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And for the excerpt: Prologue and Chapter One
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Ainessa, princess of the house of void, paced the confining space of the tiny room. Anger consumed her, lighting her veins with a fire more intense than any she had endured.
Rayla had gotten away. Not only that, the retched girl had been able to defy her compulsion. None had managed such a feat—even Heath had fallen under her spell for a time. How had a mere Elemental, even the supposed Nexus, managed to use her will?
She released a sigh. No matter. The girl’s power would be hers soon enough. All was in place, and, now, the only thing remaining to do was wait.
The soft sound of the door creaking open invaded her thoughts, but she did not turn around. She had almost used up her patience where Nigel Lambert was concerned. The insufferable man wouldn’t let her out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time. She’d searched for a place that would shield her from his prattling; unfortunately, she hadn’t searched hard enough. The man wouldn’t shut up, no matter how many times she told him to.
“Nessa?” he said, using the pet name she abhorred. “Are you all right, my dear? You seem pensive.”
She turned slowly, reminding herself she wouldn’t have to deal with Lambert for much longer. Putting that aside, she gave him what she hoped was a genuine smile. “You are so perceptive, Nigel. Nothing I do escapes your attention.”
He settled an arm around her shoulders as if she were a fragile mortal that needed his reassurance. If he only knew who he was dealing with, he would not take such liberties with her. He was a coward to the core, but his connections were necessary at the moment.
As always, he returned her smile. “I have good news. Keller broke this morning. We now have the locations of three rebel strongholds.”
Ainessa raised a delicate brow. “Have you seen the strongholds yourself, or have you merely fallen for another delay tactic?”
“I—” he stumbled momentarily, making her wonder what he was hiding. “I haven’t had time to personally investigate, but I have dispatched teams to the areas.”
Of course he hadn’t checked. He thought himself above such trivialities. She gave a sweet twist to her smile. “Where are they?”
“Mexico, Canada, and India.”
She frowned. All ideal locations, considering where Grace Keller had kept herself for so long.
She would send a team of her own. The rebels could be more useful to her than the Order. She had to get them on her side. Once accomplished, this world would officially be hers.
“Very well, Nigel. Alert me when you have a report.” She brushed his shoulder with delicate fingers. “What would I do without you?”
Never in my life had I anticipated a scenario like this. At a very young age I had imagined how my life would unfold: from what college I would attend, to how many children I would have, to where I would live when I was old enough to choose for myself. Although none of those things had solidified, somehow, standing in front of five fae lords waiting for one to step forward to bond with me hadn’t been in my realm of possibilities.
Each wore an inscrutable expression. Not one of them had moved an inch even though I had asked which one wanted to go first.
That’s right—I was getting ready to bond with five men. Sounds pretty smutty, but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. There has to be physical contact for the bond to work, but not sexual. Thank heaven.
You might wonder why I would even consider such a thing, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit—sometimes all I could do was wonder. When I left home to go to college, I thought I had everything under control. I thought all I had to do to claim my dreams was work hard, and with a bit of luck, I would find myself a world famous painter. Little did I know that my life was about to become more complicated than I could ever imagine. Only a few hours outside my hometown the first lord found me. Since then I’ve been fighting to keep my freedom and to figure out who I actually love if any of them. My mind is so jumbled with feelings that shouldn’t be there. Normally you meet a guy, date, grow to like or eventually love them, or you decide they aren’t your Romeo. Not so with fae lords. They use compulsion to get what they want. I still didn’t understand compulsion all that much, but I knew enough to realize I would be stupid to trust my feelings where they were concerned.
Some of these men do care about me. Zach and Luke risked everything when they went to the island to see what the Order was up to. Unfortunately, Ainessa captured them and used their power to lure me to the island, as well. She’s bent on getting my power, and I’m bent on keeping her from having it.
Before he left, Zach sent me to Ignis, the fire realm, to wait until he and Luke came back. That’s where I met Heath.
When I first saw him, he was an underlord who liked to mess with my mind. He would test me every time he was near me, seeing if I could withstand his compulsion. I thought he was just playing around, having a bit of fun until he fought Finn for the right to claim me. Finn was the lord of fire until he decided his feelings for my best friend, Cassie, were more important than power.
Even though I hadn’t known what would happen to me, I was thankful Heath won that battle. And amazingly, somewhere along the way, I grew to care about him. I still can’t grasp why it happened. One minute I couldn’t stand to be around him and the next, I was on the island trying to bond with him. I told myself there was no other way to escape the Order and Ainessa, but sometimes I think I might have real feelings for him. It’s impossible for me to know, but there is one thing I can’t deny…he was the only one that came after me when all of them knew I was in trouble. Sure, Jett showed up with the fae army at the last minute, but Heath was the one that got me out of danger. It wasn’t his fault that I stepped right back into it.
The Order used me just as much as the fae ever hoped to. They experimented on me, took my eggs, and tried to inseminate me. When that didn’t work, they sent Roger Wayne in to seal the deal. I’d run to escape Roger and found Heath coming to rescue me. Turned out Roger wanted out of the Order, but he sure was one sick puppy. He even married me to get me out of the compound long enough for Heath to come get me.
I almost laughed out loud thinking of the absurdity of the situation. I could no longer pretend my life would go back to normal. Not that it had ever really been that way. Growing up, I had always felt different than the kids at school, and it wasn’t because I was the only one who had lost her mother.
Something inside me recognized that I didn’t belong with humans.
You see, I have power these men want. I am what’s called an Elemental. I can manipulate all five elements, which is pretty rare. Most Elementals only have power over one element.
Each of the lords standing in front of me wanted my power for his own reasons. I have glimpsed a fraction of their motivations, but some like Heath were as cryptic as a dead language. I shivered thinking about what I would be doing in mere moments. Like it or not, I was about to mentally tie myself with people I really knew nothing about. Tabitha had claimed this was for my protection, so Ainessa couldn’t hijack my mind to claim me herself.
This was just temporary, and I knew it. When we finally rescue my family, I will have to pick a lord to be my bondmate for a very long time.
Whatever happened to good old-fashioned dating?
Tabitha craned her neck in my direction, her pale grey eyes studying me. At certain angles, they looked completely white. Freaky effect, but I’d gotten used to it. She’s a kooky old bird with her strange eyes and cryptic communication skills. She’s the spiritual leader for the fae, sort of like a shaman or something. The worst part about her is she can read my mind. I tried not to let my thoughts wander any farther, even though I’d bet it’s harder than holding onto a bolt of lightning.
I glanced at Luke to distract myself. The glamour he’d used today misted over his real appearance. I didn’t let on I could see underneath it to his disfigured face. The deep gash near his right eye still puckered around the tight scab. Dark purple bruises freckled both of his cheeks, spraying out to parts of his forehead. One, maybe even the worst of the bunch, circled his neck as if someone lassoed him and hung him from a tree for days.
The jury was still out where his nose was concerned. It sat askew on his face, as if broken ten times too many. Weren’t fae supposed to heal fast? Whatever I did, I needed to keep my concern for him from migrating to my face. He was too proud a man to want my pity. The sadness lurking in his eyes made me want to pull him into my arms to sing lullabies until he found the peace of sleep, but I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his peers. Ainessa maimed more than his body on that island. As I fought the tears that threatened to betray my thoughts, my throat thickened uncomfortably.
He looked away after offering me a small smile. A part of my heart squeezed in response. Did he think I was that shallow? That I wouldn’t care about him if he was disfigured for good? Such a thing would be laughable. Even in this state he was more beautiful than most men could ever hope for. I wanted to console him but had no desire to torment him further by making him talk about what had to have been unspeakable. He would tell me when he was ready, or never. It was up to him.
I sought a different place to rest my gaze and found Jett’s emotionless eyes watching me. “Come on,” I said, meeting his stare with a challenge of my own. “Are you guys afraid to be first or something?” With uncertainty clinging to my mind, I studied his hard expression. I thought he would be pouncing on me by now.
Tabitha stepped forward, giving me a tiny laugh. “That is not how this type of bonding works, Rayla.”
Would have been nice to know that before I spent over an hour worrying about exactly how I was going to bond with these men. Oh well, chalk another one up to fae keeping secrets from me.
My shoulders relaxed a bit without me having to think much about it. The only bonding I had seen or experienced involved kissing. There’s that physical contact I mentioned before. I found myself feeling almost disgusted at the thought of having to seal my lips with each one of these guys while the others watched. I now held a hope I wouldn’t have to sink that low after all. I looked into Tabitha’s nearly white eyes even though I knew she really couldn’t see me. “Mind giving me a better idea what to expect then?” I hadn’t meant for frustration to set my question on edge, but it was unmistakably there.
When Tabitha stepped closer, she placed a gentle hand on my arm. Her earthy scent lingered around me. It was lavender or lilac mixed with the deep scent of moistened leaves. “I need to test your connection to each lord, first.”
I yanked out of her grasp, backing away instinctively. The first time she tested my connection with Jett nearly knocked me out. It just got worse from there. Having no desire to do such a thing again, I gave her a firm shake of the head. “Uh-uh, I don’t think so.”
She sent me a shrug but inched nearer. “I have to make sure you will not gravitate too strongly to one of them.”
I clenched my jaw while still managing to retreat a step. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her cheeks pinked up, but I doubted it was from embarrassment. More likely, she was getting frustrated with me. It was in the set of her hands. Her fingers were balled into fists. Her breath whooshed out before she spoke. “The purpose of using a lesser connection,” she said “is for you to have a chance to choose who you will ultimately bond with.” As if I didn’t already know that—she and Valen, the head of the fae council, had made sure I understood this was not a permanent solution. She smirked and it looked all wrong on her. “If you start the process now without testing for anomalies, you could be bound to whomever the elements choose for you.”
Unpleasant as it sounded to be zapped by that horrible electricity, it would be worse, if, after all my fighting to keep my freedom, it was taken from me anyway. I stretched my arm toward her knowing full well once she clamped her fingers around my wrist, they would stay there until she was done with me—no matter how loudly I complained.
Her cool skin might as well have been a reflection of her unreadable expression. Without another word spoken, she lifted her chin toward the sky. Her eyes moved rapidly under the cover of shaded lids. My fingers curled, itching for a brush and some paint. This was the first time in a long time I’d thought about painting. I had been a bit distracted, but seeing her like this brought back inclinations that lay near the surface. She was a fascinating creature. I wouldn’t dare name her a mere woman. She was so much more than that. It was as if I could see the span of all time in her unnerving gaze.
After what was definitely an agonizing few minutes, she opened her eyes and faced Heath. He stepped forward without having to be asked then took her other hand. I tensed, expecting the worst pain of my life to wrack my body, yet nothing happened at all—not even a twinge.
When I opened my mouth to speak, Tabitha beat me to it. “Your connection is strong but not complete. This is still possible.”
That was it? Why wasn’t I writhing in agony right now? Every other time she had tested my connection with a lord had been excruciating. Heath nodded at her then stepped back in line with the others. He hadn’t bothered to glance at me even though I had stared at him hoping he would. I found myself lingering on his angular features. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t tell what he was feeling.
Was he as dejected as I was about this whole thing? Did he wonder, like I did, what would have happened if he had bonded with me in the jungle before we went to find the others? I had to stop myself from going further. I was projecting my feelings onto him, and I should know better.
He was probably relieved that Luke interrupted us. Now he wouldn’t be stuck with me. Hadn’t Zach said that Heath had never given himself fully to a bonding? One thing was certain: he could hurt me if I wasn’t careful. I didn’t want to be as into him as I felt, but despite my efforts to convince myself otherwise, he could make my pulse explode with just a glance. I took another glimpse, telling myself it would be my last until this was over.
He was studying me.
My stomach fell to my toes. I flicked my eyes to Jett instead. His face was twisted into a deep scowl.
Good. He deserved to be upset. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t yelling his head off, letting everyone know how I had been promised to him. I thought for sure the next time he had me within Lombarda he would insist I fulfill my mother’s contract.
I smiled smartly, preparing to move onto someone else, but the change in his expression stopped me. His scowl softened to a look of pure determination. He gave me a final once over before he turned to Tabitha.
“Your imminence, do you think it wise to have Heath within the circle? You have said yourself Rayla has a strong connection to him.” He lifted his brows. “What if the ritual binds them further?”
Everyone except Heath frowned. Taylor stepped forward, “For once, I agree with Jafan. What would be the point in us participating if she will become his anyway?”
To my surprise, Zach and Luke remained quiet. What was up with those two? I tried to catch Zach’s attention, but he was staring quite blatantly at his scuffed shoes. Funny that he was the only lord here who hadn’t changed clothing, which immediately made me wonder why.
“I don’t mind staying out of the circle,” said Heath.
What? I whipped my head toward him. Really? He looked serious enough. Suppressed frustration burned my eyes. He flinched when he glanced at me. “I thought we needed all of you for this to work.” Leave it to him to try and ditch me now. This just proved it. He didn’t really care about me. The fun was officially over and so were we, it seemed.
“Haven’t you been listening?” asked Taylor.
I turned toward him, slowly, trying to bite back my not so nice retort while racking my brain for an acceptable one. Man, I would have preferred a stranger to him. He was just so arrogant. It dripped off him like rain from a gutter. I shoved my hands to my hips for emphasis. “Yeah, but you guys might as well be speaking Swahili right now. In case that didn’t translate—” I made sure to enunciate each word. “I. Don’t. Get. It.”
He cocked his pretty face at me. “You already have a connection with Heath. For this to work as it should, the connection you have to all of us has to be balanced. Anything less would put you in danger, and I, for one, am not willing to take that risk for fear of hurting you.”
Tabitha raised a dainty hand, waiving him off. “That will be enough, Taveon.” She turned her attention to me. “It is very simple, Rayla. If you are too attached to one lord, the others will not be able to protect you if the need arises.”
Heath faced Tabitha. “I’ll just wait in my chambers. Let me know if you need me.”
I watched him walk away—his back rigid, his fists bunched up. That was the most emotion I had seen from him since we got here.
Tabitha caught my attention. “Ready?”
Didn’t really matter anymore. I nodded, swallowing down my fear all the while hoping I wasn’t making the worst mistake of my life.
Without another word, she proceeded to test my connection with the remaining lords. By the time she was done, I was sucking wind, straining to keep myself upright. One thing kept cycling through my mind. Why was Heath the only lord that didn’t cause me severe pain?
Once she was done turning my bones to jelly, each of the lords surrounded me. Luke faced me, and I made myself focus on the depth of his haunted blue eyes. Tabitha removed herself from the circle, but I could still feel her hovering. My body shook in anticipation that just kept gearing up. Protection, I reminded myself. I was doing this for protection.
“All mighty Creator,” Tabitha said. The sound echoed, taking on a layered quality. “Hear thy servant. We, the fallen, beseech thee to grant our petition this day. We seek to protect your chosen, Rayla Tate. Bind this circle in thy wisdom that she may fulfill thy divine purposes.”
Silence fell over our ragged group. I waited as long as I could stand it. Really I did. Before long, though, I had to know what was going on. “What are we waiting for?” I whispered to Luke.
“Shhh!” he hissed, bowing his head lower as if his show of respect could make up for my lack of manners.
I let out a heavy sigh and forced myself to close my eyes.
Just then the tiniest of sensations caught my attention, as if a butterfly had disturbed the air by my right ear. I looked around…nothing.
But—what was that? Pressure at my nape…no at the base of my spine…no everywhere—pushing in on my skin. The sensation wasn’t exactly painful, but it wasn’t like when I was with Heath. With him, bonding was seamless, enjoyable, amazing even. At that moment I noticed my arm was glowing. I followed the stream of purple light to the source. Zach.
He smiled at me just as I gave him a questioning glance. His face softened, showing me how much he cared for me. My heart leapt at the realization. I felt humbled and afraid realizing what he had already done to protect me. I had told him frivolously that I would go to hell and back for him, yet he was the one that had done it for me.
I turned away from him, not able to take the connection any more. I decided it would be best if I just let this happen without thinking too much about it. Allowing the flow of energy to enter my body I closed my eyes again. The pressure grew into tight anticipation that zinged through me.
This was it. My body tingled with change, morphing into something I wasn’t sure I would recognize when this was all over. Electricity bubbled under my skin, amping me up, reminding me of a moment I would rather forget: Back at the Order compound, May, the local bully, shattering into tiny specs of light at a mere touch from Ainessa. If the tension within me expanded much more, I would meet a similar fate.
When I was sure I couldn’t take this one more second, I heard them…indistinct thoughts mingling with my own: Will she really give me a chance? I must find a way. I would die for this woman. Why can’t she see that? The one that confused me the most shot through my mind so fast, I almost missed it. Will she ever be able to forgive me?
Then they stopped. My mind was my own again. I opened my eyes, swaying on my feet.
That was the most intense experience I had ever had. I glanced around, wondering which lord belonged to the thoughts I had captured.
Taylor stared boldly at me, but the rest looked away as if they knew I had been in their heads for that brief time.
Luke set a hand at my elbow to steady me. Memories of meeting him for the first time flashed through my head. He had been cocky beyond belief with his too sure smile and blazing blue eyes, but more than that, he had been distant. What had made him trust me enough to confide in me? Was it trust or merely the knowledge that he had no other choice if he was to have a chance with me?
Man, I wished I could trust my feelings. But I couldn’t. When this was over, I was going to insist on spending time individually with each lord, just to make sure I was making the right choice for me.
Tabitha cleared her throat. Something bad lay behind that sound.
Steeling my insides, I faced her. “What?”
She gave me a placid grin. “You will not be waiting to get to know these men better. You shall accompany Taveon to Uldran momentarily.”
It took less than a second for that to sink in. “What!” I marched up to her and placed my nose an inch from hers. “That was not part of this bargain. My family could be killed. I will not waste time while they are at risk!”
She didn’t budge. Her grin didn’t waiver, either. “Rayla. We can’t send you to face the Order now. We need to strategize, gather intel, train you.”
I stiffened. “But I thought you said training wouldn’t work.”
“I said no such thing, child. You hear what you want to hear.”
Gritting my teeth, I shook my head. “You tricked me.”
Her expression softened. “That was not my intention. I only wish to protect you.” I opened my mouth, but she rushed forward before I could get another word out, giving me a reproachful tone. “Not so long ago, you asked for training.”
“Yes, but…my family—”
I gasped, hope blossoming in my chest. “You know where they are?”
“As we speak, they are on an obscure landmass in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp. Once again, the Order has managed to conceal their underhanded workings.”
“So they are there,” I breathed. Roger had been telling the truth. I wondered what else he knew…like where Natalie was. The last time I had seen her she had been trying to escape the Order. Her boyfriend, Sam, had been ordered to kill her, and I had been helpless to stop him from doing something stupid. Well I wasn’t helpless anymore. I had to protect my—
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We are working on that.”
A myriad of thoughts bombarded me at once. How long were they going to keep me in Uldran? I didn’t even like Taylor. Why couldn’t I refuse him period? After all, I already knew how I felt about him.
“Rayla,” Tabitha interrupted my internal rant. “In order for you to make the best choice, you have to know your options. Each of these men have much to offer you if you are willing to put aside your preconceived notions and see them for who they are.”
I glanced at Taylor again. What could he possibly offer me, other than a headache every time he opened his mouth? From the stern look on her face, I was pretty sure Tabitha wasn’t going to let this go, so I decided to concede a little.
“How long?” I asked.
“Three weeks in each province.”
“No,” I said. She was talking about more than four months wasted in the fae realms. “That would be years in the human realm. The Order will not wait that long, and neither will I.”
Tabitha chuckled. “My child, there is much you need to learn. First of all we can control time. Even if you spent three years with each lord, if it was what we wished, a mere second would pass in the mortal realm. We don’t do it very often because it becomes too burdensome to maintain a balance, but in this case, I think it might be warranted.”
Huh? Did she actually just say the fae have the power to manipulate time? If that was true, why had so much time gone by when I was in Ingnis? Why hadn’t they just rewound time to go back to get me from Utah before I knew anything about this stuff? I grunted in frustration. After all this time I still didn’t understand anything about this world. Was Tabitha telling the truth, or was she trying to mollify me to get me to go with Taylor without making too much of a fuss?
Suddenly, I ached for the ability to read her mind because she clearly wasn’t going to elaborate. What exactly would I be agreeing to here? If she was telling the truth and I could get some much needed training before I faced Ainessa again without losing anything in the process, why wouldn’t I agree?
There was only one problem I couldn’t get to leave my mind. I was already so confused when it came to my feelings where the lords were concerned. Would spending more time with them really help, or was I about to add more uncertainty to the mix?
I took a turn looking at each one of them, but that didn’t improve anything. There was only one way to find out if this was worth the effort—I was going to have to jump in feet first. Hopefully I would be able to tread this riptide.
My eyes found Taylor again. His cool exterior couldn’t mask the intensity shining in his maple eyes. Trepidation seized my lungs. I didn’t want to go anywhere with him alone. I didn’t want to get to know him. Maybe Tabitha would let me go with Luke or Zach first.
“We drew straws,” said Zach softly.
Holy cow. Did he just read my mind? I flicked a glance at him. His expression gave nothing away.
He continued without commenting to my thoughts. “It was the only fair means to do this.”
I studied him for a moment. He wasn’t glamoured up like Luke, and he looked flat-out tired. I didn’t want to cause him any more stress than he had already dealt with. These two had been through enough because of me. Maybe they would be able to recover by the time I was to go to their land. I hoped so, because I was determined to choose someone soon.
I couldn’t keep going on this way. Not knowing where my future was headed had been slowly shredding my insides. I needed some stability. I just hoped I could manage to make a choice when the time came, because there was no way I could right now.
I squared my shoulders, inhaling a long breath. With more effort than it should have taken, I walked up to Taylor. He looked down at me, still wearing his placid exterior, even his eyes had gone neutral. Did this guy ever show emotion?
When he reached for my hand, I let him mold his fingers to mine. It wasn’t exactly painful for me to be around him. That was, as long as he kept his mouth shut. I owed it to myself to give him a fair chance. What if I was wrong about him?
“Bye,” I said to no one in particular and followed him into the castle. We walked down the corridors in silence. My heart beat frantically in my chest.
“Aren’t we going to get my stuff?” I asked.
“Your needs will be provided for. You mustn’t worry so much.”
Right. No worrying. Like that was going to happen.
“I would really like to say goodbye to—”
“We haven’t the time, my lady. I am sorry, but I need to get you to Uldran as soon as possible.”
I glanced down the hallway to my right. Nicco stood in front of a door. Was that Heath’s room? I swallowed my anxiety, at least I tried to. What was his problem anyway? Nicco gave me a nod. I smiled, but Taylor pulled me forward. I gave one backward glance before I addressed Taylor’s statement.
“What did you mean by that?”
“We will discuss things once we are settled.”
That was it. End of topic. I tried not to notice the stares we received. At one point, the hair on my arms stood straight on end like someone was secretly watching me, yet there was something else in the foreboding that rushed through me…like an inevitability I would have to face soon.
Taylor hissed in a breath and quickened his step, not wasting any time leading me outside. I hadn’t been able to talk to Lacey, or, well, anyone. The worst part was I still didn’t know what they were going to do with the other Elementals they’d taken from the island. Tabitha had agreed to my terms, but if I wasn’t here to make sure things happened the way they were supposed to, would they?
We glided down the glowing staircase out into the morning. The air was crisp with sweet nectar wafting around us. Everything here still amazed me, from the crystal castle’s waterfall that seemed to have no source to the little glimmering specs in the wind. I took one last look at the castle with its jutting spires and nearly see-through edifice. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful castle, yet something here was dark and twisted as if in direct opposition to the shimmering façade.
“You have a very active mind,” Taylor commented in his honey tones. Much like Jett, his voice was his weapon against me, lulling me into a state of bliss with mere words.
I nodded. What was I supposed to say to that anyway? Was he trying to get me upset by implying he could hear my thoughts? Could he hear my thoughts? One thing was certain: I was going to find out. I angled my neck slightly, taking in his scrumptious good looks and deliberately thought. At least I’ll have a nice view if I end up stuck with him.
His face twisted into a grin. “Once I get you home I’ll give you a better one.” A smile played on his mouth then he shrugged. “Why wait.” His fingers floated over the buttons of his shirt unfastening them in succession.
The heat of a blush rose up my neck. He laughed. Well I guess that answered that question. I grumbled curses to myself for being so stupid while shaking my head at him. If I hadn’t known better I would have said he was teasing me. “Okay, I’m sure your bare chest would rock my world, but you can stop now.” He smirked at me so I gave him a face. “Why can’t I hear your thoughts?”
He smiled, and it brought out a softness in his eyes I had never noticed before. “Because, my lady, I am not allowing you into my mind.”
“That implies, my lord, that I am allowing you into mine.”
“You are correct.”
That couldn’t be right. I wasn’t purposely letting him through my walls. Did that mean I needed new ones? I focused on my barriers. To my surprise, they were all down. Every last blasted one. I zipped them back up, attempting to not let my embarrassment color my face. Yeah right.
When we reached Taylor’s entourage, several carriages waited for us. Taylor apparently liked to travel in style. The Sleek coaches were uniform and, no surprise here, black. If they had been cars, I would be looking at five Maseratis. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride with him in such enclosed quarters for however long it was going to take us to get to his realm, especially if they were magically amped like Luke’s ride had been.
“Drifting is not a common ability,” he said conversationally. “Most fae avoid travel as much as possible.”
“You’re still listening to my thoughts!”
A smile crept up his lips. “Rayla, we are connected now. It will take more than those puny walls you constructed to keep me out of your mind.”
I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him, but knowing him, he would take it as an invitation. “Okay,” I said. “Teach me how to do it properly.”
He scoffed. “Why would I do such a thing? As it is, I am beginning to understand you. I know what you think of me. You are correct about many things, but I am not giving up simply because winning you will be challenging. I assure you, I have dealt with worse in my existence.”
I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. This was absolutely unfair. I knew from reading Lily’s journal that this man was capable of kindness, but it had taken him nearly two hundred years before he started opening up to her. Before that, it had been a dictatorship. She had been lonely. That was why she had taken to entertaining herself in the most unusual ways she could find.
He snapped his head toward me, interrupting my contemplation. His expression was guarded, but beneath that I thought I saw what? Regret maybe? “How I treated Lily is none of your concern.”
“I beg to differ. The best predictor of the future is the past. I’m not willing to spend hundreds of years with a decided bombast just because you want me to.”
Apparently dismissing my insult, he replied in a smooth tone. “I know what you require from a relationship, Rayla. In fact, I am looking forward to giving you unguarded moments into my mind, but not here, and certainly not now.”
What was that supposed to mean? A wary fog blanketed his eyes, clouding any real answers from me. He glanced behind us as if looking for a tail then pushed me forward. This was the most emotion I had seen from him, and I was beginning to understand that Heath wasn’t the only lord keeping his feelings guarded. I climbed into the middle carriage wondering why he looked so upset. When I finally had a moment to check behind us, no one was there; yet the hair on my neck rose. We were being watched again, but by whom?
Once we were settled, the carriage lurched forward, pushing me back against the plush velvet bench I was sitting on. Taylor pulled the curtains shut without another word. His shoulders held a visible tension that worried me more than I wanted to admit.
My mind stirred with the possibilities for his unease. The only thing that made much sense to me at all was he was worried someone would overhear our conversation. Did the counsel have someone in the bushes surveying us? Could it be possible my thoughts were not safe? When I glanced up at him, he nodded. I shuddered, but refused to let any thoughts about that knowledge into my mind. Instead, I focused on thinking about what Uldran was going to be like. It seemed like it would be a safe subject. I sure hoped it was.
“Will you tell me about Uldran?” I asked.
He shifted in his seat, seeming pleased by the change in conversation. “What would you like to know?”
First things first. “Where is it exactly?”
“In human terms, Mid-Atlantic, I suppose.”
Great. Another island.
“You misunderstand.” His light brown eyes shone with mischief. “Uldran is unlike any place you have ever been. In fact, it might be possible you have heard legends about my home.”
I scoured my brain for legends that involved islands or the Atlantic Ocean. The only one that made any sense to me was Atlantis. Was he actually implying it was under water?
Again, he nodded. How was that possible? I imagined glass domes one crack away from making me a permanent fixture of the ocean floor.
Taylor laughed. “You have seen too many movies. Uldran is one of the safest places on this planet.” When I stared at him warily, he continued, “You will have to see it for yourself.”
I shifted uncomfortably on my too comfortable seat and inhaled slowly. One of my biggest fears is drowning. Cassie helped me learn how to swim, but that was in the safety of a pool no deeper than twelve feet. “How are we going to get there?” I tried to laugh, but even to me, my voice sounded strained. “I don’t suppose your carriages can morph into submarines?”
He moved swiftly to my side, tucking a finger under my chin. With a gentle force, he lifted my gaze to his. “I have given up much to have a chance with you. I would hardly let you drown.” He took my hands between his, which only managed to make breathing harder than it already was. “You are forgetting one very important point, my dear.”
I eyed him warily. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“You have the power to drain the oceans if you wish. The elements are yours to command.”
I kept my yeah right to myself and said instead, “It doesn’t always work for me.”
“That’s merely because you have little experience. You lack the knowledge, but more importantly, the faith. I will teach you as much as I am able given the short time we have together.”
Despite my anxiety about being with him for so long, I found him interesting. I was going to try to keep an open mind because I knew I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors by being pigheaded about him. He might just surprise me.