Heart's Flame: Paranormal Romance, страница 1
A Paranormal Romance
Tumble into a world where magic won, but the price was high enough to annihilate almost everything—including love
All rights reserved.
Copyright © April 2013, Ann Gimpel
Cover Art Copyright © December 2015, Fiona Jayde
Edited by: Angela Kelly
Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or people living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
No part of this book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, e-mail, or web posting without written permission from the author.
Publishing history: First published by Liquid Silver Books as Dancing in the Flame in April 2013.Re-released by Ann Gimpel and Dream Shadow Press in February 2016.
Table of Contents
Life in a Were bordello is all Keira has ever known. None of the magicians’ guilds wanted her because of her mixed blood, and they didn’t protest when the Weres bound her as an indentured hooker. Mired in the hopelessness of her dreams, she longs for more.
Barrett’s a full-blood magic wielder who operates a magician supply shop in what’s left of Seattle. No one is more surprised than him when the Sidhe leader commands him to extricate Keira from the Weres. He knows her because she loves to while away time in his shop, but she’s always skittered away whenever he got too close. Too bad because she’s twenty shades of gorgeous.
Magic and intrigue throw Keira and Barrett together. Attraction ignites, burning white hot, but Keira has other priorities—like learning to control brand new magic she had no idea she possessed. Besides, Barrett is such a hunk of a man, surely he has lots of women stashed somewhere. He wants her too, has for a long time, but once he spirits her away from the Weres, his job is done. Far better to keep his distance and allow her to seize the destiny she was born for.
Except it’s not what he wants. Her, either. Can they bridge the gap between them before it’s too late?
Barrett bent over, hands on his knees. His limbs were heavy, weighted with weariness. Even the mud-streaked asphalt looked promising as a place to lie down, assuming he found some cover. He strengthened the magic surrounding him and sucked air. The goddamned humans and their atomic weapons had poisoned the atmosphere. It would hasten the end of the war, but at what price? He swept his gaze over an uninterrupted vista of gray. The sky, clouds, remaining buildings, and ground were all the same depressing color. He didn’t have to try very hard to hear the Earth cry and curse her guardians, the Sidhe, for doing such a piss poor job protecting her.
“The Weres, Druids, and Witches are ready to talk. The Fairies agreed to mediate.” A familiar voice sounded from behind him.
Barrett straightened and turned to face Caelin. With the Daoine Sidhe queen long dead, Caelin was their de facto leader. All the other Sidhe answered to the Daoine, so he was responsible for thousands of them. Too bad he hadn’t thought of that before dragging them into the war.
“Nice of them to consent to parlay while there’s still something left to salvage,” Barett muttered.
“Isn’t it, though?” Caelin’s customary sarcasm rang through. He spread his arms wide. “That last atomic blast decided things.”
Tall and wraith-thin, Caelin looked about as trashed as Barrett felt. His shoulders sagged. Bright red hair had escaped his warrior braids and hung to his waist in tangles. His battle leathers drooped in tattered shreds. Bits of grit, leaves, and dirt mingled with everything. His sharp-boned face was streaked with grime, and he regarded Barrett intently out of dark blue eyes.
“Maybe it’s for the best.” Barrett met Caelin’s gaze. “We’ve been fighting for close to ten years. If the humans hadn’t felt threatened and pulled out all the stops, this might have turned into a hundred year war—if any of us lived that long.”
Caelin snorted. “We coexisted with those bastards for thousands of years. The minute they got a whiff they weren’t the only ones on the planet, they overreacted.”
A corner of Barrett’s mouth twisted wryly. “You have to admit magic can be a bit off-putting for humans.”
“Well, they fucked themselves.”
“That may be so,” Barrett retorted,” but we instigated their reaction. It might’ve been accidental, but our magic did kill them. They had no idea their deaths fell into the collateral damage category and pulled out bombs to retaliate.”
Caelin shook his head. “Didn’t work well for them, did it? There won’t be very many left once the atomic dust settles.”
Barrett quirked a brow at his leader. “To borrow from your vernacular, they’ve managed to fuck us too, by dying. We’re going to have to figure out how to keep things running without them.”
“Point taken. Be sure to toss it on the table when we draw up a Covenant with the other magic wielders.” Caelin shook his head. “Despite all our efforts, there are more Weres left than any of the rest of us—”
“Only because they breed like rabbits.”
Caelin waved him to silence. “Be that as it may, we must secure their cooperation. Otherwise, our numbers will be far too small to maintain any semblance of civilization. I’m talking about infrastructure, things like electricity, water, the Internet, the cellular system, and food.” He ticked them off on his fingers as he talked. “All the things humans used to take responsibility for. It’s fortunate enough structures are still standing to house most of those left.”
“Where and when is this meeting scheduled?” Barrett hoped he could catch a few hours of sleep. He’d been up for the better part of the last two days.
“It’s now. In the Opera House since it’s mostly intact. Walk with me.” Caelin set off at a moderate pace.
Barrett caught up to him. His muscles ached. A headache pounded behind one eye. Normally, he would’ve used magic to ease both, but he was seriously depleted. What little remained of his power was focused on filtering subatomic particles out of the air before it entered his lungs, so the radioactive fallout didn’t damage him. “I still wish—”
“Don’t say it. Even in my worn-out state I have enough magic left to read your thoughts.” Caelin set his jaw in a stubborn line Barrett recognized only too well. The Daoine Sidhe leader had never liked being questioned, nor was he open to discussion about his decisions.
Fine. Read my thoughts then. You can pretend they don’t exist, but we both know differently.
The loss of their queen, Ivanne, had heated the rift between the Weres and the Sidhe to a boiling point and proven disastrous. She’d been a skilled mediator, navigating difficult political waters with grace and skill. Caelin was a warrior. He saw the world in black and white. Convinced the Weres had murdered Ivanne, he’d convened the Council, dominated it with his anger, and led the Sidhe to war. At first it was just Sidhe against Weres. Then Witches and Druids jumped into the fray, some on one side, some on the other. The only magical beings who’d remained neutral were the Fae and the Fairies.
“The Weres poisoned Ivanne. He
Barrett grabbed Caelin’s upper arm and forced the other man to a standstill. “Stop justifying yourself. War never solved anything. Not in human history, or in ours, either.” He swung an arm wide. “Look. Just look what a mess we’ve made. It will take decades for Earth to recover, if she ever does. Deep in my soul, she reprimands me over and over for our part in the destruction.”
A sheepish look flitted across Caelin’s face. He ran a hand down it, distorting his features. “Glad I’m not the only one she nags.”
A brittle anger filled Barrett, setting his guts on fire. “We deserve to be nagged. More than nagged, we deserve to be chastised—”
“It’s not like I did this singlehandedly.” Caelin sounded defensive. “The Weres could’ve capitulated anytime.”
Barrett let go of Caelin’s arm. He pounded a fist into his open palm. “Damn it! You know better. Weres never apologize. They’re constitutionally incapable of admitting they were wrong about anything. It’s their dual natures. The animal side takes over and—”
“Spare me.” Caelin thumped his hands on Barrett’s shoulders, digging his fingers in hard enough to make Barrett wince. “If I made a mistake avenging Ivanne, it’s water long passed under the bridge. Think, man. That was ten years ago. We must play the ball where it is today. There’s little enough of our royalty left. Here in the Americas, it’s you and me. I must have you standing solidly beside me. The Weres will sniff it out soon enough if we’re not aligned with one another.”
Barrett blew out a breath. Annoyance scoured his nerves. He hated to admit it, but Caelin was right. If the war was finally edging toward détente, the next task would be crafting a Covenant with terms advantageous to all Sidhe, not just the Daoine. And making certain it enlisted everyone’s aid healing the damage done to Earth.
He ducked from beneath Caelin’s hands, squared his shoulders, and swept straggling copper-colored hair out of his face. “You need have no fears on that front. You have always had my allegiance and support.” Of a height with Caelin, Barrett locked gazes with him. “You’re a brilliant tactician. And a fearless warrior. I only wish you had a bit more in the way of warmth and compassion to temper things.”
A wry grin split Caelin’s face. He didn’t smile often. The effect was electrifying, bringing his latent beauty to the forefront. He punched Barrett lightly. “I wish for a lot of things too. Problem is I rarely get any of them.” He inclined his head in a mock bow. “After you.”
Eleven Years Later
Keira opened her door and peeked out into the long hallway spanning the first floor of Were Calls, the Were bordello where she lived and worked. Empty. Good. It was the middle of the afternoon, always a slow time. Her last customer had just left. Maybe, if she snuck out the rear door, she could claim a few hours of freedom. She ducked back into the room she shared with one of the other indentured hookers, donned a cloak and boots, and walked down the hall, making as little noise as possible.
The air was crisper than she’d expected as she eased the door shut behind her. Keira wrapped her arms around herself, wishing she’d brought a warmer coat. Most of her working clothes were wispy and suggestive. At least she’d been smart enough to put on tattered jeans, a moth-eaten sweater, and her favorite black cloak. For once it wasn’t raining. A pallid sun hung midway to the western horizon, bathing what were once busy urban streets with sallow light.
Keira emptied her mind, trying not to feel like she was playing hooky. It wasn’t as if the Weres kept her prisoner… She glanced at her left arm. Under the sweater and cape, she could’ve sworn the indenture bracelet spanning her upper arm tightened.
Who am I trying to kid? They can find me anytime they want.
She walked briskly through Seattle’s Queen Anne district. Keira had the streets to herself today, but then she usually did. Good thing too. Those like her, mixed-blood magic wielders with minimal power, were at pretty much everyone else’s mercy. Bottom of the New World totem pole.
She gazed over urban rot, some parts worse than others, and grimaced. Buildings still stood, a few of them, anyway. But most of the glass had been rocked out. Piles of trash blocked the roadways. Cars were a thing of the past. Out-of-control garbage had obliterated the sidewalks long ago. Paths wound through it, carved by varieties of magic wielders and prowling beasts. She made a point of ignoring what was underfoot. Most of it was too gross to even consider. It was a damned shame so many humans had been wiped out during the war. They’d taken care of things like garbage collection.
She pretended to consider what to do with her freedom, knowing her deliberations were a sham. She’d do the same thing she always did: head for Barrett’s magician’s shop. Housed in a cavernous Victorian on lower Capitol Hill, it was only about an hour’s walk from the Were bordello. With its dark wood furniture, Oriental carpets, and overflowing shelves, the shop exuded an irresistible, homey atmosphere.
Face it. The thing that makes it so enticing is Barrett.
Keira smiled to herself as she pictured the tall, broad-shouldered Daoine Sidhe with his thick, coppery hair and pale blue eyes. Beyond his obvious beauty, though, he seemed kind. Not that she’d ever exchanged more than a few words with him, but he had laugh lines in the corners of his eyes, and she’d watched him interact with other customers. He was always helpful, doing that little bit extra to assist someone find something. There was still bad blood among magic wielders, but not in Barrett’s shop. Everyone was granted equal status there. Never mind Daoine Sidhe magic was far more powerful than Were, Fae, or Witch. Druid magic barely counted; it was nearly as feeble as hers.
The first time she’d stumbled into Barrett’s shop, it was by accident. She’d gotten into a big blow up with Simon, one of the staff at Were Calls, for refusing to service a customer in his animal form. Simon slapped her, which was a big no-no. Punishment was supposed to be delivered through her bracelet per the terms of her indenture.
Keira had never seen Simon quite so angry, and she wasn’t inclined to wait around to see what he’d do next. Despite being in her hooker garb, including high heels, she’d raced out the door and ran until her arches ached. It hadn’t helped when the skies opened, and it began to pour. Not knowing what else to do—because she was not going back to Were Calls until things cooled down, or they zapped her through the bracelet—she opened her magic senses. They led her straight to Barrett’s shop. It was only a couple of blocks from where she’d stopped.
Keira had pushed the heavy, carved wooden door open, ready to bolt if anyone so much as looked cross-eyed at her. No one did. The shop smelled heavenly. Herbs. Lots of them. They hung in bundles from a raised walkway, ten feet off the ground, which accessed a partial second story. Feeling a bit braver, she let her gaze roam about the large room, crowded with shelves. No one paid her the slightest attention, which was amazing since all the other patrons were garbed in cloaks and coats. She glanced at her low-cut top, barely-there micro mini, and high heeled boots and winced. Her top didn’t leave much to the imagination since it was half-soaked through. Because she was cold, her nipples had pebbled into suggestive peaks.
Embarrassed, she skittered behind a bank of shelves and worked her way around the outside wall of the shop, appreciating being out of the weather. Her eyes widened at the variety of wares for sale. She lingered over things she couldn’t identify and hustled past things she wanted but could never afford. Along the way, she summoned a tiny bit of magic to help dry her clothes.
Keira recalled hearing the Weres talk about Barrett’s shop. It was the only place left that still sold magician’s accoutrements and supplies. Three-quarters of the way through her transit of the shop, a musical baritone voice caught her attention. She stopped and looked for its owner. He stood behind the counter, wrapping a package and counting out change. Because he was occupied, it seemed safe to let her attention linger on him.
She’d just decided to edge a bit closer to the counter, drawn by the Daoine Sidhe’s magnetism, when the bracelet on her arm tightened. Keira ignored it, but it only tightened more. She knew how the game worked. The Weres tracked her with electronics. Once she headed for Were Calls, the bracelet would leave her alone—as long as she kept moving. If she stopped for too long once they’d warned her, the next event would be a shock.
Keira had scuttled out of Barrett’s store that day, but she hadn’t stayed gone long. Every time she left the bordello, it was where she ended up. She spun fantasies about what it would be like if she were free and could offer to work for Barrett. Just the thought of being close to him for long hours each day made her heart speed up.
Don’t be foolish, she chided herself as she reached the now-familiar door and pushed her way into the magic shop. He’s Daoine Sidhe. He’d never be interested in a mixed blood like me.
She walked to a locked case with crystals and gazed at them. A beautiful rose quartz one she’d lusted over was gone. Damn! She’d been working up her courage to ask if she could hold it in her hand to feel its energy.
Keira never bought anything; she didn’t have the money. She’d felt apologetic her first few visits, but now that she’d been there so many times, she felt confident Barrett wasn’t going to throw her out.
“Can I help you find something?”
Keira froze. It was him. She’d know Barrett’s voice anywhere. She heard it in her dreams, and sometimes she imagined one of her johns was him. In her imagination, he crooned to her in that wonderful voice and…
He tapped her shoulder. “Miss. May I help you?”