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Destruction (Mystic #5) Preview by @BCBurgessBooks

castle pic for destruction preview

In honor of Retribution reaching 100 reviews on Amazon, it’s time to release a little preview of Destruction (Mystic #5), due to release in 2014. Enjoy!

Destruction

By:

B. C. Burgess

 (Copyright 2013 – B. C. Burgess)

Prologue

April – Ireland

The morning sun’s rays tickled the tips of the thriving terrain as Foster descended into the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains, alighting amidst Ireland’s Glenveagh National Park. He flew alongside a swift flowing stream then squeezed through a looming line of oak and hazel trees, emerging near the gate of a castle wall. The estate boasted four turrets and two towers – every inch of stone crawling with robust, vivid green vines – and the lush grounds held a loch, a garden maze, and a sacrificial altar shaded by an ancient yew tree.

Foster nodded to the guards, bypassed the scattered crowds in the courtyard then entered the keep. After traversing five stone staircases and seven wide corridors, he reached his superior’s office and knocked on the door, receiving immediate clearance to enter.

Foster stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Then he jerked to a halt, averting his gaze from his boss’ exposed member and the witch eagerly sucking it. “I can come back,” he offered, staring at a cluttered bookshelf.

“Nonsense,” Albion insisted. “Liz doesn’t mind. Do you?”

Liz murmured an answered with her mouth full, and Albion gruffly spoke as he motioned to an empty divan. “Have a seat.”

Foster headed for the sofa, keeping his eyes on the Great Dane sprawled next to it. “I bring important news from a meeting with one of Alistair Murdoch’s men.”

Albion straightened in his chair and raised a curious eyebrow. “Our American liaison?”

Foster gave a nod, and Albion looked at his lap. “Leave us, Liz.”

She lifted her head and pouted. “But I just got here.”

Albion smiled as he pulled her from her knees and brought her in for a kiss. “You can come back later, cookie. We’ll make a night of it.” With a pat on the ass, he sent her away, but as she crossed the threshold, he called her name.

“Liz.”

“Yes?”

“Bring Alicia with you when you return.”

Liz’s smile fell as her aura and nostrils flared. “Sir,” she agreed. Then she left the stately office and pulled the door shut behind her.

Albion chuckled as he pulled up his pants. Then he grinned at Foster while summoning a pipe and a pouch of herb. “She didn’t like that.”

Foster relaxed and shook his head. “You have a jealous witch on your hands. That’s a dangerous game you’re playing.”

“She’ll get over it.” Albion lit the herb, took a healthy hit then floated the pipe to Foster. “What did Murdoch’s man have to say?”

Foster blew a plume of smoke into the Great Dane’s eager face before returning the pipe to Albion. “There’s been a breakthrough. Alistair recently sent thirty-five mercenaries on an obscure hunt and they never returned.”

“So? That means nothing.”

“At first sight maybe, but there’s more. Agro has fallen.”

Albion’s eyes widened as his ears perked up. “Is that right?”

“Yes. He’s dead and the Dark Elite has disbanded.”

“Who took care of the snake?”

“A witch. A young and very powerful witch.”

“You don’t say,” Albion murmured, running a hand through his auburn hair. “What does this have to do with Murdoch’s men?”

“They disappeared while observing the stand against Agro. Instead of getting his mercenaries back, Alistair received rumors of a powerful witch. Supposedly she took out Agro and over seventy of his men single-handedly.”

Albion laughed. “An inflated tale, I’m sure.”

“Logic would agree, but the rumors pertaining to the witch and her victory are remarkably similar. They say she glows like the sun and burns just as hot. She was special enough to pull Agro out of the shadows. He was a fool, but he knew how to keep his skin intact.”

“Aye,” Albion agreed. “Do we know where this witch is?”

“Her army gathered in the state of Oregon, but the battle took place in Washington. No one knows the witch’s current location or status. She hasn’t been seen since leaving the battlefield in the grasp of mutinous Dark Elite soldiers – around thirty of them according to hearsay. But her companions – three bonded couples and her bonded mate…”

Albion raised his eyebrows, and Foster nodded his confirmation. “Yes, I said her bonded mate. He and six others gave chase, and rumors claim the witch lives, but there’s no proof to back it up.”

“The Crusaders will be all over this.”

“Yes, and they’re probably ahead of us. They usually have a unit tailing Alistair’s mercenaries.”

Albion sucked on his pipe as he contemplated the situation. Then he rose and summoned his cloak. Slipping his arms into dark-purple velvet, he threw Foster a glance. “We need to act quickly. If this is indeed the witch from the prophesies, we need to find her before the Crusaders gain her favor. Contact our troops in Australia and Africa and send them to the U.S., to the Pacific Northwest. And give Murdoch a call. Tell him to put all his resources to work on locating the witch. I want her found by the time our men arrive.” Albion clicked his tongue, and his dog joined him at the door. “I need to meet with the elders, but I want you back here in two hours to hammer out the details.”

“Yes, sir,” Foster agreed. “Shall I alert our witch hunter in the states?”

Albion grimaced. “That guy has no respect for our kind.”

“True,” Foster conceded, “but he has an impressive success rate and can track what we can’t. It would be wise to put him on retainer.”

“Maybe, but the elders will want this witch alive, so let’s give it some time before resorting to… What does he call himself again? The Ocelot?”

“Yeah,” Foster smirked.

Albion rolled his eyes. “I’ll confer with the elders, but for now, assume we’re going to give it a while before calling on the Ocelot’s questionable techniques.”

“Yes, sir,” Foster agreed. Then both men and the dog hurried from the room.

 

To Be Continued…

♥♥

Add Destruction on Goodreads by clicking HERE!

Coming up in the near future, iTunes will release an exclusive extended preview of Destruction, which will include the 1st four chapters, more than 15,000 words! So keep an eye out for my post with the link.

For an early sneak peek of chapter 1, join the Mystic Series Discussion Group on Facebook by clickingHERE!

Preview of Retribution (Mystic 4) by @BCBurgessBooks

Hello amazing readers! Deception has reached 100 Amazon reviews, so you know what that means…

Time for a Retribution preview!!!

But 1st let me say a great big HUGE thank you to everyone who reads and reviews the books. Your input is invaluable and I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. And if you haven’t gotten a chance to leave your review yet, there are still perks for doing so. When Deception reaches 200 reviews, I’ll release an extended scene from chapter 29. If you don’t know which chapter that is, go… flip to it. I promise you’ll want that extended scene. 😉 Also, when we hit 100 Impassion reviews (20 more to go!), I’ll release Quin and Layla’s meeting through his point-of-view. Okay, without further ado, I give you the prologue and 1st two chapters of Retribution (Mystic 4). Hope you love it!!!

Retribution

by:

B.C. Burgess

♥♥

Prologue

March – Klamath Mountains

The snow came at Guthrie in cold, gray swirls that matched his stormy gaze and the granite peaks slicing through the eastern sky. The fluffy flakes that slipped passed the hood of his crimson cloak clung to his lashes then succumbed to his magical heat, melting into quivering droplets.

Guthrie expected no less of the flight over Ship Mountain, which found itself blanketed in snow six months out of the year, so he didn’t bother cursing nature as he wiped away the moisture blurring his view. The unit behind him, however, started grumbling the moment they began following the Klamath Mountain Range into California.

Noon had come and gone, and Guthrie knew the soldiers were tired and hungry. They usually slept during the day, and they’d been on the move since dawn. But Agro had given Guthrie a mere three days and two nights to collect an army large enough to obliterate the coven protecting their target – a witch more powerful than any other.

Because Agro had already summoned the troops near Oregon – only to slaughter most of them – rallying more would require a trip through California, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. Then there was the matter of flying back to Oregon. The boss wanted Guthrie back in the Clatsop State Forest before the sun snuffed out the third night, and if the lieutenant found himself unable to make his deadline, he’d be wise to fly in the opposite direction, because those who failed Agro generally failed to draw breath long enough to regret their mistake.

Wiping away another melted snowflake, Guthrie dipped into a ravine and slowed to a hovering stop. According to Agro’s map, a unit of Dark Elite soldiers camped nearby, awaiting the boss’ call.

Guthrie lifted the concealment spell on his body and opened the sleeve of his cloak, letting his snake taste the air. Then he dug into a hidden pocket and retrieved a map printed on a scroll of parchment.

Several soldiers dropped into the gully around him and lifted their concealment spells, relieved to be out of the wind, but Guthrie ignored their sighs as he unrolled the map and mumbled the word Appalachia. Wind whistled along the jagged mouth of the frozen chasm as he scanned the map’s legend. Then he flipped the scroll over and located the correct coordinates. The camp was less than ten miles away.

Tucking the map in his cloak, he glanced at his unit, who wisely kept their complaints to themselves while awaiting their next command. Most of them were experienced soldiers who knew better than to expect a reward for their obedience, but Guthrie decided to throw them a bone.

After ushering Silestra back into his sleeve, he concealed his body and floated toward open air. “We’ll take a break and eat when we reach the camp ten miles south, but then you have a twelve hour task ahead of you.”

“What will you have us do?” Lynette asked.

Guthrie looked at her, a woman as deadly as she was beautiful, a tempting rose with razor sharp thorns… which she’d recently plunged into his sides with whispers of rebellion. “We’ll split up,” he answered.

Lynette scowled, her porcelain skin creasing around her violet eyes and red lips.

Guthrie ignored the look and continued. “A few of you will accompany me to Nevada to fetch Agro’s soothsayers, while the others continue south. There are a few more settlements in California I don’t have time to visit. Now conceal yourselves. A hot meal is less than twenty minutes away.”

With exact coordinates, they easily found their destination and entered the sleepy camp unannounced, bringing down protection spells with predetermined passwords.

A nearby guard jolted to attention and scanned the crimson cloaks. Then he met Guthrie’s confident stare and tried to stand taller. “What’s the meaning of this?”

Guthrie sized the man up then looked around, pinpointing the largest tent. “I’m Agro’s new lieutenant, here on his command.”

The guard slowly relaxed and eyed the rest of the travelers. “What happened to Farriss?”

“Good question,” Guthrie returned, heading for the tent undoubtedly housing the camp’s commander. “He went missing five days ago. Wake everyone and tell them to prepare to depart.”

Lynette huffed and crossed her arms. “I thought a hot meal was on the menu.”

Guthrie narrowed his eyes on her, and her arms slid to her sides as she bowed her head. “Sir.”

Guthrie stifled a smirk, wise enough to know Lynette wasn’t submitting. She was merely appeasing him in an effort to get what she wanted, which happened to be his ear, so that she may whisper mutinous plots into it. And considering her outrageous schemes, she probably wanted to build him up in front of the other soldiers, cement him as a man worthy of an army’s obedience and loyalty.

Guthrie found the guard’s curious stare and set him to task. “Have someone prepare breakfast. Everyone will need sustenance for their journey.”

“What journey?” a gruff voice cut in.

Everyone looked over, watching the camp’s commander emerge from his tent as nude as the day he was born. A witch in a skimpy, red slip followed him out, paying little attention to the crowd as she made her leave, and the commander gave her ass a slap before rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His blond hair and beard were in need of grooming, and his puffy eyelids bore witness to his disturbed slumber. But at thirty-two-years-old, he had youth on his side and stood as tall and sturdy as his morning wood. He was also a bonded child and had a thick and solid power-band to prove it.

“Guthrie,” he laughed, tossing his hands up in welcome. “Fuck the Heavens, man, I haven’t seen you in six years.” He threw an arm around Guthrie’s shoulders and looked to the other newcomers, quickly spotting Lynette.  A grin twitched his facial hair and exposed a perfect row of shiny teeth. “Lady Lyn, you’re aging like a fine wine.”

Lynette snorted and rolled her eyes. “You’re full of shit, Token. More like a used mattress.”

“Do I sense some tension?” Token asked, turning his olive-green gaze on Guthrie.

Guthrie left the question unanswered and addressed his unit. “If you want to eat, you better do it.”

The soldiers hastened away, and after a moment’s hesitation, Lynette followed.

“Got any food in here?” Guthrie asked, giving Silestra some air as he entered the commander’s tent.

Token followed him in, magically donning a pair of shorts as he gestured toward a sofa. “Sure. Take a seat. How have you been, man?”

While Token put together a tray of cheese and crackers, Guthrie scanned the impressive expanse of the commander’s opulent quarters. “I’m Agro’s new lieutenant.”

“No shit?”

“No shit,” Guthrie mumbled.

Token set the tray on the coffee table and poured two glasses of wine. “Congratulations are in order then.”

That was a lie, and both men knew it, but they played the roles they’d played most their lives. “Thanks, Toke,” Guthrie replied. “Got any meat?”

“It’s on its way. So what happened to the last guy?”

“Missing.”

“Flee?”

“Probably not.”

“Dead then.”

“Most likely.”

A witch entered the tent with a tray of ham then promptly made her exit, and Guthrie took a few bites before looking at the commander. “Have you heard any news?”

Token crossed his arms over his broad chest, holding his bicep in one hand and his glass in the other. “I know the boss is after a witch. All the commanders received orders to search for her, and I was told to move north. We were about three hours down the coast. I’ve been sending out teams to gather local gossip, but we don’t know anything more than a name and that she’s a bonded child.”

The bonded child,” Guthrie corrected.

Token’s forehead wrinkled as he took a swig. “You’ll have to explain.”

“How old were you when you were brought into camp?”

“Seven.”

“Then you may not remember.”

Token grabbed a piece of ham and sat on the sofa’s armrest. “Remember what?”

“Twenty-two years ago, two bonded children bonded with each other.”

“What? That’s impossible.”

“Most magicians would agree, but I saw them. Their lights were bigger and brighter, and their power-bands put others to shame. When Agro found out about them, he set out to acquire their child.”

“Of course.”

“But he was fooled into thinking the woman died while their child was still in the womb and too young to survive. The father sacrificed his life to ensure Agro believed the lie.”

Token gave an impressed nod and took another swig. “Now the truth’s out?”

“Yes. The witch is alive, and we’ve been on her trail for nearly a month, but we haven’t been able to catch her. When we do manage it, we’re going to have a fight on our hands. Her parents are long gone, but her grandparents and their coven are prepared to die for her.” Guthrie paused, taking the time to chew and swallow a bite. Then he charged on. “And it seems Agro is prepared to do the same. He’ll stop at nothing to get this witch.”

“And that’s why you’re here,” Token surmised, slowly running his gaze over his luxurious abode. “Calling the troops home.”

“Yes, all those I can gather by Thursday night. I also need to make a trip to southern Nevada to buy a couple of soothsayers.”

Token rose from the sofa and moved to the entrance of his tent, moving one flap aside so he could see the soldiers eating breakfast. “And the children? Will they accompany us?”

“No. I need your weakest soldiers to take the children to a camp near Lake Tahoe. The witch’s family wants us to believe her trail leads to the area, and Agro wants them to think we’ve fallen for it. Once the children’s handlers get them settled, they’re to make public appearances and ask blatant questions regarding the witch, so that word will get back to her family that we’ve moved on. Then, once they let their guard down, we’ll move in. Unless the new soothsayers prove useful, which is about as likely as the witch turning herself in. Of all the visions Agro’s yanked from soothsayers over the past twenty-two years, none of them have pertained to the witch or her family.”

Still gazing outside, Token gave a nod. “Lynette seems on edge.”

“That bitch is crazy,” Guthrie replied.

Token loudly laughed as he turned into the tent and grabbed a piece of cheese. “I see your passion for each other still burns.”

“That’s one way to put it. So, how do your soldiers measure up? Anyone worthy enough to lead besides yourself?”

“Lead in what way?”

“Excluding those taking responsibility for the children, most of the soldiers need to head to Oregon, but I need a trustworthy unit to take your map and collect the rest of the troops in California. They have two nights. They need to report to Agro before the sun rises on the third.”

“I have a handful who can handle the task,” Token assured. “What would you have me do?”

“You’ll go with me. When we’re done in Nevada, I need to hit Wyoming and Montana.”

“Shit, man. Are we starting a war?”

“We’ve already cleaned out Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, but Agro’s been on edge and skimmed us down to around seventy soldiers. We’ll be lucky to double it within the time limit he’s given me.” Guthrie ushered Silestra up his sleeve as he stood. Then he downed his wine and headed for the exit. “And yes, Agro’s preparing for war. We’ll either capture the witch or die trying.”

“But it’s one witch.”

Guthrie halted and turned, finding his comrade’s stare. “A witch favored by the Heavens, Token. You’d be wise to remember that from now on. This is no ordinary hunt. The stakes are higher than ever, and the boss is following this one through no matter the cost.”

Token took a long look at his comfortable quarters – a leisure he may never experience again. Then he found Guthrie’s stare and gave a nod. “I’ll see the soldiers to purpose.”

Chapter 1

Cannon Beach, Oregon – Karena’s Royal Suite

 

 The first time Quin awoke to a gold and silver haze floating around him and Layla’s naked bodies, conflicting emotions crashed over him, squeezing his heart as the organ soared. He’d received the most amazing gift life could give – she was tucked into his chest, her warm breath a tingling channel for the peace and desire she instilled in him – and he was beyond grateful for the gift, but wicked talons lurked in the shadows, threatening to swoop in and grab his angel away.

 Everything had changed. The situation was completely different now, but the danger remained and had strengthened. He and Layla would never be able to live a risk free life. Overnight they’d become the most dynamic witch and wizard the world had ever known, and there was no doubt in Quin’s mind they were the only two of their kind, making them a delicacy coveted by every evil magician in the world. And not only would wicked magic users want control over them; common magicians would view them as an intriguing freak show set up for the entertainment of others. The two of them might as well have targets painted on their backs.

 Quin had already considered a life in hiding, and it wasn’t an appealing idea. He loved his family and cherished his home. When his friends had been mentally preparing to someday leave their communities, he’d refused to consider it, telling himself it would take an angel to separate him from his coven. Well, he had his angel now, and he’d follow her anywhere, but she didn’t want to leave either. And who the hell could blame her? She’d grown up with only one person to love and to be loved by. Now she had a whole slew of them, twenty-six people who’d give their lives for her; twenty-six people she’d die for. She’d just gotten her hands on it; of course she didn’t want to let it go.

 He looked down at her long, onyx spirals. Then he watched her peaceful aura flutter around them, holding more ribbons of color than any other aura he’d seen. Twenty-six of the distinguishable cords – those representing their coven – quivered and flowed a little faster than the rest, drawing attention away from the thinner and wispier strands. Then there was the thick band of sparkling dark-brown, which flowed like an espresso river sprinkled with pulsing stars, so bold and so substantial it looked tangible.

 No, he didn’t want to leave, but if that’s what it would take to keep her from harm, that’s what they’d do. The sacrifices would be difficult to make; they’d miss much of what life had to offer, but the emptiness would never compare to what they’d feel if they lost each other. Through all the worry and fear, every second they spent in each other’s arms was a blessed second, and Quin would turn away from the rest of the world in a heartbeat to hold Layla’s breathing body against him.

 Her aura continued to flow peacefully, but Quin knew that would change the moment she awoke and started worrying about the difficult decisions facing them. He despised the notion. He wanted her to wake up and feel the pure wonder of it, not the worry of it.

Taking a chance, he moved his arms from around her and replaced them with magic. Then he carefully floated her further up his body. She stirred, but he had no problem adjusting his spell to her movements. After catching a glimpse of her serene expression, he slowly rolled her over. Then he gently lowered her back to the bed. Her aura picked up speed when she made contact with the blankets, so he quickly formed his body to the back of hers and touched his lips to her ear.

“Layla, my perfect angel, are you ready to wake up?”

 She smiled and stretched against him, then rolled back into a ball, but she didn’t open her eyes or seem fully awake when she mumbled his name.

 He gave her earlobe a little nibble then moved his mouth to the back of her neck, listening as her sigh whispered across his pillow. He reached up, finding her parted lips with his fingertips. Then he trailed his hand down her torso, emitting soft shocks that twitched her stomach and vibrated her aura. When he got to her thighs, he slipped his hand between them, completely covering the smooth entrance to her body. Then a whoosh of magical warmth flowed from his palm, igniting sensitive nerve endings and jolting her awake.

 Her arm flew behind her, frantically searching him out, and he abandoned her thighs to grab her hand. He pulled the inside of her wrist to his lips, kissing it until she relaxed. Then he stretched her hand over her head and placed it in his idle palm.

 His freed fingertips trailed down her arm and side, finding their way to her inner thigh, and with a little tug, she was open to him, surrounding his erection with humid heat. His heart pounded against her shoulder blade as he lowered his lips to her ear. Then he whispered her name as he pushed inside her body, his passage tight and swollen from the night before.

 She cried out, her insides flexing as her hips jerked, and he made to pull away so he could heal her. But before he could free himself, or even murmur an apology, she arched and forced him deeper. A shaky breath lodged in his throat, nearly choking him as his arm flew to her torso, and her wrist slipped from his other hand with ease. She reached behind her, clutching his jaw as she tilted her head back. Then she held his cheek to hers while moving against him in a way that can’t be learned, not by time nor experience. Only instinct driven by pleasure moved like that.

“Damn,” he mumbled, trying to maintain his sanity, but he hadn’t expected such a carnal reaction. She’d yanked away his control in more ways than one, leaving surrender his only option.

His twitchy fingers came to a rest on her collarbone, and his forearm kept her close as her lungs and hips quickened, spurred by an oncoming wave of pleasure.

He sharply inhaled, and her palm slid from his jaw, her rapid breathing in sync with her flexing core. Her breast cuddled his arm as she found his hand. Then she locked their fingers together and squeezed. His chest deflated as he firmly pulled her closer, and she used magic to keep it that way as she arched and undulated, welcoming deepened thrust with pulsing insides.

 Her head rolled, gliding moist and parted lips across his cheek, and as her breathy exclamation floated over his jaw, intense tingles erupted, making him feel as light as air as they pushed him over the edge. His chest rumbled as he buried his face in her hair, drowning his senses in her heavenly bouquet. Then a rush of relief launched him into a fit of spasms.

 Several sensational minutes passed before their muscles melted into sated mush, and they both sighed as fulfillment replaced urgency.

He remained submersed in curls, and after a deep breath, he mumbled into them. “You’re amazing.”

 She wiggled, moving her neck closer to his lips. “You’re the perfect alarm clock.” 

 He laughed, and shivers shot through their bodies.

“What could I do?” he breathed. “You looked stunning sleeping in my arms, so beautiful and bright. When my naked angel tempts me, I bite.”

 “Tell you what, feel free to wake me up anytime, because apparently temptation is the root of all that’s wonderful.”

 He laughed again, and it included a combined twitch. “You’re heavenly,” he whispered, blindly finding her cheek, “in so many ways.”

 “I can’t believe it’s like this,” she replied, turning her lips into his palm. “Each time it gets better, which is crazy, because the first time was insane. I mean, how are we ever going to get anything done?”

 He laughed yet again, a little harder this time, and tingles shot through their bloodstreams, turning his laugh into a groan that muffled into her neck.

 “See?” She’d won her debate. “Productivity has become impossible.”

 “I’m okay with that.”

 “We’re going to have to be. We’re pathetic when it comes to controlling ourselves, and neither of us wants to change. We’ll just have to surrender and live the rest of our lives like this.”

 “I’m okay with that.”

 She kissed and nuzzled his palm. “Me, too, but I think we should figure out a safe way to drink coffee. We don’t want to burn ourselves.”

 He hugged her tightly and took a deep breath. Then he removed himself from her hair and body.

“No,” she protested, quickly rolling over. “Don’t go. I don’t want coffee. I want you.”

 He smiled as he scooted closer. “You got me, love, forever. But we need coffee if we’re going to keep up this regimen.” He brushed her hair from her face as he glanced at her aura. Then he found her shiny, emerald eyes. “It’s also one in the afternoon, and I need to call your grandparents to check in.”

 “Oh.”

As she processed the comment, her brow wrinkled over her cute nose, so he reached up and smoothed it. “What’s on your mind, Layla?”

 “Are you going to tell them we bonded?”

 “Not over the phone.”

 “Then how will we do it?”

 “Well, I guess we should have them come see for themselves. They won’t believe it otherwise, and I’d rather not leave the inn until we’ve talked to them.”

 Layla’s mouth fell open as her eyes widened. “You’re going to invite them over like it’s no big deal then let them walk in on this shocker?”

 “I’ll ask them and my parents to visit; tell them we need to talk. And yes, they’ll have to just walk in and see it.”

 “Oh,” she murmured, biting her lip. “You’re calling them now?”

 “Do you want me to wait?”

 “I don’t know. It’s kind of scary.”

 “What’s got you scared, angel?”

 “Well, it’s like I’m a teenager about to tell my parents my boyfriend knocked me up or something.”

 He laughed and caressed her pout. “It’s nothing like that.”

 “Kind of. I mean, we’re basically saying hey, we had sex, and now we’re committed for life. We understand it’s going to be hard. Will you help us? If that isn’t eerily similar, I don’t know what is. Besides, I’m scared they’ll get really upset. The last time they walked into a situation like this, it was the first step in a disastrous journey that ended with the deaths of their children. How will they see anything other than bad memories when they look at us?”

“Okay,” Quin soothed, “I see your point, but you’re forgetting how much resilience your grandparents have, how much appreciation they have for life, and how much love they hold for you. Yes, they’ll be scared and worried, but above all, they’ll be happy for us.”

 “Maybe.”

 “No, Layla Love, not maybe. They know what it’s like.”

 Layla stared into his eyes – into his soul and all the sincerity it held – and his reassuring words soaked in, loosening her tight stomach while allowing for a smile. “It’s perfect, you know.”

“Yes it is, and it’s nothing like a teen pregnancy, no matter how you spin it.”

 Her smile stretched. “But the analogy sounded good, right?”

 His dimples appeared as he kissed her grin. “Yes it did. You are witty with your words, my love, and you make me smile.”

 Her expression softened as she moved a forefinger to one of his dimples. “I love your smile, Quin. It makes my life better.”

 “Your smile is like a shiny star, Layla, and I’m not the only person who treasures it. Your grandparents will need time to process the shock and worry, but in the end, they’ll want to celebrate your happiness. So, should I invite them over now, or wait? Either way I need to call to check in.”

 “I guess now. They’re going to know eventually…” She paused, eying him as her lips twitched into a sly grin. “Just like when a teenage girl gets pregnant.”

 He laughed and lightly tickled her neck. “You’re sticking to that analogy?”

 “No,” she giggled. “I just wanted to see your dimples get deeper.”

 His grin widened as he gave her a kiss then another. “I’ll call them while I get your coffee.”

 “Okay,” she agreed, pretending to examine her fingernails. “I’m going to go take a shower.”

 “Oh yeah?” he laughed, recognizing her game, but instead of calling her out, he took it a step further. His fingertips slid down her back and over her butt. Then they were between her thighs, softly stroking her opening before pressing inside.

She gasped and gripped his bicep, wiggling against his hand like an attention starved feline, which was crazy, because she’d just gotten off!

He moved closer, wedging her between his hand and hips so she couldn’t move. “Hold still,” he whispered. “I’m healing you.”

This was not what she thought he was doing, and her eyes narrowed. “Tease.”

He flashed an ornery grin as his fingers inched deeper, meticulously healing sore flesh along the way, and her eyes rolled back despite her attempt to pout. By the time he was satisfied with his work, she was fighting the urge to scream at him to stop healing her and start doing her!

“Listen,” he insisted, taking her cheek in his free hand as his fingers slid away. “If I want to keep making love to your body, I need to take care of it. We’re a blessed breed, but our bodies bruise and break as easily as anybody’s. They can’t keep up with us without a little help. Now go get in the shower,” he added, giving her butt a soft pat, “and I’ll bring your coffee to you.”

 She cocked an eyebrow, trying to read his expression while wishing his hand was back between her legs. “Is coffee an analogy in this case? Because that would be lovely.”

 He laughed as he pulled her into hug and buried his face in her hair. “Take a long shower, my love, and I’ll meet you there.”

“Mmm… That sounds much tastier than coffee.” She playfully bit his neck then pushed on his shoulders. “Hurry up and make your phone calls, then come get clean with me.”

 Following one more kiss, he rolled out of bed and headed for the parlor, and Layla boldly watched him go, surprised by how unabashed she was to do so. Her embarrassment from the night before seemed unreasonable now… and downright foolish, because he was fine as hell, with a tight and muscular backside, and a well-endowed front that made her ache with need. They’d finally had sex, which was supposed to release the tension, but her desire burned hotter than ever.

With tremendous effort, she shifted her attention from his gorgeous body to his aura, and her eyes widened. The haze covered a bigger area than before, the colors were bolder, and his power band was almost twice the size of her grandparents’ power bands. “Your power band is different,” she noted. “It’s much bigger.”

 “I know,” he replied. “You should see yours.”

 She foolishly looked down at herself, like she’d actually see it, and of course she couldn’t. But she could see shiny, golden swirls and silver rivers, which seemed lost without Quin beside her. The silver strands usually looped around both their bodies, like they were trying to tie them together, but with him out of reach, the glittering bands repeatedly stretched out then curled back in, as if beckoning him. She’d never seen anything like it in another magician’s aura or bonded light, not even her parents.

 Quin had been out of the room for about five seconds, and Layla could feel his absence – an unsettling sensation that started small but got stronger every second he was gone. She crawled out of bed and walked across the room, gauging whether or not the amount of distance between them made a difference. Her heart lightened as she drew closer to the parlor, and by the time she turned and pressed her back against the wall, her anxiety had nearly disappeared. Suddenly and without conscious reasoning, she understood why – he was standing on the other side of the wall, testing their new bond the same way.

 He quietly laughed, and she smiled as she rested her head against the soft wallpaper. “I already miss you, Quin.”

 “Me, too, love, but you know what this means, right?”

“What?”

“We’ll always be able to find each other, even when there are obstacles in the way.”

“How about we just skip the losing each other part, huh?”

He was silent for a moment. Then she felt a spike in his energy, in the soothing warmth she experienced when he was nearby and loving her. “That’s the sweetest deal I’ve ever been offered, Layla. I’d die to keep you within reach.”

She turned and pressed her palms to the wall, knowing in her gut he was doing the same. “Then that’s the deal.” An emotional lump had captured her throat, but she forced it down, replacing it with the humor, peace and pleasure he brought into her life. “Now go get my coffee and come finish what you started.”

 

Chapter 2

 

 Quin bypassed breakfast on the balcony, serving it on the kitchenette’s bar instead, and Layla didn’t mind losing the ocean view, because she had a better one sitting beside her. He’d thrown on a pair of shorts after their steamy shower, but his chest was bare and mere inches from her roaming hands. She wore a robe, but only because she didn’t want crumbs in her lap. Getting fully clothed seemed unnecessary since the layers would soon be stripped away.

 She took a bite of apple and laid her head on his shoulder as she chewed, but when his hand slid inside the front of her robe, her chewing stopped. “You’re going to make me choke.”

“If I do, I’ll save you then start pureeing your food.”

“Eww…”

“Then don’t choke,” he laughed, keeping his hand on her chest.

Obviously he had no plans to remove it, so Layla concentrated on chewing and swallowing, a task that had come naturally for two decades.

“Does it bother you?” he asked.

Her eyes widened as her head jumped from his shoulder. “Are you reading my mind?”

He laughed and pulled his hand from her robe, moving it to her curls instead. “No, but I see your aura more clearly than I see others, and when I’m close to you, I can sense your emotions.”

“So what did you sense?”

He intently studied her for a moment, like he was trying to decide what he wanted to say, and when he finally got around to saying it, he pulled her close for the delivery. “I’ll tell you, but I want you to do something for me.”

“Okay,” she agreed, and what a silly request it was. She’d do anything for him.

“I want you to work on being more open and vocal with me.”

“Oh,” she breathed, stunned by the request. Guess it wasn’t so silly.

“I know you’re not used to expressing yourself out loud,” he continued, “but that needs to end with me. Please.”

“Okay,” she agreed, feeling guilty.

“Thank you,” he returned. Then he kissed her head and gave her some room. “So, I get the sense I make you feel dependent.”

Layla grabbed a piece of blueberry muffin and stuffed it in her mouth, trying to ignore how buttery and delicious it was so she could consider his interpretation. “That’s a good way to put it,” she decided, “a nice way, because what I really feel like is a child. And that muffin is incredible.”

“Hmm…” His fingers trailed from her hair to her throat then lower. “I don’t see you as a child.”

“I know,” she assured, pulling his palm to her heart.

“It’s the way the men in my life treat women,” he added. “It’s the way I was raised to be. I know you’re not helpless. I take care of you because I want to, because it makes me feel good.”

“I know,” she repeated, keeping her eyes on his, which seemed to be pleading with her to understand and accept.

“Then back to my original question,” he whispered. “Does it bother you?”

“No, Quin. I love how you take care of me, but it’s still new. I need to adjust.”

“It’s not all on your shoulders, Layla. I can adjust, too. If you need a sense of independence, just tell me, and we’ll figure out a way to give it to you.”

“Thank you.”

He laughed and drummed his fingers on her heart. “You’re silly. Don’t thank me for this.”

She smiled as she pulled his palm into a kiss. Then she placed it on one of her breasts before attacking the rest of that muffin.

Once they’d eaten enough to stay nourished, he carried her to the sofa. Then he showered her in teasing kisses before leaving her there so he could clean their breakfast mess. She pouted as she watched him walk away, but the TV remote was nearby, so she reached for the distraction.

“I wouldn’t bother with the TV,” he said, refilling their coffee mugs. “They’re almost here.”

 Layla jolted upright, her stomach flipping as her fidgety fingers dropped the remote. She stood, thinking she might get dressed. Then she sat, deciding there wasn’t time. She played percussion on her knees then turned her attention to a fruit basket on the table. Apples and oranges hopped around in the air before peeling and slicing themselves. Then a plate flew from the kitchen and smoothly landed on the coffee table. The uniform pieces of fruit arranged themselves on the plate as the rejected peels and cores zoomed to the trash. Then a fresh flower arrangement appeared on the table.

 Quin laughed, and Layla looked up, watching him approach with their coffee. He placed the mugs on the table. Then he sat on the sofa and pulled her onto his lap. “That looked like a fun way to fidget.”

 The moment he touched her, her heart rate slowed and her muscles relaxed. She remained nervous, but the need to act was gone. “It makes a big difference when you touch me.”

He smiled and pulled her palm to his cheek. “It’s the same for me, and it will always be that way. We’ll never get over that feeling.”

 She watched him kiss her wrist, remembering the unease she felt when they were in separate rooms. “So how do bonded couples leave each other’s sides?”

 “They don’t unless absolutely necessary.”

 Her eyes widened. “So you and I will never be apart?”

 He soberly looked over. “I sincerely hope not.”

 “What about your job?”

 “We’ll figure something out.”

“I guess we have a lot to figure out.” Her gaze fell to her lap as her mind flipped through things that would need to change. His career was on a perpetual hiatus, he’d have to move in with her, and any future plans he’d made would have to be rethought. His life had been flipped upside down overnight.

 “Stop, Layla.”

His stern voice had her head snapping up. “Stop what?”

“Stop thinking I’m making big sacrifices, because I’m not. You’re my life, just you. All the other things are accessories, and I don’t need accessories if I don’t have my life. Do you feel like you’re missing out?”

 “No!”

 “Then you must know I feel the same. We’re bonded, love. We’re on the same wavelength. We have been this entire time, but now we have proof, and not just emotional proof.” He waved a hand through the gold and silver haze around them. “We have visual proof of how much we love each other and how much we need to be together. What you feel, I feel, so if you’re concerned I’m missing something, search yourself, because if I’m missing it, you’re missing it.”

 “Is that really how it works?”

 “Yes, angel. I’m only as happy as you are, and you’re only as happy as I am.”

 She pulled his fingers to her lips. “We make each other very happy.”

 “Yes we do,” he agreed. Then he leaned in for a slow and sweet kiss. “They’re here.”

 “All of them?”

 “Yes, your grandparents and my parents.”

 Her heart sped up, and he quickly placed a palm over it. “It’s okay, love. This is good news.”

 She buried her face in his neck and took several deep breaths, trying to draw strength from his sturdiness. “Right… good news.”

 He quietly laughed, and it soothed her until someone tapped on the door.

“I love you,” he whispered, softly kissing her ear.

 “I love you, too,” she returned. Then she took a deep breath and pulled her face from his neck. “Okay, let them in.”

 He kissed her cheek while mentally telling their family to come in, and she blindly clutched his hands, her eyes glued to the foyer.

 When the three golden couples entered the suite to find a fourth, their mouths fell open as the door flew shut behind them. Frozen in place, they didn’t say a word. They just stared, their features strained by disbelief; their complexions blanched by surprise.

 They eventually inched further into the room, taking in the details of the new bonded lights and changed auras, but only sighs drifted from their parted lips as their wide eyes searched and searched again.

 Finally, Cordelia and Daleen left the others and rushed forward, putting a small dent in the tension. Quin’s mom sat next to him on the sofa while Daleen knelt at his feet. Then they both took him and Layla’s hands, but they still didn’t speak. They just stared, their auras vibrating and pulsing.

 Morrigan soon followed, and she didn’t speak either, nor did she sit. After getting as close to Layla as she could, she laid her hands and lips on the top of her head and squeezed her eyes shut.

 The three men remained frozen, staring at the newly bonded mates in shock, but after a long and emotional moment, Serafin broke the heavy silence by clearing his throat. “How did this happen?”

 Quin looked away from Layla and raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

 Serafin lifted a hand his throat and cleared it again. “Just yesterday, when everyone saw you around town, you weren’t… you weren’t… bonded.”

 “No,” Quin confirmed. “We bonded last night.” He smiled at Layla, remembering, and she smiled back, her eyes shiny with comprehension.

 Caitrin stepped forward with stiff shoulders and a wrinkled forehead. “Are you telling us… Are you trying to say…” He huffed as his nostrils flared. “Are you saying last night was the first time you had sex with each other?”

 Layla buried her face in Quin’s neck, and he wrapped her in a hug while meeting Caitrin’s stare. “Is that so hard to believe?”

 Caitrin’s chest expanded as his face reddened. “Yes! You’ve been sleeping in her bed for over a week. And I’ve never seen such a strong connection between two people without a sexual relationship present. Never.”

 Quin shrugged as he stroked the back of Layla’s neck. “I won’t pretend it wasn’t a challenge, but I can control myself, particularly if her well-being warrants it. And I think this golden light surrounding us would explain our connection sans sex. If this wasn’t so unbelievable, I’d say we should have seen it coming.”

 Caitrin scowled and started pacing. “I might have seen it coming if I’d known you hadn’t consummated the relationship.”

 “Are you suggesting I should have filled you in on our sex life?” Quin returned. “There’s no way I could have predicted this. I realize our relationship has been intense from the beginning, but what else would it be when someone like her is involved? She’s perfect in everyone’s eyes, not just mine, and nearly every wizard in the world would trip over themselves to give her what I’ve given her. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it was leading to this, so why would I concern you with our sex life?”

 “You wouldn’t,” Caitrin conceded. “But never in my wildest dreams did I believe you hadn’t bedded her already.”

 “You have to give him credit for willpower,” Kemble mumbled.

 Caitrin halted and looked over. “Insanity is what most wizards would call it.”

 “She was dealing with injuries,” Quin cut in, “and daily drama. You know what, this discussion is pointless, and it’s embarrassing her. It doesn’t matter when it happened or whether or not we saw it coming. What would you have done if you’d known, Caitrin? Tell me to leave her alone? No. And even if you had, do you think I would have listened? Nothing was going to stop this from happening. Now let’s move on.”

 Silence captured the room once more, and its occupants barely breathed, slowly pulling in air heavy with contrasting emotions. An invisible game of tug-of-war was taking place. Happiness and love battling worry and fear. Everyone felt it, even as they struggled with their own internal conflicts, attempting to secure a victory for optimism. Some had an easier undertaking than others.

 Kemble eyed his son’s aura as he moved behind the sofa. Then he laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “The silver cords in your auras – I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re connected, circling both of you.”

 “I know,” Quin replied. “And they’re not in our auras. They appeared with our bonded lights. We can see them.”

 “Really?” Caitrin asked, moving in for a closer look.

 “Yes,” Quin answered. “We hoped one of you could explain them.”

Caitrin looked at Serafin, who shrugged and shook his head, so the subject was brushed aside as Caitrin continued pacing. “What are your thoughts, Serafin?”

Serafin ran a hand down his face then mumbled into his palm. “I don’t know, Caitrin. This is… this is so many things. I don’t know where to begin.” He pulled his hand away from his mouth, but only to move it back to his forehead. “I don’t understand how this happened. It should be impossible. Of all the unbelievable things that occur in the magical world, this is something no one ever thought they’d see.” He dropped his hand and looked over, watching the back of Layla’s head with glistening emerald eyes. “Sweet Layla, we must beg your forgiveness. We’re so happy for you. I know we’re not properly expressing it, but we’re… overwhelmed.”

 Layla pulled her face from Quin’s neck and found her grandpa’s stare. “I understand the feeling.”

 Caitrin’s gaze snapped to Quin. “Did you perform an anti-fertility ritual?”

 A collective gasp echoed through the room. Then everyone held their breath as they watched Quin. Everyone save for Morrigan that is, who held her breath, but kept her face buried in Layla’s hair.

 “Yes,” Quin answered, and when they didn’t exhale, he expounded. “I swear, there’s absolutely no way she’s pregnant.”

 Layla returned her scarlet face to his neck and quietly giggled, and everyone breathed.

 Quin laughed at them then touched his lips to Layla’s cheek. “You just saved everyone from suffocation, my love. What was that giggle about?”

 She stayed hidden as she answered. “That was the second time you’ve had to swear I’m not pregnant, and I think you used the same words and everything. It’s not really funny, though. I don’t know why I laughed. It just felt like a moment that needed a laugh.”

 He smiled and played with the tips of her hair. “You’re very intuitive, angel, because the moment did need a laugh.” He dropped her curl and looked up. “We understand the situation is fragile, and we’re well aware of the difficulties we face, but there’s no point in standing around uptight about it. That’s not going to help anyone. So get yourselves something to drink and find comfortable seats. Then we’ll figure out what to do next. Layla and I are worried, but we’re happy, and we’d prefer it if our union didn’t have rainclouds constantly hanging over it.”

 “You’re right,” Cordelia agreed. “This is a blessed union.”

 “Yes,” Kemble added, giving Quin’s shoulder another squeeze. “Now we must keep you safe so you can enjoy it.”

 “It’s my number one priority,” Quin assured.

 Kemble cleared his throat and pulled his hand away. “Of course it is.”

 Layla left Quin’s neck and looked at Daleen. Then she tried to look at Morrigan, but everywhere her head went, Morrigan went. Layla finally tilted her head all the way back, forcing Morrigan to leave it. Then she flipped her gaze between her grandmas, the only two in the room who hadn’t spoken. “Are you two okay?”

 Daleen reached out with a shaky hand and touched Layla’s cheek. “We’re so happy for you and Quin, darling, but we’re also worried. I’m sorry we aren’t able to express how happy we are, but you must know we understand how beautiful and special this is.”

 Morrigan ran a hand down Layla’s hair as her lips quivered. “We can see how happy you are. Now we just need make sure you stay that way.” She was obviously fighting an emotional breakdown – tears sparkling in her peach eyes like morning dew.

 Layla watched her for several seconds then reached out with both hands, taking one of Morrigan’s and one of Daleen’s. “I understand why this is hard for you, but the situation is different. I’m different.” She paused and looked down, staring at their delicate fingers as she swallowed a lump. “Please don’t look at me and picture my ill mother. It makes me sad to think that’s what you see when you look at me.”

 Every heart in the room constricted under the weight of her blunt honesty, and Morrigan’s mouth dropped open. “It’s not like that, sweetie. Of course we see you.”

 “I know you do,” Layla assured, “but you also see her. I can tell by your faces, your auras and your touch. I’m sure if I were looking at me through your eyes, I would see the same thing, but I’m asking you to try to stop, because it’s not doing anyone any good. It just makes things harder, and it makes everyone sad. She wouldn’t let you get away with it if she were here.”

 Morrigan and Daleen took a long look at each other. Then they breathed deep and turned to their granddaughter.

 “You’re right,” Morrigan conceded, leaning over to kiss Layla’s head. “Rhosewen would tell us to leave and come back when we were ready to see the glass half full.”

 “Well don’t make me kick you out,” Layla playfully warned.

 Morrigan stole one more whiff of Layla’s hair then straightened. “I can hear Rhosewen as clearly as I hear you.”

 She kissed Layla’s hand then let it slip away, but apparently she wasn’t strong enough to handle this one on her own, because she immediately fled to Caitrin, who welcomed her with open arms.

He lifted a palm to her cheek as he worriedly searched her face, and she reassured him with a small smile. “Help me get everyone coffee?”

“Of course,” he agreed, taking her under his arm. Then they headed for the kitchenette. “Does everyone want some?”

Mumbles of agreement floated through the room as six more seats were summoned to the table, and within seconds the golden family was gathered with fresh coffee in hand.

 Caitrin summoned a pipe and lit it with a flaming fingertip. Then he passed it to Morrigan, who took a pull before passing it to Daleen. Layla curiously watched the exchange while sniffing the air, but every time someone exhaled smoke, they waved a magical hand and swept the fumes away.

When Daleen passed the pipe to Serafin, who also partook, Layla raised an eyebrow at Quin. “What are they smoking?”

 “Cannabis,” he answered, as casual as ever, like they were passing around tea and cookies.

 Layla flipped her stunned gaze to Kemble, who took his turn before passing the pipe to Cordelia.

 “Are you serious?” Layla asked, turning back to Quin.

He smiled as he tucked a curl behind her ear and smoothed her wrinkled brow. “Yes. It’s a natural relaxant; eases stress and helps us think calmly when emotions are high.”

 “Do you smoke it?”

 “Sometimes.” He slid a forefinger down her nose and lightly tapped the tip. “You’ve never tried it?”

 “No. I’ve seen people smoke it, but I thought it was bad for you.”

 “Smoking isn’t good for your lungs, but we’re healers, so that’s not an issue for us.”

 “It’s also illegal,” she pointed out, and several people in the room laughed.

“We don’t live by the government’s rules,” Quin returned, accepting the pipe from his mom. “And the law doesn’t make much sense in the first place. Luckily for the hexless, state legislatures are catching on. Medical marijuana is legal in Oregon.”

 “It is?”

 “Yep.”

 “Hmm… So you guys wait until I’m bonded into the family to spring the drugs on me?”

Again, several people laughed, and Quin smiled as he wiggled her nose. “You’ve seen Caitrin smoke it.”

“I have?”

“Yes, and you’ll see it again. Most magicians smoke as often as they drink.” He paused and held up the pipe. “Would you like to try it? Few people could benefit from its calming effect more than you. You’ve had a shitty week.”

 “Um… I probably shouldn’t. I don’t know how, and I don’t want to be stupid.”

 “It won’t make you stupid, Layla. I promise.”

 “I’ve seen people smoke it, and they’d get goofy.”

 “Do they look stupid or goofy?” he asked, motioning to the others.

 Layla looked at them, noting their auras were more peaceful than before, and their expressions held calm amusement as they watched her and Quin’s conversation. “No, I guess they don’t, but they’ve done it before. It might be different with me.”

 “It’s your choice, love, but I promise it would merely relax you.”

 Layla stared at the pipe, thinking it would be an interesting experience if nothing else, and the relaxation he spoke of was tempting. “I don’t know, Quin. I feel weird about it.”

 “How about I help you, and you just inhale a small amount?”

 “How would you do that?”

 He stared at her face for a moment, then her aura. Then he winked and tucked the stem of the pipe in his mouth. Layla watched closely as he lit the weed and sucked, and when he pulled the pipe from his lips, he pulled her to them, kissing while releasing half the smoke into her mouth. His mental voice invaded her head, telling her to inhale as he deepened his kiss, and she lazily obeyed, so wrapped up in him she practically forgot about the herb. The smoke hotly entered her lungs. Then it rolled from her nostrils, but she was concentrating on the softness of his lips and tongue, so she barely noticed.

 The weed… or his mouth… or a combination of the two, made her melt, and he enhanced the experience by blindly passing the pipe along and wrapping her in a warm hug. A long and blissful moment passed before he pulled his lips from hers. Then he searched her eyes and aura before kissing her nose. “How do you feel? Stupid or goofy?”

Layla’s lips twitched with humor as she wiped his taste from them, trying to separate her reaction to his kiss from her reaction to the weed. Both had been instantaneous, but while his kiss had been powerful, the herb had a more subtle effect, and neither had been unpleasant. She just felt more at ease with everything, a little tingly… and hungry for his mouth. “No,” she assured. “Stupid and goofy aren’t in the list.”

 “Relaxed?”

 She grinned, and it was probably a goofy grin, but it had nothing to do with the cannabis and everything to do with the throb between her thighs. “Sure.”

His dimples deepened as he glanced at her aura. Then he stole one more kiss before summoning her coffee from the table and heating it up. “Good. Lean back while we figure out our next move.” He carefully passed the mug over then looked at Caitrin. “Let’s start with the most pressing issue. Agro. He’s tiptoeing around now, but that won’t last forever.”

 Caitrin took Morrigan’s hand and leaned back in his chair. “No it won’t. We tried to lead him to Lake Tahoe, but judging by the fit he threw on our lawn Saturday night, it doesn’t look like he took the bait.”

“How long do you think we have before he makes his next move?” Quin asked.

 Caitrin shrugged. “He’s probably still nursing soldiers back to health and trying to replace those he slaughtered on our lawn. We might get another day or two of peace before he shows up… we might not. He’s too volatile to predict.”

Quin closed his eyes and nodded, and Layla studied his features, knowing he was contemplating decisions no one should ever have to face.

“What do you think Agro would do if he saw Layla and me?” he asked, opening his eyes.

An uncomfortable beat of silence passed as everyone traded glances. Then Serafin leaned forward to answer. “He won’t dismiss the situation, but that’s the only certainty I can offer.”

“Let’s hear the guesses,” Quin insisted.

“The guesses,” Serafin mumbled, resting his chin in his palm. “He’d probably be disappointed at first, but then he’d realize all the ways your union could benefit him. He’ll no doubt want what the two of you have to offer, but it’s hard to say which path he’d choose or how he’d go about walking it. He isn’t getting any younger, so he may break his own rules and try to force you both into his troops, or he may gamble on longevity and deem your offspring a higher priority. Either way, the results aren’t pleasant.”

“What about the rest of the magical world?” Quin asked. “What do you think about them seeing us?”

Everyone shifted as Serafin responded. “There would be negative ramifications, a lot of them, but dealing with them is worth considering since the alternative is quite heartbreaking.”

Layla straightened and looked at her grandfather. “What alternative?”

“A life in hiding, and not just from the Unforgivables – from everyone. And not just for a while – forever. No social life in the magical world, and no public appearances near coven populated areas, which is just about every beautiful location in the world. It would all have to end if you choose to keep your status a secret.”

“Even if we conceal our auras?”

Serafin frowned and gave a shrug. “Of course that would help you maintain your anonymity, but every time you step out with hidden auras there’s a chance something will have them snapping free, so you’ll be taking a risk no matter where you go. Besides, constantly concealing your auras isn’t an ideal option. I know you handle it well, but over time it will start to wear on you. Prolonged concealment can bring a magician down to a level that’s difficult to recover from.”

Layla sent her untouched coffee to the table and tucked her face into Quin’s neck. “And what are the negative ramifications that would accompany an open life?”

“You’ll be under constant scrutiny,” Kemble predicted.

“And treated like objects,” Caitrin added. “If word travels, which it likely will, they’ll come from miles away to see if it’s true. Oregon will swarm with foreign magicians asking questions about you.”

“If word travels,” Serafin noted, “you could have more than curious eyes headed your way. Every greedy magician in the world will want a piece of you. Agro would be a drop in the cauldron if the world was alerted to your union.”

Layla’s chest felt heavy and tight, pressing on her lungs and making it hard to breathe. “Are there a lot of magicians like Agro?”

“Yes,” Serafin answered. “Agro’s currently the top terror in the states, but there are a few groups based in other countries that are trouble on all accounts. And if there was any truth to Finley’s claims, one of them already has you on their radar.”

“So those are our options,” she mumbled. “Stay hidden from everyone and everything, or face a life of constant scrutiny and lurking danger.”

No one answered, so they might as well have said a big fat yes.

Layla moved her mouth to Quin’s ear and whispered. “I’ll be right back.”

She unfolded herself from his lap and flew to the bedroom. Then she numbly walked to the bathroom and seated herself on the vanity. She needed to think, and she didn’t want to do it with her loved one’s voices bouncing in her head, so she stared at the mirror and contemplated her and Quin’s options, as pitiful as they were.

She laid her hands in her lap and stretched her fingers, thinking about what she was capable of. Why were the two most powerful magicians in the world being pushed around? It wasn’t fair, and she was already sick of it. She and Quin hadn’t hurt anyone, yet they were being punished, and it seemed there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it, which was ridiculous considering they held more power than anyone. She didn’t want people to fear her; she didn’t want to revel in her power and hold it over people’s heads. Nor did she want to live in fear. And she shouldn’t have to, damn it. And Quin shouldn’t have to give up his home and the life he’d made for himself simply because he’d gained uncanny power. If anything, the increased magical ability should expand his opportunities, not limit his options.

She raised her hands, watching summoned flames ripple from her flesh. Then the fire turned to ice as she grasped it in her fists, letting the cold sink its teeth into her joints.

She was done hiding. She and Quin deserved a happy life, and while they might find contentment hidden away with only each other to love, they’d miss out on the world around them. Her parents didn’t die so she could live a life severed from the world. They died to give her a full and free life, and she wasn’t going to let it slip away so easily. If someone was going to get it, they’d have to rip it from her cold, dead hands.

♥♥♥

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