvas, wood, and of course, flesh and bones.”
“I see.” Kyme accepted the sword he handed her, balancing its weight between both her palms. She tilted her head and wrapped her right hand around the handle as though calculating its weight.
“Hold it like this.” He circled behind her, shifting her grip until it was just right. His fingers caressed over hers, sending shooting pangs of yearning through his body. Despite her harsh upbringing, her skin was soft and supple, so different from his worn and callused fingers. Wisps of her chestnut brown hair had broken free of her long, coiled braid, the sweetly perfumed tendrils defying him not to run his hands through their silk. He shrugged off the urge and cleared his throat, focusing on the task of training her.
While pressing down on her shoulders, he kicked at her boots to nudge her feet aside into a limber fighting stance. “Legs wide, knees bent, and keep your free arm out of the way or it’ll for certain be cut off.”
Grunting in satisfaction, he stepped to face her and braced his own cutlass, mimicking her pose. “Now, if your opponent is larger than you, as I am, he will possess the advantage. So you must be quicker.”
“Try me.” Her lips curved and she lunged, slashing her blade toward his middle.
He deftly blocked her strike, knocking her sword arm aside.
She gasped, wincing at the stinging likely shooting through her arm.
“Careful, Amazone.” He frowned at her. “Remember, I’m stronger than you. Don’t offer me a blow I can counter easily.”
Her eyes narrowed and she brought her sword forward once more. “Oh, I won’t.”
“Good.” He grinned. “Again.”
She shot toward him, aiming low, at his legs, but he swung his sword on top of hers, slapping it away. She didn’t balk, raising her sword to his shoulder. Metal clanged as they tapped their blades, almost like raising a toast to one another.
Their swords clashed together in the air and he whipped his free hand out to grasp her arm, thrusting their weapons to bow to the planks. Gripping her arm brought his face dangerously close to hers. “I’m stronger. Fight harder.” Gritting his teeth, he repeated his taunts, hoping she would determine a way to best him.
“Argh!” she cried, jerking her cutlass high and freeing it from his. “Stronger but not better.”
She brought her sword toward his neck and he blocked it with his, seizing her forearm. Countering, she twisted free and slashed her blade at his legs. He hopped to skip over her swing and brought his cutlass back to clash against hers.
As he lunged forward, she spun to the side and whipped around to face him, his blade meeting only air.
“Good, good.” He nodded in approval. “But show me more.”
They faced off against each other. Color rose in her cheeks, her eyes shining with the thrill of the exertion. Kyme was a warrior. She appeared to thrive in battle, just as he had been bred to.
Damn, but that still did not make them mates.
“Is that all you have, Amazone?” he goaded, provoking her emotions to rise and perhaps cloud her judgment.
In his experience, passion was better left off the battlefield. Yet fervor seemed to fuel her skills.
She swept forward and their weapons caught, drawing a circle in the air as neither opponent relented their hold. The cutlasses twisted from one side to the other and rose up to the level of their heads. He braced their swords between them, growling as their battle waged.
The firm set of her jaw declared she would never surrender. He shoved his blade toward her, but she drove him back with her free hand and sliced her cutlass through the air toward his neck.
He ducked just as the air rustled above his head.
By the gods, she was brilliant. Straightening, he slashed his sword toward her middle. Gracefully, she sprang out of its path, up onto the ship’s railing.
“Care to make this more interesting?” She nimbly skipped backward, the spark in her eyes flashing with mischief.
One false step and she would plummet into icy waters.
“Absolutely.” He climbed onto the balustrade, stalking toward her slowly, intently, locking his gaze onto hers. “The last time I joined you for a swim, I never got to collect my prize.”
A slight flush crept into her cheeks. “What was that?”
Ah, playing coy. “You would drive a man to madness for just one kiss.”
Her dark lashes fanned across her cheeks as she tilted her face aside. “Best me and you can claim one.”
Now there was incentive.
His muscles tightened at the sight of her pink, velvety tongue swiping across her plump bottom lip. This would be too easy.
“What do I get if I win?” Her lips curved smugly.
“Hmm.” She tilted her head, studying him. “What if I wished for a different reward?”
“Oh, but you don’t.” He seized one step forward; she eased one backward. “Every inch of your body is begging for my touch, Kyme. I smell it in your sweet scent, I see it in your sultry eyes, and later, I’ll taste it on your soft lips.”
Arsenius stabbed his blade forward and she blocked it, their swords clanging. Crouching low like a feline, she drove her cutlass toward him. He brushed off her strike, hopping onto a wooden crate to her left and circling around her.
Stalking her as though she were his prey.
Somehow, he had the feeling it was the opposite.
Light on her feet, she navigated around him, switching their positions.
He swung his sword at her legs, causing her to canter in a backward dance. Whipping around, she sprinted along the rail and leapt off its ledge onto the deck. He chased after her, vaulting from the balustrade and landing to ram straight into her.
“Oomph!” Her breath squashed from her as they crashed into the side of the main cabin. “You’re not fighting fair.” She brought her elbow spearing down onto his shoulder.
“Umph.” He staggered back a few feet, assessing her from his hunched position. Her chest rose and fell in rapid pants, her cheeks flushed bright. Drawing in a heaving breath, he was fairly certain his heart pounded just as hard as hers appeared to. “Pyrates don’t play fair. Had enough yet, Amazone?”
“Never.” She shot him a smug grin. “Pyrates might prefer their foul methods, but Amazons don’t surrender.”
“Mayhap not in battle.” He straightened and prowled from side to side. “But I could make you beg for mercy.”
“Yargh!” she cried, rushing forward with her blade pointed straight at his heart.
He swerved to the side, catching her arm in his grasp, and twirled her around, wrenching her into his chest. His grip was iron-tight. Inescapable. A grin tugged at his lips. “I warned you I was stronger. Now, it seems I’ve caught you.” She writhed against his hold, but she couldn’t escape him.
No more than he could her.
She lifted her chin, her pretty lips pouting at him. “Are you going to claim your prize, then?” Her body pressed into his as she shifted closer, her mouth inching toward his.
His cock thickened, a deep-seated, aching longing settling in his groin. Ignited, his blood pulsing through his veins like magma. Scorching as it devoured its path toward his heart.
Can’t have her.
Tilting her chin, she leaned into him… So close.
And then she reared, slamming her forehead against his.
He snarled and stumbled, toppling backward onto a low crate.
Blinking the stars from his eyes, he squinted at the tip of her cutlass, poised directly above his throat.
One leg planted on the crate, her free hand perched on her hip, Kyme smirked, hovering above him. “I win.”
He opened his mouth to protest her foul play, but since he was teaching her how to be a pyrate, he ought to commend her.
She tossed her sword aside and clutched a handful of his ivory shirt, yanking his mouth to hers while she sank to straddle his hips.
He swallowed his bruised pride and groaned, his hands seizing both of her cheeks to drive his tongue inside her lush mouth.
Huffing, she drew back. “You didn’t lose on purpose, did you?” The gleam of triumph faded from her eyes.
“Indeed, I did not.” He inclined his head. “Though now that I know how you claim your rewards, I may consider it in the future.”
“Hmm.” She scowled at him, but shifted forward and feathered her lips across his.
He slid his hands along her toned, yet feminine, warrior’s body, down to cup the curves of her bottom, and gave her a squeeze.
She moaned and rolled her hips forward, rubbing her sex against his. Being a virgin, she likely possessed no notion of how suggestive her movements were, of how he was one breath away from freeing himself from his leather breeches and thrusting up into her sweet heat.
She sighed and purred into his mouth, rocking in that slow, sensual rhythm, her arms draping lazily across his shoulders.
He might not be able to claim her, but he could offer her satisfaction. Sliding one hand around her waist, he dipped it between them, slipping under the hem of her chiton and grazing the tips of his fingers across her silken flesh.
Gods. His chest rumbled as his fingertips met her slick honey, the evidence of her arousal.
No matter what else she declared, Kyme could not hide her desire for him. She bit her bottom lip, breath hitching, but she didn’t stop him. There might be uncertainty in what she sought, but she trusted him to show her. To gratify her needs. To fulfill her longings.
No one had entrusted him with that much since his sister Lena, and he certainly hadn’t earned Kyme’s faith.
But damn, he would do his best to be worthy of her. A mere week ago, he’d captured her with the intention of selling her in exchange for Lena’s freedom. Now?
Now, he had to admit that choosing between Kyme and his sister was an impossible decision his heart had never been cold enough to make.
The side of the cabin hid them from the prying eyes of his crew, but undoubtedly any one of them could stumble upon him and Kyme. The threat of being caught with his hands where they did not belong sent his pulse jolting.
It would be worth it, to hear his name cried upon her lips once more. Their intimacy last night had been cut too short, before he’d had the chance to truly savor her.
But not this time. This moment was theirs. Pulses racing from their dueling and bodies aflame with unsated passion.
Her tense muscles eased, melting against him. His fingers spread across her sex, desperate to delve inside her and claim what was his.
No, she’s not.
His body warred against itself. Soul and mind at opposing ends.
He shifted her on his lap, lifting and spreading her legs wider to kneel on either side of his. Slipping one hand behind her, under her chiton, he fanned his fingers across the softness between her thighs. He flicked the fingers of his right hand across her bud while his left caressed her, claiming every inch.
She tugged him closer, her greedy mouth eagerly seeking his, stroking her tongue alongside his with abandon.
I could claim her. Press his fingers inside her and make her his.
Let the gods counter that.
Mind resolved, he tenderly skimmed his left hand along her soft flesh, inching toward her center. He’d be gentle and careful, and employ every useful talent his father had gifted him.
Slowly, he dipped his fingertip toward her core.
She stiffened, lurching forward, her mouth slipping off his as a cry parted her lips.
Her sex convulsed, the throbbing spasms pounding against his fingers.
“I thought I told you to make me work harder, Amazone.” Arsenius groaned and tossed back his head while she whimpered and clutched at his shirt, muffling her screams into his chest.
He’d been so close.
To committing the most dangerous transgression. To condemning them both.
The deep rumble of men’s voices drifted toward them. Kyme hopped off his lap as though it were set afire and scurried around the corner. He watched her leave, shifting his legs to mask the unsated desperation of his swollen cock.
Relief should have poured through his veins. Clarity should have swept across his vision.
And yet all he could think of was…
Damn, I want more.
Some find the blood the worst to deal with. Others recoil at the smell of death. The pain disturbs me. Every time.
Crumpled metal, the smell of burnt rubber, two bodies trapped. The vertical sheet of rain soaking my suit partly explains how the car lost control and hit the tree, but when I step closer I know the weather conditions aren’t the only reason for the accident. I arrived, as instructed, for one soul. So why am I looking at two dying people?
In my confusion, I miss the dark shadow emerging from the trees but when I see her I know who she is. The female figure descends on the car and pulls the jagged metal from what was once the passenger door. The darkness around her spreads into the night as she drags one of the occupants onto the road. Anger spikes at her intrusion.
Dark Reaper. Demon. Stealing a soul.
She is the reason there are two people dying at the scene. I’m here to help across the soul of the person whose pre-destined time has ended, but nobody is here to help the other person whose life has been interrupted by the demon. Ending a human life in this way is the only time the Dark can take souls – the demons orchestrated the accident tonight to bring death.
Tonight, one soul will pass Over safely, and one will be taken to Hell.
I can only help the one I’m told to. I cross to the figure inside the car, the guy with metal and glass spearing his body. The young man’s pain washes over me, as if he pours his suffering into my body. I’m here. He looks at me with glazed eyes, hardly registering my presence. Sometimes people hover on the line between life and death, adding urgency to our work. Other times, like this, they fade before our eyes.
Reaching out, I’m millimeters from touching the man’s head when the scream arrests me. Not from him, but the figure in the road. I’ve heard them scream before, through pain and fear, but this is different. A protest. Refusal.
How can somebody weak from oncoming death scream like this?
Once before, I shared two deaths with a Dark. The situation was different, a murder-suicide between lovers. I kept my head down and fulfilled my role. The Dark arrived to steal the soul from the woman, whose painful death they arranged. Their action was abhorrent, and against nature, but not my concern. On that night, I collected the man’s soul, and left.
Here and now, something about the scream pierces my heart and the marks on my arm burn. I glance down at the intricate black pattern on my wrist, mapped along my forearm towards my bicep. A mark for every soul I’ve helped Over. My daily reminder that one day the path of souls will reach my heart and the final one I collect won’t cross. Her soul will meet mine, destined to be a part of me.
I break away from the man whose life dulls in the car’s darkness and step back into the icy rain pouring onto the nightmare. The streetlight glows orange through the rain, across the Dark who is hunched over the second broken figure.
Stark. Unnatural. Nobody should die like this.
The girl’s hair splays across the pool gathering around her body; in the darkness it’s impossible to tell how much is blood and how much is water. As I approach, the metallic smell assaults me, familiar and sickening. She’s lost a lot of blood but she clings to her life.
The scream pierces the eerie silence again and I’m suddenly aware her scream is in my mind, not the air around. The figure beneath the Dark can’t move but she fights; I hear her struggle, feel her will to survive.
I feel her.
The Dark keels over as I slam myself into her. In an instance the demon is upright, yellow eyes burning in fury as she lashes out in my direction. I duck and the demon’s hand grazes my cheek, sharp nails tearing my skin.
“Take yours, I will take mine,” she hisses.
The Dark returns her hands to the girl’s chest, who whispers words I can’t make out through her shallow breathing. My duty is to help the man to safety now his allotted time is up but, when the girl turns her head, I no longer care.
She sees me, eyes widening. A flash of pain lances through my forehead, spearing into the recesses of my mind. I’ve seen this girl before in my sleep and in waking dreams.
In my future.
Whoever she is, all that matters is saving her soul from Hell.
I launch myself at the Dark again, and knock her to the ground. She yells back at me, breaking contact with the girl. The girl sucks in a breath, the sound echoing around, and the Dark screams at me again. What do I do? How do I stop this? The need to banish this demon overwhelms. I don’t give a crap that the man I’m assigned to is taking his last breath while the girl regains hers.
The Dark stares back at me, lip curling as she mocks me. “You screwed up.”
“Leave.” I curl my hands around her throat, repulsed by the creature’s clammy skin beneath my hands. The demon’s pitch black aura is as encompassing as our light, shadowing the world and suffocating.
“Mine,” she rasps through my grip. The cold runs from my fingers, into her veins and she knows not to struggle. If the Dark remains still she has a chance against me. One I won’t give her.
“Not her. Not tonight.”
The Dark glances towards the mangled car. “I’d swap if I could but I’m not allowed. Are you?”
“Leave or I will kill you,” I growl.
She snorts. “You’ve no idea what you’re doing, have you?”
Tightening my grip, I stare back into the Dark’s eyes; behind me the soft sounds from the dying girl dig further into my mind. “Go, before I hurt you.”
The Dark clutches my hands, attempting to speak and I loosen my grip. “I’ll leave, but she’ll wish I hadn’t.”
How can something as beautiful hold such evil? The Dark’s symmetrical face and full mouth, smooth skin and youth are at odds with the decay she brings to their world. But then what am I? Deceptively benign with my blonde hair and blue eyes, sometimes the dying call me angel and I smile because it soothes their death. I’m no different to the Dark, I only come to humans when I’m in the company of death.
Distracted by my thoughts, my hold on the Dark loosens further. White light flashes, my hands sear, and the woman is gone.
I turn to the girl.
Her eyes are closed and her lips part with more words I can’t make out. Should I touch her? Can I touch her?
I inch closer, the bloody water soaking my knees. “Everything will be okay.”
Her eyelids flicker and she attempts to focus on me. “What’s happening?”
“You had an accident. I’ll help you.”
The girl’s eyes close again, her life draining away with the blood from her wounds. “Thank you.”
I take her hand.
Mistake. Monumental screw-up. If I hadn’t touched her, I would never have known. I could’ve avoided the fate she propels me towards.
The world fractures and an overwhelming love for this girl courses through my body. A fire trails along the marks on my arm, until the heat hits and my heart and burns through to my soul. What I see when her eyes open and meet mine is the blinding reason I left the man in the car and came to her aid.
This girl’s soul is the one I need. She is my last.
The shock knocks me back from the girl. Her time wasn’t due to end for many years, but has been interrupted by the Dark’s need to possess and consume human souls for their own ends.
She’s lost and I will never find her.
I will save her life.
“What’s your name?” I whisper, taking her cold hand again.
“What happened?” She winces. “Hurts.”
Blood. Always the blood. Rose’s continues to mingle with the rain, puddling on the ground, and I stiffen. Quick.
“Everything will be okay.”
The blue eyes glaze and her fingers relax against my palm.
The Dark hovers nearby, no longer visible but she can’t hide the malevolent force I sense surrounding us. She’s here. Waiting to finish what she started.
Her eyes close and breathing stops.
No. She won’t belong to them.
I disentangle my fingers and place both hands over her heart. She needs a future. She needs to end her life with me waiting for her soul, not dying in the road tonight. Rose jerks as my energy flows into her broken body, mending the damage killing her inside. I will Rose to open her eyes again, and show me she’s still here. If Rose dies now, I’ve lost. She’s lost.
The healing flows from my fingers, across her damp skin, until her body warms beneath my fingertips. Her labored breathing transforms to normal and she moves her hand to grab my wrist.
Rose doesn’t speak and our eyes meet in understanding once more. “Thank you.”
“Live. Be happy.”
“I know you.” Her voice is a whisper of confusion.
“I feel you. Here.” Rose pushes a palm against her chest. “The other woman… she hurt. You helped.”
A siren sounds, growing closer and my shoulders sink in relief. This is the end of my time here, but not hers. “I hope so.”
As I sit back on my haunches, Rose grabs my hand and the ache spreads along my arm again, squeezing my heart. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me.”
“Somebody else is coming. Someone who can help you more than I can.”
Blue and red lights reflect against the road, shining in the water.
“Who are you?” she asks.
With my free hand, I caress her cheek and where I rub a finger across her skin it heats. “A friend.”
She coughs a laugh. “Thank you, friend.”
I could lift her from the road, take her to safety myself. Be with her longer. My selfishness propels me to touch her again, in the hope I leave a reminder. I doubt she’ll remember me, and if she does I’ll be a figment hanging around the edge of her memories. But people are here. I need to leave. They’ll ask questions, drag me into her life too soon.
“Where’s Jamie?” she asks.
The man. I’ve failed him. I blink away fear over my transgression. “You’re safe now.”
A door slams, voices carry toward me and I snatch my last chance to touch Rose, to leave more of myself with her. I lightly touch her wet face again, the soft cheek ice-cold beneath my fingertips. The warmth doesn’t come as before. Her cheek grows colder beneath my touch and she winces, shrinking from my hand. I snatch it away, confused.
Unable to stay next to Rose, I stand and edge into the shadows. The rain pours down my face, my clothes saturated but I barely notice. I fixate on the girl, on the green uniformed men bending over her the way I did. They call to each other in insistent voices and when I see Rose’s arm move, relief rushes in.
She will live.
“What the hell did you do?”
Surprised by the voice, I spin around and look into Cole’s face. The blonde haired man’s perfect features are twisted into disgust. Behind him, Roman stands in the dark, arms crossed. They shelter beneath the canopy of the tree, their dark suits untouched by the weather.
“It wasn’t her time,” I say.
“But it was his, and now he’s lost.” Cole gestures at the crumpled car where other emergency crew swarm. “Your Dark friend didn’t want to go back without a soul, so she took his. You’ve condemned him.”
Should I feel guilt? Fear? Nothing. “I had to save her.”
Cole scoffs. “Is that what you believe? That you saved her?”
“No, I fixed her body. She can complete her time.” I look down at my hands, at Rose’s blood staining my fingers.
Cole steps into my space, face close to mine. “The Dark damaged her soul in preparation for taking her, she was halfway. If she’d died, she would have left with the Dark but instead you’ve given life to a demon.”
I reel, stumble back. “Wrong.”
“Half-demon,” mutters Roman. “You created an abomination.”
“I saved her,” I repeat. I did. The girl carried in a stretcher to the rear of the ambulance will live her life. She’s young and I gave her what she deserves. Didn’t I?
“A demon with healing powers. Nice work, Finn.”
“Half-demon,” I reply as if it makes a difference. “Which means she isn’t evil.”
“Don’t you admire his optimism?” says Cole to Roman with a shake of the head.
“I guess he’s stuck now,” Roman replies.
I bristle at their talking as if I’m not here. “I did what I felt was right.”
“You’re not here to do what you decide is right or wrong, you’re here to do a job. This is what happens when you guys step out of line!”
I push both my hands through my damp hair. “Can I fix this?”
“Oh, yeah. You can fix this and you’re going to.”
“How do you think? You put things back to how they should be.” I’m about to question him but Cole’s sneer answers me. “You kill her.”
“We don’t kill!”
“We don’t bloody resurrect people either! You fix this balls up, or you die.”
The rain soaks the ground, the earthy smell of the human world overcoming me with Cole’s words. Die.
What the hell have I done?
“Why? She’s a good person, I felt it when I touched her.”
“Was a good person. You idiot. Touch her again and you’ll know what we mean. Even as only a half-demon your touch will kill her,” Roman says.
I’ve already touched, and I already know. My energy, the power that gave Rose life, will kill her. I stare at the ground, zoning out of the gathering storm around me.
I’ve saved her, but my life is over.
I hover around the edge of Rose’s world, watching her heal in a space of time which shocks the medical staff. There are multiple opportunities to step into the room and take her life but I can’t. I’ve watched people die daily but never killed; the idea goes against everything I believe. Cole could send somebody else to do this but they refuse to be tainted by murder. We can never go back from deliberately taking a life.
Once, I stood by Rose’s bed as she slept. The urge to touch her wasn’t prompted by a desire to hurt, but to connect again. She’s beautiful, a serenity around her as she rests at odds with the pain and fear the first time we met. I don’t know what Rose is, but she isn’t a demon. Nobody will explain her true nature to me, but she must threaten the balance if there’s a danger to my life for creating her.
I’m lost. Her soul is damaged and when she dies, Rose won’t be mine anyway. Her death will send her soul to Hell. My mark will never complete and I’ll be stuck in this half-life of my own.
If Rose lives, she’ll spend an eternity alone too unless there are others like her.
We’ll always be bonded, but she’ll never be mine.
Coffee, bitter and as thick as molasses, lingers. The rancid aroma coats Aden’s tongue. He steps into the empty kitchen and calls on the eyes of his inner gargouille. The room is dank, with an underlying hint of wolfbane, no doubt used to reverse the shape-shifting flux of the abducted Kindred, Sadie Reed. He draws in a deep breath and samples the scent particles in the air.
To the left of where he stands, moonlight filters in through the bay window. It bounces off the walls, chasing the shadows into the dark recess of the room’s corners. A dim light streaks across the ceiling and flickers on top of the bare refrigerator. Movement catches his eye. Someone is in the adjacent room.
Footsteps tap against the tile floor. They’re female. And from the tippity-tap-tap of the warble, she’s wearing heels. Aden draws in a breath, smelling the air. The distinct aroma of a Wiccan, along with something pungent, invades his nose.
“Shit! I didn’t see you there.” Sasha’s brows shoot up. “What the fuck are you doing hiding in the dark?”
“I wasn’t hiding.” A current of magic hums in the room. Dark magic.
This evening, when Aden started out on this recovery mission, there were four other people assigned to his team: a lupine, a lycan, a warlock, and Logan, but only two members returned, alive: Logan and the wounded Wiccan, Dylan, who teleported both of them back to Alpha Prime. But his team wasn’t the only one to suffer casualties. No. Many good men and women, in their own right, had been cut down because they weren’t ready to face what lay in wait for them. No. None of them were, not even the skillfully trained Druids.
“How’d you get in?” She flips on the light.
“The door was open.”
When Dylan and Logan returned, it took every ounce of strength Aden had to restrain his long-time friend. He’d never seen Logan so out of control. Even the high priestess, Agartha MacLauchlan, required the assistance of her Wiccan brethren when casting a reversal spell to counter the black magic driving Logan’s berserker, blind rage.
“Open? I doubt that, seriously. So how’d you really get in?” She glances around the room. “Where’s your shadow?”
“Yeah.” Sasha slinks up beside Aden. “And what the fuck is up with him, anyway?” She sits on the edge of the kitchen table. “And stop avoiding the question because Agartha cast a spell on the house to keep people out.” The slit of her dress creeps up, revealing a stocking clad thigh. “He could’ve killed one or more of the Formilia familiars tonight.” The lacy trim hugging her leg provides a sharp contrast to her milky, white skin.
“True. But he didn’t.” Aden follows the curve of her thigh with a keen eye.
The information Cain extracted from the captive, the lone Druid Hunter, proved beneficial, at first; however, Aden and his team were too late. Time. It wasn’t his trusted ally today. No. By the time he had stepped foot on the grounds, they were gone. All that remains now is a mixture of the Kindred’s aroma, which has melded with the stink of rogue lycans. Even now, the air reeks of it. The tainted tang of infused scents is just as bitter, if not more so than the old coffee. But even the stench of the coffee is more preferable than the cold, hard truth. Sadie. She’s gone, and they don’t know where she is. That recollection is like a slap in the face.
“And in all fairness, if you and your coven hadn’t kept us in the dark, it wouldn’t have happened.” His inner gargouille listens to the steady beat of her racing heart. A mixture of anger and pain swirls around her.
“Excuse me?” She cocks her head to the side and rubs her neck. “So the attack is my fault? She pauses. “Oh, no, you don’t.” She shakes her head. “Don’t you dare pass the blame. It’s not as if I invited a Kweo into my bed. No, wait. That was your friend, Logan.”
Aden takes her hand in his, coaxing her off the edge of the wooden table. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
Ten minutes. If only he’d been ten minutes earlier, perhaps, things would’ve been different. Fuck. Sadie should be at home with Ethan and the rest of the Shoshone clan, but she’s not. And now, Kensington Cove’s best tracker, Troy Tekin—Alpha of the Lakota clan—hunts, side-by-side with a Druid, for her scent. Something Aden never thought would come to fruition. Not with the past blood feuds between the lupines and Druids.
“If my clan, the Doccioner, and your coven are to work together, full communication and transparency must take precedence above all else, or we risk failure. Now, sit.”
“Why?” The corners of her lips tug upward.
A hint of awakening arousal wafts around her and Aden sips on the tantalizing fragrance.
“You know why.” He motions to the chair. “Until the dark magic has been cleansed from your body, it is going to cause pain. You must rid yourself of it or—”
“Or give in to the darkness.” Sasha slides onto the chair and crosses her legs. “Do you think they’re going to hurt her?”
“Yeah.” The slit of her dress opens further revealing more of her creamy, toned thighs above the lines of her lacy stockings.
“When the Order comes into play, it’s anyone’s guess. But they want something from her, so she’s relatively safe until they figure out how to get.”
Aden sighs. It’s funny, how a single event, or person like Sadie Reed, can facilitate a blending of the clans and covens, alike. All it took was a common necessity; a mutual need to protect the masquerade, to draw much-needed support for the cause from the others. Not to mention the pulse of the underlying issues that places Kensington Cove at risk. Hell, with what’s coming, even the Order and the Kweo had enough sense to flee into the night.
“Aden.” Sasha rises. “My familiar can’t cleanse the black magic because he’s out of commission, thanks to Logan.” An all-knowing smile spreads across her lips. “So, what do you propose, gargouille? How should I rid myself of this tainted magic flowing through my body?” She slides a hand up his chest. “How should I take care of this mounting issue without a fae?” Sasha loops an arm around Aden’s neck, drawing him closer to her face. “Hmm…let me think. Wait. You’re fae.” She licks her lips. “Tell me, is it true what they say about your kind?”
“Depends,” he holds her lust-filled gaze. “What do they say?”
Sasha skims a hand over his abdomen. Dark magic crackles under her palm, warming his skin. She makes a steady trek down to the front of his jeans then tugs on the button.
The corners of her lips curl upward. “As a gargoyle—”
“Fine, gargouille. I’ve heard tales of your kind’s ability to stay rock hard for hours. Is that true?” Sasha’s hand runs over the length of his concealed cock then squeezes his erect shaft. “Tell me something?”
“How big is your dick? Because from where I’m standing, there’s a substantial bulge waiting to be released.”
“You don’t sugar-coat anything, do you?”
“You just say what’s on your mind.”
“Yep. And after the night I’ve had, all I want to do is fuck, long and hard, and forget about it.”
“I like that about you.”
“What? That I want to fuck?”
“No.” He draws her into his arms. “That you know what you want.”
Since he arrived in Kensington Cove, she’s been one of the few Wiccans he’s been able to tolerate. Her bluntness and no-holds-barred attitude made her stand out. Plus, her round, full breasts didn’t hurt. Perhaps, there’s more to Wiccans than he initially gave them credit for, well, at least, some of them, anyway.
“I do know what I want.” Her pink tongue slides across her lips. “And I intend to get it, too—every inch.”
Aden bows his head and claims her mouth. She nibbles on his lower lip then nips him.
He resists the urge to bend her over his knee and spank her. Instead, he ushers a low, throaty growl in warning. Taking hold of her waist, he sets her on top of the table then leaves a trail of kisses across her jawline and down her neck.
A current of black magic buzzes his skin, stopping him in his tracks. There will be time to play, later. But for now, he must absorb the tainted magic coursing through her body and cleanse it or risk having her claimed by the darkness.
Placing a hand on her chest, he draws a steady flow of magic into his body.
“Oh, God.” Her body trembles.
“Relax. Don’t fight it.”
A metallic taste invades his taste buds, and the swirling, tainted magic warms his body from the inside out.
“Lay back.” He coaxes her down on the table.
Pain etches the fine contours of her face, but she doesn’t complain.
“Let me help ease the pain with a distraction.” Aden slides his hands up her calves then pushes her knees apart.
A grin washes across her lips. “Do you like what you see?”
“I do.” Pantiless, she’s spread out on display for him. And the pink, fleshy folds of her flower call to him.
He kisses the inside of first her right thigh then left. Slowly, he makes his way up until he’s at the bend of her leg. Drawing in a deep breath, he sips on her growing arousal. With his thumbs, he gently spreads her open, exposing the acorn hidden under the hood of her clit. The tip of his tongue flicks the sensitive nub, and Sasha’s body quivers.
Aden wraps his arms around her thighs, pinning her down on top of the table. Closing his lips around her, he teases the sensitive flesh then suckles the swollen nub. Her thighs tremble under his hold. She’s close. He can feel.
“Do you want to come, Sasha?”
“Yes. Please.” Her words are spoken as more of a plea.
With the edge of his teeth, he lightly grazes the throbbing nub.
“Please. Oh, God. That’s nice.”
The last trace of black magic flows from her body into his, and she shudders in sweet release.
Aden listens to the erratic beats of her heart. “You okay?”
Sasha nods. “Yeah. I can honestly say that’s an experience I could get used to.” She sits up. “Now, it’s my turn.”
“Not so fast.” He eases her back down. “I’m not done yet.”
Her eyes widen, and her body trembles with anticipate.
Aden adjusts her hips then resumes his position. He slides his tongue up and over the hood of her clit, avoiding the sensitive, swollen acorn. Using steady strokes, he caresses her quivering flesh with the tip of his tongue.
“Please,” she begs.
“Not yet.” He tightens his grip around her tights, holding her in place. “I’ll let you know when.”
She gasps and grinds her hips to the rhythm of his movements.
“Now,” she pants.
“No. Not yet.”
Aden slows the momentum of his hand then slides a finger inside her. He pumps, back and forth, then fills her with a second. Her muscles tighten around him, and he withdraws. She whimpers and squirms on the table, trying to press her body closer to his mouth.
A dose of white magic freely flows from her body into his.
“That’s it,” he says.
Aden absorbs the magic. It moves through him like a wildfire, consuming every inch of his being and cleansing the tainted magic. Focusing on the essence, he allows it to build within him. He slides his fingers back inside her, moving them in a come-hither motion.
“Oh, God.” Her body lunges forward.
Aden eases her back down. “Have you ever come through g-stimulation?”
She shakes her head.
“Then get ready because I hear it’s a wild ride.” He continues to stroke the sensitive nerve ending of her g-spot. “And you will come for me, hard and fast.”
Sasha’s thighs quiver and she presses her legs against him.
Aden increases the movement of his fingers, pumping his fingers like a piston. Bowing his head, he holds the pink, fleshy acorn between his lips. He grazes the nub with the tip of his teeth, and her muscles contract around his fingers.
“Holy, fuck.” Her body shudders.
Closing his lips around her, he drinks in her arousal. She is sweet and yielding; she opens up to him. He release a current of cleansed magic and allows it flow freely between them.
When Sasha stops trembling, he releases her and kisses the inside of her thigh.
“Feel better?” asks Aden with a wolfish grin.
“God, yes.” She sits up. “And just so you know, you can fill in for my fae any time.” She pulls on the button of his jeans.
“Not yet.” Aden places a hand over hers. He growls and shakes his head. “And not here.”
“Why not?” She licks her lips. “I know you want to.”
“I do, but not here. Not in this tainted house.” He draws her into his arms and kisses her.
She grinds against his erect cock and whimpers.
“Don’t worry.” He grins, once again. “We have all night for you to learn patience, my pet.”
It was just a few years after the infamous witch hunts where thousands had been slaughtered. It was a dark and terrible time for her people and the end was not yet in sight. Her life had benefited from the suffering of others which caused her to feel guilty. That was the only reason she had met her fated one. It was the only reason she waited for him with a surprise she knew would delight him as much as it had delighted her.
Yes, Xenby had been thrilled when she had run into Roben in the bakery. As a cook’s helper he was often sent for supplies and the cook had a huge meal to prepare for so she sent him for bread instead of baking it herself. Xenby praised the goddess every day for blessing her with such a true love. Roben was out right now looking for a better job. She’d tried to convince him that he could help her by raising a big garden on the acreage around her home that also was used for her store. His pride refused to accept that working with her was not the same as working for her.
“Xenby!” His deep voice rang out as he entered through the back door. The front door was reserved for customers during business hours. She made potions and lotions for the people of the nearby town scraping together a living. Sometimes doing better than others and this was not a prosperous time for anyone.
“Roben, my love, how did it go?”
“There is no work better than what I have anywhere near here but I got a tip about a job on the other side of the desert.”
“You can’t mean to be away from home from me, all the time.”
“Never, my darling. It is a job with a caravan. I would be away from you only ten days out of the month but make as much money as I had hoped to from a full time job.”
“When a job pays that well, there is a reason.”
“There is some danger involved these days in traveling with a caravan.”
She threw herself into his arms with tears begging to fall but she held them back. Her man couldn’t stand to see her cry. Xenby never wanted to be that woman that manipulated her man by crying. There was too much love between them for devious machinations.
“Reconsider, please? No good will come of this.”
“I am a man and a man supports his wife.”
She moved his hand to her belly. “There is more to consider than just ourselves.”
His handsome face was lit with a smile. “A baby? We are having a child?”
“Yes, and I need you near me to feel safe.”
“I promise you I will be here as much as I can.” A sense of dread filled her but she pushed it away. This was a time of joy and celebration. They were bonded and living as a couple. In the witch community many never bothered to have the ceremony. In truth the ceremony was for others not for lovers who knew they belonged together forever. “Show me how much you love me, Wench.” He growled against her ear showing how much of a sexual animal he could be.
“I’d best do it now before I’m big with child and you lose interest.”
Roben put his fingers on her chin pulling it up so they looked in each other’s eyes. “That will never happen, Woman. There is no other for me and my desire for you only grows stronger day by day.” His lips claimed hers in a kiss that assured her there was plenty of love for her and no others.
He picked her up carrying her to their bedroom. Her mate was a big man who looked like a warrior but he was a pacifist as most witches were. It was their way to neither provoke nor attack another but they would act to defend themselves but only as much as needed. His family had lived in a city far from others of their kind. It was his father’s death at the hands of an angry mob that had precipitated his mother fleeing back to be among her own kind. She had been the witch but they had killed her husband for it. These people who had been their neighbors, coworkers, and a few even friends. Xenby’s heart bled for him and what he and his family had been through. Times were hard and hard times brought out the worst in people as a whole.
Her mind lost track of those sad thoughts which was for the best. His actions as he undressed her and snuck touches to places that delighted her. His handsome face, currently free of the worries that plagued him, was a work of art. The goddess had truly done her finest work when she created this beautiful man just for her. How could she dwell on any thoughts but how good being with him carnally felt right now?
His hands, lightly callused from the hard manual labor he did daily, skimmed over her belly moving lower. Roben’s hair, long blond, and fine, brushed against her breasts making them turn into hard nubs as his head followed his hand. Her breath caught in her throat as his warm breath blew over her folds. A shiver ran over her as delight rushed through her. Her hand moved down to grab his hard shaft and stroke it firmly. Dear goddess he felt so good and the things his talented tongue and fingers were doing to her was amazing. She arched up toward him as his tongue speared her going deeper than she expected.
Xenby made a gurgling sound as a wave of pleasure rolled over her. He moved his tongue and his teeth to her clit where he licked and nipped her most sensitive of places drawing cries of pleasure from her. One hand squeezed her ass while the fingers of his other hand plunged into her channel, first one then two. She didn’t think it possible with his big fingers but he added a third. Her climax hit her unexpectedly and she screamed his name as she squeezed his rod hard. Hot liquid hit her as she still reeled from her own orgasm.
She assumed he wouldn’t be able to perform again which was disappointing. Her hand was still on his cock when it began to jerk. Bless the goddess he was still young enough to recover quickly. Her fingers dipped in the cum he had sprayed on her stomach bringing some of the slippery white liquid to her tongue. The flavor burst on her lips as she moaned in pleasure. Roben’s cock was now rock hard, ready for action, and had more cum dripping from the end. Xenby spread her legs touching herself hoping he would take the hint.
He was on her in seconds leaning on one arm as his hand guided his large cock into her channel. Her legs wrapped around him with her toes sinking into the delightfully padded ass cheeks. They covered the hard muscles of his toned body, or at least they covered a rear portion. She felt full and the friction began to build as they moved together. Her release loomed and she could tell he was close too.
“Oh, goddess, Roben.” She whispered in his ear as she began to climax. Her channel clenched and grasped his cock squeezing until he joined her in the bliss that engulfed her. They clung together as their bodied jerked with the residual effects of a hard orgasm.
“I love you with all my heart.” Roben told her and she could see the truth of his claim on his face.
“I return your love and give you more.” She teased and he chuckled before he kissed her.
He rubbed her belly now clearly fascinated with the life that had taken root there. “I can’t believe we are going to have a little one. You have made me beyond happy.”
Xenby placed her hand on his where it lay over their baby. She would name her Roxen, the closest female name she knew to Roben. Their daughter would be a powerful witch when she grew up and someday she would meet her mate but they would have much to overcome. It was tough being a seer because you got bits and pieces but rarely the whole story. It was best if she didn’t dwell on the future but just lived in the here and now. They were happy, there was love, and a baby would soon be in their lives. It was enough for now
He counted a total of thirty well-trained warriors.
All of which would soon die.
When Logan gave the signal, he and his men attacked. He whipped an ax. It lodged in his target’s back. Then he released arrow after arrow. Three more men fell. His hand froze on the hilt of his blade when a flash of color snagged his attention.
Did a lass just ride into battle?
“Bloody hell,” he muttered.
“Where did she come from?” Niall said telepathically.
“We’ll soon find out.” Their eyes met. “Follow me, cousin.”
They spurred their horses and flew after her.
“Och, look at her clothing,” Niall said as he swiped his blade across a man’s throat.
“Hell and damnation.” Logan’s eyes narrowed. “She’s from the future.”
Enemies rushed them from all angles. Niall swung his sword and took one down. Logan whipped a dagger and brought down another. His men took care of the rest.
Before they could get to the lass, an enemy yanked her onto his horse.
To save her they needed to flank her on either side.
“You take the left, Niall,” Logan roared. “I’ll take the right.”
Adrenaline rushing, they flew after her. Close. Closer. Mere feet away now…
“Logan? Can you hear me?”
Surprised by Bradon’s voice, he glanced around. His uncle should be in the twenty-first century, not here in thirteenth century Scotland. No time to worry now. He needed to keep his gaze trained on the lass. Yet when he tried to lock eyes on her again, everything went blurry before fading to black. Within seconds, his surroundings snapped back into focus.
Logan wasn’t in Scotland anymore.
He was at the Colonial house in modern day New Hampshire.
Even stranger? He was on the same horse the lass had been riding.
How was that possible?
“Are you well?” Bradon eyed Logan with concern as he took the reins.
“Aye. Just confused. I heard your voice then I ended up here.” Logan swung down. “What happened?”
“You tell me. When you first appeared, you seemed to be in a daze. A blink later, you were far more lucid.” Bradon stroked the horse’s muzzle. “Why did you show up on this beastie?”
He assumed Bradon was curious why Logan wasn’t on his own horse.
“I dinnae know,” Logan said as they walked toward the barn. “’Tis strange.” He shook his head and tried to adjust from the rush of warfare to his quiet surroundings. “’Twould take someone powerful to shift me through time like that. One moment we were battling a band of warriors. The next, I was here. I’ve got to get back. There’s a lass in need of saving.”
Or was she? After all, her horse was here.
“I’d say you were meant to stop in,” Bradon said. “We’ll get you back to the battle soon. But first I need to show you something.”
“Not that but them.” Bradon gestured at several stalls as they entered the barn. “Four horses showed up overnight.” He nodded at Logan’s horse. “Including this one. Like us, they can speak within the mind. Your horse’s name is Athdara. She was here this morn, vanished and has now returned with you. Based on the magic I feel around all four of them, they were likely sent by a MacLomain.”
A strange sensation rolled through him when his eyes finally locked on Athdara’s.
“Ceud mìle fàilte,” he murmured in Scottish Gaelic. Though he spoke to the horse, it almost felt like he greeted the lass he had just seen.
“Her name is Cassie,” Athdara whispered into his mind.
Though he should ask where Athdara came from, he was too curious about Cassie. “Why did she ride you into battle? Who is she?”
No response. The horse had closed off her mind.
Baffled, Logan shook his head.
Bradon’s eyes flickered from the horse to Logan. “What is it?”
“Athdara,” he said. “While I might have arrived here on her, the lass still rode her when I left Scotland. According to the horse, her name is Cassie.”
“Interesting,” Bradon murmured. “Leslie was contacted by a lass named Cassie. She and her friends want to visit. They’re all Brouns.”
Logan couldn’t hide his shock. “Truly?”
“Aye.” Bradon’s brows perked. “So ‘tis what it seems. Maybe the MacLomain and Broun connections have begun again.”
Connections that only happened between a modern day Broun and a medieval MacLomain.
“Maybe.” Logan frowned. “But it cannae happen for me.”
“Right.” Bradon contemplated Logan with a less-than-convinced look. “Because you’re betrothed to a lass you’ve never met.”
“Aye, since birth.”
“But,” Bradon began before Logan cut him off.
“There’s no questioning it. I’m a laird and ‘twill strengthen the tie between our clans.” Logan clenched his jaw. “Not only that but I’d never turn from such a commitment.”
“You’re a good lad.” Bradon squeezed his shoulder and sighed. “Though you’ve got to be bloody lonely.”
If he only knew.
Even so, he was to marry within days and refused to be tempted by another.
“Anyway, Leslie told Cassie not to come,” Bradon explained. “But since then we found something else.”
Bradon headed out of the barn. “Follow me and I’ll show you.”
As they walked toward the house, Logan’s eyes were drawn to an upstairs window. Had he just seen a lass standing there? Maybe Leslie? Impossible. She had black hair not blond. Besides, when they walked inside moments later, they found her in the living room.
“Hey, Logan.” She smiled. “It’s good to see you.”
Leslie was from present day and Bradon was her medieval MacLomain.
“Aye, good to see you as well.” He picked up a picture propped on the mantle. It was of him and his parents when he was young. “I haven’t seen this in years.”
“You were so damn cute,” Leslie said. “I couldn’t help but put it out.”
Bradon arched his brows. “More like you had a strong feeling about it.”
Like all Broun lasses, Leslie was a witch.
“Yeah, I guess.” She shrugged and grinned at Logan. “It only makes sense. You were born in this house.”
“True,” he conceded, puzzled by her inclination to display the picture. He’d only lived here until he was three and then they had returned to medieval Scotland.
Leslie contemplated the room. “I’m in the mood for a new look in here so I brought down some paintings from upstairs. Mind helping me hang them, Bradon?”
“Aye, lass.” Bradon lifted one of the paintings propped against the couch. “Logan, what I wanted to show you is on the bedside table in your mother’s old room.”
Logan nodded. “Should I knock first? Have you got company?”
“Nay, ‘tis just us.” Bradon cocked his head. “What makes you ask?”
Odd. He swore he saw a lass up there. Evidently not. He shook his head. “Nothing. I just wanted to be sure.”
He headed upstairs, surprised when he found a small box covered with Celtic symbols. More so, when he looked inside. It contained three small Claddagh rings clearly meant for a lass’s finger. Rings that confirmed the connections through time were not over. Each one would lead a Broun to her MacLomain. Logan sighed as he eyed them. There could be no love connection for him. Best to remember that.
Guilt flared. It was wrong of him to crave love from a modern day Broun. But hell, he’d been alone for so long.
Determined to remain honorable, he shut the box and set it down.
Then it happened. The symbols flickered.
Don’t pick it up again. Walk away. One of those rings couldn’t possibly be connected to him.
Yet he had to touch the box.
Just one more time.
So he picked it up.
That’s when he saw her.
Face averted, a woman gazed out the window. It was her…from the battle. She had the same hair. The same build.
But why did she appear ghostly?
“Hello?” he murmured.
He tried again. Louder. Still no reaction.
She opened the window and touched a leaf on the oak tree outside. Suddenly, the autumn foliage turned green. A chill raced through him when he spied his castle in the distance. Based on her gasp and the way she yanked her hand back, she saw it too.
Then it vanished and everything returned to normal.
Well, as normal as things could be considering an apparition stood in front of him.
One that finally turned around.
He had a split second to register how beautiful Cassie was before she walked right through him. Unexpected heat tore up his spine. Lustful fire accompanied by snapshot images. He staggered forward and braced his hands on the windowsill when sharp arousal nearly brought him to his knees.
There was no escaping what happened next.
She was lying beneath him on a plaid. Not ghostly in the least but solid and real. His hands were braced on the ground, and though he knew this was wrong something deep inside his soul told him it was all right.
Nothing was as it seemed.
This was meant to be.
All thought fled as their eyes met then their lips connected. It was a kiss that outdid all others. Soft and tempered then wild as it deepened. After that, he became lost in something that couldn’t possibly exist. That would never happen. Yet he drowned in the sensation.
Her sweet taste.
He relished her response. The way she arched and gasped when he trailed his lips down her delicate neck. How she dug her hands into his hair when he pulled down the front of her dress and sucked a taut nipple into his mouth. She moaned as he fondled and peppered kisses over both breasts.
When their lips reconnected, they groaned. Such lust. Unavoidable desire. Desperate, he yanked up her skirt and settled between her thighs. He needed to feel her heat. To be deep inside her. Now. Lost in her eyes, he wrapped his hand around hers and pressed it to the ground.
Ready for pure bliss, he froze when a voice whispered through his mind. “Stop, Logan.”
He had come so close to taking her.
So close to betraying another.
Then everything fell away and he once again stood in the Colonial with his hands braced on the windowsill. He released a shaky breath.
It hadn’t happened.
His honor remained intact.
Night had fallen and Athdara looked up at him from the yard below. It had been her voice that tore him from his vision.
“Ye must get back to Scotland,” Athdara said. “’Tis time to ride into battle once more. ‘Tis time to save Cassie. She and her friends are meant to travel through time.”
Cassie. God Almighty, she really was coming.
Moments later, Cassie stood beside him looking down at Athdara. Like before, she was ethereal. He tried to drag his eyes away but couldn’t. She was too tempting. Too much of something that had long been denied him.
“Nay.” He forced his eyes shut. “I cannae do this.”
Time to be strong.
She was meant for one of his cousins. There was no other explanation.
Which meant that she must come.
That she would come.
It could be no other way since he already spotted her in Scotland.
What happened between them now was but a ripple in time. Somehow part of a bigger picture that could not include him.
“Logan, are you all right?” Bradon said.
Everything swirled away and yet again, one reality replaced another.
It was daytime and he’d just seen the flicker of the Celtic symbols. He was about to pick up the box but stopped.
“Nay,” he whispered and left it alone, determined to avoid temptation.
His eyes shot to Bradon. “All is well enough but I’ve got to go. I’ve had a vision. You must call Cassie back and invite her here.”
“Aye?” Bradon’s eyes went back and forth between Logan and the box. “What kind of vision?”
“One that’s connected to the horses.” Logan headed downstairs. “As you guessed, the Brouns and MacLomains are coming together once more.”
“So we should invite Cassie’s friends too?”
Leslie heard their conversation and joined them in the foyer. “No worries. I’ll call Cassie and extend the invitation.”
“So I can only assume your vision has to do with Cassie,” Bradon prompted.
Logan nodded but remained vague. “Somehow the horses are connected to the Broun lasses and they’re going to end up in medieval Scotland.”
“So a vision about Cassie, eh?” Leslie grinned. “That sounds pretty telling.”
“’Twas nothing but a forewarning that she’s going to travel back in time,” he lied. “I’m not meant for any of them. I’m betrothed and mean to see it through.”
“You’re betrothed to a lass you’ve never even met,” Bradon reminded.
“But soon will,” he said.
“Just like you’ll soon meet Cassie,” Leslie murmured.
“Only to save her from the enemy,” Logan assured.
“Right.” A tempered smile hovered on Leslie’s lips. “There isn’t anything more romantic than being saved by a handsome MacLomain.”
Logan narrowed his eyes.
“It’s true.” Leslie shrugged. “Been there, done that.”
Don’t say another word. Walk out and travel back in time. Forget any draw you have to Cassie. Forget the passion felt in a mere vision.
But instead, he paused at the threshold and looked back at the picture on the mantle.
What he meant to say was, “Please put that away. I dinnae want Cassie to see it when she arrives,” but instead, he murmured, “Perhaps ‘twould be wise to keep that there so she’ll recognize my parents when she travels back in time. A means to make her more comfortable.”
“That makes sense.” Leslie quirked the corner of her lip. “And who knows considering all the magic at work around here, maybe she’ll see something else when she looks at it.” She winked. “Besides the cute little boy with piercing blue eyes.”
“Och.” He scowled. “You best not use magic on her.”
Leslie’s eyes widened. “I’d never use magic on a woman I just met.”
“I mean it.” Logan gave her a pointed look. “Dinnae do anything that might lead her astray.”
Leslie put a hand over her chest. “Who me?”
“Bloody hell, put the picture away then,” Logan muttered as he strode outside, calling over his shoulder, “I love you both and will see you again soon enough.”
Because if nothing else had been proven with this jaunt forward in time, it was that big changes were coming. Changes he should not want to be part of. Yet his eyes drifted to the barn in passing. At the horses connected to the Brouns.
Despite efforts not too, his gaze landed on the window that offered a taste of temptation.
A glimpse of Cassie.
She would never know of it. He would never tell her. Nor would he tell anyone.
Though part of his future, she could never be his.
So might Fate be kind and wipe this from his memory.
Yet somehow he knew as he rushed into battle once more that temptation had the power to test time. Be revealed. Challenge hearts.
More than that, it could not be forgotten.
Daniel and Alexandria
Wood and ceramics exploded, the loud booms echoing through the small shack. His ears rang from the screaming of magicks blasting past his face. The metallic scent of electricity stung his nose as his greying hair crackled with static, standing tall on his scalp. Splinters struck his cheek and he flinched, more from instinct than any reaction to pain. He was too focused on the beautiful woman in the center of a magickal storm, directing her energies with a minute flick of her wrist or glance of her wild eyes. She was too far away for him to see them, but he knew those eyes well, loved how they were the color of fresh spring foliage in a shaded glen. He stared in awe at his wife as she fired off bolts of magick to defend against spells from their attackers, her own family.
Theirs was a love forbidden by her family, long descended from the darkest powers the world had known. All witches and mages had the potential to become the Light or turn towards the Dark. When Alexandria turned 16, the time a person of power came of age, instead of following family tradition, she was drawn to the Light. They forced her into training with a Dark Witch. Daniel found her five years later, hiding in the woods near her family home after a grueling day of lessons. His attraction to her was immediate. It was beyond the physical, for although she was beautiful, there was something else about her he couldn’t explain.
They met in secret after her lessons over the coming months. Alexandria had explained the reason behind her lessons and talked about her love for the Light. Daniel listened, enthralled, as she passionately spoke about all the good she knew she could do, if only given the chance. He, in turn, told her about his Earth magicks, and they casually spoke of running away together, starting their own life away from the Darkness leeching from her family. Daniel knew Alexandria was only speaking out of a wistful dream, but he was serious, and had planned everything as she told him her hopes. He eventually convinced her to run away with him, and they soon were wed.
Now here they were, more sixty years after their first meeting, peace shattered. Her family and their dark coven had found them and launched an assault while they’d been making dinner. Alexandria’s were the stronger magicks, so she stood in the thick of the battle, fighting off the attacks as Daniel gathered their most valuable possessions so they could flee. He knew he had to run first, however, and so he rushed to pack in clothing, their more useful and valuable magickal tomes and items, and, most important of all, their means of magick contact and a very special vial that would ensure they would have their child even if the worst should happen. There was no way he would leave it behind.
A piercing scream shook him to his core, drawing his attention back to the fight around him. The strength of their enemies was overwhelming Alexandria, and he knew she couldn’t hold on much longer, so he called out to her.
“My love, we should go now.”
Her head was head thrown back and her mouth stretched open in a silent scream, her tensed body clearly wracked with intense pain. Tears trickled from her eyes, which were squeezed shut. She was in agony and he couldn’t do a single thing to help, he wasn’t strong enough.
“I’m not going to make it, Daniel. They’re too strong. You need to leave, now.”
He shook his head, he could not leave without her.
“Please, Daniel, keep your promise to me.” Her voice grew faint as her strength waned. “I love you.”
Tears streamed down his face as he saw her succumb to the Dark magicks assaulting her. It broke his heart, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away, and watched as the spells penetrated her own shields and rip through her body, shredding her beyond saving. A final bold of light gold energy washed over him as her spirit fled to the afterlife before the coven could destroy it as well.
His head drooped, all will to live having disappeared with Alexandria’s soul. Daniel didn’t care what they did to him now, he simply wanted to join his love, and so he braced himself for pain.
“Oh no, Wizard, you’re not getting off that easy. You stole our greatest Witch from us. Now it is our turn. You are left here to wander the world, without aging, without death, never to be united with your dear Alexandria.” The disembodied voice spat his lover’s name. “You corrupted Morrigan with your Light, turning her away from her family, and now you will never again see the despicable creature you turned her into.”
A cold wind snapped around him, stung his heart as it passed through him. Cackles sounded around him, diminishing as the coven drifted away, but still he couldn’t bring himself to lift his head. They had taken the only thing he wanted now.
Immeasurable time passed. It could have been seconds, hours or even years. He had no way to tell, as his body remained exactly the same. Joy had long since fled, only misery filled his breast. He stared at the knapsack before him, the last reminders of the life he’d lived with Alexandria.
A gentle breeze tugged at his tunic, teasing the open end of the knapsack. Warmth surrounded him like a hug, and as he watched, a tiny vial rolled out of the bag. The soft gust brushed past his ear as he stared at the bottled potion, and for a moment he swore it spoke to him.
These words wormed their way into his heart.
Memories danced in his mind as a familiar feeling fluttered through his chest: hope. Daniel gingerly picked up the small vial and held it close.
“I hear you, my love. A child we will have, and I will see you again.”
He struggled to his feet and lifted the bag to his shoulder before turning to leave. He grew steadier with each step, and soon was clear of the hut, his former home, most recently transformed to his prison.
“I made you a promise, Alexandria. And a promise I shall keep.”
The wind was stronger now, as was the voice it carried.
Without a backward glance, Daniel left his sadness behind him and marched towards a new future, and a promise kept.
He hovered among the clouds, observing the countryside below. Both of the towns bordering the forest had a taint over them, a taint he vowed he would wipe out as soon as he could. There was something calling to him from the woods, though, and he knew he had to be near it. He was on a mission for a mate and his instincts told him it would be in one of these towns where he would find her.
Adrian threw his head back, soaking in the sunlight, feeling the warmth spread over his wings one last time. It would be quite some time before he would soar between the clouds. Inhaling deeply of the crisp, moist air, he prepared himself for the magick he would require. It was tricky, transubstantiation. To transform oneself from angelic form to that of a human, especially one of an unborn child, took a significant amount of magick. It would leave him depleted, weakened, for at least a decade, and so taking on the form of a child was the perfect cover, providing him the necessary protection. It was a big risk, going down to the humans. Not many angels attempted it, mostly because of the mass of power it took to transform. But Adrian noticed how haughty the angels were becoming as the centuries passed, watching over the people on this world. The angels had forgotten they were meant to guide and nurture them, weed out the worst of the wicked. Instead, they feasted on ambrosia and resorted to gossiping among themselves, even betting on how long it would take for the people to destroy the world. Adrian vowed to remind the other angels what they had been entrusted to do, and so it became his mission to not only return the angels to their former glory, but to also find a soul he could rely on to help him save this world he loved so much.
His parents tried to talk him out of his plan, but Adrian knew he had to do this. He feared what would happen if things didn’t change, not only for the humans but also for his fellow angels. Darkness was encroaching everywhere, and his brethren had let down their guard, becoming tainted themselves. But it was not too late. He could save them all. He just needed a helping hand, someone to love and anchor him to the purity of the Light. Adrian knew he would find her, he just hoped it would be in time to save them all.
Before he could dive, a wind whispered past his ear, seeming to speak a name.
A jolt passed through him. The fates had spoken. The time was now.
Zoe hunched over her book, swept away by Fitzgerald. She frowned when a shadow fell over the words, impeding her consumption. She looked up but couldn’t see clearly who loomed over her, his face as shadowed as her page.
“What’s a sweet thing like you doing all alone?”
Zoe’s cheeks grew warm, and she looked away. She was completely unprepared for compliments. None of the boys in high school had said more than two words to her. “Reading,” she murmured.
“Well, I can see that.” He turned and took a seat next to her. “Why are you alone?”
Now she could see his unruly hair and lopsided smile. “Because I haven’t made new friends yet?”
“Ah, well, let me be the first, then. I’m Elliot.” He planted his palm on the grass near her right hip.
She twisted further to the left. “Zoe. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“And you. Are you alone tonight as well?” His eyes moved from her plush belly to her ample bosom, hesitating there.
“Uh, yeah. You?”
His grin widened, and he nodded. “Yes. Would you like to join me?”
Zoe’s head spun slightly. A boy was asking her out. University really was better than high school. “Yes. Yes, I would.”
“Good. I have to buy some books.” He waved a hand toward the bookstore. “After that, I’d like to meet you at Earl’s. You know where it is?”
Zoe pushed a brown curl away from her eyes and behind one of her ears. “Yeah, just off 87th, right?”
“That’s right. I’ll be there at six if you will.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“Good.” He shifted quickly and his lips brushed hers before she had time to comprehend what he was doing. “Later, Zoe.” He jumped up and walked through the quad.
Zoe touched her lips. Had that really just happened?
“Where do you live?” Elliot asked, pulling out his wallet.
“I can cover my own.” Zoe tried to take the receipt.
Elliot’s hand slapped down on it, clipping her fingertips. “Nonsense. I have this. If you want, you can get the next one.”
“The next one?” Zoe heard the tremor in her voice and heat grew in her cheeks. He wanted to see her.
“Sure. We will have many more dates like this.”
Once more, Zoe looked away, shyness getting the better of her. “Okay.”
“Now, where do you live?” Elliot leaned forward.
“I have a basement suite in Bonnie Doon.”
“That’s a bus ride, right?”
Zoe nodded. “Just one. And it runs every fifteen minutes. I’ve found it very convenient so far.”
“Excellent. Let’s go there.”
Zoe hesitated for the first time. Elliot had swept her off her feet, but was she ready to take him home? Was that safe?
“Zoe?” he asked, reaching across the table to brush her cheek. “Don’t you want to have more fun tonight?”
Her cheeks fired up again. “Y-yes. Very much.”
“Well, let’s go.” He offered her his hand to step down from the booth. The small gesture stroked the romantic inside her.
Elliot stole more kisses on the walk to the bus stop, and his hands wandered over her backside while they waited. He wasn’t firm in his caresses, testing her boundaries. Zoe wondered if she had any.
How many years had she waited for this? How long ago had she given up on ever winning the attention of a man like Elliot? She yearned to see how far it could go.
Standing aside to allow her to board the bus, Elliot followed and then sat beside her, pressing her to the window. Once there, his fingers combed through her hair and held her round cheeks. He kissed her more deeply than the stolen pecks he’d taken so far. She could taste the beers he’d consumed with dinner.
“Do you like dark beers?”
“I like a lot of beers. You should’ve had a drink too. You’re tense.” His fingers tightened on her shoulder, squeezing.
“Just…just a little overwhelmed.”
“Oh, sweetie, you don’t need to worry. I’ll make sure you have a good time tonight.”
Zoe smiled and reached her arm around him, pulling him closer. He pressed in, plastering her to the side of the bus while his tongue explored her mouth. She tried to keep up, but her kiss was sloppy, impeding him as often as echoing. Instead, she let him lead.
Zoe noticed the mall passing outside. “Mm, stop,” she said, pushing him back enough to reach up and pull the stop request cord.
“No problem, sweetheart. Let’s get off this tin can.”
Elliot held her hand until they reached the side door of Mrs. Brown’s house. The lights were on upstairs and through the sliver between the curtains, Zoe could see Wash playing a video game on the television. The boy had been so welcoming when she moved into their basement last week.
“Zoe?” Elliot asked.
“Oh, yeah.” She shook her head and pulled out her keys.
At the bottom of the stairs, Elliot pressed her to the wall. This time, his hand slipped under her shirt and over her belly toward one full breast. Zoe shivered and trembled, completely caught off guard by how much her body wanted this. She should be slowing him down, but the blood rising in her didn’t want that.
His nose moved to her ear, making her skin tingle the whole length to her toes. “I have you to myself.” He trapped her earlobe between his lips. Her arms linked behind his head, gripping his dirty blond hair.
“What would you do with me?” she asked, half in anticipation, half in fear.
“Devour you.” He proceeded to do just that, taking nipping bites of her jaw and throat. “Bed?” He stepped back just enough for Zoe to slip past him and open the door to her bedroom. “Yeah.” he said with a smile. Walked her backward to the bed, he lifted her legs so she splayed over the mattress. Spinning her legs around, he climbed atop the bed with his hips between her thighs and resumed his kisses. She could feel his hardness against her crotch and wished there were a fewer layers between them. Even so, the roughness of her underwear against her skin was a sharp contrast to the wetness lower.
One of Elliot’s large calloused hands wrapped around her ankle and slid slowly up her leg to the knee. He continued over her thigh and reached her fly, releasing button and zipper. Zoe’s hands reached out to grab his shoulders, unsure what she should do. His hand pushed her knee out slightly, and he slid back, taking her jeans and panties with him.
She gasped realizing what he sought and her breathing grew more ragged. He sat back on his ankles long enough to drop his own pants to his knees. She stared at his thick hard cock, standing straight out. He planned to put that inside her? For the first time she worried about how much this might hurt.
His fingers slid over her private parts, parts that had only been touched by herself and her family doctor. The wetness gathered there burned over her clit where he spread it. “Yes, Elliot. That feels so good.” She shivered and shook, her hands tangling in his hair. She should be touching him, she was sure but had no clue where to start or what to do.
“Ah!” she gasped feeling him hard against the inside of her leg. Her eyes still wide, she shifted, moving that hardness where she knew they both wanted it.
“I’m ready,” she whispered despite her fear. This would hurt, but she wanted to feel it anyway.
“You are,” he agreed, leaning over Zoe and positioning himself. This resulted in the head of his cock rubbing over her skin several times before settling into her opening. He pushed, working his way into her an inch at a time. Just when she thought this wouldn’t be as bad as she thought, he thrust.
She scraped her nails down his back and cried out. The stimulating fire of him touching her had turned into an inferno of pain scorching her sex. Biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut, she waited for it to pass.
“Zoe?” He brushed away tears from her eyes. At the same time his hips shifted and his cock pulled free. Without the stretching, Zoe’s pain lessened. “Better now?”
She nodded, sniffing. “I’m fine.”
“Good.” He fondled her sex and she flinched, expecting it would still hurt. Using a single finger, he swirled around her pussy and drew a line up to her clit, circled that and returned. “Take a moment, and then it’ll feel even better.” She didn’t need his assurances; his teasing had already made the pain a dull ache rather than a fire. Soon she was nudging him with her knee to get him between her legs again.
“That’s my slutty girl, wanting more.”
Her brows drew together. Slutty? Surely she wasn’t that. She didn’t have time to dwell on it as Elliot thrust into her. He was right. This time she squeezed him inside her and felt her abdomen clench and roll.
Elliot groaned, and his forehead touched the pillow beside her face. “Fuck, yes. God, you are so fucking tight. You’ve squeezed it out of me.” She shook and twitched at the feel of him throbbing inside her, another wave of pleasure washing over her. Letting his arms fold, he collapsed atop, his body full against her. She shimmied to the side to make them both more comfortable. His hand rested on her ample bosom, cupping her breast. “Was it too much?” His thumb ran over her nipple.
Zoe moaned and arched her back. “No. Not too much.”
“Good. Then let’s sleep and in the morning, we can do it again.”
Zoe listened to Elliot’s deep regular breathing. Her mind was still racing, still breaking down what had happened. A guy had shown an interest in her. No, more than that, he had been turned on by her. She would never consider herself sexy, but Elliot must.
What would her mother think? She’d gone off to University and taken the first guy she met home.
Remembering how easily classmates and friends had been able to cajole her into any task, maybe her mother wouldn’t think it odd at all.
Elliot’s relaxed face looked boyish, like her little cousin or those fat cherubs on valentines. His mouth curved up in what would seem a smirk if he were awake. As she watched, his cheek twitched and she stifled a giggle.
Zoe used the palm of her hand to push his hair off his brow and kissed the top of his head. It wasn’t the romance she’d dreamed of, but it was more than she hoped for anymore.
“My bitch,” he muttered in his sleep.
Zoe assumed she’d heard wrong, but by then she was drifting off as well.
Callum Dyrdek knew someone had been following him. The scent of the beautiful, young she-wolf was unmistakable, teasing his senses, testing the wolf in him. He ducked underneath the thick brush, then glanced behind him. Oh, yeah. She was still there, trailing behind.
What in the world am I going to do with you, Alisha?
In wolf form, he could definitely shake her off, but that would mean leaving her alone in these woods. No. He wouldn’t do that to her. Too dangerous to be here right now. Alone or not.
Shaking his head, he started walking again, his paws sinking into the muddy ground. Callum raised his nose to sniff the air. Aside from the critters in the woods and Alisha’s female heat, he didn’t smell anything evil in the air.
Good…Safe for now.
How many times must he have to tell her not to stray too far from her den, the Blood Robbers? He belonged to a different clan. The Midnight Howl.
His clan members wouldn’t think twice about flaying her alive if they found her. And for a good reason. Damn. Why wouldn’t she listen to him anyway? He could protect her, of course, but last thing he wanted right now was to fight a fucking Blood Robber or try to avoid getting caught by humans while protecting Alisha. He didn’t want to take a chance.
Humans had been scouring the woods, determined to clean the Marrowstone Island of wolves that they believed to be killing all kinds of animals around. And it was all because of Alisha’s clan—the Blood Robbers.
Those motherfuckers had been preying on humans they called rejects—rapists, drug addicts, murderers, and every scum on the face of the earth. But their members didn’t know where to draw the line. They’d been victimizing humans they think or believe to be rejects. Worse, they started killing animals as well, sucking their blood until nothing was left. But sweet and enchanting Alisha hated her clan’s belief and would rather join Callum’s instead. But that would be comparable to mixing oil and water. Damn. If only it was easy to take her in, he would do it. As it was, he’d been considering taking her to his brothers just to keep her out of the woods.
Callum decided to lead Alisha to a small cabin located in the thickest part of the woods, a half a mile away from where they were. They would be safe there. He needed to talk to her. But he’d prefer to do it while in human form and with a table or something separating them.
Last time they talked, she admitted that she’d been in love with him. He would bet his balls she’d welcome him if he made a move on her. In fact, she probably wished he would take her. It would definitely solve her problem about leaving her clan.
Alisha was too beautiful and also naïve. She believed herself to be safe around him. True. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt the girl, but his resolve to ignore her charm was wearing thin. Her blue eyes alone were enough to make his dick rock hard. He was attracted to her, without a doubt. Unfortunately, even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t go beyond that feeling.
Although they were both shapeshifters, Alisha belonged to her clan. Touching her would mean waging another war against the Blood Robbers.
Callum slowed his pace. They were close to the cabin. Branches, vines, thick shrubbery, and ground covers made it harder to walk even for a wolf like him. But it also meant humans wouldn’t wander into this part of the woods. The sound of twigs breaking told him Alisha was still behind him. Callum sighed. As soon as he walked into the cabin, he transformed into his human form. Naked, he looked for some clothes in the cabinets.
He was still buttoning his jeans when Alisha walked in. She stopped and eyed him.
“You’ll find clothes in there.” He pointed at the cabinets then turned around, giving Alisha privacy since there wasn’t a bedroom where she could change. Callum busied himself by lighting the fireplace.
“Thank you, Callum.” Alisha’s soft voice broke the quietness in the cabin.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, then turned around. His breath caught in his throat.
Hot damn. Blonde hair, blue-eyed, with legs that seemed to go on forever, and luscious breasts…Jesus. Those babies would fit in his hands perfectly with more to spare. Alisha’s best asset though, was her lips. They looked so supple that Callum began to imagine how would they feel around—
“Yes. And you looked to be in pain.”
Callum shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Jesus Christ. He needed to keep his distance. The sooner the better. “Sorry. I think I got a sliver in my paw—foot, I mean.”
Alisha raised a perfect blonde brow, then shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.”
“It’s been suggested before.”
“So…” Alisha walked toward the fireplace. “Why did you lead me here?”
“We need to talk, love.”
“Alisha…you know what I’m talking about. You can’t keep following me around. It is not safe.”
“You wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.” Alisha frowned.
“That’s the thing, love. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. What if I’m not around and another Midnight Howl spotted you? He or she wouldn’t hesitate before snapping your neck.”
“I can fight.”
True. All members of both clans knew how to fight, even at a young age. Still, there were the humans they had to worry about. Not to mention the Cancers.
Oh, yeah. The Cancers. They were once shapeshifters who’d died for the fifth time. He’d seen enough members who had turned. Ruthless, soulless, ugly-puss creatures that had no purpose on earth but to kill. A good reason why they only used those who had only one life left to patrol inside their dens, but not out in the open.
Shapeshifters weren’t entirely immortals. They only have five lives to live, and if they were unlucky enough to die for the fifth time, they would turn into a Cancer.
“How many lives do you have in you, Alisha?”
“Still living my first. Why?”
“I’m living my last.”
Alisha’s eyes grew big. She blanched, too. “Oh, I didn’t know.”
“We could all fight, love, but there is always another shapeshifter better than us. I want you to live until you find someone with whom you can spend many moons together.”
“I already found him.” Alisha pouted, then crossed her arms below her breasts.
Callum swallowed. He needed send his message across quickly, so they could leave the cabin and go on their merry way. “Alisha, you have to accept the truth. I can’t give you what you want.”
“Don’t you want me, too?”
Here we go. “Alisha…” He combed back his hair. “My want is not important. Your life is important.”
Alisha frowned. “My life?”
“Maybe you don’t realize it yet, but you still have to write your own story, love. But don’t challenge Fate into changing your path.”
“I’m the one who’s been following you.”
“What? No. I’m—”
“Even before you could spot me, I already knew where you were. Then I would let you catch my scent, so I could lead you away from danger.”
Alisha stared at Callum. Different emotions flittered across her face. And then her shoulders sagged. “Many times, I smelled death in the air. You killed because of me.”
“Alisha, I would—”
“If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be a Cancer now.” Shaking her head, she whispered, “I’ve been challenging Fate.”
“Fate is a bitch when pissed, love.”
“I’ve put both our lives in danger. Sorry, Callum.”
Callum smiled, glad she finally saw reason. “Nothing to be sorry for.” But he was. For what, he didn’t know.
Callum had been trying to tell her to stay in her den. However, Alisha refused to listen because she loved him, his principles, everything about him. Little that she knew, she’d only made his job even harder.
She’d never met any shapeshifter who would show kindness to anyone—human or not. Yes, she knew about his friend. The human doctor he’d been seeing and asking for help whenever a shapeshifter had been hurt. Callum was that. Just a wonderful wolf who cared about everyone. It didn’t matter to her which clan he belonged. She loved him. That was all that mattered. She would give up her five lives in exchange of a moment with him. Even for only a few hours.
Finding out Callum had only one life left had opened her eyes though. Insisting on following him and begging him to take her into his clan was selfish. Oh, dear war lords. She had put Callum at risk of turning into a Cancer. Alisha stared at the shapeshifter. She couldn’t imagine him dying for the last time. If staying in her den would help keep him away from harm, so be it.
But first, she wanted this last meeting to be a memorable one.
She took a step closer to Callum. Then stopped when just a few inches separated them. Up close, she could see his sharp blue eyes. They were kind and made her feel exposed. The top of her head barely reached his chin, but she could still reach up to comb back his hair. Which she did. “You’re very handsome, Callum.”
Feeling bolder, she took another step to erase whatever space between them, then tiptoed to plant a kiss on his lips.
A look of surprise registered on his face, but it was gone in a heartbeat, followed by a sexy grin.
When she felt his hands around her hips, she let out a sigh of relief.
Callum tightened his hold on her waist, almost lifting her. When he plunged his tongue inside her mouth, Alisha felt it all the way to the pit of her stomach. Some kind of delicious ache swirled inside, and she didn’t want it to end. She welcomed his kisses, his body heat.
“Alisha, we should stop. Please tell me to stop,” Callum said in between kisses.
“I don’t want you to stop,” she whispered, then wrapped her legs around him.
“Alisha…” Callum walked them toward the wood table, then sat her there.
The short dress she wore bunched up around her waist. Oh, she felt hot, achy, wet, wide open, and exposed. Whoever was in charge of stocking supplies in the cabin didn’t think to add underwear. With her legs still wrapped around Callum, Alisha snaked her hands inside his shirt. She explored his back, feeling his muscles bunching beneath her hands. It wasn’t enough, though. She wanted to be touched and get even closer to him.
“Alisha, damn. You taste so sweet.” His hands were hot against her thigh, squeezing, caressing her. “You’re a temptation, love.”
Alisha rejoiced. She dreamed of this, of them together and it finally happened. But she wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of extreme emotion from just being touched by Callum. So, this was what she’d been hearing about. Why the female shapeshifters she knew would risk everything just to be with their lover. This was it.
Callum began trailing kisses along her jaw and down to the column of her neck. His mouth was hot against her skin. “Love…” he whispered.
Alisha felt surprised when he swiftly lifted her dress over her head, leaving her totally naked. “Oh, my.”
“Beautiful,” Callum whispered, then lowered his head to suckle on her breast.
Alisha whimpered from the sweet pleasure his mouth had brought. But Callum wasn’t done. He touched her where no one had ever done before.
“Callum…” She tried to stop his fingers from delving deeper into her.
“It’s all right, love. Has anyone done this to you before?”
“You’ll enjoy this. Just let me. Damn. You’re so wet.”
Alisha relaxed her legs and let Callum pleasure her. “Hmm…Callum…”
His fingers moved up and down her wet pussy while his mouth continued to suck and lick her nipples. “I know, love. It’s good.” Callum continued teasing her pussy without touching her clit.
Oh, my. She wanted to be touched there.
As if Callum had read her mind, he let go of her nipple. Slowly, he urged her to lie down. Her back hadn’t touched the table when she felt his lips on the inside of her thigh. She thought she would die from anticipation, but then he spread her pussy with his thumbs. A heartbeat later his mouth was on her.
Just like her nipples, he treated her clit with delicious sucking.
Alisha screamed at the intense pleasure. “Oh—Callum—don’t stop.”
He didn’t. He clamped his mouth on her clit like a lifeline and sucked it hard while his finger went in and out of her pussy.
Alisha’s body tightened and then turned into a stardust.
It took more than a minute before she floated back to earth and realized what had just happened. Alisha felt her cheeks grew warm. She tried to get up.
Callum stopped her. “Don’t be shy, love. We’re both adults.”
“I know.” She took her dress from Callum’s hand, then put it on in a hurry.
I will never forget this.
Fuckin’ A. Callum brought Alisha here to talk not to taste her pussy. Damn him to Hell. He lost his control. What an idiot he’d been.
“Like you said Callum, we’re both adults. Please don’t blame yourself. I’m glad you showed me this…this kind of passion. And I’m happy you are the first.”
“Stop. I understand now what you’ve been trying to tell me all along. Sorry. I’ve been too selfish to see it right away.”
“And I’ve been a poophead to believe that I could just turn my back against my clan. Your loyalty has made me open my eyes. Thank you.”
Heck. I didn’t expect this. He watched Alisha get off the table. “I’m sorry. If only we’d been born on the same side.”
“Me, too. But we were not.
Callum let out a deep breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.
“It’s getting late.” She smiled.
“I’ll take you—”
“No. I can find my way.”
“I won’t see you again, will I?”
“Someday, love. When I see you, you’ll be fat with pups and even more beautiful.”
Alisha laughed, then hugged him. “I will never forget,” she whispered.
Before his eyes, Alisha shifted. She was one beautiful snow-white wolf.
He followed her out of the cabin. As he watched her walk away, a strong feeling of sadness settled in his chest. Something deep in his gut told him he would never see her again. Sighing, Callum shifted to his wolf form then ran towards his den, all the while wondering if he’d made a mistake of letting Alisha go.
Yanti raced through the forest, her long blond curls whipping around her face. She trampled a patch of sungold as she raced up a boulder and leapt off it, clearing the brook that ran through Wolvenglen forest.
A howl sounded behind her and she stopped. Her heartbeat pumped in her ears so loud she could barely hear anything else. A flash of movement caught her eye to the left. A large burnt umber colored wolf bounded her direction.
She turned and darted deeper into the forest. Every fiber of her knew what turn to make, when to jump or dodge or duck without being told. She’d run the woods so many times over the years that it was as natural as sleeping.
A second howl pierced the sky and she smiled. She headed for a large moss slicked tree and jumped for the lowest hanging branch. The morning dew made her finger slip. She kicked up her legs, wrapped them around the branch and pulled herself up.
She lifted her hood, and pulled her deep green cloak tight around herself.
The sound of footsteps, leaves crunching and twigs snapping told her exactly where her pursuer was. She scooted higher from branch to branch, hugging the tree trunk until she crouched on the highest limbs and looked out over the entire forest.
She closed her eyes and let the sunshine caress her face. The warmth heating her cheeks in the cool spring air. She loved this time of year.
Winters in Wolvenglen were harsh and travelling between Volkzene and the forest wasn’t the easiest of journeys. But in the spring when the baby birds arrived and the bright red toadstools poked through the forest floor foliage she truly felt at peace.
She opened her eyes and looked down. Far below an enormous wolf circled the tree. She pressed tighter to the trunk and he sniffed the ground before running north.
She chuckled. Poor Roal. He’d fought a cold all winter and his stuffy nose had made tracking almost impossible for him. It really wasn’t fair of her to suggest they play seek and hide, but he so loved the hunt and she so loved being chased by him.
Her eyes travelled west and her gut clenched. In the distance lay the Wasteland ruins.
All joy washed away as memories bombarded her. A sweep of panic threatened to overtake her and she began her decent back down the tree. It’d been over four years since her ordeal and still she’d not talked to anyone about it besides Roal. Not even Redlynn. But Roal she could tell anything to. His sweet disposition never judged, never pried, he was simply there when she needed.
She reached the bottom branch and listened. Naught but the sounds of the blue crows in the trees could be heard. She jumped to the ground but her foot slipped on a patch of moss and her ankle twisted. She landed hard on her rear as a sharp pain shot up her leg. Damn, that stung.
“Are you all right?”
Her head whipped around to find Lash standing the next tree over. He strode toward her.
“What are you doing out here?” She rubbed her ankle.
She glanced up at his naked form, managing to keep her eyes aimed at his chest and higher. It had been a feat she’d prided herself on since spending more and more time in Wolvenglen. The wolves shifted at a moment’s notice and usually without care for clothing. They’d gone so long without women around, most of the unmated men still had no sense of modesty.
“Are you hurt?”
“Only my pride.” She brushed herself off and stood, testing her ankle. It throbbed, but there was no sharp stab of a break.
“Let me see it.” His bright hazel eyes met hers, sending her heart fluttering in it’s cage.
“It’s fine, really.” She took a step and hobbled a bit.
He slipped his arm around her and gave her a winning smile. “Let me carry you.” Damn him and his boyishly handsome good looks.
With one powerful swoop he’d scooped her up.
“Lash this isn’t necessary. Besides, I came out here with Roal I should let him know.”
“True. With how bad his sense of smell has been, he could be here until next week looking for you.” A bark of laughter rumbled his chest.
Her gut tightened at the jab. “He’s been sick.” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice.
For all of Lash’s good looks, he had an unkind streak that left her cold.
“Well, it’s a good thing he’s had such a good friend like you to take care of him.”
Friend… The word rolled around in her mind and made her heart sink.
Roal was so unlike the other males of Wolvenglen. He didn’t fret about finding a mate. He didn’t try to jockey for position in the pack. He was content with who he was. Sweet and strong and kind.
But the thing she loved most about Roal was that he didn’t look at her the way the other men did. Like she was their lifeline. Their future. Their destiny. He just saw her for who she was. A twenty year old girl trying to find her place in the world.
“Lash, I really think–”
He took off at top speed. “He’ll be fine. Let’s get you back and your ankle tended to, that’s the important thing.”
She wanted to argue but by the time she’d figured out what to say, they had almost reached the castle. Lash strode through the gate where several pack members and over a dozen women, attended to their chores.
“Blood hell, ya dog.” Angus threw down his anvil at the forge and strode toward them. His bright red hair sticking out all over. “What are ya doin’ boy? Ya can’t carry Yanti like that with na clothes on. Are ya lookin’ ta start a fight?”
Yanti’s cheeks heated and she tried to hop out of Lash’s arms.
“She twisted her ankle Angus. Don’t get your nickers in a twist.” Lash chuckled but the speed at which Angus crossed the courtyard told Yanti, Angus was not amused.
“I think I can make it from here, thank you.” She swung to the ground and stood gingerly on her hurt ankle. It was tender but didn’t pain her.
Angus steadied her. His fiery eyes turned to Lash. “Ya get yer naked ass up to yer room and put some clothes on.”
Lash chuckled. “Sometimes you’re such an old stick in the mud. It wasn’t like we were having sex out there or something.”
Angus took a step toward Lash. “Yer pushin it, boy.”
Lash leaned in and kissed Yanti on the head before heading up the castle steps with every set of eyes upon him.
Embarrassment heated her cheeks. She didn’t want anyone thinking she had feelings for Lash. But for all of her time around the wolves, she still was unsure of all the in’s and out’s of pack business.
A set of soft padded footsteps trailed up behind her. Yanti turned and her ribcage squeezed. Roal’s storm grey eyes stared at her unblinkingly. The sight shot her in the gut.
“Roal. You made it back. I twisted my ankle and–”
He turned his shaggy head and trotted past her. Head down, tail swishing, he made for the servant’s entrance on the side of the castle.
“Roal?” She held back the sob that threatened to escape. His eyes had held so much hurt.
“Let em go,” said Angus. “He’ll come to ya when he’s ready.”
“But… what did I do?” she asked.
Angus looked her up and down. He’d been nothing but kind to her. And ever since Redlynn and Adrian had let her come stay, Angus had become like a second father to her.
“It’s not what ya’ve done,” said Angus. “It’s what ya haven’t done, lass.”
She stared at him.
“Ya’ve been here four years and have yet to pick a mate. Most of the pack have given up winnin’ yer heart. But there are those, tender – and cocky – that still hold out hope.”
Lash and Roal.
“But Roal and I are just… friends. He’s never once shown any interest in me.”
“Hasn’t he now?” Angus shook his head. “From the defeated way he looked at ya when he walked through that gate I’d say ‘friend’ isn’t what he’d like to be callin’ ya.”
“Yanti! Are you okay?” Baleen and Fergus hopped down the front steps and ran toward her.
“Lash said he had to carry you back because you got hurt,” said Fergus. His tiny little chubby body ran toward her.
“I’m all right.” She hobbled forward and took Baleen and Fergus’ hands. “Come on, let’s get you two some lunch.”
Angus’ words stung Yanti deeper than she wanted to admit. She looked back to find him, as well as many of her sisters, watching her head up the steps.
Roal had feelings for her. Was it possible? How had she missed the signs? He’d never so much as held her hand.
Roal shifted in his room and headed for his wardrobe. His body shook with adrenaline and anger. Lash. She’d chosen Lash. Cocky, arrogant, boorish Lash. Yes, it was true, he was both better looking and stronger than Roal, but he’d thought Yanti was looking for more than a pretty face.
He’d watched her be tender with the children. Hardworking with the women. Loyal to whatever Redlynn asked of her. And always with a smile on her face. For everyone. He’d only ever seen her lose her temper when two of the pack members had played a joke on Adrian’s daughter Baleen, bringing her to tears. Yanti was fierce as any mother wolf and after what she’d endured with the other girls that had been taken from Volkzene, he had nothing but respect for her. Until now.
He pulled his linen tunic over his head and tugged on some breeches. Facing his window he looked out over the forest to the hills beyond and sighed. His shoulders slumped and his inner wolf whined.
Sometimes he wished that he could just set off on his own the way Dax had. To see all of Fairelle and to settle down somewhere he didn’t have to compete with dozens of other men for the hand of one girl. So what if she couldn’t bear him children. What did it matter anymore? He’d rather have one woman of his own than no family at all.
His inner wolf howled with longing. Memories stirred. Him and Yanti in the library discussing history. Their games of seek and hide in the woods. Him helping her scrub potatoes for supper. How could she not have known his feelings for her?
In all the time they’d spent together, he’d not once told her, but… It wasn’t his place. She was to make the choice. And she had.
His gut clenched and he swallowed hard. Yanti had made her choice, then there was no more reason for him to stay. Staying would only bring more pain, for her and for himself.
Roal walked down the hallway past the dozen or so rooms now all full of couples that just four years ago had been filled with only men. He loved his brothers. He cherished their friendship. But their unions each brought with them a spark of pain for not having a mate of his own. He didn’t begrudge them their happiness, he simply could no longer stand hanging around and waiting, hoping, wondering when it would be his turn. Two years he’d loved Yanti. And for the last one he’d been sure she was the one meant to be his. And yet, she’d chosen another.
He headed into the great room where several of the pack members sat and ate. He grabbed a fresh roll out of a basket, a tankard of ale off a table and sat alone by the fire.
The idea of leaving Wolvenglen had plagued his thoughts for a decade before Yanti had arrived. But since then, he’d only toyed with the idea. From the moment she had arrived he’d been drawn to her. Originally in a protective older brother way, due to the hell she’d been through. But in the past two years he’d found those feelings changing. Becoming something more. At least on his end.
He bit into his roll and stared at the flames remembering the one time he’d gotten up the nerve to touch her hand. It was the woman’s duty to choose who she wanted as a mate. And trying to force yourself upon a female was forbidden. Not that Lash hadn’t done his best to win Yanti over. He’d used every trick he knew to get Yanti to succumb. And from what Roal had seen that afternoon. It looked as if he’d finally succeeded.
Roal downed his ale as Adrian’s voice floated across the great room. He turned to see his king speaking with Lash. Adrian clapped Lash on the shoulder and they shook hands. A wide smile on both their faces.
Adrian then crossed to the middle of the dinning hall and piled a plate high with meat and bread.
Seeing Lash’s happy demeanor could only mean one thing. And for Roal it meant the end.
He stood and walked to where Adrian sat at a long table eating.
“Adrian, may I speak with you?”
Adrian looked up. “Roal. Of course. Please, sit.”
Roal’s inner wolf paced inside yapping and grumbling at the decision Roal had made. But he’d just have to get used to it. Because his mind was made up.
“What can I help you with?” Adrian’s calm and happy demeanor only reaffirmed Roal’s desire. With Redlynn at his side, Adrian had become a new man. If Roal left Wolvenglen, maybe he could find that for himself.
“I’d like permission to leave the castle.” Roal tucked his hands between his knees and waited.
“Of course,” said Adrian. “You’re allowed to go wherever you want. You don’t have to ask my permission. You aren’t a slave.”
Roal nodded. “Yes, I know. I think I misspoke. What I meant to say was. I would like permission to leave Wolvenglen. For good.”
Adrian stopped eating. His heavy eyebrows drew together and he stared at Roal, processing the information.
“Where would you go?”
Roal shrugged. “I don’t know. Travel? See Fairelle maybe. Maybe settle down somewhere. Find a wife.”
“Not a mate?”
Roal shook his head. “I’m tired of waiting. I’d settle for a wife.”
“But no young.” The sadness in Adrian’s voice hit him like beestings all over his body.
“I want young. I’ve always dreamed of a family. But…” He swallowed hard and then cleared his throat. “Some things are not meant to be.”
Adrian leaned forward. “Are you sure about this Roal. I know we’ve all waited so long for mates but who knows. There are more returning to us every year. Maybe if by summer–”
“I don’t want to wait anymore. The one I desired chose another. Therefore, I too must move on and choose another. My mind is made up, M’lord. All I would like now, is your blessing.”
Adrian stared down at his plate and pushed it away. The burden of being king was etched in all of the hard lines of his face. Roal did not envy him.
“You have my blessing.” Adrian’s voice came out so soft that Roal barely heard it.
Roal nodded and stood. There was no use prolonging the inevitable. “Thank you, Adrian.”
“When will you go?” he asked.
Roal moved around his hard wooden chair and pushed it under the table. “As soon as possible.”
Yanti swung baby Blain around in a circle and listened to him giggle.
“Me too! Me too!” Fergus laughed.
“Me. Me,” said Miranda.
“Everyone gets a turn,” Yanti replied.
She set baby Blain into his cradle and picked up little Miranda.
“High,” said Miranda.
“Not too high,” replied Redlynn. “You just ate.”
The little girl’s dark curls bounced as she nodded to her mother. Yanti swung Miranda in a circle and they both laughed. Her ankle ached but not as much as it had.
“My turn,” said Fergus.
A knock on the door pulled their attention. Yanti stopped spinning but the room didn’t. She laughed and sat heavily on Miranda’s bed. “Whew! I need a break for a second.”
“Come in,” Redlynn called.
The door swung inward and though her vision still spun Yanti could make out the handsome figure of Lash. Her gut twisted into a knot.
“Your highness.” He inclined his head to Redlynn. “I’m sorry for the intrusion I just wondered if I might steal Yanti for a moment.”
“Of course.” Redlynn smiled and took Miranda from Yanti’s arms.
Yanti stood and straightened her skirt. She took a deep breath and headed for the door, her vision only slightly swaying.
“But what about my turn?” Fergus pouted.
“I’ll be back in just a minute,” Yanti promised. She waved and headed out the door.
Lash closed it behind them.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” replied Lash. “I just wanted to speak to you for a moment.
He led her down the hallway toward the landing. They crossed and below in the great room she found Roal speaking with King Adrian. He looked up at her and his features became a mask. She gave him a smile and waved, but he simply nodded and headed out of the hall. Her smile fell and she shook her head. He was still angry.
“We should have told him,” she said.
“What’s that?” Lash asked descending the stone staircase.
She hitched up her skirt. “Roal. We should have called him in the forest and told him that I’d hurt my ankle. It was wrong of me to leave him there. I must speak with him.” She hit the bottom of the staircase and turned to find Roal. Lash’s hand shot out and grasped her wrist.
He laughed. “I’m sure he will forgive us in time.”
The word ‘us’ struck Yanti oddly. She’d always assumed someday that ‘us’ would be reserved for her and Roal. Hearing now from Lash, it sounded… wrong.
“Will you walk outside with me?” he asked.
She glanced down the hall where Roal had disappeared. Maybe it would be best if she gave him time like Angus had suggested.
She nodded and headed out to the front hall with Lash. Portraits of all the kings and queens of Wolvenglen stared down at her as she passed as if judging her worthiness.
Lash held the door for her and they stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. There were few people still about. Fergus at his anvil. A cluster of women and their men worked and tended to the gardens. Two of the pack members brushed down the horses, stopped and stared as she passed. She smiled and waved but like with Roal, they simply nodded.
What was going on?
“Let’s head over here.” Lash took her hand and led her around the side of the castle toward the hill that overlooked the north of Wolvenglen Forest.
Together they hiked up to the top and then Lash dropped to the ground and swung his legs over the edge of the cliff. Yanti sucked in the fresh air and smiled. She let the slight breeze wash over her skin before sitting next to him.
The view made her heart gallop. Azure morphed to violet morphed to pumpkin on the horizon as the sun made its descent. Clouds dotted the sky like pillows for the gods. And in the far distance the tall black spires of an obsidian castle jutted above the tree line. Tanah Darah.
Her heartbeat kicked and she looked away. “It’s beautiful up here.”
“So you like it here in Wolvenglen?” he asked.
“I love it here. It’s become my home these past years. With Redlynn and the kids and Angus and Adrian.”
“And me?” He gave her a rueful smile.
Something scratched at her mind. A connection that she should be making but couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“Well yes, there’s you of course. And Roal and–”
“I want you t be my mate.” His eyes grew serious and he stared at her in such a way that she’d never seen before.
She blinked several times and then looked out at the setting sun. She opened her mouth to reply but no words formed.
“I know that it isn’t supposed to work this way,” he said. “You are supposed to come to me and choose me but my heart chose you the moment I laid eyes on you.”
Yanti licked her lips trying to get her brain to work. Lash wanted her to be his mate? He’d flirted with her before but she’d never taken him seriously. How could she? Lash was sexy and adventurous and sometimes hot headed. Life with him would never cease to be filled with good times. But he had a hard time being serious about anything. He worked only when pushed into it and didn’t seem to love anyone but himself. What kind of father that would make him?
“Why do you want me?” she asked, still looking at the tree tops. “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” he laughed. “Of course I love you. What’s there not to love? You’re beautiful and adventurous like me. Plus you are great with children. You’d make an excellent mate.”
His tone revealed nothing that she could take as true admiration. More that he, like all the others, wanted a mate and she would do.
“It’s quite a commitment,” Yanti said. “I don’t even know what I want to do with my life.”
“Do? What is there to do?” he scoffed. “You’d be my mate. You would help cook and tend to the young and spend time with me.”
She was beautiful and liked children? Was that all she was good for? What he saw her as? A pretty trophy to lay in his bed and birth his young? She wanted to do more. To teach. Maybe travel and see Fairelle. She didn’t know. There was so much out there beyond the forest. So much more than just tending children and cooking meals. She and Roal had spent hours speaking of it. What it would be like to see all of Fairelle. To visit the fae in the west or see the mage towers in the south. To learn their cultures and experience life outside the castle for a bit. If she mated Lash, he’d never want to go anywhere, or do anything.
She looked into his eager handsome face tanned by the sun. He was twice her age and yet he still had no concept of anything more than his own happiness. But to tell him no would mean he’d have to wait even longer to find a mate. She hated hurting anyone. Especially someone she considered a friend.
“Lash, I appreciate the offer but I can’t accept.”
“Think about it,” he said. “I don’t want to wait forever, but I don’t want to rush you either. I already talked to Adrian and he agrees to the match.”
Her gaze whipped to his. “You spoke to Adrian?”
He smiled. “Yes. I wanted to make sure he thought it might be a good thing.”
Her heart galloped. Roal.
“What did you say?”
“I told him that we had a beautiful connection and that I wanted to make you my mate.”
She tried to keep her temper in check. Lash should never have gone to Adrian. If Roal had overheard–
But what did it matter? If Roal didn’t love her the way she did him…
She’d met all the other wolves. There were none that she was even remotely attracted to besides Lash. And being his wife wouldn’t be all bad. He was a sinfully sexy. And they had fun together…
No. Just the thought of mating Lash made her stomach sour. As sexy as he was, he wasn’t the one. Her ‘beautiful connection’ wasn’t with Lash. It was with Roal. She stood and backed away from the edge of the hillside.
“I’m sorry Lash. I can’t.”
His brows drew together. “But… I don’t understand. We’re so compatible.”
She headed toward the castle, knowing that Lash would now look at her the way all the other men did. That he’d show her the same cold shoulder he’d shown Roal and several of the others. But even at that prospect it didn’t dissuade her from what her heart already knew.
She shook her head. “My heart belongs to someone else. I’m sorry.”
Roal closed his door and headed down the candle lit stone hallway toward the kitchen. He’d packed a few books and several days worth of clothing along with some money and other personal items. The last thing he needed was a couple days worth of food and he’d be off.
A tinkle of familiar laughter drifted his direction and ducked into a room as the sound of Yanti running by met his ears. He’d know her scent, her laughter, her soul anywhere. There was no escaping it here in the castle. Part of him wanted to dart into the hallway, pull her to him and tell her how he truly felt, but words had never been his strong suit. It was best that he simply leave her to her happiness with Lash and move on.
He waited a minute until she passed and then made for the kitchen. The women met him with a nod and he reciprocated.
“Going somewhere, Roal?” asked Hannah. “It’s getting late.”
“I’ll be fine,” Roal replied. “Thank you for your concern.”
Hannah looked over him as he stuffed a loaf of bread and a small wheel of cheese into his bag.
“Taking a trip?” she asked.
Roal glanced around the kitchen. All of the women stared at him.
He swallowed hard. “Possibly.”
Hannah nodded at the other women for them to get back to work. Roal pulled his cloak tight about himself and hefted his bag over his shoulder. He headed for the door when a gentle hand fell on his arm. Hannah held out a small dried ham and a bottle.
“The tincture is for your stuffy nose.”
Roal nodded and took the ham from her. “Thank you.”
Her soft round eyes saddened. “We’re always here.”
He nodded and breathed deep as he was able, one last time. Barely a scent could be recognized but he tried to remember smells of roasting meat, mead, fresh vegetables, stone and dirt one last time.
His inner wolf whined. He was going to miss the castle.
“Roal?” Yanti knocked on his door for the fourth time. Where could he be? She checked the library, the great room and outside on the grounds. The sun had set half an hour earlier and it wasn’t his night to patrol.
“Hello, Yanti.” Hannah walked toward her with a toddler in her arms.
“Hi, Hannah.” Yanti reached out and patted the toddler’s arm. “Hi, Amy.”
Hannah looked to the door. “Are you looking for Roal?”
“Yes. I can’t find him anywhere.”
Hannah looked around and licked her lips. “Roal left about an hour ago.”
“Left? You mean to patrol?”
“No. He had a bag and packed enough food for several days.”
Yanti’s gut clenched and sweat slicked her palms. “Did… he say where he was going?”
Hannah shook her head. “I’m sorry. He didn’t.”
Yanti swallowed hard. “Thank you, Hannah. If you will excuse me.” She slid around Hannah and rushed down the hallway. He’d left. He’d gone and left her behind. Damn that Lash and his stupid vanity. It was all too obvious now that Roal had overheard Lash speaking with Adrian.
She stopped dead, her heart racing. Then he did care about her. Why else would he leave today of all days and not say goodbye? Roal loved her. He’d never said the words but instead had said it in so many other ways. In looks, in laughter, in the quiet enjoyment of being together. How had she been so blind?
She shot out into the great room and scanned it. Not finding the man she was looking for she headed for the stairs upward. She reached Redlynn’s room and tried to keep from banging the door down.
Adrian answered the door and gave her a tight smile. “Yanti.”
“King Adrian. Roal is gone.”
He nodded. “Yes, he asked if he might leave.”
“Do you know where he went?” She fought to keep the urgency out of her voice.
Adrian’s eyebrows drew together. “Yanti, not to sound insensitive but, why are you so concerned with Roal? Shouldn’t you be celebrating your upcoming mating?”
“To Lash. You chose him to be your mate, did you not?”
“No,” she said. “I didn’t choose him, where did you hear that? I want Roal.”
Adrian closed his eyes and shook his head. “Damn.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I must go. I have to find him.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Adrian.
“No.” She headed down the hallway. “I can do this myself thank you.”
“Yanti? Yanti!” Adrian lumbered after her but she was already down the stairs and out the door.
Roal was gone and it was her fault. He loved her, she knew he did. She had to find him.
The night chill whipped through Yanti like an ice shard. Her cheeks stung and her lungs burned as she raced through Wolvenglen. He had to have gone south. There was nothing to the west or the north of note. If he’d wanted to start a new life, south would have been the wisest choice.
The moonlight shone down through the trees illuminating the ground. A glint of firelight caught her eye in the distance by the end of the forest. She headed for it, her heart willing the light to be Roal.
She slowed as the light grew brighter and her heartbeat quickened. She was really going to do this. She was going to tell Roal she’d chosen him. She stopped and took a deep breath. She needed to compose herself. Pushing off the hood of her cloak she smoothed her hair and pressed her skirt into her legs in an effort to rid it of some of the wrinkles. Damn. She wished she’d thought more about her appearance before she’d rushed out the door. But what did it matter? Roal had seen her covered in garden dirt up to her elbows before.
The crackle and pop of the fire sparked ashes into the sky. A tall lean figure hunched over the flames, head down.
She rounded the perimeter of the small camp so she’d be in his line of sight when she approached. Sneaking up on a werewolf wasn’t the best decision. She waited just opposite him, watching. How dumb she had been to wait so long. And now she may be too late.
His soft dark eyes glinted in the fire glow. His handsome tanned face etched with sadness. The longing to hold him swept over her.
She stepped forward and a twig snapped under her feet.
Roal leapt to his feet and sniffed the air. Damn his stupid stuffy nose.
“Who’s there?” He scanned the dark forest and his eyes lit on a deep green cloak. His gut clenched as a slender figure stepped into the firelight. “Yanti?”
“Hello.” She stood at the edge of his camp.
His mind tried to catch up to what he saw. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
She took a step toward him. “Adrian said you’d left. I came to get you.”
He sighed but inwardly his wolf yipped in delight. “I’m not going back. You shouldn’t have come. Go back to Wolvenglen. It isn’t safe out here.”
Her eyebrows drew together causing her face to draw downward in a beautiful frown.
“I’m safe with you.”
Her words caught him off guard. “I’d… never let anything happen to you.” His throat grew tight as dried leather.
She stepped toward him again and he backed up. She smiled, making her eyes sparkle.
“Do I scare you, Roal?”
“No.” His wolf paced inside its cage.
“Then why do you back away from me?” She stepped closer to him again, making his heart pound and his hands grow slick.
“Yanti. Go back to Wolvenglen. To Lash.”
Her eyes twinkled with a mischievous glint he’d seen all too often before she did something that made him laugh.
“What if I don’t want to? What if I want to travel? To see Fairelle? To be with someone else.” She continued toward him until she stood only a couple feet away.
What was she saying? “Someone else?”
She stared at him and then closed the distance between them. Her bright blue eyes stared up at him eager and alive. She pressed her palm to his chest.
“Your heart is racing,” she said.
His inner wolf howled, fully awake and wanting. Roal’s fingers twitched to hold her. To touch her face and trace the line of her slender throat.
“I choose you, Roal. I want you.”
Words failed him. This beautiful creature that could have had any of his brothers– The alphas, the funny ones, the handsome ones– wanted him.
His inner wolf pushed against its cage wanting to claim her, to mate her to make her his.
“Well,” she asked.
“Well what?” His brain wouldn’t work.
Her eyebrows drew together. “Do you want me?”
Roal stared at her unmoving. His expression unreadable. Had she made a mistake? Did he not want her?
Her gut twisted and her hand dropped from his chest. She’d made a fool of herself. He didn’t want her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I… I thought you felt the same.” She turned and headed back toward the forest. Chills racing over her skin and tears threatening to spill.
“Yanti!” He grabbed her hand and spun her to face him. His lips were on hers before she could speak. Not hard but forceful. His soft lush lips melted into hers and then he broke away and looked her deep in her eyes. He brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “I want you too.”
He wrapped her in his arms and she laced her hand behind his neck and kissed him fiercely. A shiver traversed his body and he growled. Fire blossomed in her chest as he parted her lips and their tongues swirled together.
His fingers twisted in her hair and he pulled her body in full contact with his. Yanti warmed all over. She wanted this. She wanted him.
He kissed down the side of her neck. “Yanti, I’ve never… I mean.”
He blinked several times. He’d always been such a gentleman with her.
She shook her head. “Neither have I.”
He swooped her into his arms and carried her back to where his bedroll and blanket lay. Kneeling he set her down on them.
“Are you sure you want to do this? Here? Now?” he asked. “I don’t mind waiting until after the ceremony. In a real bed–”
She ran her hand under his tunic and up his taut muscles. “I don’t want to wait. I want to be with you here and now in the forest.”
He shivered again and his skin goose bumped under her finger. He stripped off his tunic and she untied her cloak. Spreading it out beneath her.
His toned body lean and muscular loomed over her. She unlaced her own blouse and he slid it up over her head.
His hand glided up the side of her throat and he covered her mouth with his again. He kissed from her cheek to her ear.
“I love you Yanti. I’ve always loved you.”
“I love you Roal. I’m yours.”
He kissed her hard again and pushed her skirt up to her hips.
“And I’m yours,” he whispered.
He kissed over her breasts and down to her stomach. Her belly quaked under his touch. He unlaced her boots one at a time and slid them from her feet. Then he kissed his way from her toes all the way up her thighs, making her body clench and pulse with desire. He reached for the waistband of her bloomers and slid them off; kissing over her hipbones.
She tangled her fingers in his hair. “Roal,” she moaned. “I need you.”
He nodded and lifted his mouth to hers. “Slowly, my love. I want to make sure I don’t hurt you.”
“You won’t.” She kissed him. “I trust you.” She fumbled with the tie of his breeches and then slid them down. He slipped off her skirt.
Naked beneath him she fought the urge to cover herself before him.
She allowed her gaze to finally travel the entire length of his body. A dark sprinkling of hair covered him, soft and curly. She traced her fingers over his skin and then gripped him tight and guided him toward her.
His breath came out in a harsh burst and he closed his eyes. “Wait.” He dropped to his elbows and kissed her. “Wait.”
She watched emotions play over his face as tension drew his muscles tight.
“I want you so badly,” he said.
She guided him closer. “I’m right here. Take me.”
His eyes opened and they’d gone black as his wolf’s. He swooped down and crushed her lips with his and then positioned himself between her thighs and pressed against her entrance.
Her body clenched momentarily, but the feel of him rubbing her most sensitive spot had her relaxing into him inch by inch.
His head dropped to her shoulder and he bent one of her legs and tucked it under his arm. He filled her and she arched against him wanting more.
“Yanti,” he panted. “I love you.”
His muscles all tensed and his face grew taut in an exquisite mask of torture and pleasure. Ripples of pleasure mixed with pain inside her. The feel of being so completely joined to another person left her vulnerable and thrilled.
His rhythm increased and their bodies joined quicker and quicker.
“Am I hurting you?” he asked.
“Not at all.” She ran her hands down his back to his rear and pulled him into her harder.
Roal’s breathing sharpened and it warmed her skin in uneven bursts until his back arched and he roared. Yanti watched him fascinated. His body lit by the glow from the fire. He was hers and he was magnificent.
A minute passed and then he fell on top of her and brushed at her hair. He kissed her entire face whispering all the things he loved about her. Her soul burned within her and she smiled.
“Now, let me show you what it will be like for you as my mate.” He kissed down her chest to her belly and then buried his head between her thighs.
They made love a dozen times that night, until Roal was sated and Yanti’s body hummed with satisfaction. She lay limp in his arms covered in his blankets and her cloak. She swirled his chest hair between her fingers and watched the sun rise over the trees.
“You said you wanted to travel Fairelle,” he said. “Did you mean that?”
She licked his salty skin and swirled her tongue around his nipple. “I did.”
He growled deep in his chest. “Where do you want to go?”
She looked into his handsome face and nipped his shoulder. “As your mate I’d go anywhere to be with you.”
A broad smile spread over his face. “And as your mate, I want for nothing more.”
“Well then,” she said. “It’s a good thing we’re together.”
“Always and forever.”
Elianne Adams, is a self-proclaimed tropical Princess, so how she came to be born and live in snowy Canada is a mystery. She loves to read (and write) romances that lure you into different worlds, the kinds that suck you in until the very end.
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Annie Nicholas writes paranormal romance with a twist. She has courted vampires, hunted with shifters, and slain a dragon’s ego all with the might of her pen. Riding the wind of her imagination, she travels beyond the restraints of reality and shares them with anyone wanting to read her stories. Mother, daughter, and wife are some of the other hats she wears while hiking through the hills and dales of her adopted state of Vermont.
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Gina Kincade has been writing erotic paranormal romance books and erotic short stories since she was seventeen years old.
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Kiki Howell has had over fifty stories published with three novels hitting Amazon Bestsellers lists in categories like Paranormal, Suspense, Occult Horror and Witch & Wizard Thrillers. She’s won awards like being chosen as an Ohioana Book Festival author along with having several shorts win writing contests.
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Lucy Leroux chose love.
Lucy moved to France for a one-year research contract. Six months later she was living with a handsome Frenchman and six years later is happily married to him.and still in France.
When her last contract ended Lucy turned to writing. Frustrated by the lack of quality romance erotica, she created her own.
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Katie de Long writes paranormal romances and dark urban fantasy under K. de Long. Katie lives in the Pacific northwest, realizing her dream of being a crazy cat-lady. As a kid, Katie flagged the fade-to-blacks in every adult book she encountered, and when she began writing, she vowed to use cutaways sparingly. After all, that’s when the good stuff happens. And on a kindle, no one asks why there’s so many bookmarks in her library.
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Filled with the desire to write books she wouldn’t want her mama to know she read, much less wrote, Ever Coming was born.
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Holley Trent is an award-winning author of more than thirty works of contemporary, paranormal, and erotic romance. In addition to her works issued through Crimson Romance and Kensington Publishing, she has books in several self-published series, including the modern Viking Afótama Legacy, the Wyoming-set Storafalt Stories, paranormal romantic suspense Shrew & Company, and the erotic romance Den of Sin shared world.
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K.C. Stewart is the self published author of the Hailey Holloway series and most recently, the Adirondack Pack series. All her life she had fantasized and day dreamed on a regular basis but it wasn’t until she began writing flash fiction and that she made those fantasies a reality. Now she has graduated to novels but still dabbles in the occasional flash fiction and short story. Because of her love for reading and the written word, K.C. is currently continuing her education at Clarion University for Library Science. When she isn’t taking photographs, studying or writing, she is supporting a very real gummy bear habit. Currently, she lives with her boyfriend, german shepherd and cats in central Pennsylvania.
Rozlyn Sparks is a thirty-something lady who’s been around the block a time or two. A Sin City native, she believes what happens in Vegas is fantastic inspiration for fiction! She knows the best stories are the ones that need to be shared. Give her a pen, some paper, and a Redbull and Vodka and she’ll spin tales that will have you begging for more.
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When Sylvina Storm isn’t causing mayhem with her succubus sisters, she’s designing wicked stories to share with her friends. But Sylvina’s been a naughty girl. After years of orchestrating sensual dreams and forbidden fantasies for her author, years being subdued and ignored, this muse decided to break out on her own.
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Lisa Swallows is an author of paranormal and contemporary romance, often with a side of snark.
In between running a business, looking after her family and writing, Lisa sometimes finds spare time to do other things. This often involves swapping her book worlds for gaming worlds. She even leaves the house occasionally.
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April A. Luna (also writes as Michelle L. De La Garza) is an American freelance writer and poet, who lives with her husband and children in Texas.
Find more of her enchanting works on her or her .
If you want to read more books by Crystal Dawn, connect with her author at:
Sky Purington is the best-selling author of nineteen novels and several novellas. A New Englander born and bred, Sky was raised hearing stories of folklore, myth and legend. When combined with a love for nature, romance and time-travel, elements from the stories of her youth found release in her books.
Sky loves to hear from readers and can be contacted at [email protected] Interested in keeping up with Sky’s latest news and releases? Visit Sky’s website, to download her free App on iTunes and Android or sign up for her quarterly newsletter. Love social networking? Find Sky on [+ Facebook+] and .
Phoenix Johnson has always been intrigued by the written word. Even when she was a young girl, she usually had her nose stuck in at least one book, and her need to read would drive her to peruse the back of the same cereal box each morning at breakfast. Paranormal and fantasy captured her heart, with tales about dragons, magic, and fanciful creatures sweeping her away to a wonderful new world where she felt she truly belonged. While she dabbled in writing while in primary school, it wasn’t until high school that she decided she should try her hand at writing her own book, and even gave poetry a try.
She is extremely excited to see where her writing career takes her next and couldn’t be happier, even through all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears.
To follow other projects by Phoenix Johnson, please visit her blog at:
On her Facebook Page: , where you can sign up to receive her monthly newsletter, The Nest.
Angelica Dawson, best selling Naughty Nights Press author, has been writing for several years and having sex a lot longer than that. Her love of plants and the outdoors is not diminished by the bloodsucking hoards—mosquitoes and black flies, not vampires.
Find more of Angelica on , , or sign up for her .
Tierney O’Malley always enjoyed writing stories—first on her school books, journals, and then to her first personal computer. Addicted to romance books, she dreamed of one day publishing her stories and sharing it to a wider audience. Totally Bound, in conjunction with other wonderful publishers—all listed on her page—have made her dream come true. She is the bestselling author of steamy Knight Brothers and Blue-eyed Four series. For more information about her upcoming releases, sign-up for her .
Tierney loves to hear from readers. Email her at or visit her cyber home at .
To find out more about Rebekah R. Ganiere and The Fairelle Series, or her other Upcoming Releases, or to join her Newsletter for Swag and Freebies, Please connect with her in the following places:
BOOKS WITH A BITE
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Naughty Nights Press is a quality publisher of erotica, contemporary romance, erotic romance, and paranormal fiction.
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A Boxed Set of Magical and Paranormal Romance Short Story Teasers Under the Veil is 'Where Magic Begins.' From the 20 NY Times, USA Today, and Amazon Best selling Authors of the Beyond the Veil boxed set, we start you off with steamy, magical & paranormal romance short stories to introduce our characters and whet your appetite, leaving you panting for more. Don't miss out on our boxed set of full length novels coming to you in Beyond the Veil on April 4th! Broken Angel by Elianne Adams The Ass Kicking by Annie Nicholas What Lies Before Us by Kiki Howell and Gina Kincade The Hex by Lucy Leroux First Kiss by K. de Long Two Pink Lines by Ever Coming King in Chains by Holley Trent A Break in the Path by K.C. Stewart Only In My Daydreams by Rozlyn Sparks Seduced by Sylvina Storm Foul Play by Rachael Slate Dark Intent by Lisa Swallow Full Moon Rising by April A. Luna The Witch Finds a Mate By Crystal Dawn Timeless Temptation by Sky Purington When Fates Collide by Phoenix Johnson First Bitch by Angelica Dawson Innocent Blood by Tierney Oâ€™Malley Yanti's Choice by RebekahR. Ganiere