I hope you enjoy the conclusion to Starting Fires. It was such fun to write this story for the guys. Now another one is swirling around in my thoughts. All the what ifs that can happen from here. Enjoy!!
Starting Fires (Sumeria's Sons #3.1, Sumeria's Magi #0.2)
© 2013, Lexi Ander
It had been a couple of days since I'd left Juan's quarters in the pre-dawn hour exhausted but sated. We hadn't made love—yet—but spent the night learning each other's bodies. His scent on my skin still lingered, strong and heady. He'd been pretty happy with himself over the fact others would discern our mutual possession and I encouraged him. If he was distracted by the evidence of his physical and emotion ownership of me, then he wouldn't pay attention the unease I had difficulty suppressing. Magi took bindings very seriously. If it became known I'd linked Juan to me by accident. The consequences would be high even though Juan had been.
Magi formed bonds to create circles of power, usually for protection from those more powerful. The practice hadn't been used in times of war and not wide spread, until recently. Kevah Kortdad's leadership of the College instilled within the Magi a degree of distrust among the members. What I hadn't yet explained to Juan, I couldn't form a circle of just two people. Rules of magic were applied in threes. The smallest circle could be was three, the largest recorded had been twenty-one.
Soon I'd need to take on another or more to close the circle. A Magi would detect the gap and I'd be vulnerable to attack without the benefit of being able to defend myself. I didn't believe Juan would be up for sharing. I hoped he wouldn't have to--if I could come up with a solution. There was so much my warrior didn't know. What would he do when he found out what I'd inadvertently made him a part of? Would he continue to be happy with me? The binding was fragile right now. If we avoided contact then the link would dissolve over time but again, Juan would pursue me if I tried to put distance between us without an explanation.
Honestly, I didn't want to let him go. I felt strongly for him and the degree to which I needed him scared me. When I'd crossed the yard to the main house, I wanted to turn around and climb back into Juan's bed.
What other options did I have? Explain to Juan what I'd need to do and weather the storm. If he couldn't abide by the rules of magic I'd have to release him. I'd need to leave until the bond completely dissolved. Surely there had to be another place from which I'd be able to serve Tristan. The ironic part? I'd been concerned about the Triad's retaliation since the attempted kidnapping, and I'd contemplated leaving the ranch for some time. Now, when the possibility arose that I might have to go, my very being rebelled, and I searched for a way to stay. But if Juan didn't completely accept the world which I lived, then I'd have no choice.
Fucking hell. I was getting ahead of myself. As far as I could tell, the Magi who'd arrived seeking asylum in Tristan's tribe weren't a part of those who favored Kevah's policies. Many of the faces had been familiar, young Magi who at one time I'd attempted to help, shield, and encouraged when I had attending the College. Maybe with a new College, different rules could be drawn up so we wouldn't live in fear of Lycans like Kevah.
Hunched over the work bench, I tested the cooling metal of the medallion. Perfect. I went to work with a chisel and rubber hammer, carefully carving as I chanted. I gather the magic to me as I spoke to the metal. A soft tune echoed in the garage, telling me it was time. I poured the spell into that which had been formed by the rhythmic pounding. I followed the words with a push of emotion, giving the feelings I had for Juan a home. I desired a way to protect him when I wasn't with him. It had been difficult to watch him transform and pursue the rogue Magi while my presence was required to stay and safeguard Tristan. Not that I'd ever leave my king unprotected. I merely wanted my lover and hopefully my future Bond Brother to be guarded as well.
I didn't know how long I worked on my gift to Juan. Dealing with the Magi and then Tristan and Stan, I'd missed my dinner with Juan. Disappointed, I retreated to the garage, my workshop in disguise, determined to finish the medallion. Creating an item of magic took considerable time and effort. Forging both the chain and amulet had taken much longer than Tristan's ring.
When I final sat back on my stool, my back screamed in agony but the present was perfect. The links of the platinum chain were solid and not too heavy. The medallion had more detail than I'd anticipated but that was part of the process. The energy didn't always decipher the information I relayed in a similar way. The magic pulled something of Juan through our link to add to the weave of the spell.
The sound of a shoe scuff alerted me to the unexpected visitor before I caught his scent in the air. I turned on my stool to greet Stan. The wave of vertigo that waylaid me almost unseated me. I had to have been working longer than I'd thought.
Stan rushed to catch me and I held out a halting hand. The bond with Juan may've been light but already the thought of another touching me added a rolling stomach to the dizziness. Luckily, Stan didn't insist.
"I hadn't meant to startle you. We've been taking turns checking on you." He put a respectable distance between us, which I appreciated.
I gripped the work bench as I struggled with a wave of exhaustion. The lightheadedness receded. All were signs of a Magi too long at work.
"How long have I been in here?"
“The Magi arrived three days ago. You came here after the meeting with Justus's attacker’s and haven't left since. It's six o'clock the evening of the third day.” Stan warily eyed the stone golem standing in repose.
Well, it could've been worse. Seventy some odd hours wasn't the longest time I'd spent working, but this session had been more intense.
"What are you making?"
Stan was being—calm—reasonable. I studied the warrior noting once again how maturity—only the physical because the emotional was still in question—had developed him into an attractive man. Wavy dark hair covered his ears but didn't brush his collar with thick brows over large dark brown eyes. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days and the growth came in lighter than his hair. Bronze skin gave the male an air of health and vitality. Stan wasn't as large or as tall as Ushna but he came close.
"The rings confiscated form Daniel's apartment and the demonstration given by Kent gave me an idea," I finally replied.
An organized group of assassins had been discovered within Tristan's growing tribe. We had been aware of their existence but not their purpose. It was either luck or fate they were unaware they hadn't murdered all of the royal line. It afforded us time to study our enemy. One of their secrets was the mysterious rings.
Stan leaned into one of the benches that ran along the garage wall, attempting to give off an air of casual indifference. Little did he know, he faced the man who had mastered the art of nonchalance. He didn't fool me. He wanted to talk and would use any excuse to keep me from kicking him out.
"The magic of the Kent's ring isn't Lycan but we can learn from them. I took a few of the principles I discovered so far and applied them to the medallion I'd been working on." I began clearing my work station, placing the necklace into a velvet lined box.
"That's for him?" Stan quickly forged on without waiting for my answer. "Is this because of what I did the other day?"
"Truth? In part. If I hadn't been there, you would've killed him." Stan blanched, but didn't deny my assessment. "If Juan will have me, I plan on spending the rest of my life with him."
Stan held my gaze, searching for something. "I didn't realize he meant that much to you. He's no more than an average warrior, he's definitely not strong enough to provide you with the protection you need. He's an uneducated loner with little to no social skills. He's the one who'd benefit from being your mate and all he'll do is drag you down. Mark my words."
Shuffling his feet, Stan placed his fist on his hips. "Look. I hear what the Magi are whispering amongst themselves. As their Sami, you're next in line to lead them, which means your triad needs to be comprised of the best and the strongest. You cannot attach yourself to someone inferior to you."
In my anger, I almost gave away the fact Juan and I were on our way to becoming Bond Brothers. The image on the completed medallion had assuaged my fears and renewed my optimism. Stan made too many assumptions and I was furious. He knew little of how a triad worked or what the purpose of one should be.
"Are you saying you would be stronger, better than Juan if I let you in my circle?" My voice didn't betray my growing ire. I sounded thoughtful and not like a man whose link to Juan had just been threatened by an external opponent.
Beware of the Magi who were driven to protect their Bond Brothers.
As foolish as Stan could be, his casual stance had become wary. "I realize my behavior over the last couple of weeks has been less than exemplary, but yes, I'm a better candidate than Juan Ybarra. My abilities as an alpha alone are valuable to you because I can force obedience from those who'd harm you. My skills as a Warrior of Anat are self-explanatory. I'm perfect for what you need."
I blew out a breath, wrestling with rising emotions. If I couldn't regulate them, I'd cause things in my workshop to combust. There were downsides to being the strongest Magi in an age. Father forced me swear to keep the secret of my true nature. Excess emotion, when not measured and redirected, caused serious irreparable harm. The only good thing my father had accomplished was to teach me how to contain the tide. Stan should consider himself lucky I'd been an excellent student.
"No, you're not. You presume to be knowledgeable of the Magi and yet you'd been trapped and leashed by their magic. I don't know where your false sense of loyalty and protection is coming from but I'm not the one you've betrayed, Stan. Don't use me to assuage your guilt. I won't be your scapegoat because you refuse to face the one person you turned your back on." I stood and shoved the velvet box in my pants pocket.
"For some reason Tristan loves you unconditionally. You need to reassess your priorities, determine what your destiny was supposed to be before you had been pushed off course by the assassins. What I do know, your fate will never rest with me." I pushed the stool under the workbench and locked up the cabinets.
Instead of heading to the door, I stalked toward Stan. Whatever he sensed from me, even though I didn't crowd him, caused him to stumble back until he smacked into golem. "You're not my friend, Stan. My confidence in you is spent. I don't trust you with the people I love. Maybe we'll be friends again down the road but that isn't where we are today. If you continue on this course of action, you'll become my enemy."
Very few people had witnessed the extent of the power I held. I planned to keep it that way but I needed to send Stan a message he wouldn't forget or disregard. The Triad didn't know for sure, although I believed they suspected. I wasn't only born the strongest Magi in five hundred years. No, I was the reason my mother died in child birth because I had been the Brann, born of fire.
Branns, Magi similar to me, were created to herald an age of great battles. The destruction they wrought had become legendary. Whoever guided the Brann controlled the outcome of war. My father, Kassian, beat into me the importance of hiding this secret. I held the knowledge close. The immense destructive power had been the reason I quit fighting as a juvenile and concentrated on healing—the opposite and calming aspect of destruction. I spent my life denying my birthright, terrified of the consequences.
I couldn't afford to be afraid any longer.
Exhaling, I release a tiny portion of what I hid since the revelations of my first transformation at puberty. I didn't sing, chant a spell, or beseech the Earth for magic. No words were spoken to draw the heat rose that from my core. Immediately the temperature in the room jumped several degrees but the area between Stan and I became as hot as an open flame. My hair lifted and swirled gently in the air. I raised my hands before me, cupped palms up. The pale skin turned pearlesque with pastel colors spinning and blending across the surface of my exposed arms.
What I held held captured Stan's wide-eyed attention. Blue fire licked at my skin without burning. He attempted to touch but snatched back blistered fingertips before he came close to the flame. I drew the heat of the flame back into me to keep Stan from being burned further.
I caught his dark gaze and held it. "The next time you decide to do me a favor and attempt to harm—murder—Juan, I will obliterate you. When I'm done with you, not even bones will be left. There's nothing you can offer me that I want or need. Do we have an understanding?"
The extreme heat caused sweat to bead on Stan's face. His eyes darted away as he licked dry lips and nodded. I was disappointed I had to threaten him. What we once had was gone forever. It couldn't be duplicated or revived; we were too far past that point. I hoped he'd pull himself together quickly because my threat applied to Tristan's well-being. If I determined Stan was a detriment, I'd safeguard the welfare of my king.
I'd set him free from any imagined obligations to me.
Had I been too hard on him? At the door I glanced back, Stan stood in the middle of the garage staring down at his hands. He seemed sad, definitely lost, and yes, there it was—relief. No, I'd given him what he needed, a slammed door, and a type of closure.
Achy and tired, I strode through the dark kitchen toward my bedroom. The house was quiet. I wondered where everyone had gone but I didn't have the energy to track them down. A shower and soft bed sounded glorious.
The most beautiful sight met me when I entered my quarters. A candle lit table for two had been setup in the middle of the room. Juan walked out of the bathroom using a damp cloth to wipe at a spot on his black trousers.
Gods, he was handsome. Hazel eyes, dark curly hair touched up with something that made his curls shine. He was clean shaven, brown skin smooth, the pink tip of his tongue pressed at his bottom lip as he focused on removing the stain.
He wore a thin V-neck sky-blue sweater, sleeves pulled up to his elbows. Warmth bloomed in my chest as I realized he'd made sure we had our dinner date. He was more in tune with me than I'd thought if he knew I would be finished about this time.
As if he sensed my presence, Juan grinned widely before he gazed directly at me. Stan had been wrong about several things. The biggest one was in regards to Juan Ybarra. The finished surface of the medallion told me something important about my lover. I guessed at the meaning of some of the images but there was one I understood clearly.
Juan was perfect for me because he cherished the flame.
"How are you feeling?" He tossed the cloth in the direction of the bathroom. His gaze traveled over me with concern. "You have to be starving. Sit. Eat. I'll draw you a bath and then we'll go to bed."
Instead of allowing him to lead me to the table, I crushed him to me.
"What's wrong? Do you need a doctor? Do I need to get Nathan?" His arms slipped around me, holding me tight.
"No, I'm just… seeing you."
His gaze searched mine. I distracted him with a kiss that quickly morphed into one of blazing passion. I wasn't as tired as I'd thought. Breaking apart was difficult. I craved his touch, needed to be close to him, and he seemed to understand. Sitting me at the table, he pulled the other chair next to mine. As he reached for the silver dome in front of me, I placed a hand over his to stop him.
"I have gift for you." I dug into my pocket for the velvet box. Juan's lusty grin made me give a startled bark of laughter. "Not that kind of present. Maybe later," I hedged.
My heart thumped hard as he opened the box revealing the hand carved medallion about two and a half inches across.
"Gregori!" he gasped, fingertips tracing the intricate images.
"Once you put it on, none will ever be able to remove the necklace but you."
"Then you must be the one to place it on me." He took the amulet out of its velvet bed and placed the chain and amulet in my upturned palm. "Please."
With trembling hands I slipped the medallion over his head. The fit was perfect even though I hadn't taken measurements. His dark hands engulfed mine, the solid links sliding through our fingers as we settled it against his skin.
"I love you, Juan," I blurted.
I had confidently flashed fire and threats at Stan minutes ago, and here I was a blubbering mess as I attempted to express, for the first time, how I felt to my lover. He didn't leave me hanging. The way he kissed me said dinner would be very cold by the time we got around to eating it.
Note: Make sure to come back tomorrow and see who won the giveaway. You'll also get to see a new excerpt from Surrounded by Crimson. Cheers!!