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Druida City, Celta, 400 years after Colonization, Summer
Today you will meet your HeartMate. Rand T'Ash's blood thrummed in his temples as he stared at the divination dice that he'd just rolled. The polished blue-green stones gleamed in the light. The symbols incised on them showed deep red veins, looking like blood. He didn't quite believe the glyphs carved in the twelve-sided pieces of bloodstone and the prophecy they foretold. He'd throw again, to be sure.
The deep emanation of his Flair-his psi power-pulsed through his blood. A few years back he'd created the dice, first choosing the bloodstones, then chiseling and shaping them.
He let the swell of his emotions flow through and from him. A tingle of
shivered up his spine. He focused his will and mage power. With a flick of
his wrist, he threw the
dice again. They rolled, spun, stopped.
Today you will meet your HeartMate.
Excitement surged, and an overwhelming tide of triumph. His heart picked up beat.
Shimmering tension embedded in his nerves.
T'Ash sat and gripped his half-empty caff mug between his palms. It was oversized, made by a mage-potter to fit his hands.
The ebb and flow of his preternatural Flair had changed over the last few days, he now realized. The daily divinations had foretold something unusual, signs that he'd overlooked.
TwinMoonsday-Enjoy the moment, for it will pass; Midweek-Prepare yourself;
Quert-yesterday, Restructuring is necessary.
He stared at the dice once more. Today you will meet your HeartMate. How long he had waited! He was thirty-seven, the sole member of a GreatHouse, the highest rank of Celta. There were only thirteen GreatHouses. His was a colony FirstFamily, the House of the Ash. By the grace of the Lord and Lady, he'd escaped the destruction of his Family by a rival House when he was six years old. By sheer will and determination he hid and lived as a boy in the slums of the worst part of the city-Downwind. He grew strong first to survive, then for vengeance.
Only in the last few years, after he'd reestablished his GreatHouse and started his shop, plying his Flair for mage-gems instead of fighting, had he been able to live life with deliberate ease.
After tomorrow he would never again be alone. An exhilarating, but disturbing thought.
His caff was cold. The pungent scent no longer wafted through the air. He looked around his home workroom. The large desk of gleaming reddwood stood in sharp contrast to the scarred workbenches. On the far wall, behind a protection spell, were his gems and precious metals. In the corner, hidden by deep shadows, was his walk-in vault. It was built large to accommodate a man of his size and magical ability. The vault held a smaller safe containing his most precious possessions, including the necklace. His HeartGift. T'Ash rose and walked to the vault. After disarming the door with a routine spell Word, he went inside.
His HeartGift. An item created in three days after his last Passage, seventeen years before.
It was the third and last Passage that gave mastery of psi powers-rather than just confirming the Flair, then releasing it. And it was the final Passage that indicated HeartMates. In the delirium of that Passage T'Ash's Flair had spiraled to bond with his HeartMate, though he'd never felt the link since.
He placed his palm on the safe and muttered an opening spell and reached for the velvet case. The moment he touched it, urgency swept through him, the HeartGift's power. He grabbed the case, slammed the safe shut, strode out, and armed the vault. He set the round-cornered box in the middle of his largest worktable, positioned in the sunlight. T'Ash watched with disbelief as his hands trembled when he opened the box. Hands that had firmly swung a broadsword, hands that had steadily fixed tiny jewels in a tracery of delicate chains-still, his fingers shook.
Energy, power, magic streamed from the necklace, driving him back. He raised his hand and felt pulses from the piece. The sexual potency of a virile twenty-year-old man imbued the HeartGift; a man who had spent three days in an erotic delirium of a Passage that finally freed his psi power. T'Ash had focused all his creative, carnal energy on fashioning the necklace.
Seventeen years had passed, and it still radiated. Sexual tension washed through him and lodged, tingling his nerves, warming his muscles, pooling in his groin. He'd feel the pressure until he took his mate. The tautness was disconcerting, pleasure bordering on pain. Anticipation. T'Ash sucked in a breath and looked at the necklace again. Now he saw only how it was fashioned. He frowned. The strands of silver, gold, and redgold wire weren't uniformly thin, but showed lumpy nodules in places. The gem mountings were often clumsy. One side of his mouth quirked. When his hands hadn't wavered from sexual arousal, they'd shaken from exhaustion. He didn't remember eating or sleeping during the days he created the necklace-forging the metal, twisting the wire, setting the gems. The final jewel was a large roseamber pendant he'd spent septhours shaping. With the energy pouring through him, he wouldn't have been surprised if it had ended up in the shape of a phallus. He'd made a heart.
Zanth, T'Ash's cat and Familiar, strolled in. Fish again, he projected telepathically to T'Ash. He carried his muscular fighter's body with grace. He'd attached himself to the child, Rand Ash, the first week in Downwind. The cat had announced he was Rand's Fam and demanded an Ash Family name. T'Ash's crate in the slum had been barely big enough for them both. Zanth had made the move into T'Ash Residence as if it were his due, though he looked every inch the Downwind tough. The cat was huge, two-thirds of a meter.
blotches dominated his white fur.
A red tongue caught a stray bit of food from his whiskers. You hear? Fish again! Oily.
Me not like and don't want any more.
Zanth's comment grounded T'Ash. "I'll speak to the chef."
Zanth went to the workbench and stared up at the necklace. That thing.
From long ago.
His pink nose wrinkled. He opened his muzzle and curled his tongue to use his sixth sense-a combination of smell-taste. Don't like it. It's feral you. Too much you and not enough Me.
Take it away.
"I'll take it with me to the shop tonight. I'm running the store. Majo, my manager, is on vacation for Discovery Day." Col-on-ists in spaceships found Celta on Dis-cov-ery Day.
Ships were down to few Cats. Good to party. You go on vac-a-tion, too. "Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow." When he had his HeartMate. He could arrange a wedding on Discovery Day, then a long honeymoon. He grinned. The gleam of a gem caught his eye and he looked again at the necklace and saw it, beyond its inherent power and the skill that fashioned it. He saw the style and the color of the gems. In that moment he knew who the woman was. His mate. He had never seen her, but he knew of her. Majo had told him how often she visited the store. Today you will meet your HeartMate. Not today, but tonight. For the first time in several years he had to man his exclusive shop in CityCenter. In the last few months he'd been playing a subtle game from a distance with an unseen customer, teasing her with his creations. She'd buy the charming and the whimsical, and preferred roseamber and redgold. All the jewelry she'd purchased had been at the least expensive end of his line. The pieces had also been some of his most original-and sensual. He wished he knew her name.
From his pocket he pulled a long silver chain set with oddly shaped beads, and slid it through his fingers. It was designed to suspend a personal amulet. Some of the beads were round, some stone nuggets, and some faceted crystal. A simple piece with a small price, yet it was significantly superior in craftsmanship to the HeartGift. Zanth hopped up on the worktable and swatted the chain. T'Ash obligingly swung it. "The necklace is my gift to a mate, radiating my essence, and will draw her to me. We will have a woman living with us tomorrow. What do you say to that?"
Zanth looked past the swinging chain and narrowed his jade-green eyes at the necklace.
Mate prefer mouse. He turned his back on the HeartGift. Snagging a claw in the chain, he brought it to his mouth. This female. You play with her. Give toys. "Yes, I make her jewelry." T'Ash dropped the end of the chain. It rattled to the desk.
Zanth tangled his paws in the chain and glanced sideways at T'Ash. This bauble was for her. She not take it.
T'Ash shrugged. That he couldn't predict her taste intrigued him. Several pieces that he'd made especially to tempt her had been bought by others, or remained unsold-so Majo said.
T'Ash had not asked her name. Instead it had been an increasingly enchanting game.
A game once, but not now. She'd visit the shop tonight. He knew it by his sharpened senses and the deep expectation humming in his bones. Zanth snuffled. He'd picked up a sinus infection prowling the alleys of Downwind that T'Ash had been unable to treat. Zanth was not amenable to nosedrops in each nostril three times a day. Female. He looked at the necklace. Female's scent improve it. T'Ash winced at his cat's blunt remark.
Females are soft laps. Will accept one in My domain. Pro-vis-ion-al-ly.
Zanth gathered some of the beaded chain in his mouth and hopped from the table. The chain skittered on the floor as he turned and exited, tail high. T'Ash didn't care to dwell on the thought of soft laps. He glanced at the HeartGift one more time and left it on his workbench. He needed more caff. The power from the necklace swirled around him. He felt it, and so would she, the passion that heralded a life long love, the deep yearning for one special person. The necklace would attract and affect only her. The vital sexuality as well as his basic nature portrayed in his HeartGift would snare her, and he would take her home. Simple. Easy. He had built a new Residence, a luxurious palace, after his final act of vengeance. Now he would have someone to share the echoing rooms with-a woman, a wife, a HeartMate.
A fierce smile curved his mouth. Having a mate would be satisfying, as satisfying as the orderly life he'd so carefully crafted after long struggle. Today you will meet your HeartMate.
With a sweep of his hand, he gathered the dice on his desk. Two bounced and fell to the floor, one cracking. He bent and his fingers stilled. Blaser rays surround a vulnerable woman.
He picked up the die showing the woman.
It fell to pieces.
A woman in danger.
His heart pounded like a hammer on an anvil. His Divination set, ruined. His lady, threatened. He'd put the violence-and the man he'd become seeking vengeance-behind him, but now his lady was endangered.
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