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"Please, don't let him take me."
Kelly Denning's heart twisted as his large blue eyes beseeched her. "I won't, Billy. I'll do my best to keep you safe."
Kelly made a large X over her rapidly beating heart. Nothing was going to happen to Billy. "Cross my heart and hope to "
Die. Not today. Not on my agenda this week.
She forced a bright smile, hoping the terrified child could see it in the dimness. "Cross my heart and hope to never lie."
"But you're an Arcane. My mommy says Arcanes lie all the time because your magick is weaker, not like us Elementals. Is she right?" His voice shook. "I don't know what to believe anymore. I just want to go home."
Not wanting his mother's prejudice to shake his faith, Kelly chose her words with care. "I promise you, I'll do everything I can to get you back to your parents."
"They won't want me anymore after this," Billy said in a small voice. "I won't be an Elemental if they drain my powers like they keep saying they will."
Emotion clogged her throat. Billy wouldn't be alive, either. But she had no intention of scaring him further.
"Your powers are still inside you. No one can take away who you are, honey."
"Not even a Dark Lord?"
Kelly sucked in a breath. Dark Lords were rare, but they were the most powerful Mages of all, created from pure evil. Only Arcanes were known to achieve this transformation through an ancient spell, which gave Elementals a natural fear of their weaker brethren.
"Especially not a Dark Lord."
"Will anyone save us? My dad knows some navy SEALs. They rescue people." Billy's voice trembled.
The two fangers upstairs would drain a navy SEAL dry. Ordinary navy SEALs couldn't save them. They needed someone higher on the food chain.
Her thoughts drifted to Sam Shaymore. He was a powerful Elemental Phantom Mage and, her sources said, a navy SEAL. Sam would rescue Billy, but Kelly doubted he'd take her along. Because, like other Elementals, Sam Shaymore blamed her father for killing his entire family.
I'm not like my father, Sam.
"Maybe," Kelly ventured. "But if they don't, we have to save ourselves. Just stick close to me, and do as I say."
No matter what happened to her, Billy must live.
Kelly hugged her knees, winced. Not a good idea. Still hadn't healed yet. Scanning the inside of the cramped, dark room, she assessed their prison's weak points as Billy huddled close.
He was the privileged son of a powerful Elemental Phantom Mage. Someone had stolen Billy out of his bed and brought him to this island to siphon away all his ripening magick. The process would kill him.
Not as long as I'm here, Kelly thought grimly.
Kelly's organization, Sight Finders, rescued Mage children. She'd discovered the missing Billy's whereabouts through an anonymous email tip. But the words that chilled her the most had been these: Arcanes are conspiring to create a Dark Lord. They plan to execute all Elemental Mages.
The email warned Billy was in Florida, where he'd be transported to this tiny island in the Caribbean. She'd stolen aboard the boat in Miami and nearly succeeded in freeing him. But the fangers had caught her and imprisoned her, as well.
Kelly stood, wincing at her protesting leg muscles. She peered out the slats of a narrow window. A thin ray of sunlight speared the darkness. They'd have to make a break for it now, before the vampires awakened. She could create a diversion and.
"Someone's coming," Billy whispered.
Heavy footsteps. Her palms grew clammy. Kelly rubbed them against her dirty jeans. Oh, gods, she knew what was coming next. She slipped the silver pendant off her neck and put it around Billy's neck.
"This will keep you safe. The triskele has much power."
Billy's eyes grew huge. "No, Kelly, what about you? You need magick protection, too!"
"I'll be fine. Stay in the corner. They can't hurt you if you wear the necklace."
"Kelly." The little boy's voice came as a whisper. "You're an Arcane. My mother says Arcanes are bad people. They're different from us and can't be trusted to be anything more than servants."
Grief twisted her heart. She knelt by the little boy and gathered his hands into hers.
"Listen to me, Billy. Whatever you've been told is wrong. My people are gentle and would rather practice their craft of chanting spells. Yes, they've been subservient for generations to Elementals. But they would sooner die themselves than turn to darkness and kill another to gain more power."
Billy's eyes were solemn. "But someone among your people has."
She squeezed his hands, unable to argue that point.
The door opened, showing a shaft of sunlight. Kelly winced as someone seized her wrist. The Arcane Mage grinned, showing a row of yellowed teeth. Her stomach roiled at the thought of a fellow Arcane hurting an innocent child. She laughed, hoping to calm Billy's fears. "Time to play the game again, right boys? It's a fun game."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another Arcane slap a heavy stick against his fat thigh. Her knees felt weak.
"Right," said the voice thick with menace. "Time to play the game."
As he swam through the clear Caribbean water, U.S. Navy SEAL Sam "Shay" Shaymore fought the instincts of his Mage shifter magick to change into an ocean-dwelling animal. With the three other SEALs using the nav boards equipped with compasses, they moved silently in swim pairs, their Drager rebreathers showing no telltale bubbles.
He kept his breathing even, slowed his banging heart rate. Dangerous as hell executing an op in broad daylight. But their orders were clear. Attack in the daylight, soon as possible. Ensign Grant "Sully" Sullivan had done recon on the target's mansion. Billy was being held in a first-floor room, guarded in daylight by two Arcane Mages armed with M16s and two nasty vamps at night. The heat sig from the night-vision binocs showed that he was still alive as of last night. A female, probably the nanny who'd kidnapped Billy, remained with him.
The top brass ordering this op knew nine-year-old Billy Rogers, the only son of a powerful U.S. senator, was being held captive. Keegan Byrne, the four-star admiral and Primary Elemental Mage who commanded the SEALs, knew a little more. Like the fact that Billy's dad was also a Phantom Elemental and an Elder on the stately Council of Mages.
It was an op loaded with policy-maker land mines. The worst kind for a SEAL on the elite Phoenix Force, a secret group of navy SEALs who were all paranorms. A human media explosion would ensue afterward, followed by the paranormal uproar created by the powerful Council of Mages.
Shay didn't care. The hell with afterward. Billy was all that mattered.
He and his teammates surfaced near the seawall. Blending in with the craggy rocks, they removed and stashed their gear.
Shay slicked back his hair with a hand, scanning the lush grounds for movement. Their point man, Lieutenant Matthew "Dakota" Parker, gave the signal for all clear. No one around. Time to move in, boys.
With a flick of his wrist, Shay cut the alarm by sending an electromagnetic current rippling into the system. The four SEALs crept up near a stand of palms, HK416 assault rifles at the ready. Silent as wraiths, they slipped away.
Shay hunkered down behind a group of palm trees, watching the other SEALs. Dakota shifted into a wolf and ran up the outside stairs. The Mages on the balcony would catch his scent and investigate, leaving the way clear for Sully and Petty Officer Third Class Ryder "Renegade" Thompson to capture the nanny and dipatch the vamps and Mages and grab Billy.
He clicked his radio twice. Answering clicks signaled as they all moved into position.
And then a woman stepped out of the house onto the patio and sank into a chaise longue by the pool.
Damn! Shay lifted his binoculars. The female daylight hugger must be the nanny. He bit back a curse and spoke into his throat mic, breaking radio silence.
"Alpha One, this is Bravo Two. I have a visual on Tango Five. Oscar Mike."
Double clicks on the radio acknowledged the transmission.
It took seconds for him to analyze the new threat. He could take her out, but brass wanted her for questioning. Instead of stealth, he opted for shifting. His magick was powerful, but the form was nonthreatening.
Inside he smiled.
Little Miss Sunshine, you're all mine.
Every bone in her body hurt. As part of the game, they'd beat her while she tried to stifle her screams to keep from terrifying Billy. Kelly refused to talk as they tried to get information on how she'd discovered their operation. As punishment, the Mages would dump her in the cell for a few minutes to assure Billy she was still alive and then put her into the sunshine.
Unlike other Arcanes, Kelly healed from exposure to direct sunlight. Probably a result of wearing the powerful triskele for so many years.
They'd bring her back into the darkness when she recovered. Just to hurt her all over again. Only this time, they'd beaten her a little harder. Billy had given her back the triskele to wear.
"Please, Kelly. It has good magick and will help you," he'd whispered.
She closed her eyes, and the ache in her muscles eased as the triskele amplified the sun's gentle strength. She heard a small, hopeful meow.
House cat. She gave a vague smile.
"Where did you come from, kitty? I thought the vamps didn't let anything smaller than a tank hunt on their turf?" Too hurt to wonder what it was, she closed her eyes. And then she heard a scream upstairs.
Billy! She started off the chaise.
Bam! Next thing she knew she was lying flat on her stomach, a heavy male weight pressed into her back.
"Chief Petty Officer Sam Shaymore, U.S. Navy SEALs," he whispered into her ear.
Warm breath feathered over her cheek. The delicious masculine scent of leather and sage became stronger and enveloped her like a lover's arms. She knew this scent. Knew this body had felt it atop hers years ago.
When he'd laid her down on his bed, kissed her and then had taken her virginity.
The muscled SEAL's heavy weight shifted, allowing her to roll over. He straddled her, sitting on her hips, his hands easily pinning her down.
Indifferent, almost cruel concentration on his face turned to shock. Those penetrating hazel eyes widened and then darkened.
"Kelly," he said softly.
A gleam of recognition and pure sexual awareness. She felt the jolt as if Sam had branded her with a white-hot iron. Sheer desire whipsawed through her, making her tremble as he held her down. The last time they'd been in this position, Sam had been thrusting deep inside her, as she'd clung to him and moaned.
The erotic current between them fizzled as anger flushed his handsome face. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Power hummed in the air, radiating off him in waves. Sam could generate electromagnetic current strong enough to turn a building into dust. A navy SEAL and a Phantom Mage? Forget the vampire guards. They had baby teeth compared with Sam's T. rex magick.
Fear coated her mouth. Kelly wriggled, but he held her down easily. Disgusted with her weakness, she scowled into his face.
"Mind getting off me, Sam? We're not lovers anymore, and this brick is awfully hard."
Those chiseled features narrowed. He wore a black headband around his forehead, keeping his shoulder-length brown hair in place. A nasty-looking weapon hung from one broad shoulder. He was clad in some kind of green camouflage. Kelly felt a shiver snake down her spine.
"Let me go. I have to get to Billy "
He touched an earpiece and glanced upstairs. "Billy is safe."
"But the Mages."
"Dead." His gaze flattened. "Why did you take him, Kelly? This your new hobby, stealing innocents?"
"I didn't kidnap Billy. I was trying to free him when I got caught. My organization is Sight Finders."
Those dreamy hazel eyes widened. "Those nutjobs? The ones who steal Mage children in domestic disputes?"
"My organization rescues Mage children in trouble."
"My organization is the U.S. Navy. You're my prisoner." Sam eased back and snapped plastic ties around her wrists.
Her jaw dropped. "You can't do this!"
"But I'm on your side."
"Can't trust that, until the situation is secured." Then for a sheer moment, the indifferent mask dropped. Torment shadowed his face as he stroked a light finger down her cheek. His touch made her shiver, and remember.
"Sam," she began, but he slid off and pulled her upright. Even with his incandescent rage, his touch was considerate and gentle.
Always the Southern gentleman. Even when taking prisoners, she thought dully.
She struggled against the ties but failed to break them. Sam gave her an amused look. "Don't waste your energy. I laced them with magick. I'm an Elemental."
"You were," she whispered. "Now you're just a bastard. When did you become one, Sam?"
Regret flashed in his eyes, and then the hardness returned. "The day your father escaped after killing my whole family."
He walked her to a sturdy coconut palm. Before he secured her to it, he cupped her cheek with his palm. Despite the wet, thick gloves, she felt the warmth of his touch like a brand. He studied her solemnly. "Kel," he murmured.
So close he seemed ready to kiss her. She closed her eyes, remembering those firm, warm lips nestled against hers.
When she opened her eyes, he'd vanished.
Kelly struggled against her bonds. Gunfire erupted amid loud explosions upstairs. A SEAL emerged from the house, carrying a terrified Billy. He was sobbing.
"Give him to me," she cried out.
Sheer strength and her own secret store of magick shattered her bonds. Kelly rushed forward, only to feel the cold pressure of a gun barrel pressed to her temple. "Don't move," came Sam's deep voice.
"I'm here to save Billy. I'm not his enemy!"
"Maybe not his," he said in a soft, drawling voice that rubbed against her skin like warm velvet. "But, sweetheart, you are most definitely mine."