The keep-out spell awoke at her approach. The enchanted mesh of vines and branches that blocked the entrance to Rallis Territory’s forbidden forest vibrated in welcome as its creator returned. Aurora Firenze cast her vibes along the perimeter of her spell, testing and prodding. Its strength resonated back. It was as strong as it had been six months ago when she’d created it and hid her secrets within the forest’s depths.
She let go of a relieved breath, but it didn’t cure her tension. Her nerves were strung tight, as if she’d spent hours placating customers in her repair shop. But the day had been quiet. She’d even made decent progress—fixing a curling iron with a too-hot heating spell and a stapler that had a bad habit of chasing the boss around the conference table. Yet a restlessness itched at her skin with an unpleasant persistence.
She’d closed up early and headed out for the short walk to the forest. Within its heart, she’d find the peace to wash away this unease. She sent another stream of vibes into the keep-out spell. A discreet doorway formed. With a quick glance around the barren field and the junkyard behind her, she stepped beneath her illegal spell.
As she brushed against the branches, a faint thump sounded at her feet—the soft crash of a pinecone or a weak branch falling to the ground. A normal forest noise. She flinched anyway. Her glitter puffed around her in an anxious cloud as her mage energy escaped her control. It was the fifth time today. Enchantresses did not make good criminals. She should probably let the other three in existence know, in case they were considering lives of crime. Those blasted sparkly clouds would blow their covers wide open. She lifted her foot to continue into the small forest that was tucked inside the territory’s capital city, but stopped. A proper lawbreaker should investigate mysterious noises outside her lair.
She turned and scanned the ground for the culprit. A gold coin glinted in the crisp weeds. That wasn’t normal. She reached to pick it up, scanning the field and the junkyard beyond with a twitchy gaze. Empty. She was alone. Behind her, the forest shuttered closed, nearly catching her in its fortress wall. She jumped forward with a surprised lurch at the swat of vines and twigs. A basic rule of illegal enchantments: get out of the way or risk being incorporated into the spell. Ignoring the sting of the swat, she stared at the coin. It was tarnished at the edges, a used-up charm. See-me-not was embossed on its golden surface. She jerked her head up. A man stood ten paces away. He was tall, broad…beyond familiar.
“Edmund,” she whispered.
A shiver tiptoed across her shoulders like kisses, soft lips that hid a sharp bite. Her nerves stretched thinner yet, trapped in a battle between memories of lovers’ frolics and the promise of a dark fate that had just materialized from thin air. Behind her, the forest’s trees rustled with the wind, a warning to retreat, one she dare not heed. Not until she knew why he’d finally come searching for her. She hadn’t thought he’d ever come back. He prowled forward.
Though his words might have held some affection, nothing of the lover she’d once known appeared in his countenance. He lifted his left hand to reveal a glowing ball of mage vibes in his palm. His blue eyes reflected the tiny flashes of energy, and his power snapped in the air like a miniature electrical storm. The heir to the most powerful territory in the Republic had quite a steam of anger built up. Dark hair waved across his forehead, and little curls peeked out at the edges of his neck. Though the wind buffeted and pushed at Aurora, winter’s boldness didn’t dare touch Edmund, not his hair, nor his dark gray suit or scarlet tie. The hard slope of his nose matched the sharp lines of his jaw and cheekbones. When he smiled, he was deadly handsome. At the moment, he was simply deadly.
“Aurora.” He cast her name through the air and a piece of her soul tumbled away, as if it might dash toward him and cling like a forlorn, discarded lover. But he hadn’t discarded her….
“You stand accused of melding earthen metals to human flesh with an enchantment.”
Her heart thumped once, hard and loud, and then took off with a sprint, drenching her veins from head to toe with lightning sharp fright. Goddess, he’d found out. How? Even as she thought it, he revealed the answer. The glow faded from his ball of energy to reveal a small metal sphere. Her racing heart shriveled at the sight, pulling the rest of her organs with it, as if they thought to hide, seeking a chance to slip past this disaster unnoticed and, perhaps, survive. She shifted her feet on the ground, unable to resist the fear pumping through her core. Run, her gut whispered. She couldn’t afford to listen… not with the evidence sitting in his hand.
The sphere was heavier than it looked. She knew that. After all, she’d made it…and thought it long gone. He closed his fingers around it, capturing her fate within his fist.
“How’d you get that?”
Her fast words shot out, hustling forward before fear, creeping up her legs with tingles and pricks, stole her voice.
“You ought to be down on your knees thanking me for confiscating it.” His voice was sharp and cutting. He sounded like a stranger, his jokes and teasing wit long gone.
“What did you do? Sneak into the junkyard and pluck his eye from his skull? Has it been hiding under your pillow for six months?”
Not at all where she’d thought it was. Betrayal jolted through her. “Hardly actions befitting the heir of the mighty Rallis realm.” Her voice wavered. “You have no idea what I’ve done.”
Anise Rae has been reading romance novels since she first discovered her grandmother’s stash of books hidden away in a cabinet. Learning that she wasn’t the only one dreaming about love and magic was a turning point in her life. She started her own stash of books and wrote a few too.
A native of Ohio, Anise long ago moved south, armed with boxes of romance novels and degrees in chemistry and library science. Creating chemistry on the page between two lovers proved to be a lot more fun than working with test tubes in a lab or searching patent databases. She refocused on writing.
Her stories revolve around heroines who dare to stand up to society’s expectations and be true to themselves and heroes with plenty of savvy to fall in love with such brave women.
Anise lives in Atlanta with her two children and a fluffy dog that has an amazing ability to find dirty socks.
For information on future releases and giveaways, sign up for her newsletter at www.aniserae.com
Author photo by www.surianiphoto.com
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