Allana winced at the “Humans Only” sign on the cash register. As she slid further into the corner booth, she glanced around the café, cataloging each human norm and their position to gauge who could get between her and the door if she were discovered. Not that it would really matter. She could teleport out of trouble…as long as they didn’t trap her with iron. However, that would put her on the map for those who hunted the Fae, and she feared she had already become more than a blip on their radar.
She had fled hIfreann to find her stolen daughters. Yet she couldn’t turn away from people in need, in pain, or those her magick cured. She hid her ability to heal behind folk medicine. Most of them had been too ill, too injured, or too near death to betray her. However, a few she had saved, she couldn’t discount they knew better. She would do well never to forget she was surrounded by enemies.
The malevolence of the Abyss had successfully infiltrated Earth’s domain. Then the norms learned of the presence of other worlds, other species, all of whom had magickal powers—that the magicks had existed since the beginning of time and lived beside them just as long.
They hadn’t reacted well to the news they weren’t alone. Many of these magickal species and beings found in the norm nightmares were local Boy Scout leaders, Eagle Scouts who were were-eagles, and their beloved running backs.
Fear and hatred of all non-humans exploded.
She tapped a finger against the thick, white ceramic mug and took a moment to steady her thoughts. Dear Goddess, she wished she dared use her magic for more than healing, but she didn’t. Four months ago, within days of her arrival, she had witnessed an elderly veterinarian—with only the faintest glimmer of magick—repair a dog’s broken leg. Out of fear or maliciousness, a crowd assembled to hang him from a lamppost. In that moment, she had learned not to allow others to recognize she had true power and to limit those she healed to children and the critically injured.
Too bad she couldn’t ignore norms in pain.
Woe to those with a hint of magick.
She scanned the diner again. Confident in her relative obscurity, she settled deeper into the black vinyl seat, motioned for a refill of hot water for her tea, and added several additional bills to the five already at the table’s edge.
The twenty pounds of butted gold chain mail she wore beneath her Fae robes when she’d fled hIfreann and portalled to Earth had garnered an extravagant price. Had she known the value of the commonplace metal sooner, she could have figured a way to hide more on her body.
No matter. If she exhausted the generous wad of bills in her pocket and the tens of thousands buried in a cave behind a magick shield, she would return to hIfreann for more. She would do whatever it took to search this dimension inch by inch for her children.
Given the panic and threat on Earth to all those who possessed some magick, her need to find her daughters escalated each day. She was safe. If trouble arose, she could escape to another dimension. Her daughters were trapped here. Granted, they were grown women, but they were in jeopardy. Though bound, their magick resonated barely below the surface of their skin, a beacon for the hunters and demons. Not to mention the fanatics in the Humans First movement determined to purge all traces of magical beings from Earth.
Foolish norms. It wasn’t the magick wielders they needed to fear, but daemons from the Abyss and their offspring posing as humans and leading the purist movements. These norm followers hadn’t realized they had moved from the top of the food chain to their leaders’ prey.
She stiffened at a sudden breach of her protective shields. Anguish, deep and savage, swept through her. Fire and ice ran through her veins.
Her fingers tightened around her mug as she struggled for control. There was no stemming the emotional wave. Sensations engulfed her. She leaned her head back against the wall above the tall, padded back of her seat. She closed her eyes, focused inward, and let her spirit float along the astral plain.
She had never met the man. However, after eight weeks of this type of spiritual intimacy, she had gained familiarity with him and knew her psychic touch assuaged his pain. Relief she had saved him always warred with the anguish inside that she had failed to heal him.
With a steady breath, she dropped deeper to follow the strands of emotions to their source. If she could see him, maybe she could help his wounded soul.
Her essence slipped through the magickal weave of time and space. Uncertain, she hovered at the scene before her. A cavern, a rotunda, the focal point two fountains, their width twice her height. From each center, a sparkling golden Fae-fired spire and diamond cut torch ascended, its brilliance reflected off every wall. Flames formed of fire opal leapt from the torches’ centers, each ray cold and bright. From the edges rimming the trunk of fire, crystal-clear water streamed to a basin below, filling the lapis inlay of the fountains’ interiors.
She drifted closer. The water in the fountain was like ambrosia to a healer.
Agony lashed her. The man, she was here for him, not a taste of renewal. She fought the water’s pull and forced herself to turn away.
Walls of white marble lined the perimeter of the rotunda, embedded with colored gemstones forming brilliant lines and swirls of Fae words. Each line listed the names of fallen warriors from the last Great War with the Abyss.
Shadows on the marble marked the exits to pathways branching in thirteen directions, each path flanked by columns. The flicker of twenty-six blue flames atop them lit the entrances.
A shudder of pain rippled through her. The man’s rope of darkness, hopelessness, and doom drew her. His pull dragged her toward him with a power beyond her ability to resist. Goddess, give her strength. Surely, she wouldn’t be beckoned with such force if she couldn’t offer him help.
Not that she would think to refuse. Over the past months, she had been drawn to him; the resonance of his soul called to her.
No longer uncertain, she raced down a pathway toward his cry of grief. The smooth floor, the jeweled walls, barely noticed. Her lungs tightened, her heart pounded. Time was short, the anguish too great.
She paused at a barrier. She lifted her hand to the smooth granite wall, and stopping shy of the stone, trembled. He was behind this mass. Her fingers brushed the rock and slid through.
Ah, yes. Her spirit, not body, chased this journey. She had become so captured by the man’s tragedy she lost momentary focus.
Merged with the stone, she streamed out the other side. Her image wavered, yet her spirit knew exactly where she belonged. At a closed door, she stopped and wrapped her arms around her waist, the surge of pain crippling. Without further thought, she emerged to the other side and gasped.
Shiny raven-colored hair draped over his rich, caramel-colored face. She felt the man’s life force and knew him to be young, yet his chiseled harsh contours were absent of youth. His fern green eyes imprisoned the stark reality of a warrior. He sat on the edge of his bed staring at his loaded weapon. The same Sig Sauer he had used to kill his best friend Nate. She shuddered. Over the past two months, their link had educated her on both the weapon and that this memory tormented him.
He ejected the clip, checked it, then jammed it home and chambered a round. His elbows rested on his knees, his wrists loose, an index finger caressing the trigger guard. Desolation permeated the air and coated Allana’s spirit with the cloying scent of despair.
She knew he had weighed his options many times. Each time, he decided to wait until a time when he wouldn’t leave his other comrades in the lurch. Each time, she had felt him. Each time, she had reached out, touched him, calmed him, and embraced relief when he turned away.
For a short interim, she had felt nothing from him and feared he had succeeded. Then his pain speared her heart and, when she had touched his mind, she learned he had been in Otherworld. That his life and soul survived was a balm. Now, in this room, his self-loathing dominated to a degree she’d never encountered or dealt with in her years as a healer.
His bleak devastation battered at her, driving her to her knees. Unable to bear his oppressive grief, she crawled to him, and curled her hands over his knees, forcing a touch, a rush of compassion, anything to save him. The reason didn’t matter, only the certainty that to do nothing, to allow him to be consumed, would be disastrous for both of them. He would suffer, as would she and her daughters.
He stared at the gun then sighed. “If you’re going to do it, Luc, get it over with.” He placed the weapon in his mouth, aimed up and back. His finger slid off the guard and onto the trigger.
No! She squeezed her fingers hard around his knees. Her hands didn’t pass through his flesh, despite their non-corporeal composition, reassuring her that she had gained complete control over traveling the astral plain.
Waves of energy rushed from her and enveloped him.
He stilled. Slowly he removed the weapon, his finger poised on the trigger.
She moved to the bed and eased behind him to cradle his head between her palms. She bent, her lips to his ear. It wasn’t your fault. Hear me, warrior. Do not burden yourself with this weight.
His gaze searched the room as he raised the weapon toward the door.
This wasn’t your fault.
“Wasn’t my fault? If not mine, whose?” His voice rasped harsh and raw with pain.
He had heard her. She had time and a link to stop him. One she wouldn’t drop. Never again would she be this close to losing him. Nate’s death was due to manipulation by the parasite inside of him. He was an innocent caught in the crossfire. He would be saddened to have you lose your way like this. Please, I need you.
He stood and circled the room, one hand under the weapon’s grip, the other rested on the trigger.
She rose and moved with him, shadowing him, almost merging with him. His height barely exceeded her five foot eleven. Level with his eyes, she scrutinized his face, his image burned into her memory for the day they’d meet.
No, she didn’t need her eyes or memory to recognize him. Her heart, bound to save him, wouldn’t release him until he was safely with her. Still, it wouldn’t hurt if she could pick him out of a crowd. His soulful dark green eyes were perfect for a Druid, and his dark hair reminded her of the rich loam of the mountain soil.
“Who are you? Where are you?”
A soul in desperate need. Find me. Help me find my daughters—before it’s too late. Let your magick guide you, Druid Lucan, and you will find me, as I have found you.
Luc’s gaze flicked between the pictures of the three women spread across the mahogany conference table. Three lost fairy princesses. A war to end all wars, the battle of supernatural and humans against the malignance of the Abyss and he was on a mission to find a princess. He pushed aside the photos of Sophie and Kate, pulled the hIfreann watercolor of Allana to him, and traced her delicately-arched eyebrow. What was it about her that called to him at the most basic level?
What had she felt, discovering her daughters weren’t dead and instead were living on Earth for over a hundred years? He couldn’t conceive of his children being torn from his arms and hidden from him for years. Then again, he had lost everyone he had ever cared for, contributing to the downfall of each one. It was just that he had never delivered any progeny into the world. With him for a father, they would be damned.
He glanced back at the picture. A sudden rush of regret for what this woman had lost quickly swept away a foreign anger for those who had committed these acts against her.
He snorted at the strange connection he felt for her. He retraced the pale, delicate colors of the paints that seemed to capture some part of her soul. She was pretty, yes, perhaps not a classic beauty, or ethereal like most of the Fae, yet her eyes bore into his like a lost memory.
No, a soul-deep connection, the soft and strong, satin and steel of unconditional acceptance. Like the one his parents, and Nate and his wife, had. Goddess, he sounded pathetic. He scrubbed his hand over his face. Shit, he had never even met the woman.
“Mind sharing those pictures so I know what they look like?”
His head jerked up and he glared at Fritz. “I thought you’d left.”
“Why? You may have approval for this suicide mission, but I’ll guarantee you come home, whole and alive. Or did you think I didn’t notice?”
His gaze met the stoic mottled-gray gargoyle warrior’s. “I don’t need a nursemaid.”
“No, you need a guard. You’re supposed to infiltrate the group and I’m your contact and escape route.”
He glared at the seven-foot gargoyle and scrutinized Fritz’s look of determination. With the chiseled lines of his thick angular cheeks and lantern jaw, he almost looked like an oversized human in all respects—almost being the operative word. “Shit, Fritz, it isn’t like you can blend in. By day you’re a stone statue and at night—” He waved to the overgrown man before him. “—you don’t exactly fade into the background around humans.”
Fritz shrugged. “You need eyes in the sky at night. I’m the one who’ll make sure the mission succeeds in spite of your death wish.”
“What do you know about it?”
“Think of me as your guardian angel.”
Luc didn’t trust his smile. With another snort, he jerked a photo to him. “You think Kate’s the warrior we’re looking for?”
“Yeah.” Fritz tapped Allana’s pastel. “And she’s the healer. So what’s the plan?”
“Infiltrate the HS Brotherhood, take them down, and then find these women.” He grimaced. “What’s your take on the group?”
“The Homo Sapiens Brotherhood makes the Humans First seem like the Little Sisters of the Poor. This group scares the shit even out of me, and I can’t die. Hell, they could grind me into gravel and come night, I’d be me again. You die and the mission is down the crapper along with you. Every mission has a back door. I’m yours, and you’d better not leave me out in the cold. It hurts like hell to reconstitute.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t get hurt on my watch or because of my stupidity.” He stood and bit back a curse at the look on Fritz’s face. Damn, he knew he was being a dick. Nate’s death was his fault and a major fuckup. But it didn’t mean he should drag everyone around him into the suffering.
Luc pivoted and headed from the room. Halfway to the door, he glanced back at Allana’s picture and walked back. Gently, he folded the image, tucked it in his pocket, and frowned.
Strange, just having her close to his heart warmed him.
For a quick second, he yearned for more of the heat.