Table of Contents
A Heart to Heart Talk
Karish rose to his feet. “Let's take a walk, Lee.”
Now he wanted privacy. Excellent timing. And quite the perfect example of the magnanimous lord escorting the servant out for a well-bred chastisement.
He strode down the sidewalk. I glared at him, for I needed two steps to his one. I probably looked like some little rat-dog scampering along beside him.
He pushed a hand through his hair. “What the hell did I do, anyway?”
“What did I do? Tell me. My hair isn't blond? I'm not tall enough?”
Prat. Did he really think I cared about such trivial things? “I am a simple girl, Karish,” I said. He snorted in disbelief, which surprised me. “And I never anticipated being bonded to the Stallion of the Triple S.”
“You may stop referring to me in that manner any time now,” he instructed me coolly.
“I didn't want to work with a legend. I wanted a quiet life, do my job without anyone much noticing.” I let myself sigh. “No chance of that, now. Certainly, you'll be the focus of all the attention but some of it is bound to splash onto me. Lord Shintaro Karish's Shield, easiest road to his favor.” Oh, he didn't like that at all, and he scowled to prove it. Well, too bad. He'd asked for it. “You've got no right to complain about my behavior. I've been polite.”
“Right back at you . . .”
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RESENTING THE HERO
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
Ace edition / March 2006
Copyright Â© 2006 by Moira J. Moore.
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For my parents, Charlie and Kathy,
and my sisters, Deirdre and Eileen
There have been so many people who have provided an ear, advice, and support, and I know I won't be able to list them all here. Melissa Stone is my best friend, first reader, and gentle critic. Joe and Alisa Spinelle read an early draft and trusted me enough to give me excellent constructive criticism. People who have listened to me talk plot lines and character development for hours include Elizabeth DiSabato, Deirdre Flynn, and Erin Kinnally. Finally, I have to thank my agent, Jack Byrne, and my editor, Anne Sowards, for taking a chance on me.
“Not feeling any uncontrollable urges, are you?” the low voice in my ear teased.
I looked up at the speaker and said, “Huh?”
Lamer put a hand on my shoulder and pulled me into her taller, leaner frame. “Picture it,” she said. “The dark night sky, the torches, the drums. Brought here from our academy in carriages with the windows covered, we stand in the Matching Circle, finally Shields, dressed in our best whites and our brand-new braids.” She plucked at the tightly sewn knots in the left shoulder of my robe. “Knowing you have to compete with fourteen of your peers to be Chosen by one ofâis it six, this Match?âSources. Who are out there somewhere, waiting in their best blacks, for the chance to look us over like a herd of cattle.”
“The excitement. The anticipation. The fear. Doesn't it make you feel like . . . dancing?”
“Dancing? Are you crazy?”
“Don't try to kid me, Mallorough. I heard about that night after the First Landers' play.”
“Ah.” That explained everything. “So have I. Don't I wish it had been that interesting.” Alas, never had I ever, under the influence of either alcohol or music, danced on a table.
How did these rumors start?
Lamer suddenly sighed with impatience. “What's taking so long?”
McAllistair, standing on my other side, snorted in amusement. “Karish, I'll wager,” he said. “Maybe there's a mirror back there.”
“Hm.” That seemed to pacify Lamer somewhat. “Can't rush perfection, I guess.”
I didn't roll my eyes. I was proud of myself.
Karish was one of the Sources. We would be meeting six that night, and six of us might end up bonded to one of them as a result.
Lord Shintaro Karish was a name I'd heard most of my life, and he was the Source all the Shields wanted. He was, according to rumor and his records, talented, gorgeous, and charming. He was called the Darling of the Triple S because he could feel natural eventsâearthquakes, cyclones, anythingâlong before they happened, and he could channel enormous amounts of power, eliminating the events before most people even realized there was any danger. He was called the Stallion of the Triple S for talents that had nothing to do with being a Source.
Katherine Devereaux was also an excellent Source who had proven herself while training in the field, but she had avoided the need to make an icon of herself. Reputed to be a steady, sedate woman, she was more my style than any of the other Sources I would be meeting that day. I had high hopes for her. She and I would work well together.
Thomas Black was a solid, reliable Source, no dramatic rescues in his history but no major screwups, either. A little too proud for some, but no one could expect humility in a Source. If his portrait were any indication, he wasn't bad looking, either. Not that such things mattered, but I had no objection to looking at a pretty face.
Then there were the twins, one man, one woman. Therefore not identical but looking so much alike they might as well have been. They were, to all reports, extremely weak and would probably never be sent anywhere dangerous. Viola and Sebastian Bradford were said to recognize their limitations cheerfully and were rumored to be two of the kindest, friend-liest people a person could ever hope to meet.
The fear of not being Chosen was the first reason the Shields were so tense. A Shield who was never Chosen might end up a professor in the academy, or part of its maintenance staff, or sent out hunting for new young Shields and Sources, all occupations far inferior to that of being a properly bonded Shield.
Stevan Creol was the second reason. He was an adequate Source but was said to be odd, even cruel. Reputed to have tormented younger years as a student, he carried rumors of assault and rape as an adult. Nothing that anyone was prepared to submit to the law, but I'd yet to hear from a person who'd worked with him who had anything good to say about him. Some said he was crazy. Others claimed he was just evil. All anyone could say for sure was that he seemed unable to Choose a Shield. He was forty and still hadn't managed it.
My first choice was Devereaux, then Black, then either of the twins. If I didn't get Chosen by one of them, I didn't want to get Chosen that Match at all. I wanted someone calm, steady, and reliable. As calm, steady, and reliable as a Source could be, anyway.
But I didn't get to choose. Neither did the Sources, not in the true sense of the word. When Source met Shield for the first time, if they were meant to work together they knew it the moment they looked at each other. Kind of like love at first sight only permanent, and it had nothing to do with physical attraction or emotional compatibility.
The bond, everyone thought, matched skill to skill and created a stronger partnership than what could be found in an unbonded Pair. It enabled a Shield to feel when his or her Source's mental protections were lowered or raised. Sources needed mental Shields to protect their minds from the various forces swirling about the world, the forces that made the sun rise and set and the winds blow and the tides flow and ebb. Otherwise the minds of the Sources would be overrun and destroyed by those forces, a vulnerability unique to their kind.
Those mental barriers needed to be lowered when the Sources channeled, leaving their minds vulnerable. It was the unique talent of the Shields to shape secondary barriers for the Sources, protecting them while still allowing them the freedom necessary to work.
Any Shield could protect any Source, but bonded Shields and Sources worked better together. And only a bonded Shield could feel the Source's protections lowering without being told, which was a necessary ability when the partners were not in physical proximity.
Poetry, songs, and plays written by regulars added all sorts of other attributes to the bond. Things like the partners being able to read each other's mind, or see through each other's eyes and hear through each other's ears. They made entertaining reading, and none of them were true. All the bond did was facilitate Shielding.
There were, however, other effects of the bond. Some Pairs experienced a sort of physical harmony. It had been described to me as an added comfort level when the two partners were in close contact, and even some relief of pain when they touched. It was a rare phenomenon, thank Zaire. It seemed rather intrusive to me.