Authors: Lacy Danes
Tags: #Dragons;Vampires;Witches;Historical;Hot Brothers;Strong females
Her hair whipped against her face, and the blankets that lay loose on the bed lifted into the air. Small items in the room lifted into the swirl before her. The door rattled on the hinges, and the windows clattered against the wall. Wind rushed at her, pinning her to the wall. She struggled not to let the glowing ball in her hands touch her clothing. She could not escape the wind.
The chair and the nightstand rushed at her.
She closed her eyes, and her entire body tensed. They would crush her. “Hault! Hault!” she screamed into the space.
A thud came from before her, and the wind stopped. Solid heat wrapped her front. She opened her eyes.
Ilmir stood before her, his arms on each side of her head, hands against the wall. His body caged her and pressed against her front. “You need practice.” He stared down at her.
She glanced under his arm at the room beyond. The chair and stand lay in pieces on the floor. Book pages, sheets, clothing—all strewn about the room as if a storm had blown in and tossed everything about. “I caused that?”
His lips curled as he brushed a lock of hair away from her face. “I was not the one speaking the language. I was simply caught up in your spell.” He placed his hand back on the wall.
Her stomach fluttered. “Thank you for protecting me from my own spell. I guess I have a lot to learn. “
“About many things.” He leaned in closer. His breath puffed against her lips. “I will be the first to kiss you.” His lips pressed firmly to hers.
She gasped, then relaxed. Salt met her taste buds. He parted his lips just a bit more, and his tongue pushed through and into her mouth.
How odd a sensation. What am I to do with that?
Thick muscular strokes of his tongue coaxed her tongue out to twine with his. Sensations exploded through her, and her head grew light.
All caressed and explored.
Her nipples tightened, and an ached blossomed in her core. She wanted to move and rub against him.
He pressed his chest to hers and gently broke the kiss. He hovered over her, their breaths mingling in heated puffs. She opened her eyes. His skin glowed white. He touched her face, and heat zapped down to her toes. He was beautiful. This was beautiful. His knee pressed between her thighs and slid up to rub against her knoll.
He ignited a trail of tingles as he traced her eyebrows and her cheeks. His brows pulled tight, and his eyes darkened to the blue of the night sky as he rubbed his knee up and down against her moistening flesh.
She squirmed, arching her hips and pressing hard against him. She wanted this. This was what she watched him do to that woman last night, but tonight it was her. Her, with whom he said he was in love. Love. Why?
“What in all damnation happened in here?” Madoc’s voice came from the doorway.
Ilmir stepped back and turned slowly toward him. “A lesson.”
“Are you well, Astrid?”
She was overwhelmed and tired. “I am.” Her body shook, and she wrapped her arms about her stomach. “Pardon the mess. I-I will straighten this all up.”
“Not tonight.” Ilmir turned back to her.
“We will have Jenson help in the morning.” Madoc took two steps into the space. “Ilmir.” His brows rose. “Uh, we should talk.”
Ilmir took a step toward Madoc. “I will be right with you.”
Madoc turned and walked out into the hall. Ilmir turned back to Astrid, leaned in, grasped her hand and whispered, “Your lips are so soft and sweet. I want to taste more of you. It probably was for the best that Madoc came in. I was just about to ask you to take off your knickers.” His finger drew a circle on the back of her hand, and he left.
Take off her knickers. Her knees wobbled. The woman last night was naked against the wall. She could have ended up the same. Oh, how she wanted that.
Ilmir strode into the hallway with severe discomfort in his pantaloons. Madoc waited in front of his bedchamber door. Ilmir walked past him and into his space. The door clicked.
“What are you about with Astrid?”
And so the scolding would begin. “I thought I could help her.”
“In what way? By taking her innocence? She deserves better than your attentions when you know you will never have her.”
“She does deserve better than I, but I will not back away from her. I brought her to the Isle. I care about her.”
“We all care about her. Teaching her is one thing, but kissing…” Madoc ran his hand through his hair. “What were you expecting to do after that?”
To taste all her charms. “I hear you, Madoc. I know the family all care for her. I will not harm her.” I love her. He could not say that to them. Speaking the truth to her this night…torture enough.
“Be careful, Ilmir.” Worry flashed in Madoc’s eyes. “She is a part of this family.” He turned and left Ilmir’s room.
“Be careful, Ilmir.” The words rang in his head like the chime of a broken clock. Indeed. He would not harm her. That did not mean he would go back to ignoring her. Instead, he would become her shadow whether anyone knew he was following her or not.
“What do you think it is?” Astrid stared at the large red-and-black-striped package that sat on the dining table.
“It arrived this morning for you. I have no idea.” Celeste poured tea into her cup. “It’s cold. I will ring for more hot tea.” She pushed from the table and tugged the bellpull.
“Until you open the box, the contents will remain a mystery.” Grandmum’s voice held a tinge of laughter.
“So true.” Who would send Astrid a gift? She fingered the green bow and licked her lips. A gift. She tugged the tail, and the sound of ribbon pulling loose quieted the room.
Ilmir walked into the parlor. She stopped the ribbon between her fingers. His white hair, which yesterday had slipped over his shoulder, was pulled back into a clean, sleek queue. A gentleman.
He grabbed the teapot and poured, but no steam came from his cup. He grumbled and turned to the pot that held the cream and lifted the lid. She had taken the last small spoonful. No cream. Cold tea.
Her lips twitched as she held in a giggle.
He stared right at her. “What is that?”
Astrid shrugged. She would find out. Lifting the wooden box top, she stared inside.
A paper-and-mud nest filled the box. Within the bramble sat a gray nestling. A small mewly caw echoed in the room. “A bird. A gray baby bird.”
They all leaned in.
“There is no note?” Ilmir stated.
Maybe it was attached to the bird, perhaps with a wee string. She slipped her fingers under the chick and lifted it out of the box. The slight bird had just formed soft downy feathers, and the tiny thing’s eyes were newly open, green and huge.
“A small gray raven like the one I saw when Jordan and I met,” observed Celeste as she ran a finger along the bird’s back. “Well, actually, he saw it first.”
“A damn mystical bird.” Ilmir’s jaw tensed. “Get rid of it.”
All of them turned toward him.
He straightened his shoulders. “If you are saying that this bird has a mystical Zir curse attached to it, give it back to whoever sent it.”
“I will do no such thing.” Astrid pushed to her feet and rounded the table. “I do, however, wish to know who sent it to me. Besides, it can’t be attached to the Zir curse. I’m not Zir, and Jordan and Madoc saw the bird first.” She looked to Fina for validation.
“Quite so. I never saw the bird. I just have the mad voice of Carmen in my head.” Carmen was a voice that the Zir women, once bitten, started hearing telepathically. They knew Carmen was captive somewhere. Fina had actually glimpsed her in one of her distance-travel windows once. None of them had been able to identify her location.
“Me too.” Celeste shifted in her chair “Though I have not heard from her in some time. Have you?”
“No. It’s been over a fortnight.” Fina finished the last of her toast and wiped the corner of her mouth with her napkin.
Grandmum pushed back from the table and stood. “It is possible it came from Branigan’s, as your dresses arrived this morning as well.”
Fina and Celeste both stood. “Ferrous may be able to find out.”
“What do you think, Ilmir?” Astrid looked to him. He said he was in love with her. Surely he would be concerned enough to help. Everyone stared at her and then him.
He glanced back and forth at the other women. “Why would I care? If it were me, I would simply ask the butler to send it back. Or I would feed it to cats out in the alley. Unless Hudson or Grandmum desired such a taste.” He turned away from her. “Get rid of it.”
She frowned. “I will give it to Ferrous. He will know what to do with it.” She walked out into the hall with Fina and down to the library. Ferrous sat by the window, staring out into the garden. “Ferrous?”
He turned toward her. “Good morning, Astrid. Did you sleep well?”
“I—” The last thing she remembered was kissing Ilmir. “Quite.” It was true. She had. “This was delivered to me today with no card. Can you help find out where this bird came from?”
Ferrous walked from the window and stared down into the box. “I should be able to tell mainly by the nest.” The hatchling inside the box was small, gray, and had huge green eyes. He carefully lifted the bird and stared into its soul. Nothing but warmth resided there. A special bird. That was certain.
He placed the tiny thing on his shoulder. The bird wobbled, then moved close to his neck.
The nest he lifted was created of twig and mud in the shape of a bowl. He walked over to the desk and pulled out a small tray of bottles from a drawer.
He scraped a bit of the nest into a bowl and sprinkled sage and glittering copper oil onto the nest debris. If he could find where the nest came from, he could locate the owner of such a splendid bird. “Lokalisere.”
A book of maps fell off the third shelf. The pages fell open. Ferrous walked to the book and picked it up. A hundred-year-old book of the northern isles. He set the book down on the table. “Lokalisere.” He poured the oil and nest scrapings onto the book page. The oil pooled and shifted, settling on a small isle off the coast of ice.
Astrid leaned in. “The word you said was ‘locate’, correct?”
He nodded. “Very good.” She was a quick learner. Nothing surprised her. But he worried for her at this fragile time. Beginning to learn magic and power and the mistakes one can make with the earth’s gifts could change a person forever. He stared down at the oil he had just poured and at the simple casting he’d just performed. “The Is-Midtergang.”
Astrid’s eyes sparkled, and she smiled. “Regina said her sister was near there, and a weather witch. Do you think the raven is from her?”
The small bird cawed a long loud cry.
A window opened in light before him. Ferrous froze.
“Show me.” Ferrous stepped into the light before him. “Tell me what you wish me to see.”
A jolt of energy shook down Ferrous’s body, and in the light, a black wing flapped. A hiss echoed.
He flapped his wings harder and drifted back. A large round stone room with arched windows and a colored glass ceiling. The glass ceiling’s colors depicted the rising sun over a mountain of pure white. Below the mountain lay a large cave filled with treasures of the earth and sky.
A woman with copper-colored hair that hung down to her waist stood naked in the middle. “Come to me. Come see.” She held up her hand, and small birds fluttered about her.
He wanted to get closer to see what they were. They were unlike anything he had encountered before. They flew fast, darting about in a colorful whirl. The loud hiss and a smaller black wing covered his vision. The light closed, and he stood in the library once more.
“Are you well?” Astrid rushed to his side and grasped his hand. The raven hopped down from Ferrous’s shoulder and onto her arm. “Your eyes rolled back into your head.”
“I am. But I need to leave. That vision held meaning for the Zir.”
Ilmir entered the library. “Where are you going?”
“On a journey. Is-Midtergang.”
“The Isle of Ice? Why would you go there?”
“A calling.” He looked from Astrid to Ilmir. “I trust you to show restraint and help Astrid. She has new gifts and…”
“Marcus is a cad dressed up as a witch.” Ilmir shoved fisted hands into his coat pockets.
Ferrous’s lips curled up into a smile. Ilmir would watch over her. There was a softness to him when she was near.
“I will be fine,” Astrid said in an annoyed tone and shook her head. She kissed Ferrous on the cheek. “I will tell you everything I have learned when you return.”
The day had passed in a whirl of packing for Ferrous’s voyage. Ilmir made a show of trying to help, but in the end left for Samgor’s to get away from all the clatter. He hovered in air form above the carriage as his brothers, their mates and Grandmum all slowly approached Convent Hall. He would be a shadow tonight, and no one would know. It was the only thing about being Zir that was uncomplicated for him. Air and becoming invisible to everyone were marvelous things.
Astrid wore the dress that was the color of the warmth of the sun on her skin when she walked the pebbled beach. She did not want to be on the shore now. She did, however, love the feeling.
Celeste had insisted on having her hair pulled back and braided into two long braids that twisted together. They had been pinned to the back of her head. Everything was neat and formal.
Ilmir would have approved. But where was Ilmir? This was Astrid’s special night, and she had not seen him since this morning’s bird folly.
She fidgeted with a fold of her silk skirt. The fabric and design did not chafe, but oh how she wished to be back in her simple white shirt and brown walking skirts.
She had wanted Ilmir here in the carriage with her on the way to the theater. The family was with her as they always were. Yet without him here, her mind wandered… She shook her head as if to knock the memories of last night from her mind. She would do exactly as she wished on her name day, experience the city and the theater.
Marcus would meet them tonight. Excitement bubbled through her at the thought of all he could teach her if she let him. If she was a good student, she would learn to create sun where there was none, rain where there was drought, snow in the middle of summer when the heat was too much.
A grin bloomed on her face. She was finally able to contribute to this family, and she wanted to learn to do so much more with her new skills. Ferrous could help her, but he had left today for information on the Zir. Marcus was experienced with the weather; he could continue to teach her for now.
The door to the carriage opened, and she slid her white-satin-gloved fingers into the footman’s similarly gloved hand. She stepped out onto the cobbled walk that led up the theater steps. The torches that lined the walk flickered in the light fall breeze, making the walk and steps dance and shine. Beautiful. She caught her breath, and the scent of lilacs filled her nostrils.
Was that Ilmir? She tipped her head up. There was no mist or haze.
Grandmum wrapped her hand about Astrid’s forearm, and Astrid jumped. “We are so happy to be here with you to experience this.”
A smile burst to her lips, and she laughed. Her heart raced. She wanted to run up the steps and into the theater, taking in every detail big and small. “Tonight is grand.” She would see the show, smell the perfumes that hung in the space from the well-dressed people attending.
She dreamt of the music and actors, the people all dressed in their finest silks, jewels, with powdered breasts and faces. She would see and experience all that and more tonight.
Maybe she would see a couple indulging in the stories Grandmum told of the dalliances that happened in the boxes, behind the curtains and in the alcoves in the halls.
The sensation of Ilmir kissing her for the first time last night coursed through her veins. The lilac smell of him that drifted about her moments before added flutters to her stomach.
She sighed. She looked around for that purple haze he traveled in when hiding in air. Beyond the torches’ flames, black obsidian night shown. A chill raced up her spine.
The next carriage pulled up, and Fina, Madoc, Celeste and Jordan all stepped out onto the cobbles.
“A wonderful night,” Fina said as she and Madoc stepped up next to Astrid.
“Filled with prospects.” Celeste pointed to the top of the steps, where two men stood.
Both were dressed impeccably in dark suits and fancy cravats. Marcus’s red hair shone like fire. The other man was easy to identify too. A good arm’s length shorter than Marcus, the once Duke of Hudson was not hard to identify, with his golden hair and sunken cheekbones. What was he doing here? He didn’t go to public events anymore, as he was too recognizable by his one-time peers.
“Why is Hudson here?” A small pinprick of panic touched her stomach, and it flip-flopped.
Celeste stood next to her, and they both turned to Madoc, Hudson’s oldest friend.
“I have not one inkling. I am as surprised as you.” Madoc shrugged. “I am certain there is a pressing reason.”
They all walked forward.
Marcus came down the steps to great them. “I am delighted to see you again.”
Astrid smiled. She would tell him about last night and the wind. “I have been reading.”
“Excellent.” He leaned in close to her. “You shall get a chance to practice tonight as well.” He eased back and winked.
“That would be grand.” She wanted to learn so much. She wanted to learn it all. But she needed to be practical. She could only learn so much in one day. They continued up the steps, and Hudson disappeared. She glanced around.
Marcus offered her his arm. “I do so hope you are not looking for Ilmir.”
“No.” She slipped her hand about his forearm. Why would he inquire about Ilmir?
“He did not like me, nor I him. I would truly hate for him to interfere with an eventful evening.” His tone deepened with each word he said.
Her eyebrows rose. “He is part of this family.” And more. He too taught her the language, the elements, and passion.
“But you are just a ward, correct? Not truly from their blood.”
She nodded. “That does not matter. They are the only family I have. Each member is unique and wonderful in their own way.”
Marcus scoffed. “Very well, then.”
They entered the theater, where the air hung hot and moist. A deep-green-and-gold-patterned cloth covered the walls, and on the floor shone a rich, polished black stone. The numbing roar of people chattering echoed in the space.
Amazing. The hairs on her arms stood, and she beamed a huge smile at Grandmum. “Do you think anyone will recognize you?”
“No. I look younger now than I did before I transitioned. I do fear for Hudson, though. He is thinner but the same as the day he married Celeste.”
She often forgot that Celeste had been Hudson’s second wife for a short time before she met Jordan. Hudson was still so in love with his first wife. The pain of her loss showed in his eyes when he spoke of her. It was as if a piece of his soul had been brutally cut from his body. To love as intensely as that made him truly part of the Zir family. They all loved to completion. To madness. Ilmir had said he loved her. Did his love go to the same depth?