After Xandra’s nasty run in with the Arcadian Council of Witches—where she was almost killed and her boyfriend, Declan, was almost framed for it—her plan is to lay low and figure out why its members would torment the people they are supposed to protect. Declan, temperamental and protective warlock that he is, doesn’t feel so reticent. And when violence erupts again, there’s no stopping him from pursuing revenge…
When a council member is murdered in a fashion that screams dark magic, Declan claims someone else beat him to it. Xandra doesn’t want to believe he could commit such a brutal act, but she knows he has a dark side—one that his former love interest Tsura understands better than she ever will. With Tsura back in town, Xandra doesn’t know whom to trust. And a killer targeting witches and wizards is still at large…
“What are you doing?”
He doesn’t so much as pause in the intricately difficult body movements that are part martial arts and part ancient Egyptian magic as he answers, “Preparing.”
I take a moment to study him—I can’t help it. He’s so beautiful standing there, dressed in loose black pants and nothing else, his heavily muscled back gleaming beneath the sweat-slicked bronze of his skin. His long black hair is tied neatly at the nape of his neck and a series of black Seba tattoos dance across his shoulders with each movement that he makes. Directly in the middle of the ancient Egyptian stars is a gold circlet of
Isis—proof that even the goddess knows he belongs to me . . .
just as I belong to him.
Still a little uncomfortable with the thought—we’ve been an official couple for just over a week now—I focus on my end of the conversation.
“For what? World War Three?”
But even as I ask the question, I know the answer. It’s been eight days since Declan found me onstage at the
Theatre, eight days since the core of darkness I’d always sensed in him had
been unleashed. He’s barely slept since then. Barely worked, barely eaten. Every
ounce of power he has is focused on revenge.
Not that I blame him. I understand his soul-deep anger. I even feel it myself. It’s hard not to when the Arcadian Council of Witches, Wizards and Warlocks spent the first half of January tormenting, torturing and doing their best to kill me, all while framing Declan for my attempted murder and the murder of four other women—women whose only crime was that they looked like me. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they were also so afraid of the strength of Declan’s magic, and the prophecy of my own, that they’d soulbound us without consent on the day I was born.
It’s a clusterfuck of epic proportions, one I’ve spent nearly every waking moment thinking about these last few days. I’ve spent so much time on it, in fact, that my best friend and roommate, Lily, reminds me on a daily basis that Declan and I can’t actually pit ourselves against the Council while they’re at the height of their power—at least not without going up on charges of treason.
But it’s not the fear of being labeled a traitor that stops me. It’s the fact that I need peace even more than I need vengeance. I’ve spent my entire life latent, without magic, without power of any kind. Now, not only do I wield more power than I ever imagined possible, but I also have access to the darkest emotions, the darkest deeds, known to man. Thanks to my magic, I see things, feel things, that shake me to the very marrow of my bones.
Perhaps if I’d grown up with these powers—if I’d learned from an early age how to live with them, I wouldn’t be so shaken now. But I didn’t and since it’s only been a few days since a maniac tried to chop me into little pieces, only a little longer than that since I lived through three separate psychic rapes, I think it’s fair that I need a little time to recover. A little time to just get used to who I am now—and who Declan and I are together.
Declan doesn’t see it that way, though. His rage is white-hot and deadly; his commitment to seeing the Council pay, absolute. I know it’s because of me, because of what I suffered and what I still have to suffer by being soulbound to him, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. Especially when he already lives in the shadows, already crosses the line between good and evil more than anyone should.
Oh, I know that his desire to take on the ACW stems from more than just a need for revenge. He wants to protect me, wants to keep me safe, and to hell with the consequences. And if I’d gone through what he had, maybe I’d feel the same way. Even though I had to suffer through the pain of the injuries inflicted upon me, at least I’d known that Declan was safe. That Kyle couldn’t touch him. But he’d had to stand by while that lunatic tortured me.
Helpless to stop him.
Helpless to reach me in time.
Helpless to do anything but live through the pain with me.
For a man like Declan, who has controlled every aspect of his existence and his power for centuries, there is no worse blow.
But knowing that, understanding that, doesn’t make it any easier to look into his fury-filled eyes. Especially when the dark is riding him like it is tonight.
So I don’t.
Instead, as I take my first steps into his makeshift study, I do my best to look at anything but him.
I’m instantly awed by the power crackling in the air. Whenever Heka is performed, the ancient Egyptian magic usually leaves a stamp of its presence. In most cases, it’s nothing more than a faint echo of the magic practiced there. But in Declan’s case, that echo is a live wire of power that pulses in every molecule of the air around me.
I suck in a breath, and with it, just a touch of that magic. It zigzags inside me, lighting up my insides like a bonfire and bonding with my own magic, drawing it forth. It’s still a strange feeling for me, this electricity inside me. I’ve spent so many years without it, and now that it’s here, I’m not really sure what to do with it.
So, like so many other things in my life lately, I ignore it. Focus on the mundane instead. “Everything okay in here?”
He isn’t even breathing hard from his exertions when he answers, “Everything’s fine, Xandra.”
“Good.” I nod, but I’m not sure I believe him. The room is lit up like a beacon, even though it’s only four in the morning. I’ve had a difficult time being in the dark since my less-than-conventional magic kicked in. I wonder if it’s been the same for him. If every time he closes his eyes he remembers how close we came to losing each other.
Or maybe my fears are influencing him. I don’t know if that’s even possible, but it seems it could be. Some days I feel a grimness hanging over me, one that could only come from him. If that can happen, then it seems reasonable to think that my issues could become his as well.
I really hope that’s not the case. Declan’s existence is already so turbulent that I hate to think that I’m adding to it. But this soulbound thing is new for me, new for us, and I don’t know if either one of us is exactly certain of what it means. Of how it will change us. Or how we’ll change each other.
Uncomfortable with the direction my thoughts are going, I glance self-consciously around the room. It’s huge, the largest in the lake house Declan bought three days ago—for cash—because he wanted to be near me. Which is why I’m here now, standing in the middle of what for most people would be the great room, but for Declan is a place of sweat and ceremony.
He hasn’t done much to furnish it yet, just thrown down some mats for his rituals and brought in some of the magical objects that accompany him when he tours as a magician. He’s known as the greatest illusionist of our time, but that’s only because most of his audience doesn’t realize that what they’re seeing aren’t illusions at all. Instead, they are magic in its most potent form.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” I tell him flippantly, wandering over to the twenty-foot-long credenza that stretches the length of the back wall. Yesterday I didn’t have time to explore the changes he made while I was at work. He’d been too busy rushing me into the bedroom the minute I walked through the door.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” he deadpans as he does a particularly difficult combination. I watch him and try to keep my tongue from hanging out of my mouth at the way his muscles bunch and flow. He really is one incredibly gorgeous specimen of manhood.
Paying more attention to him than anything in the room, I absently pick up one of the many athames lying on top of the credenza, then immediately wish I hadn’t as terror—bone-deep and vivid—rips through me. Not mine. Not Declan’s. I drop the magical dagger back onto the polished mahogany with a thunk.
I don’t want to know. What Declan did before me isn’t important. It’s what he does now, when we’re together, that matters. I grab onto the thought, repeat it like a mantra until I actually start to believe it. Until I forget the cloying taste of fear that ripped through my senses the moment I touched the ancient knife.
Making sure to give the rest of his stuff a wide berth—I’m not one to bury my head in the sand, but there are some things that even I’m aware I’m better off not knowing—I turn back just in time to see Declan stretch out his arms in a move that is all ancient warrior. I watch, fascinated, as his muscles stand out in stark relief and a bead of sweat drips slowly down his spine. Seconds later, fire explodes in a ring all around him, a blaze that starts out small but that grows to touch the ceiling in seconds.
Deep inside I recoil, my fear instinctive after I was nearly burned alive just days ago. But I work hard not to let my instant revulsion for the fire show. Declan is a fire element, the most powerful I’ve ever met, and I am afraid a rejection of the flame will somehow translate into a rejection of him. So I don’t move, don’t speak, barely even breathe, and watch with deliberately blank eyes as the fire winds itself around his chest and arms and legs.
He must sense my uneasiness, though, because with a flick of his hand he quenches the flames.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
He smiles—a slow, sexy curling of one corner of his mouth that melts my brain cells and my resolve.
“When you’re in the room, I can think of any number of things I’d rather do than play with fire.”
Dropping a quick kiss on my lips, he crosses to the minifridge and pulls out two bottles of water. Hands me one.
I watch him drink, mesmerized by the way his throat moves. By the way he—I shake my head sharply, determined to snap out of the sensual spell he casts without even trying.
It’s easier said than done, though. Except for the time I spend working at Beanz, the coffeehouse I own down on South Congress, we’ve spent much of the last week in bed. Which has been fun and intense and sexy as hell, not to mention a million other things, but it hasn’t exactly been conducive to us talking. And today, I need to talk.
He leans forward to steal another kiss—a playful sweep of his lips across mine that quickly turns into something dark and dangerous and utterly mind-numbing. His arms link around my waist, pulling me closer, and before I go under completely, I slap a hand against his warm, bare chest and shove him away.
“We need to talk,” I tell him, putting some distance between us so my nerve endings can stop firing . . . and so my brain cells can start.
He quirks a brow. “Aren’t those the four most dreaded words in any relationship?”
“Only when they’re followed by, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’”
He’s silent for a second, then—“So is it?”
“Is it what?” I’m baffled by the guarded look on his face and by his sudden reserve.
“You, not me?”
I laugh, certain he’s joking. But the look in his eyes is solemn. Though I only get a glimpse—Declan is a master at hiding his emotions—it occurs to me that the question might be real. That he’s just as confused about this strange relationship as I am. And maybe as uncertain.
This time I’m the one who wraps my arms around him. I press kisses over his warm, hard torso, starting at the base of his throat and working my way straight down the center of his body until I get to the spot where his heart thumps heavily beneath my lips. I kiss him there, then rest my head on his chest and pull him even closer.
His arms tighten convulsively around me. “You make me crazy.”
I look up at him through my lashes. “Believe me, the feeling is more than mutual.”
He kisses me again, and this time I savor every second of it. He tastes like cinnamon and magic—dark, spicy-sweet and delicious. It’s a flavor I’m quickly becoming addicted to.
His tongue sweeps out, traces my lower lip. Plays with the corners of my mouth. Dances across my top lip and the little indention right in the center of it. My arms tighten around him, and my mouth opens in a desperate need to get closer.
He nips at my lower lip, then sucks it softly to soothe the hurt away. I bite back, just enough to remind him that I have my own teeth, my own power. He groans deep in his chest, reaches for the bottom of my pajama top and whips it off. Then we’re standing there, bare skin to bare skin, and it feels so good, I forget every word of the carefully rehearsed speech I came in here to deliver.
His hands slide up my back to cup my head, his fingers tangling in the chin-length strands of my hair. He pulls my head back, tilts my chin up. And then he devours me.
His mouth is ravenous on mine, stroking, sucking, biting, kissing. He explores every inch—every centimeter—of my mouth with his tongue, his lips, until I’m little more than a quivering mess of a woman. Only then, when my whole body is trembling with need and want and unchecked desperation, does he move on.
I moan a little in protest, try to hold his mouth to mine. But he has other plans. His lips skim across my cheek. He pauses for a moment to nibble at my earlobe—it sends shivers down my spine, like he knows it will—before kissing his way down my jaw and neck.
He stops at the hollow of my throat—his favorite spot—and licks and sucks until my knees go weak and my body feels like it will spontaneously combust at any moment.
Declan knows what he’s doing to me. He knows that he has me now. Knows that I’ll do anything to feel him inside me. Just like he knows that I’m seconds away from my legs no longer being able to support me.
Without raising his head, or his mouth, from the wicked, wonderful things he’s doing to me, he sweeps a leg out and gently knocks mine out from under me. He catches me against him with one strong arm, then boosts me up so that I can wrap my legs around his waist.
This is one of my favorite things about making love with Declan. How strong he is, how easily he’s able to manipulate my body into whatever position he wants me in. And how absolutely, ridiculously easy it is for him to pick me up as though I weigh almost nothing.
I sink down a little so that I’m resting against him, his erection hot and hard where it nestles against my sex. He groans a little, tilts his hips so that the tip of his cock is resting right against my clit and starts to move slowly, deliciously, against me.
Seconds later, his lips close over my nipple. I gasp, arch into him, and he bites down just hard enough to send pleasure shooting through every nerve ending in my body. He laves the little hurt with his tongue, then does it again. And again.
That’s all it takes to send me over the edge I’m never very far from when Declan’s around. My body trembles, convulses, and I cry out, hold on to him even more tightly. He kisses and soothes me through the surprisingly intense orgasm even as he shifts to find the spot that will take me higher. I come again, screaming, head thrown back and breasts thrust up like some ancient pagan sacrifice.
Declan accepts the offering, his mouth closing over first one nipple, then the other, as he prolongs my climax until I’m a sweaty, shuddering mess. Only then does he let the primal need inside him loose.
Dropping to his knees, he slides me gently onto the exercise mat. Strips my pants from me. Does the same to his own. Then he’s rolling me over onto my knees.
Wrapping an arm around my waist.
Pulling me back against him with less finesse than he’s ever shown before.
Thrusting into me from behind.
It’s primitive and possessive and perfect—so perfect that I climax again within seconds. Declan groans, his hands clamping down on my hips to hold me in place as he moves slow and deep inside me. Over and over and over again.
Eventually I cry out. My body is on fire, every nerve ending I have alight with so much pleasure that I can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t function. There are no boundaries, no lines, nothing that tells me where I stop and he begins. It’s exhilarating and terrifying and absolutely unstoppable.
His power rises up, calls to mine and I couldn’t stop my magic from answering even if I wanted to. My power flashes out of me, slams into his in a mingling so intense that I feel it in my soul.
Declan gasps, his hands tightening on my hips as if he needs to anchor himself, and I know he feels it, too. Desperate, delirious, but determined to take him over the edge with me this time, I reach back, grab onto the firm muscles of his ass and pull him forward, hard, so that he slams—fast and deep—inside me.
He curses, then lets go in a potent flash of light and love. He pours himself into me and it sends me into one last climax, this one more powerful than those that came before because he’s with me every step of the way.
Well, that's the first chapter. What do you think? And also, I thought I'd ask what your favorite UF or paranormal series currently is? I'm a huge fan of Patricia Briggs' Mercy series and Nalini Singj's Psy/Changelings. How about you?