Earth Reclaimed, Book 1
By Ann Gimpel
Release Date: 10/4/13
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Romance
Resilient, kickass, and determined, Aislinn's walled herself off from anything that might make her feel again. Until a wolf picks her for a bond mate and a Celtic god rises out of legend to claim her for his own.
Aislinn Lenear lost her anthropologist father high in the Bolivian Andes. Her mother, crazy with grief that muted her magic, was marched into a radioactive vortex by alien creatures and killed. Three years later, stripped of every illusion that ever comforted her, twenty-two year old Aislinn is one resilient, kickass woman with a take no prisoners attitude. In a world turned upside down, where virtually nothing familiar is left, she’s conscripted to fight the dark gods responsible for her father’s death. Battling the dark on her own terms, Aislinn walls herself off from anything that might make her feel again.
Fionn MacCumhaill, Celtic god of wisdom, protection, and divination has been laying low since the dark gods stormed Earth. He and his fellow Celts decided to wait them out. After all, three years is nothing compared to their long lives. On a clear winter day, Aislinn walks into his life and suddenly all bets are off. Awed by her courage, he stakes his claim to her and to an Earth he's willing to fight for.
Aislinn’s not so easily convinced. Fionn’s one gorgeous man, but she has a world to save. Emotional entanglements will only get in her way. Letting a wolf into her life was hard. Letting love in may well prove impossible.
Aislinn pulled her cap down more firmly on her head. Snow stung where it got into her eyes and froze the exposed parts of her face. Thin, cold air seared her lungs when she made the mistake of breathing too deeply. She’d taken refuge in a spindly stand of leafless aspens, but they didn’t cut the wind at all. “Where’s Travis?” she fumed, scanning the unending white of a high altitude plain that used to be part of Colorado. Or maybe this place had been in eastern Utah. It didn’t really matter much anymore.
Something flickered at the corner of her eye. Almost afraid to look, she swiveled her head to maximize her peripheral vision. Damn! No, double damn. Half-frozen muscles in her face ached, her jaw tightened. Bal’ta—a bunch of them—fanned out a couple of hundred yards behind her, closing the distance eerily fast. One of many atrocities serving the dark gods that had crawled out of the ground that night in Bolivia, they appeared as shadowy spots against the fading day. Places where edges shimmered and merged into a menacing blackness. If she looked too hard at the center of those dark places, they drew her like a lodestone. Aislinn tore her gaze away.
Not that the Bal’ta—bad as they were—were responsible for the wholesale destruction of modern life. No, their masters—the ones who’d brought dark magic to Earth in the first place—held that dubious honor. Aislinn shook her head sharply, trying to decide what to do. She was supposed to meet Travis here. Those were her orders. He had something to give her. Typical of the way the Lemurians ran things, no one knew very much about anything. It was safer that way if you got captured.
She hadn’t meant to cave and work for them, but in the end, she’d had little choice. It was sign on with the Lemurians—Old Ones—to cultivate her magic and fight the dark, or be marched into the same radioactive vortex that had killed her mother.
Her original plan had been to wait for Travis until an hour past full dark, but the Bal’ta changed all that. Waiting even one more minute was a gamble she wasn’t willing to risk. Aislinn took a deep breath. Chanting softly in Gaelic, her mother’s language, she called up the light spell that would wrap her in brilliance and allow her to escape—maybe. It was the best strategy she could deploy on short notice. Light was anathema to Bal’ta and their ilk. So many of the loathsome creatures were hot on her heels, she didn’t have any other choice.
She squared her shoulders. All spells drained her. This was one of the worst—a purely Lemurian working translated into Gaelic because human tongues couldn’t handle the Old Ones’ language. She pulled her attention from her spell for the time it took to glance about. Her heart sped up. Even the few seconds it took to determine flight was essential had attracted at least ten more of the bastards. They surrounded her now. Well, almost.
She shouted the word to kindle her spell. Even in Gaelic, with its preponderance of harsh consonants, the magic felt awkward on her tongue. Heart thudding double time against her ribs, she hoped she’d gotten the inflection right. Moments passed. Nothing happened. Aislinn tried again. Still nothing. Desperate, she readied her magic for a fight she was certain she’d lose and summoned the light spell one last time. Flickers formed. Stuttering into brilliance, they pushed against the Bal’tas’s darkness.
Yesssss. Muting down triumph surging through her—no time for it—she gathered the threads of her working, draped luminescence about herself, and loped toward the west. Bal’ta scattered, closing behind her. She noted with satisfaction that they stayed well away from her light. She’d always assumed it burned them in some way.
Travis was on his own. She couldn’t even warn him that he was walking into a trap. Maybe he already had. Which would explain why he hadn’t shown up. Worry tugged at her. She ignored it. Anything less than absolute concentration, and she’d fall prey to his fate—whatever that had been.
Vile hissing sounded behind her. Long-nailed hands reached for her, followed by shrieks when one of them came into contact with her magic. She sneaked a peek over one shoulder to see how close they truly were. One problem with all that light was that it illuminated the disgusting things. Between five and six feet tall, with barrel chests, their bodies were coated in greasy-looking brown hair. Thicker hair hung from their scalps and grew in clumps from armpits and groins. Ropy muscles bulged under their hairy skin. Orange eyes gleamed, reflecting her light back at her. Their foreheads sloped backward, giving them a dimwitted look, but Aislinn wasn’t fooled. They were skilled warriors, worthy adversaries who’d wiped out more than one of her comrades. They had an insect-like ability to work as a group using telepathic powers. Though she threw her Mage senses wide open, she was damned if she could tap into their wavelength to disrupt it.
Chest aching, breath coming in short, raspy pants, she ran like she’d never run before. If she let go of anything—her light shield or her speed—they’d be on her, and it would be all over. Dead just past her twenty-second birthday. That thought pushed her legs to pump faster. She gulped air, willing everything to hold together long enough.
Minutes ticked by. Maybe as much as half an hour passed. She was tiring. It was hard to run and maintain magic. Could she risk teleportation? Sort of a beam me up, Scotty, trick. Nope, she just wasn’t close enough to her destination yet. Something cold as an ice cave closed around her upper arm. Her flesh stung before feeling left it. Head snapping to that side, she noted her light cloak had failed in that spot. Frantic to loosen the creature’s grip, she pulled a dirk from her belt and stabbed at the thing holding her. Smoke rose when she dug her iron knife into it.
The stench of burning flesh stung her nostrils, and the disgusting ape-man drew back, hurling imprecations at her in its guttural language. Her gaze snaked through the gloom of the fading day as she tried to assess how many of the enemy chased her. She swallowed hard. There had to be a hundred. Why were they targeting her? Had they intercepted Travis and his orders? Damn the Lemurians anyway. She’d never wanted to fight for them.
I’ve got to get out of here. Though it went against the grain—mostly because she was pretty certain it wouldn’t work, and you weren’t supposed to cast magic willy nilly—she pictured her home, mixed magic from earth and fire, and begged the Old Ones to see her delivered safely. Once she set the spell in motion, there’d be no going back. If she didn’t end up where she’d planned, she’d be taken to task, maybe even stripped of her powers, depending on how pissed off the Lemurians were.
Aislinn didn’t have any illusions left. It had been three years since her world crumbled. Two since her mother died. She’d wasted months railing against God, or the fates, or whoever was responsible for robbing her of her boyfriend and her parents and her life, goddammit.
Then the Old Ones—Lemurians, she corrected herself—had slapped reason into her, forcing her to see the magic that kept her alive as a resource, not a curse. In the intervening time, she’d not only come to terms with that magic, but it had become a part of her. The only part she truly trusted. Without the magic that enhanced her senses, she’d be dead within hours.
Please… It was a struggle not to clasp her hands together in an almost forgotten gesture of supplication. Juggling an image of her home while maintaining enough light to hold the Bal’ta at bay, Aislinn waited. Nothing happened. She was supposed to vanish, her molecules transported by proxy to where she wished to go. This was way more than the normal journey—or jump—spell, though. Because she needed to go much farther.
She poured more energy into the teleportation spell. The light around her flickered. Bal’ta dashed forward, jaws open, saliva dripping. She smelled the rotten crypt smell of them and cringed. If they got hold of her, they’d feed off her until she was nothing but an empty husk. Or worse, if one took a shine to her, she’d be raped in the bargain and forced to carry a mixed breed child. Of course, they’d kill her as soon as the thing was weaned. Maybe the brat, too, if its magic wasn’t strong enough.
The most powerful of the enemy were actually blends of light and dark magic. When the abominations, six dark masters, had slithered out of holes between the worlds during a globally synchronized surge linked to the Harmonic Convergence, the first thing they’d done had been to capture several human women and perform unspeakable experiments on progeny resulting from purloined eggs and alien sperm.
Aislinn sucked in a shaky breath. She did not want to be captured. Suicide was a far better alternative. She licked at the fake cap in the back of her mouth. It didn’t budge. She shoved a filthy finger behind her front teeth and used an equally disgusting fingernail to pop the cap. She gripped the tiny capsule. Should she swallow it? Could she? Sweat beaded and trickled down her forehead, despite the chill afternoon air.
She’d just dropped the pill onto her tongue, trying to gin up enough saliva to make it go down, when the weightlessness associated with teleportation started in her feet like it always did. Gagging, she spat out the capsule and extended a hand to catch it. She missed. It fell into the dirt. Aislinn knew better than to scrabble for the poison pill. If she survived, she could get another from the Old Ones. They didn’t care how many humans died, despite pretending to befriend those with magic.
Her spell was shaky enough as it was. It needed more energy—lots more. Forgetting about the light spell, Aislinn put everything she had into escape. By the time she knew she was going to make it—apparently the Bal’ta didn’t know they could take advantage of her vulnerability as she shimmered half in and half out of teleport mode—she was almost too tired to care.
She fell through star-spotted darkness for a long time. It could have been several lifetimes. These teleportation jaunts were different than her simple Point A to Point B jumps. When she’d traveled this way before, she’d asked how long it took, but the Old Ones never answered. Everyone she’d ever loved was dead—and the Old Ones lived forever—so she didn’t have a reliable way to measure time. For all she knew, Travis might have lived through years of teleportation jumps. No one ever talked about anything personal. It was like an unwritten law. No going back. No one had a past. At least, not one they were willing to talk about.Voices eddied around her, speaking the Lemurian tongue with its clicks and clacks. She tried to talk with them, but they ignored her. On shorter, simpler journeys, her body stayed with her. She’d never known how her body caught up to her when she teletransported and was nothing but spirit. Astral energy suspended between time and space.
A disquieting thump rattled her bones. Bones. I have bones again… That must mean… Barely conscious of the walls of her home rising around her, Aislinn felt the fibers of her grandmother’s Oriental rug against her face. She smelled cinnamon and lilac. Relief surged through her. Against hope and reason, the Old Ones had seen her home. Maybe they cared more than she thought—at least about her. Aislinn tried to pull herself across the carpet to the corner shrine so she could thank them properly, but her head spun. Darkness took her before she could do anything else.
* * * *
Not quite sure what woke her, Aislinn opened her eyes. Pale light filtered in through rough cutouts high in the walls. Daytime. She’d been lucky to find this abandoned silver mine with shafts that ran up to ground level. It would have drained her to constantly have a mage light burning.
Is it tomorrow? Or one of the days after that? Aislinn’s head pounded. Her mouth tasted like the backside of a sewer. It was the aftereffect of having thoroughly drained her magic, but she was alive, goddammit. Alive. Memory flooded her. She’d been within a hairsbreadth of taking her own life. Her stomach clenched, and she rolled onto her side, racked by dry heaves. Had she swallowed any of the poison by accident?
A bitter laugh made her cracked lips ache. Of course she hadn’t. It didn’t take much cyanide to kill you. Just biting into the capsule without swallowing would have done it. She struggled to a sitting position. Pain lanced through her head, but she forced herself to keep her eyes open.
The world stabilized. She lurched to her feet, filled a chipped mug with water that ran perpetually down one wall of her cave, doubling as faucet and shower, and warmed it with magic. Rummaging through small metal bins, she dropped mint and anise into the water. Then a dollop of honey, obtained at great personal risk from a nearby hive. When she looked at the mug, it was empty. Her eyes widened in a face so tired that any movement was torture, and she wondered if she’d hallucinated making tea. Since she didn’t remember drinking the mixture, she made another cup for good measure.
Liquid on board, she started feeling halfway human. Or whatever she was these days. As she moved around her cozy hobbit hole of a home, her gaze stole over beloved books, a few odds and ends of china, and her grandmother’s rug—all that was left of her old life. By the time she had developed enough magic to transport both herself and things short distances, most of the items from the ruins of her parents’ home had been either pilfered by someone else or destroyed by the elements. She’d come by her few other possessions digging through the rubble of what was left of civilization.
Aislinn sighed heavily. It made her chest hurt, and she wondered if the Bal’ta had injured her before she’d made good on her escape. She shucked her clothes—tight brown leather pants, a plaid flannel shirt, and a torn black leather jacket—and took stock of her body. It looked pretty much the same. The long, white scar from under one breast catty corner to a hipbone was still there. Yeah, right. What could have happened to it? There might be a few new bruises, but all in all, her lean, tautly muscled form had survived intact. Before the world had imploded, she’d hated being a shred over six feet tall. Now she blessed her height. Long legs meant she could run fast.
She wrinkled her nose. A putrid stench had intensified as she removed her ratty leather garments. Realizing it was her, she strode to the waterfall in one corner of her cave and stood under its flow until her teeth chattered. Only then did she pull magic to warm herself. It seemed a waste to squander power on something she thought she should be able to tolerate. Besides, despite sleeping, she still hadn’t managed to totally recharge her reserves. That would only happen if she didn’t use any more magic for a while. Aislinn thumbed a sliver of handmade soap and washed her hair, diverting suds falling down her body to clean the rest of her.
Something threw itself against the wards she kept above ground. She felt it as a vibration deep in her chest. It happened again. She leapt from the shower and flung her long, red hair over her shoulders so she could see. Soapy water streamed down her body, but she didn’t want to sacrifice one iota of magic drying herself until she knew who—or what—was out there. Mage power would alert whatever was outside to her presence, so she snaked the tiniest tendril of Seeker magic out, winding it in a circuitous route so no one would be able to figure out where it came from. Seekers could pinpoint others with magic. That gift was also useful for sorting out truth, but it wasn’t her main talent, so it was weak.
She gasped. Travis? How could it possibly be him? He didn’t know where she lived. Had her Lemurian magelord told him?
“Aislinn.” She heard his voice in her mind. “Let us in.”
Us no doubt meant that his bond creature was with him. When Hunter magic was primary, humans had bond animals. His was a civet with the most beautiful rust, golden, and onyx coat she’d ever seen. Should I? Indecision rocked her. The reason her cave meant safety was that no one knew about it. No one who would tell, anyway. She dragged a threadbare wool shift—once it had been green, but there were so many patches, it was mostly black now—over her head and shook water out of her hair.
A high-pitched screech reverberated in her head. It sounded like something had pissed off the civet. Travis shouted her name again. He left the mind speech channel open after that. Locked it open so she couldn’t close it off. Edgy, she wondered if he was setting some sort of trap. Aislinn thought she could trust him, but when it came right down to it, she didn’t trust anyone. Especially not the Old Ones. The only thing that made working with them tolerable was that she understood their motives. Or imagined she did. She still hadn’t forgiven them for killing her mother. Poor, sick, muddled Tara.
“Aislinn.” A different voice this time. Metae, her Lemurian magelord. The one who’d made it clear two years before that, magic or no, they’d kill her if she didn’t come to terms with her power and fight for them. “Save your comrade. I do not know if I will arrive in time.”
All righty, then. Aislinn wondered if it would be possible. The civet yowled, hissed, and then yowled again. Travis made heavy, slurping sounds, as if at least one lung had been punctured. Dragging a leather vest over totally inadequate clothing, Aislinn slipped her feet into cracked, plastic Crocs and took off at a dead run down a passageway leading upward. The Crocs gave her feet some protections from rocks, but not from cold. She veered off, trying to pick an exit point that would put her behind the fighting. When she came to one of the many illusory rocks that blocked every tunnel leading to her home, she peeked around it. No point in being a sacrifice if she could help it. Travis wasn’t that close of an acquaintance. No one was.
A hand flew to her mouth to stifle sound. Christ! It couldn’t be. But it was. Though she’d only seen him once, that horrible night in Bolivia when her father had died, the thing standing in broad daylight had to be Perrikus—one of six dark gods holding what was left of Earth captive. Bright auburn hair flowing to his waist fluttered in the morning breeze. Eyes clear as fine emeralds one moment, shifting to another alluring shade the next, were set in a classically handsome face with sharp cheekbones and a chiseled jawline. His broad shoulders and chest tapered to narrow hips under a gossamer robe that left almost nothing to the imagination. The dark gods were sex incarnate, which was interesting, since the Old Ones were anything but. Promises of bottomless passion had been one of the ways the dark ones seduced Druids and witches and all those other New Age practitioners into weakening the gates between the worlds.
Heat flooded Aislinn’s nether regions. She wished she’d paid better attention when humans who’d actually run up against the dark gods had told her about it. Something about requiring human warmth to feed themselves, or remain on Earth, or…shit, her usually sharp mind just wasn’t there. She couldn’t focus on anything except getting laid.
Her groin ached for release. One of her hands sneaked under her clothing before she realized what she was doing. No! The silent shriek told her body to stand down, damn it. Now was not the time…and Perrikus definitely not the partner. Her body wasn’t listening. The next parts to betray her were her nipples, as they pebbled into hard points and pressed against the rough wool fabric of her hastily donned shift.
Wrenching her gaze to Travis—and her mind away from sex—she was unutterably grateful he was still on his feet. Wavering, but standing. The civet, every hair on end, stood next to him, a paw, with claws extended, raised menacingly.
“You know where the woman is,” Perrikus said, voice like liquid silver.
Aislinn heard compulsion behind the words. Hopefully, so did Travis.
“I followed you here,” the dark mage went on. “I heard you call out to her. So, where is she? Tell me, and I’ll let you go.”
The civet growled low. Travis spoke a command to silence it.
“I’m right here.” Aislinn stepped into view, glad her voice hadn’t trembled, because her guts sure were.
“Aislinn,” Travis gasped. He lurched in a rough half circle to face her. “I’m so sorry…”
“Can it,” she snapped.
The civet hissed at her, probably since she’d had the temerity to raise her voice to its bonded one.
“Okay.” She leveled her gaze at Perrikus. “You said he could go. Release him—and his animal, too.”
That lyrical voice laughed. “Oh, did I say that? I’d forgotten.”
“Let him go, and I’ll, ah, give you what you want.” Should buy me a couple minutes here. “Just turn off the damned libido fountain. I can’t think.”
His hypnotic gaze latched onto hers. “Why would I do that, human? You like how it feels. I smell the heat from between your legs.”
“Bastard. I liked it a whole lot better when I thought you were just a comic book character.” Aislinn wondered how much juice she had. This was one of the gods. Even if she was at her best, she didn’t think she’d be able to prevail in anything that looked like direct combat. “What do you want with me?” she asked, still trying to buy time to strategize. It wasn’t easy with what felt like a second heart pounding between her legs. She wanted to lay herself at his feet and just get it over with.
“What do you think?” He smiled. Fine, white teeth gleamed in that perfect jaw. “Children. You have power, human. Real power. And you’ve only now come to our attention.” He walked toward her, nice and slow. Sauntered. His hips swung with his stride. She saw he was ready under those sheer robes. Unfortunately, so was she, but she clamped down on her craving.
Aislinn ignored the moisture gushing down her thighs and reached for her magic. Travis limped over, joining hands with her. The civet wedged itself between them, warm against her lower leg. She felt the boost immediately. Even the sexual hunger receded a tiny bit. Enough to clear her mind. “On my count of three,” she sent. “One, two…”
“No. Do just the opposite. He won’t be expecting it. Pull from air and water. I’ll blend fire. Aim for his dick. It’s a pretty big target just now.”
Power erupted from them. Even the civet seemed to be helping. Since she’d never worked with an animal before, she wasn’t certain just how the Hunter magic worked. Aislinn concentrated hard to keep the spell’s aim true. Travis was injured, so she took more of the burden.
Perrikus chanted almost lazily. Maybe he was drunk on his own ability, so egotistical he wouldn’t guard himself. Her spirits soared as soon as she realized Travis’s gambit had worked. Perrikus was using the counter spell for air and water. He hadn’t counted on the tenacity fire would give their working. Moments later, a muffled shriek burst from him, and he grappled for his crotch.
“Bitch.” No honey or compulsion in that epithet. He lunged for her.
Aislinn sidestepped him neatly, letting go of Travis. In a half crouch, she trained all her attention on their adversary. Hands raised, she began a weaving she hoped would unbalance him. Air shimmered at the edges of her vision.
“I am here, child. Take your comrade to safety. He carries an important message from me.”
“Do not speak my name aloud. Go.”
The shimmery place in the air sidled in front of Perrikus. Fiery edges lapped hungrily at his nearly transparent robes. Not waiting to be told a third time, Aislinn shooed the civet into Travis’s arms, draped an arm around him, and pulled invisibility about the three of them. The last thing she heard as she guided them toward the warren of passageways leading to her home was Metae baiting Perrikus.
“I was old before you were hatched. How dare you spread your filth?”
“Wh-Where are we?” Travis’s voice gurgled. It had taken time to help him cover the half mile back to her cave. The civet made little mewling noises as they walked, sounding worried about its human partner.
“About two hundred feet below whatever’s happening up there.” Aislinn flung a hand upward. “Do you have Healing magic?” She pushed him through the thick tapestry that served as a door to her home and caught the civet’s tail between fabric and rock. It hissed at her and then ran to Travis, light on its feet.
“Use it on yourself. It’s not one of my strengths.” Aislinn knew she sounded surly, but couldn’t help herself. She’d never wanted anyone anywhere near her home. And her body, ignited by Perrikus’s execrable magic, screamed for release. Nothing she could do about that so long as she had company. Not much privacy in the one room she called home.
“Make a power circle around me.”
Grateful for something to do, Aislinn strode around him three times, chanting. She felt Travis pull earth power from her as he patched the hurt places within himself. Satisfied he had what he needed, she retrieved her mug, got one for him, and made tea. In addition to goldenseal, she added marigolds to the decoction. Both were supposed to have healing qualities. By the time she finished brewing the tea, his color had shifted from gray to decidedly pink. His eyes were back to their normal brown. Moss green was his power color. She wondered if it was sheer coincidence that the civet’s eyes were the same odd shade. She understood her Mage and Seeker gifts. The other three human magics—Healer, Hunter, and Seer—remained shrouded in mystery.
Aislinn looked hard at Travis when she handed him the tea. Dirty blond dreadlocks hung halfway down his back. He was well past six feet, but thin to the point of gauntness, his skin stretched over broad shoulders. A leather belt with additional holes punched in it held baggy denim pants up. Battered leather boots, split along one side, and an equally worn leather vest over a threadbare green cotton shirt made him look just about as ragtag as she always did. No one ever had new clothes. She just patched what she had until the fabric fell apart. Then she looted amongst the dead, or possessions they’d left behind, for something else she could use.
“Thanks.” He took the tea and shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. “You have books.” Surprise burned in his tone. “How did—?”
“You didn’t see them,” she broke in fiercely, thinking that’s what happened when you had people in your house. They saw things they weren’t supposed to—like books banned by a Lemurian edict.
“Okay,” he agreed. “I didn’t see a thing.” He hesitated. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Did you fix your body?” Aislinn grimaced. Gee, that didn’t sound very friendly. Pretty obvious I’m trying to change the subject. “Uh, sorry. I’m not used to entertaining.”
He dropped his gaze. “Yeah, I’m better. I’m not used to being anyone’s guest, either.”
“How’d you find me?” she blurted. Not all that polite either, but she really did want to know.
“Metae and Regnol, you know, my Lemurian magelord, told me to give you this yesterday.” Scrabbling inside his vest, he drew out an alabaster plaque. It was about the size of a domino and contained an encrypted message. “I tried to make our rendezvous on time, but everywhere I turned, something went wrong.” He paused long enough to take a breath. “I won’t bore you with the details, but it was past dark when I made it to the coordinates. You weren’t there, but I knew you had been. Traces of your energy remained.” He ground his teeth together. “I also sensed the Bal’ta. Because I feared the worst, I called the Old Ones—”
“What?” she broke in, incredulous. “We’re never supposed to—”
“I know that.” He sounded dismayed. “I was desperate. They’d told me not to bother reporting back in if I didn’t get the message to you. Anyway, they didn’t even lecture me for insubordination. Metae told me where to find you. And a whole bunch of other stuff about how she’d wanted to tell you herself, but couldn’t break away from something or other.”
Aislinn gulped her tea. It was hot and made her mouth hurt, but at least the lust that had been eating at her like acid, ever since Perrikus had turned those gorgeous eyes on her, receded a bit. Maybe it might, just might, leave her be. She’d even been wondering about a quickie with Travis—after he’d healed himself, of course. Heat spread up her neck. She knew she was blushing.
“What?” He stared at her.
The civet had curled itself into a ball at his feet, but it kept its suspicious gaze trained on her.
“Nothing.” She put down her mug and held out a hand for the plaque. “Let’s find out what was so important.”
Nodding silently, he handed it to her before sinking onto one of several big pillows scattered around the Oriental rug. The cat followed him. “Do you mind?” He pointed at a faded Navaho blanket folded in one corner of the room.
“Thanks.” He unfolded it and draped it around his shoulders. “Takes a lot of magic to do Healings. I’m cold.”
With only half her mind on him, Aislinn held the alabaster between her hands. It warmed immediately and began to glow. She opened herself to it, knowing it would reveal its message, but only to her. The plaques were like that. The Old Ones keyed them to a single recipient. Death came swiftly to anyone else who tried to tamper with their magic. Metae’s voice filled her mind.
“Child. Your unique combination of Mage and Seeker blood has come to the attention of the other side. They will stop at nothing to capture and use you. The Council has conferred. You will ready yourself for a journey to Taltos so we may better prepare you for what lies ahead. Take nothing. Tell no one. Travel to the gateway. Do not tarry. Once you are there, we will find you. You must arrive within four days.”
“What?” Travis had an odd look on his face, as if he knew he shouldn’t ask, but couldn’t help himself.
She shook her head. Alone. Destined to be alone—always. Sadness filled her. Images of her mother and father tumbled out of the place she kept them locked away. Memories of what it had felt like to be loved brought sudden tears to her eyes.
“Come here.” Travis opened his arms. “You don’t have to tell me a thing.”
The civet growled low. Travis spoke sharply to it, and it stood, arched its back, and walked to a spot a few feet away, where it circled before lying down.
Mortified by how desperately she wanted the comfort of those arms, Aislinn dropped to the floor and crawled to him, taking care to give his bond animal a wide berth. The blanket must have helped, because when she fitted her body to his, it was more than warm. The sexual heat she thought she’d moved beyond flared painfully in her loins. When he cupped her buttocks with his hands and pulled her against him, she wound her arms around him and held on.
“There,” he crooned, moving a hand to smooth her hair out of her face. “There, now. Let’s take comfort where we can, eh? There’s precious little to be had.” He laughed, sounding a bit self-conscious, before adding, “Even I could feel Perrikus’s spell. Got me going, too.”
He closed his lips over hers. She kissed him back, too aroused to be ashamed of her need.
About the AuthorAnn Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche's Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for three more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: To Love a Highland Dragon, Earth’s Requiem and Earth’s Blood.
A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers her solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.