Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Excerpt from Master of Seduction



 Chapter One

 I'm delighted to share the first chapter of my newest Mageverse novella, Master of Seduction, is now available for pre-order. Look for it July 28 from Changeling Press.

All her life, Rachel Kent has dreamed of becoming one of the immortal Magekind witches who protect humanity from itself. But first she must prove herself to the handsome vampire whose job is to decide whether she'll become a danger to those she’s supposed to save.
Nathaniel Allard is a Court Seducer who has been sent to trigger Rachel’s witchy transformation by making love to her three times. The problem is, gaining such incredible powers may drive Rachel insane, forcing Nathaniel to kill her. Otherwise she may kill him – and anyone else who gets in her way.
 Nate tells Rachel he’ll only agree to complete her transformation if she proves she can be trusted with the powers she’ll gain. But as he tests her – and makes love to her with every test she passes -- mutual lust turns to love.
 But will love be enough to save Rachel’s sanity?


Rachel Kent ran flat out, though her ribs ached with every stride, every breath. The Kevlar vest had saved her life two nights before, but the bullet had left a black bruise the size of a silver dollar.

Still better than being dead, though.

The sun had dipped below the horizon, but it wasn’t entirely dark as she pounded down the two-lane rural road. Shadows gathered in the thick woods on either side of the blacktop, and the sky overhead purpled as the last of the sunlight bled away.

Sweat slicked Rachel’s skin, gluing the T-shirt to her heaving ribs and rolling down her legs as her feet jarred on the pavement. Normally she liked to do her running at dawn this time of year, before the July sun left the pavement radiating waves of heat. That wasn’t an option tonight; she needed to exhaust herself.

Otherwise she’d lie awake for hours, looking for a way she could have avoided killing Don Gordon.

So far, Rachel hadn’t thought of one. Not if she hadn’t wanted to watch him murder his wife and daughters. Yet every she closed her eyes, she heard Emily’s heartbroken scream: "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

Daddy tried to blow your brains out, sweetheart.

Again, the moment flashed through her memory: Don turning his gun on his wife as Eileen huddled against the wall, trying to shield their kids. Rachel had been too far from him or his victims to reach either, so she’d stepped between them.

It was the first time she’d fired her Glock in the line of duty. The two guns boomed almost simultaneously.

The impact of Don’s bullet on her Kevlar vest felt like a baseball bat to the sternum. She’d fallen to one knee, fighting to breathe.

When she looked up, Don lay on his back a few feet away, staring up at the ceiling as the life drained from his eyes. The neat hole in the center of his chest barely had time to bleed before his heart stopped.

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!

It wasn’t killing Don that bothered her. He was an abusive asshat she’d taken to jail three times in six months. Two of those times, his wife had ended up in the ER. His death had greatly improved his family’s collective life expectancy.

No, what bothered her was giving four-year-old Emily a memory she’d never get over.

Cut it out, Rachel told herself for the hundredth time. You’re wallowing in it.

Unfortunately, the very act of trying to repress the memory strengthened it. She had to get her mind on something else. Even the ache of her chest made a useful distraction. Which was why she was putting in a three-mile run, though pushing so hard with bruised ribs was borderline stupid.

Rachel took a left into the apartment complex that had been home for the past three years. Four long buildings stood on either side of the street, sheathed in cream vinyl siding and surrounded by neat green hedges.

Breathing hard, she slowed to a walk as she turned into her unit’s parking lot. And stopped to mutter a curse. Two boxy trucks stood in front of the building, each topped by a satellite dish.

News vans. Great. Just great.

I am not in the mood for this. And not exactly camera ready either, given the sweat that glued her shorts and T-shirt to her skin. Bending over, Rachel braced her hands against her knees and fought to get her breathing under control. Her chestnut ponytail fell against her cheek, damp from the run.

She’d be tempted to walk away, but she knew both crews would still be staking out her building when she returned.

Besides, Gee would disown her. Kents don’t run from anything, kid.

When she thought she could speak without gasping, Rachel straightened and rolled her shoulders back. Ignoring her aching ribs, she headed for the red awning that shaded the building’s door.

The news crews stood in a little cluster, chatting in the bored way of people on a stakeout. The videographers caught sight of her and pivoted to aim their cameras in her direction. The reporters went on point like bird dogs, looking downright predatory.

Until they got a good look. Judging by their disappointed expressions, she wasn’t who they were expecting. Probably didn’t recognize her from her Sheriff's Office photo. Yeah, let’s see you look that spit-and-polish after running three miles in this heat.

But just as she was hoping she could sneak past, the female reporter brightened and stepped into her path. She looked like an ex-Miss South Carolina — blonde, toothy, and two miles of leg. “Deputy Kent? Debbie Rice, WTAY News. People are saying you’re a hero since Amy Gordon’s video went viral. What can you tell us about that night?" With a toothpaste-ad smile, she tilted her mic toward Rachel.

Why in the hell did Amy have to live-stream the whole thing on Facebook? Actually, she knew why. The fifteen-year-old thought whipping out her phone would keep Don from beating her mother -- again.

Nope.

"I just did what the taxpayers pay me to do. Excuse me, I need a shower." She pushed past, amused as Rice recoiled from her sweaty, smelly self with a murmur of disgust.

Debbie’s big African-American rival wasn’t so easily put off. He shouldered in and stuck his mic in her face. “Darren Mayfield, WACN. Eileen Gordon said you deliberately stepped between them and her husband’s gun. Weren’t you afraid he’d kill you?”

“I was wearing a Kevlar vest. They weren’t.”

“Which wouldn’t have saved you if he’d shot you in the head.”

“No.” She dodged around him and edged a few steps closer to the door.

Debbie flashed those teeth and hip-checked Mayfield out of the way. “Would you be willing to grant an interview?"

“You’ll need to take that up with the department’s Public Information Officer." She fished in her shorts pocket for her keys.

"It was obviously a justified shooting. Does it bother you they put you on leave anyway?"

“Nope. It’s departmental policy.” The brass didn't really question her actions, but they did think any cop involved in even a justified shooting needed a few sessions with a shrink before going back to work. Given her nightmares, it was probably a good idea. Not that she’d share that little tidbit with this flock of vultures.

“Deputy…”

Having sidled to the door while they were distracted, Rachel quickly unlocked it, ducked inside, and closed it in their collective faces. Leaning against the door, she breathed out in sheer relief.

Someone knocked. “Deputy! Deputy Kent, do you…”

Ignoring them, Rachel headed up the two flights of stairs to unlock her apartment door and slip inside…

…Then damn near jumped out of her skin.

“There you are! I was getting ready to send out a search party.” Grinning, the woman sprang up from Rachel’s rust sectional couch. Tall and model-slim, she wore skinny taupe trousers with a pair of black stilettos. A sleeveless black blouse bared lean arms and an inch of flat belly. Honey blond curls tumbled around her shoulders, artfully streaked with paler gold, and her blue-gray eyes gleamed clever in a heart-shaped face.

She sure as hell didn’t look like anybody’s great-great-great grandmother.

“Hello, Gee.” Despite her exhaustion, Rachel’s smile was genuine. Like the rest of the Kent clan, she adored her witchy ancestor.

Ignoring her drying sweat, Oriana Kent swooped in for a hug that smelled of exotic flowers and the ozone tang of lightning. “I’ve missed you, kiddo. You really made me proud. That jerk would have killed his whole family if not for you.”

“Thanks.” Something dark caught her attention, and Rachel turned.

The man leaned a muscular shoulder against the gas fireplace’s tiny mantle, one dark brow lifted in sardonic amusement. He towered over them both, broad-shouldered in black jeans and a black knit shirt that bared powerful biceps and corded forearms. His sable hair was just long enough to curl, and a goatee framed his erotic mouth, lending a little scruff to the striking contours of his angular face. Somewhere a GQ cover is missing its model, Rachel thought.

Then she saw his eyes, and her amusement vanished like a popped soap bubble. His irises shown a brilliant Atlantic blue, dark and cold as a polar sea, assessing and predatory. Oh God, he’s a Magus.

An agent of the Magekind.

A vampire.

When Rachel’s eyes widened in awe, a half smile crooked one corner of his goatee in cynical amusement. “Don’t you think you’d better introduce us, Oriana?”

Gee shot him a Mind your manners glare Rachel recognize from childhood. “Ariana, this is Nathan Allard. He’s a Magekind Court Seducer.” Despite her obvious irritation with him, a radiant smile spread over her face. “The Majae’s Counsel has approved your Gifting!”

Rachel’s jaw dropped as her eyes darted back to the big man. “Oh. Wow.” Eloquent, Kent. Way to sound like an utter idiot. She tried to come up with something more intelligent, but that the best she could do was a hoarse, “Thank you. Excuse me, I’m just a little… Stunned.” Mechanically, she held out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Allard.”

Nathan’s hand enveloped hers with long, strong fingers and a warm palm that felt rough with calluses. “Call me Nathan.” His remarkable eyes took on a glint of humor, turning the Arctic to sunlit Caribbean blue. “Court Seducers aren't big on formality.”

Rachel blinked up at him, feeling a little dizzy, as if she’d stepped into the middle of a dream. God, I’m supposed to make love to him? “I…can see that.” She swallowed and tried for sophistication. “I’m open to informality.” That sounded a lot less lame in my head.

Oriana eyed her, her expression darkening with maternal worry. "Are you all right? You look like hell."

"It's been a rough couple of days, Gee.” She forced a smile. "Look, I need to get a shower. I probably smell like a goat.”

The Maja lifted a graceful hand, a precursor to one of those sweeping gestures she used to cast spells. "I can fix that."

Rachel took an instinctive step back. "Thanks, but I need a minute. I’m a little off balance."

“But…”

"Let Rachel take her shower." The vampire gave her a long, perceptive stare. "You just don't feel as clean from magic."

“Thanks. Give me fifteen minutes." Get your shit together, Kent.

“Of course, dear. And after that, Nathan and I will take you to dinner in Avalon."

Rachel’s brows shot up. When she’d been a kid, she and her sister and cousins used to beg to visit the magical capital. Their great-great-great grandmother had always turned them down. “Sorry, kids, if I tried to lead a mortal tour group through town, Morgana Le Fay would turn us all into frogs.”

This is real. Her eyes flicked to the big vampire, who watched her with a cool intensity that sent a quiver of awareness shooting along her nerves. He’s going Gift me. And he’ll have to sleep with me to do it.

She didn’t know whether to feel excitement or stark terror. If it went well, she’d become an immortal witch with fantastic abilities.

If it went bad...

"Sounds great," Rachel managed, and started down the short hallway into the bedroom.

“Wear something loose enough to exercise in.” Nathan’s voice was a dark, seductive rumble she felt low in her belly. “I’m going to put you through your paces.”

“Sure,” she said, and escaped, even as she wondered what, exactly, he had in mind.

 

Nathan Allard waited until the shower started running. "I told you we should give her another week to settle down. The first time you have to kill messes with your head." He prowled around the room, examining the furniture and knickknacks. You could learn a lot about someone from the things they surrounded themselves with. As a court seducer, he found that kind of knowledge invaluable in establishing a rapport. Otherwise the job could feel like whoring, regardless of the higher goals it served.

Rachel’s apartment was small, no surprise given the salary of a Sheriff’s deputy in Tayunita County, SC. It was also as neat as a monk’s cell, its walls painted eggshell white, with the kind of thin beige carpeting common to apartment complexes. Besides the sectional, the furniture consisted of a square coffee table and a long bookcase, both built of black laminate that suggested she’d bought them at Target.

His attention fell on the painting that hung over the sectional. A woman’s arm thrust from the surface of a lake at nightfall, a sword raining magical sparks over the graceful hand that gripped it. A bearded man in plate armor watched, crouching in the water wearing an expression of awe.

King Arthur receiving Excalibur from Nimue.

Like most Arthurian legend, it was complete bullshit. Rachel obviously knew that, yet she’d bought the painting anyway. Kid must have a romantic streak.

He wandered over to the bookcase. Double rows of dogeared paperbacks filled the shelves, wedged into place with trophies from martial arts tournaments or shooting contests. Evidently the girl had a competitive streak to go with the taste for romance— and a hell of a lot of practical training. Oriana had been serious about making sure her descendants could handle themselves in a fight.

"Speaking of killing people," the witch said tartly, "would you please quit looking at her as if she’s someone you may have to execute?"

“She is.” Though God knew he had no desire to do it. Rachel was lovely, with big honey brown eyes under arched chestnut brows, a narrow nose, and a certain cool strength to her oval, high-cheekbones face. She’d pulled her curling dark hair into a messy pony tail. And even in a sweaty blue t-shirt and shorts, her long-legged body and full breasts made his dick sit up and take notice.

"Merlin’s Gift is not going to drive Rachel insane,” the witch snapped. “She’s too disciplined and intelligent.”

“That’s not your call. It’s mine. If I see any indication she isn't suitable, I'm not Gifting her."

Oriana’s gray eyes went hard with warning, and her voice took on an icy note. “The Majae’s Council concluded she’s an excellent candidate.”

“Yeah, well, the Council doesn't have to deal with the fallout if this goes sideways. Rachel’s going to damn well prove herself before I so much as kiss her."

“I don’t deny we've made mistakes, but she’s not one of them.”

“It’s not a mistake when somebody dies. It’s a fuck up.” Christine had definitely been a fuckup. And not just the Council’s, either. The ultimate responsibility was his, because he hadn't seen it coming in time to keep his dick out of her.

“Gifting Rachel is not a fuck up,” Oriana's said impatiently. “Look, I'm the last one who wants to lose that child.” She rose from the sectional, radiating enough magical menace to lift the hair on the back of his neck. “But if I find out that you refused to Gift her without good reason, you're going to regret it."

He gave her glare for glare. "You do what you have to do. And so will I.”

###

Rachel poured a handful of shampoo into her palm and started washing her hair under the warm, pounding stream of the shower. Her stomach felt tight with a combination of excitement and anxiety. They chose me. I’m going to get Merlin’s Gift. I’m going to become a Maja.

She could barely believe it.

To most people, Merlin, King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table were nothing but misty legends from the fifth century. The ancient stories got most of the details wrong, but they all had a kernel of truth.

The real Merlin hadn’t been an elderly Druid magician — he’d been an alien from a race of star-faring magic users. Merlin’s people, the Fae, had discovered that most of the galaxy’s intelligent species wiped themselves out through war or ecological disaster. The Fae decided to do something to prevent those mass extinctions. They chose guardians from among each species they encountered, then trained and empowered them to help their people survive.

When Merlin came to Earth in 450 AD, King Arthur, his knights and their ladies were among those he tested. Those who passed were permitted to drink from Merlin’s enchanted Grail, which transformed them into Magekind, immortals with fantastic powers. The men became Magi — vampires — and the women, Majae, or witches. Because the spell altered their genetics, they passed it down to their descendants, the Latents.

Unfortunately, suddenly gaining such incredible abilities could drive susceptible people insane. To avoid that, the Gift only took effect after being triggered by a member of the Magekind. That gave the agents a chance to vet candidates beforehand.

If the spell was never triggered, Latents lived and died as ordinary mortals. Very, very few made the cut.

And now I’m one of them, Rachel thought, feeling dazed.

Just like Oriana, who’d been one of Sir Percival’s many bastards. The immortal Knights of the Round Table evidently did not practice birth control.

Gee had been a Maja for the better part of three hundred years now. A century ago, she’d taken the Mageverse version of maternity leave. In her case, that meant taking twenty-two years off to raise three children on Mortal Earth. You didn't raise mortal kids among the immortals of Avalon: it wasn't good for their mental health.

In the decades that followed, Oriana had urged her descendants to seek lives of service even if they were never chosen for the Gift. As result, members of the Kent family had fought in every American war of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They’d also been police officers, firefighters, doctors and nurses, even government agents.

Still, the ultimate Kent goal was to become Magekind. Most of the clan hadn’t never been considered, despite their dedication and hard work. Rachel had no idea why the Majae’s Council had picked her.

I need to tell Mom. She’ll be over the moon.

And probably scared out of her mind, because if Rachel failed this test, she could end up insane.

Worse, she’d have the power to make every lethal impulse reality. Just the thought of it made her feel a little sick.

Daddy Daddy Daddy…

That’s not helping. Dragging her mind out of the dark spiral that was becoming habit, Rachel hopped out of the shower and toweled off. She hurried to the tiny mirror over the sink, dug out her makeup kit, and went to work on her face. One eye on the clock, she blow-dried her hair, made strategic use of a curling iron, then headed for her bedroom closet.

She hadn’t felt this damn nervous staring down the barrel of Don's gun.

Nathan had told her to wear something she could work out in. Wonder what kind of workout he has in mind? And does he take requests?

Aaaand I’m running out of time.

Rachel pulled on a snug red cotton tank over a pair of black leggings, then slid her feet into black flats. Contemplating her reflection, she sighed. Well, at least I don’t look desperate to impress.

Of course, she was desperate to impress, but that was beside the point.

Firmly squelching her nerves, she walked into the living room to find Oriana fidgeting on the sectional. In contrast to her earlier joy, she looked wired, even a little pissed.

The court seducer was on his feet in front of the bookcase, a paperback in one big hand. Glimpsing the cover and finding it all too familiar, Rachel felt her cheeks flame with heat. Vampire Trinity.

Great. Juuuust great. He’d discovered her collection of erotic romances. Lately, those books had been as close as she came to getting laid.

Without looking up from the book, the vampire said, "You’re three minutes late."

Rachel bit back a flustered excuse. She’d known she’d taken too much time on her makeup. "You're right, of course. My apologies."

"Don't be an ass, Nathan," Oriana said, as she rose to her feet.

At that he looked up, his gaze narrow, a muscle flexing in the corner of his jaw. Ignoring him, Gee made one of those theatrical gestures of hers. The scent of ozone filled the air like smoke.

A glowing point appeared in midair, expanding rapidly into a wavering doorway that looked like something out of a science fiction movie. Which is basically what it was: a dimensional gate to the magical city of Avalon.

"Come on, kiddo," Oriana said, gesturing at the opening. "We’ve got a lot to discuss."

“Okay.” Rachel licked her suddenly dry lips, squared her shoulders, and stepped through the gate. As she passed through it, an indescribable sensation rolled over her skin, making every hair on her body rise.

The feel of Oriana’s magic.

She found herself in a long, arched room floored with Italian marble in shades of umber, gold and cream. Chandeliers dangled from the ceiling between thick wooden beams, shedding gold light and glints of rainbow reflections from long crystal pendants.

Stain glass windows lined the plaster walls. Glowing in brilliant colors from the house’s exterior spotlights, each depicted a different scene from Arthurian legend. Beautifully upholstered chairs and couches stood in conversational groupings, their oak frames intricately carved and gleaming. “Oh," Rachel breathed, staring around the sitting room in awe. “This is gorgeous!”

“Thanks," Oriana strolled through the gate, Nathan following her like a dark shadow. "It's not as grand as some, but it's not exactly a single-wide either.”

“That’s putting it mildly.” Rachel moved to study a figurine of a woman in armor standing on a side table. It appeared to be solid gold. “This looks like something from an art museum.”

"Oriana is a magpie," Nathan observed dryly. "If it's shiny, she swoops down on it and carries it off to her nest."

"Better than living in an armory like that pile of yours," Oriana told him.

These two knew each other. Knew each other well. And why does that thought make me feel a little jealous? Rachel wondered. And am I jealous of his friendship with her – or hers with him?

"Come along, dear." Gee headed for a doorway at the other end of the room. "I was cooking all afternoon. I want to celebrate."

"You cook?” Rachel followed her down a corridor lined with paintings. One of them looked suspiciously like a Michelangelo. “I figured you just conjured.”

“Oriana is considered one of the best cooks among the Magekind.”

Rachel dared a mischievous smile at him. “How would you know? Vampires don’t eat.”

He grinned with such charm that she blinked. “I’ve heard rumors.”

Rachel expected the dining room to look like something out of Beauty and the Beast, but it turned out to be more intimate than that, with a table designed for eight rather than eighty. Even so, it fairly groaned under the weight of a feast of Thanksgiving proportions. Among the dishes were several of her favorites, all steaming gently.

"It looks delicious, Gee." But probably wasted. She doubted she’d be able to eat a bite with her stomach coiled its current nervous knot.

Moving with the automatic courtesy of another age, Nathan moved to pull out the chair at the head of the table for Gee. Rachel waited for him to seat her too, knowing Oriana’s attitudes about gentlemen and ladies. Otherwise she’d be in for an etiquette lecture.

Hand-to-hand combat wasn’t the only thing Gee had taught her.

But when the vampire stepped up behind Rachel, a ripple of pure sensual awareness rolled down her spine. There was something about all that alpha male presence that just did something to her. Part of her wasn’t sure she liked it. Another liked it entirely too much.

Rachel sat, then watched him stride to the place opposite hers, his big body moving with a fluid, athletic ease. As Oriana began pointing out the dishes, Nathan picked up the elegant bottle that sat by his elbow, plucked out the cork without the use of a bottle opener, and poured something dark red into a cut crystal glass. It didn’t look like wine. “What’s that?”

He gave her a dark smile. “You wouldn’t like it. It’s a very nice Chateau Oriana.”

When Rachel frowned in confusion, Gee explained dryly, “My blood. I bottle it magically for vampire guests.”

Okaaay. Though she supposed it made sense. Oriana had told her Majae needed to donate their blood as badly as Magi needed to drink it. Otherwise their blood pressure would shoot too high, and they could suffer strokes, even fatal aneurisms. Apparently Merlin had designed the two Magekind sexes to be interdependent.

As Nathan took another sip, Rachel’s gaze fell to his big. scarred hands. Interesting, those scars. They must date back to his life before he become a vampire; any injuries suffered afterwards would have long since healed.

His gaze flicked up, apparently noticing her interest in the pale lines. "I was a professional duelist when I was mortal, back during the Renaissance. Even with gloves, the hands take a beating."

“That was a job?"

He shook his head. "Don’t they educate kids at all anymore?"

Stung, Rachel worked to hide her irritation. “Actually, I did well in history.”

Oriana looked up from filling her plate with thin slices of rare beef. “Nate, if you don't quit being an ass, you’re going to find yourself with really long ears.”

"And deprive Rachel of my tongue?" He arched a sardonic eyebrow.

"He's not usually like this," Oriana told her, eyeing him with disfavor. "I don't know what his problem is, but if he doesn't solve it, he’s going to find himself looking like a cast member from A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

“That was a play,” he explained to Rachel, his tone elaborately helpful.

“Now that you mention it,” Rachel said through her teeth, “there is a certain resemblance between him and Nick Bottom."

"Ah, she does read." His lips curled up. "Something other than Vampire Trinity."

Rachel stiffened as her temper went up in flames. Enough’s enough. “Look," she growled. "I may have to fuck you, but that doesn’t give you the right to abuse me."

There went that dark brow again. “Given your taste in reading material, I’d think you’d like that.”

She studied him in baffled fury. “Are you trying to goad me?”

“And I seem to be succeeding, not that it’s taking much effort.” He sat back in his chair, hooking a muscled arm over the back of it. “For future reference, Majae need better self-control. You don’t want to kill someone because you lost your temper.”

“I’ve been a cop for three years. I’ve dealt with more than my share of drunks, idiots, and assholes, all of whom thought I was fair game just for being both a cop and a woman. My self-control is fine.”

“Three whole years. My. That many?”

Which was when Rachel remembered he was four hundred years old. She clamped her teeth shut, realizing he was right — she had lost control. She usually maintained a tighter grip over herself.

“Keep it up, Nate, and you’ll be braying to go along with the ears,” Oriana told him, thoroughly irritated.

The vampire ignored her. “Let’s get one thing straight.” He rose to his feet and leaned across the table until their faces were inches apart. His eyes snapped blue flame. "I don’t have to fuck you. I'm not going to give you the Gift until I'm convinced you can use the power wisely. And at the moment, I'm not impressed."

"That's. Enough." Oriana snapped. "You are not the only Court Seducer in Avalon. If you consider the job so distasteful, I’ll find someone else."

"You didn't give me this assignment, Oriana. Arthur did. And he's the only one who can take me off it. I accepted it, and I’m going to use my best judgment whether you like it or not."

“Nate, we need her.” Oriana’s voice took on a pleading note. “The Council’s conclusion was that she’ll make an excellent agent. She can be trusted.”

“I’m sure she would make a good agent. But the question is, can she survive the Gift?” He turned to Rachel, who sat frozen, wondering exactly when the conversation had gone to hell. “Look, I don’t doubt you're a good kid. You've got guts. You proved that when you stepped between Gordon’s bullet and his daughters. But it doesn't matter how good you are if the Gift burns out your sanity. If it does, it’ll be my job to put you down like a rabid dog. Are you sure the risk is worth it?"

Rachel stared up at him. "I…" She broke off, not sure what to say.

The fact was, he had a point.

"Yeah, think about it. You need to think about it hard. Because even if the Gift doesn't go bad on you, that's not going to be the end of it. You're going to end up fighting and killing. You're going to end up watching everyone you love die. Not just your mother and father, but your sister and your nieces and your nephews."

"I… don't have any nieces and nephews."

"You will. And if you have kids, you’ll watch them die too, if they’re not chosen to get the Gift. I lost four of mine to old age, three others to smallpox, two to cholera and one to murder. Why do you think Oriana's so determined to secure immortality for one of her children’s descendants? Because all her kids died and you’re all that’s left of them. That's a wound that never heals."

"Yes, I’ll admit that’s a factor,” Oriana told Rachel in a low, intense voice, “But it’s also true that you're needed. Morgana Le Fay and Gwen both have had visions, and they agree there's something nasty on the way. Something every bit as bad as Warlock or the Dark Ones, or any of the other bastards we fought in the last decade." There was something so desperate, so ruthless in Gee’s normally warm gaze, Rachel felt a chill. "That's why we're recruiting. Magekind agents are going to die, and the world trembles on the edge of chaos. You can make a difference in this fight."

"Maybe," Nathan said softly. "Or maybe you'll end up cannon fodder. Maybe you'll just end up going insane, and I’ll have to put you down. Make damn sure you want to risk both possibilities before you say yes."

Rachel stared into his hard gaze. Against her will, her gaze flicked down to the sensual curve of his lips. An acute awareness flooded her senses of his height, his broad shoulders, those big scarred hands. What would it be like to make love to him?

No, not make love. He was a Court Seducer. Screwing women into the Gift was what he did. This will never lead anywhere or mean anything to him. It’s just a fuck.

Rachel raised her chin at him. "If I wanted to live forever, I wouldn't have stepped in front of a bullet two days ago." She turned to Oriana. “I've never wanted to be anything but Magekind. Not for the power, not for the immortality -- to make a difference. Lately it feels like this entire damn planet is balanced on a knife blade over hell. If I can help stave off the fall, that's a chance worth taking."

Nathan sat back in his chair with a grunt of disgust. "Jesu, you did a good job brainwashing this kid."

Oriana snorted. “You know, the asshole act would be more convincing if you hadn’t spent the past four centuries trying to save the world."

He shrugged. “Yeah, well, it needed saving.”

1 comment:

Michele Sheedy said...

Just....just...wow. I have missed the Mageverse soo much! Time to kick ass!