Excerpts from A Theft of Magic by Cara McKinnon. Copyright 2016 Cara McKinnon.
On the heels of the nightmare came the alarm from the wards.
Someone was trying to break into the house.
Sorcha Fay leapt from bed. She threw on her boots and her coat and scried the wards for the source of the alarm. The beach. She was halfway downstairs and headed for the back door before she even thought to be afraid.
Indignation and anger were the foremost of her emotions. She couldn’t wait to confront whoever had been messing with her wards. This time, they were caught, and she’d prepared a few extra surprises in case they tried to escape.
Oh, she hoped they tried to escape. She might not be as quick on her feet with offensive spells as her cousins, but with plenty of time, Sorcha was perfectly capable of mounting an effective attack.
Or perhaps this was more accurately a defense—because she would defend Fay House to her dying breath. But with luck her dying breath would not come tonight.
She hurried down the cliff path to the beach, but stopped when her feet skidded against the small loose stones, making a terrible racket. She should be more wary. After all, whoever this was had tampered with her wards many times already, and she hadn’t been able to track the source or trap the intruder before tonight. There was a not insignificant chance that even her skillful and malicious traps would be avoided or dealt with. She couldn’t ignore the danger completely.
She used the salt spray, mist, and moonlight to weave a glamour. It would hide her until she could take stock of the situation, and she could take her time and place her steps more carefully the rest of the way.
The beach was a mix of sand and stone, and her boots made soft crunching sounds on the pebbles that she couldn’t avoid without spending more time and magic, and she was impatient to confront her trespasser.
Assuming the intruder was still in the trap.
She came around a jut of cliffwall. A boat sat on the beach, beyond the water’s edge. A few steps beyond the waves, at the base of the cliff, stood a man. Sorcha swallowed, hard.
He’d tried to use magic to escape, because her incineration spell had been activated in addition to the binding ward. It had worked exactly as she’d imagined, burning off his clothing and any items he’d been carrying. She’d meant the spell to leave intruders vulnerable, and bereft of any magical tokens they’d planned to use against her, but she hadn’t been expecting her adversary to be so…male.
The moon was a hint shy of full, already sinking toward the west in the bright summer sky. Its pale glow and the never-quite-dark of a Scottish summer night illuminated the man’s perfectly formed flesh, like a sculpture brought to life. He was tall and lean, with defined musculature but no bulk. He reminded her of a greyhound, with a powerful chest and shoulders but a trim waist and hips. Her gaze shied away from what was clearly visible between those hips and fled upward to his face.
Here, she stared—riveted. He was beautiful. She couldn’t tell the shade of his eyes in the moonlight, but he had a long, straight nose and a thin, wide mouth. His cheekbones cast shadows onto the smooth planes of his face, and his jaw was angled and sharply defined. His hair was dark and much longer than was the fashion. He probably kept it pulled back, away from his face, but her spell would have destroyed any thong or tie. It whipped back from his face in the sea breeze, and when he swung his head as far as the ward would allow, a few strands tangled under his chin.
Something inside her belly burned. It was not fair that she would be attracted to this man. He’d invaded her sacred space, had come for a purpose that could not be good, and she was lusting after him as though he were an eligible lad from the village.
Sorcha clamped on her inconvenient desires and crept closer.
He was cursing in several languages. She recognized French and English, and that last was probably Irish because it sounded like Gàidhlig, but the pronunciation was off. His hand made an aborted gesture, probably another attempt at casting a spell-net, and when the ward reacted he suggested that it do something with itself that it did not have the proper appendages or orifices to accomplish.
In short, he looked delectable and dangerous, and Sorcha had no wish to confront him here in the open. So she drew down a few threads of the ward and rewove them, forming a new pattern.
“What in the hells?” the man shouted, as his feet dragged against the pebbled shore. This was going to be the tricky part. She’d had to sacrifice the extra protections to gain momentum, and she hoped he didn’t realize that before she could maneuver him back into the little cave in the cliffs behind him.
Fortunately, he was too preoccupied fighting the motion to recognize that if he’d stopped and tried to rip the ward apart, he would have succeeded. She nudged him into the cave and quickly attached the ward to the stones around the entrance. Once she was satisfied with the new configuration, she tied it into the larger house ward so it would be sustained without her feeding it energy.
Only then did she let go, and drop her glamour.
Ronan McCarrick’s night had started badly and gone straight to the hells. First he’d argued with Bart, the captain of his flagship, about the wisdom of going on this mission alone. He’d reminded his friend and smuggling-partner with more force than he’d intended who owned what and who called what shots. He’d then set off for the little cove nestled along the coastline of Skye.
He’d managed to muscle the longboat to shore over a choppy sea, while his ship disappeared into the night, headed south to finish its run. They would be back in a few days, depending on how the voyage went and how quickly they could dispose of their cargo. But he was on his own, and by the time he stumbled onto the beach his chest and shoulder muscles spasmed like fury.
Bart’s prophecy coming true did not help his mood improve. The spell had sprung from nowhere. He’d strained against the threads of magic that had captured him, but though he could still move his upper body slightly, his legs had been immobilized.
Who the hells put such potent wards on a beach? With the wind and tide, the net would have to be renewed every day. Only an idiot or someone truly paranoid would go to such lengths to protect a stretch of sand and stone.
Annoyed, he’d flexed his fingers and prepared his typical counter-ward spell-net. But the moment he drew power into the first thread, the world burst into blinding light. He was bathed in heat, and then suddenly plunged into cold. It took a few moments for his vision to return, and when it did, the reason for the temperature spikes—and his now-pebbled flesh—became apparent. The ward had a countermeasure, which had incinerated his clothing.
Now he was naked, sore, and trapped on a frigid Scottish beach on a relatively deserted portion of Skye. He hoped whoever set the ward came to admire their handiwork. He intended to give them a scalding piece of his mind.
What sort of monster strips a man bare?
That was when it occurred to him that he’d had something rather important in his pocket. The damned letter to the Seeress, who would be unlikely to believe a random Irish stranger appearing on her beach in the middle of the night.
Bloody fecking hells.
He cursed until he could almost see the words hanging in the air, but it didn’t improve his mood. How the feck was he supposed to escape this?
This was all Evie’s fault. Damn her for running off and joining the Fay School and then luring him to help them with promises of the duchess’s deep pockets. If she hadn’t been like a sister to him, he would curse Evie to the dark god. As it was, he sent a fervent wish into the universe that every mug of ale she drank for a month went inexplicably flat.
Something pushed him away from the waves and toward the cliff. He flexed and wriggled as far as the ward would allow, but the pressure against his body was inexorable. His bare feet scraped through the sand and pebbles, and his curses were half in frustration and half in pain.
Darkness surrounded him. A cave, barely taller than he was, and not very deep or wide. He could see the back of the cave in the light of the moon, which had fallen far enough into the western sky to cast its illumination full in his face when he turned around.
The pressure ceased, and he stumbled forward against a force that was no longer pushing him. He fell. Inside the cave, the sand piled into deep mounds, with none of the pebbles from outside. It didn’t exactly cushion his fall, but when he rubbed his knees, he was thankful that he had only minor abrasions and not jagged cuts.
The direct light of the moon illuminated the walls of the cave. Carvings and drawings surrounded him as though he’d wandered inside a standing stone.
He pushed to his feet and strode for the cave mouth. Another wall of force blocked his exit. He was tempted to try and break through with more magic, but he’d learned his lesson, and instead balled his hands into fists. He finally remembered to open his Sight, something he ought to have done the moment he landed on the beach. Then he’d not have gotten caught in the damned wards at all.
The ward was intricate and far too well-constructed for him to easily dismantle. The carvings on the walls glowed and hummed with magical energy, helping to feed the damned thing. He slammed one fist against his hip in frustration.
Beyond the barrier, shadow and mist swirled away to reveal a woman.
She was very short, with blond hair so pale it was indistinguishable from the moonlight. It was loose around her shoulders, and she wore a dark fitted coat, half-unbuttoned, over what looked like a nightgown. Was this his tormentor, then?
He couldn’t distinguish her features. The moon at her back transformed her into a silhouette, limned by light. The sky wasn’t truly dark, but it wasn’t daylight either. Beneath the cliff there were too many shadows to see her clearly. She drew a symbol on the ward-wall, and though he hadn’t missed the sound of wind and waves, it was a shock to have them return. How had she done that? He hadn’t even seen the threads of the weave shift, and it still felt solid under his hand. If this was the Seeress of Skye, someone had lied about her proficiency with magic. She was bloody good.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “What have you been doing to my wards?”
What had he done to her wards? Better question, what had her wards done to him? He stared at her, and words temporarily deserted him. Then he folded his arms over his stomach and leaned as close as the ward would allow.
“The name’s Ronan McCarrick, and I didn’t do a thing to your wards before they scorched every stitch off me.”
Her head moved, her shadowed face tilting downward. Was she truly ogling his body? Now, of all times?
“See something you like?” The words were mocking and half-growled with anger.
Her head jerked back up, and her silver hair swished around her shoulders. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. Then she collected herself and pulled her shoulders back. “But I’m not sorry for trapping you. I knew you wouldn’t suspect there were additional protections this time. How did you manage to tamper with the wards and leave no trace of your magic before?”
“Before? I’ve never been on this cursed isle, and I’ve certainly never tangled with your wards.”
“Why should I believe you? Someone’s been doing it, and here you are.”
“I’m here because the bloody Duchess of Fay sent me.”
“Ha. Why would she send you, and not come herself?”
“What do I know about why the quality do anything?” Never mind that his father was a viscount. That tie had been broken a long time ago. “I presume you’re the one I’m meant to contact. The Seeress of Skye.” The note had been addressed to Sorcha Fay, but Evie had told him everyone called her the Seeress.
She neither confirmed nor denied her identity, but he didn’t have any doubts. “It’s easy enough to prove your story.” She lifted her chin, revealing the pale skin of her forehead. “I’ll send her a telegram.”
“That wouldn’t be wise.” He tried again to meet her gaze, but her eyes were too deeply in shadow. “She sent me because she doesn’t want anyone to realize what she’s planning.”
“And what, exactly, is she planning according to you?”
“I’ve not a clue. I’m merely the courier.”
“Courier implies that you brought something.”
“I did. Your spell burned it.”
“Oh.” She seemed taken aback, even chagrined. Well, and why shouldn’t she be?
“So no, I can’t prove anything I say is true. All I know is, I was told to bring back the Druid Wand of Triple Wood and Le Fay’s Diadem.”
She produced a guffaw incongruous with her diminutive height. “Those are two of the most powerful artifacts in the family collection. Do you really expect me to let you waltz off with them?”
“I imagine that was why she sent the note.” He tapped on the ward-wall to remind her of her spell. “The one that burned.”
“Yes. Well.” She coughed. “Then you understand why I won’t take you at your word.”
He shrugged, as though this were of no importance to him. As if she didn’t have him trapped in a cold bloody cave on the coast of a bloody Scottish island.
“I have other methods of contacting the duchess. I’ll try that in the morning, and then I’ll decide what to do with you.”
“In the morning?” He practically sputtered the words. “You’re going to leave me here all night in my altogether?”
She inclined her head toward the cliffs, and the moonlight caught her face in profile. The sight impacted him like a punch to the gut. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, but something about the way her forehead curved to a pert little nose and an expressive mouth with plump, delectable lips, made his blood heat. She worried at her lower lip with her teeth, and he clamped his mouth shut against a groan.
No fecking way was he going to be attracted to this Scots harpy. Well, perhaps he couldn’t stop the attraction, but he could damned well refuse to entertain the images that clamored for attention in his brain. Like the vision of her silver hair sliding over his skin, her perfect little mouth open in a moan as he buried his cock in her hot, wet cunny.
No, he wasn’t going to picture that. He focused on the cold, and the damp, and his anger.
“I’ll bring you clothes, and something to sleep on,” she said, and now he was thinking about pushing her onto a blanket in the soft sand. Feck it!
“Your munificence knows no bounds.” He sketched her a mocking bow and formed his speech with the upper-crust English accent he’d learned at school, diverting her attention from the fact that his cock had begun to stiffen.
“Even if you are the one who has been toying with my wards, you’ve not done any actual harm yet. I wouldn’t have you freeze your arse off on my account.”
“You could stay here and warm it for me.” Now why in the hells had he said that? If there were any gods paying attention, she would assume he’d meant the words to mock her, not as the absolutely sincere invitation they were. He pictured her gripping his arse-cheeks as he spread her legs wide and plunged into her. His cock was almost fully erect now. Damn the thing.
But she—thank you whatever deity had been listening—took offense and stalked off. As she walked away, her face and form entered the light for the first time. She was as short as Evie. But where Evie was wand-slim and sylph-like, Sorcha was the image of an ancient fertility goddess. She was round, and soft, with voluptuous breasts and lush, wide hips that would cradle him as he thrust inside her. Before he could stop it, he had his fist around his cock.
She disappeared from view, and he dragged his hand down the shaft from the head to his bollocks, stretching the foreskin away to reveal the glistening wet crown beneath.
It took depressingly few pumps before he came, ejaculating against the stones of the cave. He leaned back against the opposite wall.
What the hells was the matter with him? He’d never been so aroused by a woman that he’d had to pleasure himself moments after first meeting her. And even with the need temporarily sated, he suspected he would be hard and lusting for her when he saw her again.
She’d better make good on that offer of clothes, or the next time she came to visit, her effect on him would be all too visible.
Bloody fecking hells.
Sorcha stumbled a half dozen times on the path to the house. Every nerve in her body sang and danced, a mix of exhilaration, apprehension, and desire. She couldn’t trust him, but her body didn’t much seem to care.
And neither, apparently, had his. She wasn’t so naïve that she couldn’t identify an erect cock, even if she’d yet to choose someone to have intercourse with. But she’d certainly done her share of kissing and under-the-clothes fondling, and on one memorable occasion, she and Duncan Grant had experimented with a much more intimate variety of kisses.
She’d never been tempted to take her explorations further with any of the young men on the Isle. So why could she not stop thinking about her interloper and probable thief bearing her to the sand and burying that lovely, hard cock inside of her cunny?
Stop it, Sorcha. You need to find a way to contact Etta or Muireall and discover if this man is telling the truth.
The heavy oak doors, shipped to the island by Darach Fay in honor of his namesake in the 1500s, swung open at her approach. No one knew which distant ancestor had put that spell in place, probably because no one had admitted to it at the time, and while she usually appreciated that the doors of the house were open to anyone of Fay blood, tonight the motion startled her.
She leapt backward and put a hand over her pounding heart. She sucked air into her lungs and forced it back again. Her pulse raced, wild and erratic. She had to control herself. Now. No one was in the house except her. She’d neutralized the threat to the wards.
Except, what if she hadn’t? What if Ronan was telling the truth, and someone else was still a threat? Someone with the capability of bypassing all her defenses?
Cold fingers of fear slipped down her spine.
He had to be lying.
She slammed the door shut and pounded up the main staircase to the second floor, where the Fay library was housed. Inside the library were several cabinets full of minor magical artifacts. Many of them had more value as display pieces than sorcerous tools, but at least one must be useful in her current situation.
She burst into the library almost before the spell could activate, and braced herself for the sound of the door closing behind her. It clicked, and she stood still for a moment in the moon-washed room. She’d always loved sitting in the seats built into the fourteen-foot-high windows, reading and watching the waves foam against the cliffs. Tonight, the man trapped in the cove kept stealing into her thoughts. At least the cave was well above the tide line. Unless a massive storm surge pulled the tide unnaturally high, he’d stay dry.
But not warm. The memory of his delectable and naked flesh clamored for attention, but she squashed it and strode to the first cabinet. Inside was a Hermetic Tablet, which her mother had once jokingly called the “As Above, So Below Stone.” It worked on the principle that things in a small scale corresponded to things in a big scale. Whatever you drew on the tablet could become full-sized in reality. The spell was limited, but she could use it to draw into existence a few necessities for Ronan.
There were three areas delineated on the tablet. The first was for where you wanted the effect to take place. Sorcha sketched in the cave. The second was for what you wanted to appear. She drew the objects she wanted (and thank the goddess the tablet worked on symbolic likeness because she was no artist). The third was for how long they should remain corporeal, with the minimum of one hour and the maximum of a week. A week would drain a lot of energy, and the stone couldn’t be used for anything else until the first set of things disappeared, so she drew a circle with twenty-four spokes radiating from the center. A circle with one spoke drawn to the center would have been one hour. Hers represented a whole day. If she didn’t have things sorted by tomorrow night, she would add a day to the tablet.
Holding the stone up to the moonlight, she spoke the words of its incantation. The tablet vibrated in her grip, making her teeth snap together, and then magic pulsed toward the sea.
Sorcha put the tablet back and continued searching the cabinets. It was too dark in here, so she summoned a few fairy lights and left them to hang in the air above her. Her mother had installed electric lighting in the house before her death, but Sorcha didn’t like the flat, too-bright glare of the bulbs or the stink and noise of the generator in the electrical shed.
Electricity consumed gasoline, the bulbs burned out quickly, and both items cost real money to replace. Fairy-lights were reliable, and only cost her in magical energy.
She found what she needed in the third cabinet.
The mirror was tiny, half-again the size of her palm, but it was infused with a spell that could make contact with any other mirror within a five-hundred-mile radius. Glasgow was less than three hundred miles away, so she ought to be able to reach Etta or Muireall.
Timing would be important. If she remembered this artifact’s limitations correctly, it worked for a short burst of time, and then required a ritual to renew its energy. She would have to check The Catalogue to be certain. The Catalogue of Clan Fay Arcana and Articles of Magic Origin or Usage was a multi-volume work compiled by Machara Fay, mother of Lilias, in the 1780s. Sorcha had spent most of her life caring for the objects enumerated on its pages.
She found the reference quickly, but the information provided was not heartening. The mirror would work for a half-hour at most, but probably much less time because it hadn’t been recharged in a while. She would need to do a ritual at the full moon to bring it to complete potency, but that was still a few days away, and she needed to contact Etta or Muireall quickly.
But not tonight. The hour was too late to catch them getting ready for bed, so her best chance would be when they dressed in the morning.
She ought to go to bed, but she would have trouble falling back to sleep. She was too full of nervous energy, and still had too many questions without answers. Meditation wouldn’t do the trick, either, not with a real, live intruder cooling his heels in her cave. Would he be searching for a way to circumvent her wards? She would be if she were trapped in there. He wouldn’t find one.
She trudged back down the hall, through the family wing, and into her bedroom, her earlier unease tamped by weariness. The mirror gleamed with reflected fairy-light when she placed it on her bedside table. She took off her coat and boots, dismissed the lights, and sat in her own window seat overlooking the sea.
Would Ronan approve of her offerings? Would bend his pride enough to eat the food, or to wrap himself in the blankets? Would he think of her as the spelled-clothes brushed his skin?
Her hands stole up to cup her breasts, and she thumbed her erect nipples through the thin fabric of her nightgown. She had to conquer this fascination before she saw him again. So she deliberately conjured his image, standing there on the beach, with his sleek muscles bared to salt, wind, and sky.
He could have been a selkie—like his name implied—and she the human woman who stole his skin and trapped him in human form.
Her fantasy followed the legend. The powerful selkie, with his water magic and deep ocean wisdom, was drawn to the woman on the shore, to the alien glow that radiated from her spirit. She was light and moon and air, and he was dark, and cold, and wave.
They embraced and awoke a new magic, together.
Sorcha’s fingers stroked her nipples faster, as she imagined Ronan’s mouth suckling her. One hand slid over her belly to the cleft between her legs. She caressed herself through the fabric of her nightgown, picturing his large, powerful hands instead of her small but capable ones. She shuddered as a fingertip grazed her clitoris.
The light touch wasn’t enough. Sorcha dragged the skirt of her gown to her waist and sank a finger into her wet core, dragging the slickness up to the engorged and sensitive nub at the top of her sex. Ronan’s tongue would lave her there, dragging against the tiny hood with quick, determined strokes. Then he would rise, push her legs apart, and glide inside her tight, slippery cunny.
Her finger moved faster, pleasure building and cresting, and then burst like a waterskin, flowing from her core and down her shaking limbs. She ached with emptiness.
She wanted—no, needed—his cock, to fill her, to pump into her again and again and then spend deep in her womb. She longed to cling to his shuddering body as he came, to hear his shout at the moment of climax, to cradle him when he slumped into repletion after.
Sorcha collapsed back against her pillows.
Despite the lovely burst of pleasure and the beautiful fantasy, she hadn’t mastered her craving. She’d only primed the well.
She had a vision before dawn. It wasn’t the first she’d had like this. She’d been seeing little pieces of a person’s life, and as she’d now watched him mature from a child to a young man, and finally to an adult, she had to assume that she’d been viewing the past.
That was what made them different from her usual visions, which were almost always of the future. She had an intense feeling the boy who’d grown up in these visions was a man now.
She’d started a new vision journal to document these odd glimpses, but so far had not gleaned anything that would tell her his name. She pulled the journal from her bedside table’s drawer and grabbed a pencil.
The blond man was in a jungle, surrounded by a mix of mostly fair-skinned Europeans and a few dark-skinned Africans. I don’t know why, but I think this is somewhere in the southern region of Africa. He’s telling a balding white man with a mustache that he’s an idiot and that nothing good will come of his actions. After that, I get the impression of violence and death.
She put the pencil back into its stitched leather loop and closed the journal. The words were clean, rational, and almost detached. But the jagged edges of each letter proved that her body was still shaking from the residual anger, most of it from his powerlessness to stop what was coming.
Who was this man? She’d seen him as a child, running wild in a hilly area dotted with lakes and rivers. He’d been part of a group of boys that were well-dressed and had ample free time—if she could judge by the pranks and antics she’d seen. A farmer’s child would be needed to tend livestock, do chores, and help in the fields. He was gentry at the least.
He’d been the undisputed leader of his friends, with a keen wit, sly humor, and deeply-rooted sense of honor and justice. He did not allow his cohorts to torment animals or smaller boys, and she’d even once seen him intervene when one of the group teased a girl.
Later, she’d seen him stand rigid beneath a strap wielded by a merciless instructor at a boarding school, and seen another adult give implicit permission for a group of older boys to give him a thorough and calculated beating.
Now, as a man, he retained his rigid sense of honor and a need for justice, but his wit had been transmuted to a razor-edge intelligence, and his humor had been beaten out of him.
She traced a fingertip over the leather binding of the journal. Who are you? She asked again. And why do I see visions of you?
The sound of waves lulled Ronan to sleep, even though he’d intended to stay alert and wary until his jailor returned. When he woke, the horizon had shifted from night-black to dawn-grey. The sky was pale blue, with smudges of grey and white clouds drifting in from the west. There’d be rain before noon.
He sat up in the nest of blankets and tugged on a pair of perfectly-sized boots. They matched the perfectly-sized clothes he now wore. She’d somehow managed to make provisions appear inside the warded cave, and he was begrudgingly impressed. He had two blankets, a pillow, the clothes and boots, a hamper full of food and water, a small lamp that glowed with a fairy light, and even a book.
He’d let out an involuntary chuckle when the items had popped into existence in the sand, and he saw the book sitting on top of the neat pile. She might be suspicious of his intentions and unwilling to release him, but she wasn’t cruel or without compassion. She hadn’t considered sanitation, but he had dug a hole in the sand and then filled it back in, so that wasn’t too terrible.
So why did he want to fling himself at the shimmering barrier until it broke, or he did?
He would break first. He’d tested the wards last night, and they were some of the best he’d ever seen. He’d robbed bank vaults with less elaborate and impenetrable shields. The only thing he’d found to match them was the ward on the main treasure room in Trinity College, where the most powerful magic artifacts in Ireland were held. He’d gotten through that not by magic, but by human error. He and his crew had infiltrated the security force, and their mole had gotten access to the keystones. A judiciously-phrased edit in the runes created a gap that they’d exploited.
Those tactics wouldn’t work this time. He didn’t suppose the Seeress would give him access to her keystones.
The Trinity College job reminded him of Evie. It was her fault he’d gotten into this mess. He ought to have refused her ‘lucrative opportunity’ and gone right back to his shipping schedule. But beyond the money, she’d asked it as a favor, and there were few things in the world he wouldn’t do for her.
Damn her eyes.
The sound of a foot scuffling across the rocky beach drew his attention to the mouth of the cave. Where his adopted sister was slim as a whip and topped by flame-red hair, Sorcha Fay was all soft curves, crowned by pale moonlight hair.
Ronan stood. She wore a dress instead of a nightgown, and the afternoon sunlight revealed her heartbreaking beauty. He’d had only an impression of her in the dark, and that had been enough to give him a cockstand. By the light of day, she aroused and allured, but the desire was mixed with a tenderness that he did not expect and refused to accept.
Her body was even lusher than he’d imagined after that glimpse last night, with generous hips and a rounded belly, a nipped-in waist, and soft, voluptuous breasts. He craved the scrape of her hardened nipples against his palms.
But more arresting than even her body was her face—heart-shaped, with the most vivid blue eyes he’d ever seen. They were like a summer sky in Ireland, when the morning showers have been swept away and puffy white clouds dance through the deep azure. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were almost transparent, the blond was so white. Her mouth was soft and pink, the lower lip fuller and plumper than the upper. He wanted to take that mouth with his, wanted to part those lips and slide his tongue into her. Wanted to see that bow drawn wide around the head of his cock.
Thank the gods for the breeches that restrained his fresh erection.
“Have you come to torment the prisoner?”
A tinge of pink washed her cheeks. Her skin was so pale that even hints of her emotions would show within her flesh.
“I have no wish to torment you, sir. But I also do not yet have confirmation of your identity or what you’re doing here.”
“So I’m stuck here indefinitely?” He tensed, and any hint of arousal fled. He’d managed one night and a morning, but too much longer in this small space and he’d go mad.
“Not indefinitely. I was able to briefly contact the duchess, and she began to tell me about a plan she had, but our communications cut off when the…object I was using drained its energy. It can’t be refreshed until the full moon, and that’s a few days away. But she wasn’t surprised that I had company, so you might be telling the truth.”
“Might be.” That was better than accusations of ward-tampering. But it wasn’t a promise to set him free. “What do you plan to do with me until you’re sure?”
She bit her lower lip, and his stupid body decided to react, despite his fear of continued confinement. Some parts of him definitely had no sense of self-preservation.
“If you’ll agree to certain…accommodations, I’ll let you out of there.”
“And what would those be?” He couldn’t let her know that he’d agree to nearly anything, so he made the words a drawl and leaned against the wall of the cave with as much nonchalance as he could muster. The currently half-hard and non-self-respecting object in his trousers wondered if she would accept his body in trade.
“You agree to stay on Skye, and within the bounds of Clan Fay property, until I discover the truth from the duchess. You agree to wear a set of magic-dampening jewelry that will keep you from casting spells. And, most importantly, you agree to do as I say.”
The first was reasonable, as he’d no intention of leaving until he got what he came for. Of course, each day beyond what he’d planned would be a fifty-pound increase in what he intended to bill the duchess. The second was understandable, but the restriction would chafe. He didn’t like feeling vulnerable, and his magic had always given him an edge against opponents. Still, he’d agree, and tack on a hefty fee for inconvenience.
But the last? Impossible. Desperation be damned. “I’ll not be dancing to your tune, Seeress.”
“If you cannot abide by those terms, you cannot go free.”
Damn her. And she was too smart to allow him to lie. She probably intended to make the promise magically-binding.
“What if I can’t do something you order me to do? Or if I know that following your orders will make a big mess?”
She shrugged. The movement made her breasts jiggle, and what little control he had on his desire slipped. He forced his breathing to steady. He knew better than to let his body stand in the way of a negotiation. He tried to ignore the fact that he’d never been this tempted before, or this aroused by a fully-clothed woman with whom he should be spitting mad.
“I won’t put a compulsion on you to follow my orders, just not to disobey me.”
“Bloody hells. You realize it’s illegal to use coercion magic on people, don’t you?”
“And it’s illegal to tamper with wards and trespass on private property.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? I was invited, and I didn’t lay a finger on your fecking wards!”
Her delectable lips thinned to a firm line as she weighed his outburst. But she wasn’t going to believe him. If only he could explain that to his very-aroused body.
“I can’t take the risk that you’re lying.” She held up a small bag and retrieved a few shiny objects from within. “I’m the protector of the House. I won’t betray the clan’s trust in me.” The shiny objects were two cuff-style bracelets and a torque necklace. He couldn’t read the runic writing from here, but he recognized a few of the larger knot symbols. They were all meant for containment and control. He shuddered at the image of them rubbing his skin and trapping his magic.
“If I agree, you’ll free me? And you’ll talk to the duchess as soon as possible?”
Her clear gaze met his. He stared into the sky-blue depths of her soul and found Truth. She would not lie. Conceal, perhaps, but not lie outright. It was not her nature.
How he knew that, was not clear, but it was unassailable. This woman was his opposite, and he could trust that anything she told him was true.
How very odd, for a man who spent his life reveling in deceit, to meet his match in a woman who could not deceive.
He held out his wrists. “I’ll do it.”
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