But then a new threat comes to their attention ... their foe seeks the fabled Sword of Sorren in an attempt to gain unrivaled magical power. Beset by betrayal as they fight to secure peace for their people, they must look into the past to find the root of their troubles. Allied with their neighbors, they prepare for a battle where they must win or lose it all.
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Syra surfaced from a deep sleep as the magical wards placed on the outer walls of the castle sounded the warning of approaching travelers. The rumble of the gates opening announced their welcome. Stretching sensuously, she purred as the silk bedding abraded her sensitive nipples. Rolling over, she burrowed into the goose-down mattress, reluctant to stir from the cocoon shielding her from the chill in the air. Her eyes snapped open as her bedroom doors were thrust open.
"Wake up, Syra, riders approach; they must bring news from the border." Her cousin Lara announced as she rushed through the room to the balcony hanging over the inner courtyard.
"It's probably my brothers returning from another night of carousing." Used to the odd hours they kept, she wasn't particularly concerned.
Fully awake now, curiosity got the better of her. Rising, she parted the sheer drapery surrounding her bed, slipping naked from its warm comfort. Donning a fur-lined robe, she stood just inside the balcony doors. Twin moons shed their eerie light on a large party of riders mounted atop prancing firesteeds.
The Sorren brothers and their personal guard. The horses snorted heated puffs of air, plowing effortlessly through knee-high drifts of snow. But it was Rhys who caught and held her attention. At six-five, he was a broad shouldered, powerfully built man whose masculinity called to the woman in her. He had consumed her thoughts for the last eighteen months, as they played a game of cat and mouse.
He dismounted in one fluid motion and tossed the reins of his fire stallion Blaze to a groom, waiting huddled against the bitter cold. As he moved forward, hisguard fanned out behind him, ever watchful. Oblivious to the biting wind that tore at his hair and clothes, his power a tangible thing, he strode with feline grace toward the welcoming warmth of Castle Syrren. He paused suddenly, like a predator sensing prey nearby, and looked up to her balcony.
He stood there for what seemed an eternity, ebony hair flowing back from his chiseled features, a slight smile curving his sensuous lips. He shouldn't actually be able to see her, but he knew she was there. He was aware of her as she was of him.
Syra stood riveted; fingers pressed against the icy glass, her body heating as memories flooded through her. The images of Rhys' nude body entwined with Morag di Mari's were painfully vivid.
The preparations for her coming-of-age ceremony were driving her mad. She crept out of the castle at dawn, before her mother could find some other task for her to complete. Saddling her little mare, she galloped away from the stables, not giving the grooms a chance to insist on escorting her. Cantering through the cool greenery of the woods, she loosened her hair from its confining braid. It flew behind her like a golden banner as she urged her horse on faster.
The wind in her face and the powerful straining muscles of the horse she held between her thighs made her feel freer than she had in months. Syra laughed, savoring the small amount of freedom she had snatched for herself. It would be only a matter of time before they came looking for her. Girls with her gifts were protected until bonded with a compatible male.
Syra and her cousins were especially cloistered because of the loss of their aunt many years ago. She couldn't wait for the day she could travel to other provinces; she longed to experience a life different from her own safe world.
Jumping off her horse, anticipation made her steps quicken as she imagined cold water running over her heated body. Stripping off her vest, she dropped it to the ground only to draw up short, finding the pool already occupied by Rhys Sorren and Morag di Mari.
Totally engrossed in each other, they were unaware of her presence. She stood frozen, watching Rhys' large hand move down Morag's thigh. He hitched her leg higher so her heel rested in the small of his back, allowing him to impale her deeper. The line of his back flexed, emphasizing the beautifully defined musculature of his large body. Morag lay at the edge of the pool, her body arching into each of his thrusts. Her heavy breasts heaved as Rhys rammed into her, giving in to her hoarsely worded demands for more. His head was flung back, eyes closed, teeth gritted as he lost himself in the pleasure he shared with the woman beneath him.
Syra's powers manifested in full force for the first time, her emphatic ability embracing and enhancing every sensation Morag experienced. Rhys ground his pelvic bone against Morag's clit, pushing her to a small orgasm. In tandem with Morag, Syra could only whimper as her nipples peaked and warm liquid flooded her crotch. As his large cock pumped in and out of Morag's weeping sheath, Rhys' hot ravenous mouth suckled her turgid nipples.
Syra shared every sensation with the delirious woman as the entwined couple slowly built toward something she didn't quite understand, but wanted desperately. Not having finished her training, she wasn't totally in control of her gifts, and her enhancing power shot into the unsuspecting couple, intensifying their pleasure.
Morag's eyes rolled back as she blacked out, ecstasy overloading her system. Rhys' head shot up, his eyes making contact with Syra's mortified gaze. Shuddering and fighting for control, he gathered the unconscious woman into his arms and vanished.
Syra sank to her knees, her face red with embarrassment, her body shivering in reaction to the sensual onslaught. She sat there for the longest time, gazing into the shallow depths of the pool in stunned realization. She didn't have much experience enhancing the skills of a magically gifted male outside of her family, but she knew the seamless melding with Rhys' powers could only mean one thing--he was her truemate.
She didn't know how she was ever going to face Rhys Sorren again. In that short collision of their powers, he had seen how much she had wanted to be in Morag's place.
In the last eighteen months she had grown up a lot. She had worked hard to hone her magic, and her control of her gift was sharp and sure. Never again would she thrust her powers on another person.
Her skills with the short swords had grown; she could hold her own in a fight. Rhys had been to the castle several times for meetings with her father during this time, and the only contact she had with him was in a crowd.
Each time they passed the other, she could see the tightly leashed desire in his eyes. She avoided him, telling herself she was too embarrassed to face him, and used that excuse to put off dealing with the growing sexual awareness between them. While she succeeded, it was with the knowledge that he allowed her to.
She told herself she was happy she had put off the inevitable, but a tiny part of her was piqued that he didn't pursue her. Giving in to her desire for him would have taken care of the constant yearning for fulfillment that nagged at her. But now, as she looked down at him, she sensed her time was up.
"Rhys was here not a fortnight ago, so the news can't be good," Lara whispered, turning worried blue eyes to Syra. Slipping a comforting arm her around her younger cousin, Syra drew her towards the warmth of the fireplace as the door was once again thrown open.
"Ladies, those delicious Sorren brothers have arrived." Asha, Lara's older sister, bounced into the room in a flurry of diaphanous silk. Plopping herself amongst the pillows on Syra's chaise, she secured the warmest spot in the room for herself.
"Aren't you cold in that gown?" Syra asked, grinning at her irrepressible cousin with raised brows.
"No, it's just a little illusion I've been playing with; the gown is totally transparent but keeps me warm," she answered airily. "The Sorrens are sure to have brought news. Maybe now our mentors and parents will allow us to do something exciting. I long for change. Enhancing other people's skills for dull tasks is boring." A gleam of speculation lit her eyes as she studied Syra's face.
"Surely you're not hoping to be an enhancer to a Sorren," gasped Lara. "Mother said they are no better than bandits!" Taking the large armchair across from her sister, she tucked her legs beneath her, drawing a fur throw up around her shoulders to ward off the chill.
"Bandits my foot. It's all myth and rumor spread by other clans threatened by the Sorrens' growing power and influence. Don't you wish a man like one of the Sorren brothers would just take you? With their broad shoulders, strong thighs and their leathers filled in all the right places," Asha purred. "I'm tired of the oh-so-polite and formal courting we're subjected to by those boys allowed anywhere near us. As if it were my lush, ready-for-the-plucking body they wanted and not the alignment of suitable powers," Asha grumbled with scorn. "I'd toss my hat in the ring with one of the virile Sorrens, and enjoy every minute of it; especially Rhys." She grinned, sliding a sly look at Syra.
"I wish to the Gods I had never told you about that," Syra snapped as she climbed between the covers of her bed.
"Who else were you going tell? You know the details about all of my little escapades. One must do what one can to relieve the monotony around here. Sometimes I think I'll die of boredom."
"You'll get enough excitement if Grandmother catches you walking half-naked in the corridor," Syra pointed out.
"You should see the leers, winks and lewd propositions I get. When I pass the guards they think they're getting a good look at my charms. The best part is their expressions of horrified embarrassment when I conjure Uncle Orren's image behind me out of nowhere." Giggling impishly, Asha met Syra's conspiratorial smile, for it was Syra who had encouraged her to use her playful gift.
"I would have loved to have seen that," Syra laughed with her cousin.
"It's not proper behavior for an ap Syrren. So what's this about Rhys? Nobody tells me anything," Lara grumbled, obviously realizing they had neglected to fill her in. "I'm grown up now, a fully trained healer and an enhancer to boot. I wish you'd stop treating me like a child."
"Are you blind?" Asha laughed, sitting up. "For the last eighteen months, Rhys and our cousin have been doing a dance around each other, and by all indications, things are coming to a head. I, for one, can't wait. If those two are a truebond, it will open a whole world of possibilities for the rest of us. No more meeting of suitable powers, but more a meeting of bodies." She wiggled her brows at her prim little sister.
"Her parents wouldn't encourage such a match; the Sorrens are always fighting with the Belandrakes. I thought Uncle Orren had an understanding with Clan Barrone for Syra's hand."
"Wishful thinking on Lord Barrone's part. Besides, Rhys has good reason to fight the Belandrakes. They murdered his parents and razed his castle to rubble. He's rebuilt everything and is now a power to be reckoned with; the ambitious mamas all want him for a son-in-law." Popping candied fruit into her mouth, Asha's lips puckered as the tart berry filling hit her tongue. "I hope I bond with someone who looks at me like he wanted to slurp me up like jelly custard."
"Eric Barrone would be perfect for Syra," Lara stated stubbornly.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Eric is like a brother, and I don't think Rhys thinks of me in that way. I'm not anything like the women he usually consorts with. They're brunette and busty. He thought of me as a child before our powers collided." Syra said dryly, glancing down at what she considered a barely adequate chest. She purposely avoided the thought that she and Rhys were true mates. Tonight, especially.
"I'd give my eyeteeth to have your skin and hair." Asha looked enviously at Syra's board-straight tresses, winding an unruly ringlet around her finger. "I detest my curls and there is nothing wrong with your chest, it's the same size as mine. That incorrigible Rorii Sorren told me that my breasts reminded him of star apples." She grinned as Syra rolled her eyes.
"Asha ap Syrren, one of these days you are going to land in hot water. Syra and I won't always be there to save you, you forward hussy. Sometimes I can't believe we're sisters."
"If I get into that kind of trouble I won't want saving," Asha answered, clearly irked at her sister's lack of boldness.
Syra sat, listening to the bickering. As a child, she'd prayed for a sister, and instead been granted her completely opposite cousins. Asha, bold and daring; Lara so shy and studious.
Her mind drifted to Rhys, and the now-familiar ache coiled between her thighs.
A knock at the door broke into her reverie; it swung open to show their grandmother, dressed in long, flowing robes. Banded with rich gold embroidery and studded precious stones, they befitted her station as high mentor to the gifted.
She was a tall, regal woman, her blonde hair silvered by time. The intricate braid indicated her clan, marital status and gift. Closing the door behind her, Darreth ap Syrren regarded her three granddaughters regally. A tray laden with small cakes and four steaming mugs floated mid-air beside her. With an elegant wave of her hand, it settled on the low table by the chaise. Seating herself beside Asha, she passed her a cup.
"I thought you might like something to help you sleep. We have guests, so no walking scantily clad along the corridors." There was a reprimand in the sharp gaze she shot Asha. "The news from the borderlands will not be good. Everyone with a gift will be needed to fight off the latest attacks. Representatives from all the other clans will be arriving during the morning hours. They will gather in the great hall tomorrow, after the noon meal. It would please me if you wore your robes of office. As befits our trying circumstances, pairing rituals will be enacted; I can't say I fully approve of the haste in which we must proceed, but these are desperate times. I have faith in each of your abilities. I'm sure you will do your family proud."
Syra left the security of her bed to settle at her grandmother's feet. She took a cup from the tray to warm her suddenly chilled hands. The pairing ritual was an ancient practice used only in times of great crisis. Not as formal as the arranged marriages that solidified provincial liaisons, it was a joining of power. Mates, on the other hand, were true love matches, and often frowned upon because they rarely melded power and politics.
Darreth sipped from her cup and smiled at the girls. Putting her cup down, she waved a hand at the dying embers in the hearth. It burst into flames, heating the room. "I wanted to speak to you girls privately before the gathering. I've done a reading of the tapestry; it tells me we may have a traitor amongst our ranks, but I haven't been able to pinpoint who it is. The link between the three of you is strong, so use it to your advantage. Be alert at all times and follow your instincts, because I sense the three of you will play an integral part in achieving peace for the provinces. Now I want you all to find your beds, you'll need to be well rested, for tomorrow will be a long day." Darreth left the room and closed the door softly behind her.
Syra looked at her cousins, seeing the conflicting emotions flitting across their faces. Lara looked apprehensive, while Asha, for once, appeared indecisive.
Excitement built within Syra. This was what she had been dreaming about for such a long time.
Rhys stared grimly at the tapestry over the huge fireplace, fighting the urge to seek out Syra, despite the lateness of the hour. Waiting for her was becoming unbearable, but as long as being linked to him would endanger her, he'd kept his distance.
Taking a deep draught of mulled wine, he waited impatiently for their host to join them. As he turned to refill his goblet, he appreciatively took in the richly appointed room and drew in a deep breath. The air was tinged with lemon, emanating from the fat beeswax candles that lit a room so very different from his own sparsely furnished home. Thick rugs were scattered randomly across the marble floor, and deep chairs and benches were padded in lush brocades, the colors chosen to complement the tapestries and frescos dotting the walls.
He moved to the table where his brother sat supping from the bountiful spread their host had ordered for them. He popped a fat purple grape into his mouth before taking a seat. "Enjoy this while you can; in the days ahead only the Gods know when we will be offered such a sweet treat."
"Unless we kidnap the cook and take her with us," mumbled Rorii, the youngest of his brothers. His mouth was filled with a custard-filled tart, one of the many he was methodically working his way through.
"That would be no way to thank our host for his hospitality."
"I quite agree, seeing that my wife made those particular tarts." Orren ap Syrren said as he moved further into the room. He was tall man with a golden cast to his skin, hinting at his elven blood. The usually perfectly groomed Orren looked as if he had thrown on his clothes in a hurry, his hair disheveled as if he had run his fingers through it in an effort to groom himself.
Rising to clasp Orren's forearm in greeting, Rhys flashed him a rare grin. "You wouldn't begrudge a bunch of motherless boys a few tarts, now would you?"
"Motherless boys, my ass," Orren retorted, then called the waiting footman to clear the remains of the meal. Once the room was emptied of everyone but Rhys, Rorii and Orren, he warded the doors.
"What's the news?" he looked directly at Rhys.
"It's not good." Unrolling a map on the table, Rhys ran his finger along the line where the five provinces bordered the enemy kingdom of Draken. Sorren and Syrren with the tiny province of Hertha wedged between them, Barrone and Nubrah to the far south. "A score of villages and towns have been raided; every settlement with a moonstone mine. They've liberated most of the winter provisions, many of the men were slaughtered, and even more gravely wounded. The women who were unable to defend themselves were ravished. Some potentially gifted girls have been abducted. Over the years, a few girls have disappeared, but this many taken at the same time stinks of Drogo Belandrake. Jory and Micah are following the trail of the last raiding party, hoping to retrieve the girls. We've spent the last week teleporting in healers and new supplies, but we can't continue it indefinitely."
Studying the map intently, Orren sighed. "My mother has felt a ripple of dark sorcery, but her visions are cloudy, as if someone or something is masking their intent. She suspects we might have a traitor in our midst. Any suggestions on how we might go about quashing this?"
"Sooner or later we're going have to face the Belandrakes in battle as a united force," Rhys stated, his face hardening as he remembered the atrocities committed against his family. "It's time to act, Orren."
"We can't start a war with them; we have no chance of winning. Drogo Belandrake is just waiting for an excuse to swarm across the border and assimilate us into Draken."
"Not if we set the right trap and bait it properly. He's accumulating moonstones for a reason. We'll use them as our bait. Setting a trap will be a little trickier." Rhys paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts before laying out his plan.
"With the help of the High Mentors we could plant an enhancer with a teleporter at each of the remaining towns with mines. The teleporter will be of my bloodline, so we can mind link. When the town is attacked, I should be able to teleport any number of troops instantly with the help of a powerful enhancer. We'll chisel away at his battalions one by one."
"Are any of us going to be allowed to have some of the fun, or are you going to do this all by yourself?" Rorii dryly interjected.
"Oh, you'll have your share. I'm sending you where I think the next raid will be." Rhys glanced at his younger brother, an evil gleam of amusement dancing in his eyes. "You're going to Straith, where a shipment of large moonstones is ready for distribution."
"No! Oh. No. You can't do that to me," Rorii protested, coming swiftly to his feet.
Rhys smiled wickedly. Each of the lusty Stratham sisters had it made clear Rorii would be welcome as a permanent bed warmer. The concept of commitment terrified his brother far more than battle. "Now Rorii, don't tell me you are afraid of a bunch of girls. If necessary, I'll send extra protection along." He knew full well his brother's pride wouldn't allow it.
Slumping into his chair, Rorii shot his brother a look promising retribution. "Just make sure I leave that town a single man, because those Stratham sisters are devious."
Lips quivering with repressed laughter, Orren turned back to the map. "I've sent word to only our most trusted allies for tomorrow's meeting; we'll have a delicate dance to perform to pull this off. It's late, gentlemen; I'll have Jonus show you to your quarters. My mother is in residence; she arrived from the sanctuary just this evening, I'll confer with her."
Mounting two flights of stairs, Orren walked down the long moonstone-lit corridor to his mother's sitting room. Imparting the news would be the easy part. Convincing her to release her novices would take some doing, since some of them hadn't completed their training.
He stepped into Darreth's rooms and saw her sitting in a backless chair before a tapestry that seethed with life.
The tapestry was a map of the known world, including the five territories where magic abounded. There was Nubrah to the farthest south with its fertile fields of wheat, Barrone, with their skilled weavers producing the finest silks and velvets. Sorren, with its mountains rich with ore, Syrren famous for its golden elven wine, and wedged between them was Hertha. It was home to the Sanctuary, their repository of all things magical, the great library of grimoires, and the center of magical learning. In its vast gardens every poisonous plant could be found as well as every curative herb. It was a place of healing for the body and soul. Warded with powerful spells, it could only be entered through the great gate, which read the intent and need of anyone who passed through them.
To the west was the kingdom of Draken; once a powerful land of enchantment, Draken's influence had waned in past decades as misuse and a lack of faith in the way led to a slow leeching of their power. Their military might, however, had never been in question. Their recent raids and abductions could only mean they were attempting to shore up their magic before a final push into the magically gifted provinces.
Beyond Draken lay Gorshon, Muhon, Korrgom and a few other regions; they had never been of concern, for little or no magic existed there. In all of Darreth's years of being the keeper of the tapestry, the threads beyond the provinces had never shifted.
Now they moved, weaving and reweaving in tiny increments. Darreth's brow furrowed with worry and concentration as she tried to read the minute shifts the threads made in the fabric of the tapestry. The subtle movement in Draken was expected, but it was the slight shifts in Gorshon that concerned them all.
"I know why you are here; someone brings grief to our people. A masking spell has been cast, blinding me to their identity." Sighing, she rose to face Orren. "You'll be needing all of my novices for your plans to succeed, I'm apprehensive about testing them so young, but there is no help for it. If we do not act now it will be too late. The girls cloistered at the sanctuary will be ready to be teleported at daybreak."
"I'll do everything in my power to ensure their safety," Orren reassured her. "Will you prepare our girls for what's coming?"
"I've already spoken with them."
He kissed her on the cheek, bid a good night and left her to prepare for the gathering.
Deep in thought, he made his way to his bedroom. Moving purposely towards the bed in the center of the room, he tossed his shirt on the floor and kicked out of his breeches. He looked down on the woman secured spread-eagled on a pool of silken sheets. Long coils of fiery red hair highlighted her pale skin. Her eyes, so like their children's, spat fire at him.
"What kept you so long? I've had enough, let me loose," Siri, his truemate, hissed as she tugged futilely at the restraints securing her to the bed. His binding spell held.
"Now darling, I went to so much trouble putting you in this delicious position. I've not yet had my fill," he drawled. He settled atop her and tilted her head, claiming her lips in a ravenous kiss. Palming her full breasts, he tweaked the cherry red nipples and teased her with the hard ridge of his erection, then shifted, trailing his lips along the length of her neck to that little spot right behind her ear. He knew, from years of experience, it would drive her crazy. Gripping a handful of her hair to give him better access to the long line of her neck, he nibbled at its base, causing her to arch in reaction.
"Release me," she demanded.
"I'll release you, alright," he smiled down at her wickedly, then bent to lave her marble-hard nipples, grinding his aching cock against her sopping pussy. Taking his own sweet time, he kissed and nipped his way down her stomach, pausing every now and then to flick her nipples with teasing fingers, gauging her reaction to see how much further he could push her.
"You're torturing me," she hissed.
"Not yet, I'm not," he growled, burying his face between her silky thighs, separating the humid lips of her pussy. Flattening his tongue, he swept the entire surface in broad sweeps before settling on her clit. Siri writhed in ecstasy. Her legs shuddering, she yanked hard at the silken ties holding her wide open to Orren's merciless toying. He gripped her hips firmly and blew a hot puff of air through her carefully barbered auburn pelt, causing goose bumps to cover her body. He nipped at the outer rim of her labia, then drew her clit into his mouth and sucked hard before gently biting the little bud.
Panting, she heaved her hips harder against his voracious mouth, and he knew she rode a fine line between pleasure and pain.
Then he repeated it all over again, building layer upon layer of pleasure until she shot into a gut-wrenching orgasm. He released her hands and then her feet, pulling her into his arms, cradling his truemate to him. Raining soft kisses on her flushed face, he murmured soft words of love as he waited for her heart's frantic beating to slowly subside.
Slipping her leg around his hip, Siri suddenly flipped him onto his back, straddling him. She ran her nails up his inner thigh, bringing his shaft to full mast before grasping him firmly. She smoothed her thumb across the dome, lubricating it with a drop of translucent pre-cum, before slowly lowering herself on his engorged cock, rocking from side to side in small increments.
"It's my turn now," she whispered into his ear. The nip she bestowed on his lobe sent a shiver down his spine, and he convulsed beneath her.
Siri remained still, her only movement the sweet clench and flow of her inner muscles. Orren flexed his hips in frustration, sweat starting to bead his forehead. He grabbed her hips to force the issue, but she bore down, pinning him to the bed.
"Beg me," she ordered.
She began to ride him in a slow, taunting rhythm before coming to an abrupt stop. Leaning forward, she brushed the ends of her hair across his nipples.
"Enough of this, woman, it's more than a man can endure," Orren gritted out, flipping Siri onto her back. He took control, sliding into her pussy in slow, measured thrusts. She wrapped her legs and arms around him, drawing him closer, meeting him stroke for stroke. Pounding relentlessly into her, Orren felt the familiar fluttering of her sheath as her orgasm approached, then consumed her. He slammed into her one last time and poured a torrent of hot cum deep inside her.
Lying entwined on tumbled sheets, the satiated couple looked at each other and smiled into each others eyes.
"Who would have thought, after all this time, that you can still curl my toes?" she mocked, a twinkle in her amethyst eyes, before reaching up to caress his face.
"You're still the hottest little tease in all the provinces, and you are all mine." Orren flicked his tongue across her full bottom lip.
Laughing, she rolled away from him and stepped off the platform supporting their bed, moving gracefully across the room, hair swirling around her pert buttocks. Tossing a finely woven wool caftan over her body, she poured a glass of spring wine to quench her thirst.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" she asked on a serious note, returning to the bed to hand him the glass.
Outlining their tentative plans didn't take much time. "We are going to have to let the girls go," he said with a sigh. "They seem so young for the responsibilities that will be placed upon them."
"Are you sure that's your concern, or is it that Rhys might be claiming your little girl soon?"
"She's too young and Rhys is a hard man. He wants her, but he won't necessarily be her truemate. I want her to have what we have." He was arguing more with himself than with Siri.
"Life has made him hard, and he'll need to be in the future. His holdings are extensive, and many a covetous eye has been cast over them lately. A weaker man would bore our spirited daughter in a short while." Siri smiled mischievously at him. "I also remember another young man who took one look at a red-haired maiden and declared she was for him and no other. Even before he knew she was his truemate. Despite her objections, I might add."
"What objections? You'd been teasing me for months, with glimpses of sleek limbs and your witchery. I walked around hard half the time."
"It was all a part of my plan to get you to tumble me," Siri retorted unrepentantly.
Cupping his face in her hands, she placed a soft kiss on his lips. "Our boys are out and about doing what they must for the cause. It's time to let our little bird fly. She's chafing at the bit; the blood of warriors and sorcerers flows through her veins ... she'll be safe."
Rhys sat, immersed to his neck in brutally hot moonstone-heated water and contemplated the mosaic on the far wall of the bathing chamber. The heat seeped into his aching muscles, and he let his head fall back against the cool tile. The mosaic depicted naked nymphs reclining in erotic invitation; but even that failed to distract him from the fact the Syra was only a thought away. Keeping a tight rein on his personal desires was becoming harder to maintain each time he was anywhere near her.
He had an overriding need to protect Syra, so claiming her now was out of the question. It would only put her in danger, bringing her to the attention of the Belandrakes. They had persecuted Sorrens for two generations for daring to defy them. He had been a boy of fifteen on the fateful night he'd returned from the hunt marking his rite of passage into manhood to find his family dead. He'd tried to link with his father after downing a buck, and the silence had been ominous. He'd teleported himself home to find the wards protecting the castle had been lowered, a blocking spell laid to allow Drogo's army into Castle Sorren. His belief that his cousin Ian had aided the Belandrakes sat heavily on his shoulders.
They'd slaughtered most of the inhabitants of the castle, and his secure world had been ground to dust under the heel of a vengeful warlord. Riding frantically up to the castle he saw that the verge was lined with pikes in the Belandrake colors, each topped by the head of one of his father's personal guard. He felt bitter fury for the first time in his young life, his anger turned to anguish when he realized that his father's head was on a pike atop the battlements. He stared in disbelief for the longest time, it was not possible. His father's--Roan Sorren, warrior lord of Sorren--head could not be on display like that of the lowest of criminals. His next thought was of his mother. He'd run frantically through the castle searching for Sybella. He found her dead, staring sightlessly up at him, lying in pool of her own blood, tangled in the restraining charms which prevented her from using her gift to save her people. The memory still haunted him.
By sheer will, sweat, blood and the judicious use of magic, he had reclaimed what was his. With his own hands he had dug through the rubble, locating the first block his ancestor had laid to start the foundation of his decimated home. He called on his grandfather's aunt, Rhynna, the oldest living sorceress of the Sorren bloodline. With her venerable magic rooted in his family's past, and his emerging power with all the potential of the Sorrens to come, they'd crafted a spell to reconstruct Castle Sorren. Block by block they laid the foundation with magic, each stone warded to ensure the structure would stand for all time. His will, fueled by grief and anger, powered the spell to recreate his home. He fully intended to keep it and more.
Rivulets of water ran down the hard planes of his thickly muscled body as he stood. He left the pool, wrapping a soft bath sheet low on his hips and tensed as his ears picked up the sound of muffled footsteps moving towards him. Turning to face the archway, the sight of Morag did not please him.
"I thought you could use some company after such a long, cold ride, My Lord." She seductively cupped her breasts to emphasize her ample assets, then ran her hands down her leather-covered torso. She moved across the room to brush a fingertip across his damp chest, lifting her hands to place them on his shoulders, caressing the ropy muscles.
Sighing heavily, Rhys looked down at the woman who had been his lover on and off for several years. After his brief encounter with Syra, his desire for Morag had evaporated, yet at every opportunity she had tried to rekindle what they once had. He removed her hands and held her away from him.
"As you say, it has been a long ride and the night is short. I'll be using it to get some much-needed rest. I couldn't possibly do you justice," he said kindly, releasing her hands and stepping away from her.
A look of venom entered her eyes as she flung back her head and snarled at him. "I bet you wouldn't be too tired for that pasty-faced Syra. I've seen you watching her like a dog panting after a bone. If you think you can toss me aside after all this time, you can think again."
"Morag, I never made you any promises, and I was hardly your first or only lover. We satisfied a mutual need and always parted as comrades. Why the sudden change of heart?"
"We are two of a kind, Rhys. I have fought by your side in many a battle; what would a pampered little sorceress know of our ways? I'd be a fitting consort for you."
"Some things can't be forced, Morag," he said with pity in his eyes.
Humiliated, she spun around to gather up the weapons she had discarded on entering the room. She struggled to strap them back on, her fingers clumsy with rising temper.
"It's because I have no magic or psi powers, isn't it? My sword has served you well, and you'll be needing it again soon. See if she can help you when Drogo's blade is at your throat."
Watching the enraged woman storm from the room, Rhys dragged his fingers through his hair in exasperation. As if he didn't have enough problems. After encountering Syra's magic, he'd been unable to touch another woman. The problem was compounded by the fact that she might also be his key in defeating Drogo Belandrake once and for all.