For the survival of his clan, Jack Fialko needs to mate with a witch of equal power before the end of the solstice. He finds the perfect woman, except for one serious flaw. She has no idea how to engage in the dangerous magical foreplay–the duel for sexual equality. The task of training her in two days seems insurmountable, especially while other warriors are trying to kidnap her.
Zoe is a warrior-healer hybrid. The trouble is, she has no idea what that means. It’s all a harmless game until one night a dominant, brooding, sexy-as-sin warrior touches her and ignites a shameless craving to mate. Zoe must decide if the scorching chemistry between them is worth fighting for.
Can love and lust exist together in an exhilarating magical combination? Or will their bond combust?
WARNING: Book contains mature themes, steamy, sexual scenes and graphic language.
Jack reached for his chest, expecting to feel a sticky pool of blood, but his hand came back dry. That vortex had knifed right through him, yet he was still alive.
“It’s not done.” The healer pointed above his head where the spinning energy still hovered.
She tried to stand, but fell forward on her hands and knees, breathing heavily. She scrambled crab-like towards the tins on the floor, tried to wobble up the cabinets, but slipped back. Her head hit the floor with a thud and she stopped moving.
Jack staggered off the daybed, checked her pulse. It was weak, but she was still breathing. Something stirred inside him at the touch, but he was too drained to analyze it.
He hobbled to the kitchenette and grabbed the ancient tins. The steaming water from the kettle made a too-hot concoction, reeking of sweaty sneakers. After a quick gag and gulp, the menacing cloud dissolved through the walls with an anticlimactic sizzle and pop.
“What the hell was that?” He’d been to healers more times than he’d like to recall, but this beat all. He squatted over the unconscious woman.
The front door opened and a cool breeze blew at the curtain.
“What did you do to Zoe?” Olivia stormed into the room, followed by Stan and Luke. Her red hair flew behind her in a mass of tangled curls.
“She’s alive.” Weak-kneed, Jack stood, and leaned against a wall.
Olivia ordered Luke to carry the woman to the daybed. The younger man obeyed, his face skewed in a snarl.
“Thought we lost you out there.” Stan looked him over, smiled and slapped him on the back, his eyes moist with unshed tears.
Jack nodded. He had to admit, that was way too close.
Olivia pursed her lips and placed her hand on the woman’s forehead.
“Is she okay?” Jack asked, rubbing his chest.
“Aura’s fairly normal…for her…but she’s suffering deep exhaustion from an extreme energy burn.”
He took a step forward and staggered. Stan caught him by the elbow, steadying him.
“Sit down before you break something,” Olivia ordered, pointing at a chair. She crossed the room and placed a cool palm on Jack’s cheek. A familiar pulse of energy coursed through him. As she read his health, her eyes went wide, and then narrowed. “What went on, Jack?”
“Let’s just say she has a very unusual healing technique, and she cut it way too close.” He was still reeling from the effects of the energy blast, followed by the vortex, and the foul tasting tea. There was something else he needed to remember, but couldn’t put his finger on it. Shit, what was it?
Olivia eyed him a bit more closely and glared like a first grade teacher. “I’m not sure what just happened in here but I can sure as hell tell it wasn’t good. When I agreed to take care of your clan, you assured me it was for easygoing solstice quarrels. I thought you guys were above this level of stupidity. Didn’t we both agree that dueling was archaic?”
His eyes narrowed at her tone. “It is archaic! Tonight, I saved Luke from an underage witch-ling. She was out trolling for a mate and she hooked him. When I tried to separate the two, he gave me one minor, albeit painful, shot.”
He glared at Luke who shrugged and glanced at the floor.
“Then, while I was catching my breath, someone tried to assassinate me. I never even saw it coming.” Jack shook his head, then winced at the pain the action sent shooting through his skull. “It was a hell of a night. Worst ever. God, I hate solstice.”
“Did you recognize who did it?” Olivia’s brows furrowed.
“Didn’t see him.” Jack scrubbed his fingers over his face. “Never felt that kind of power before.”
She frowned, put both hands to his chest, and closed her eyes. Her healing energy hit him like a good night’s sleep followed by jolt of strong coffee.
He sucked in every bit she offered.
Straitening, she put her hands on her hips.
“Your assistant did an oddly adept job of healing me, then collapsed and banged her head.” He snuck a look at the woman on the bed. “Are you sure she’s okay?”
Olivia glanced over briefly, then back at him. “She’ll be fine.”
“Good.” There was something about her that piqued his interest.
“What aren’t you telling me, Jack?” Olivia cocked her head and waited for the truth, which he had no intention of giving.
He’d never seen a vortex before, let alone one with healing powers.
“What?” He feigned his most innocent look.
“Zoe hasn’t shown any knack for healing.” Liv shook her head. “No matter. I’ll get the truth out of you, later.” She turned to Stan and Luke and covered her nose. “Whatever hit Jack caused an evil aura mess and the stink has rubbed off on you. I’ll blend some tea and bring it down to the beach. The ocean breeze should clean up the rest.”
“But we were just out there and it’s cold.” Luke whined more like the kid Jack remembered than the eighteen-year-old he’d just saved from a greedy teenage paranormal.
Jack snorted. “Don’t argue with Olivia or she’ll conjure up something that will make you sorry you did. Besides, you probably still need a little cooling off.”
Stan mumbled something about snotty healers as they headed out the door. Olivia shut it firmly behind them and the bells on the door clanged as if in agreement.
“There’s something very off with Stan’s aura.” Her brows drew down in a deep frown. “Keep an eye on him for the next couple days.”
Jack grunted at her vague warning.
Olivia continued to mutter to herself as she prepared the tea, but he tuned her out, turning his attention to the strange woman. He was close enough to see the small goosebumps on her bare arms and legs–she was cold.
Guilt crept over him. She had saved his life, and now she was suffering for it. He stood, his legs sturdier than before, and picked up the quilt at the end of the bed. Leaning down, he placed it over her legs and caught her scent. Strawberries and…It couldn’t be. He sniffed again and froze.
Jack breathed her in and blood rushed to his groin. Memories of years of searching flashed through his mind. The trips overseas. The despair, the resignation, and the final blow. Settling for a love-match with that heart breaker, Diane.
He brushed his fingers over her cheek and an erotic buzz coursed through his body. Holy shit. His balls tightened painfully and his cock hardened in demand. Every muscle in his body went tense, and his gut clenched with soul shattering desire.
She was the one.
He all but sank to his knees in prayerful thanksgiving.
Olivia must have caught the flare in his aura because she coughed roughly behind him. She gave him an evil eye, which would’ve gotten her stoned to death a hundred years ago.
“Don’t even think about it.” She pointed a finger at him. “She’s a minimally talented healer at best, not a warrior. Mating with her won’t work.”
He shook his head and almost contradicted her. Zoe wasn’t from the healer clan. She was a strong warring talent. And yet she’d healed him. Impossible. That was the thread he was trying to remember.
The sleeping Zoe was one badass warring witch with powers that had to match his own or he wouldn’t feel this irresistible urge to mate.
But Olivia was never wrong.
Maybe the deathblow had affected his reason. He swallowed hard. “That reminds me. Our deal was that you would keep the shop open during the nights of solstice. Where were you tonight?”
“I was open.” Olivia went back to sniffing at teas, holding them up in the air. Seeing things he couldn’t.
“Well, in the future try to keep your cell phone on. That’s what your retainer is for.”
“When I got Stan’s message, I rushed back as fast as I could.” Her eyes narrowed. “By the way, just how did Zoe find the herbs to heal you? I thought she was paranormal colorblind.”
“Dunno. I was out cold. Ask her when she wakes up.” What else could he say? Jack Fialko, leader of the Iesco clan, was rendered stupid?
He slid over to his solstice choice, took Zoe’s hand, and tried to reach into her sleeping mind. Olivia just had to be wrong. Years of looking and he’d never before craved a woman–not like this. He gently removed her glasses and was surprised to see a beautiful eastern European face hiding behind the thick lenses. His cock took more interest than he’d thought possible.
“I’m staying here tonight. Too tired to leave. I’ll take the small spare room.” He wasn’t taking any chances that the woman would escape.
“That’s not part of our deal.” She placed a cup of tea on the table and motioned him to sit. “It’s going to take me a week to get the stinking darkness out of here as it is.”
“It’s not up for discussion. I’m staying.” He gave her a lopsided grin and sat down at the table. “Least you can do for almost letting me die.”
Olivia put a hand to Zoe’s forehead and frowned.
“I don’t like this. Why don’t you give my tea a minute to douse that lust of yours? She can’t be a match.” Under her breath she said, “At least I don’t think so.”
“You know something?” Jack tore off the edges of three sugar packs at once and raised an eyebrow.
“To be honest, I can’t quite read her aura.” Olivia shook her head, causing her dark red curls to bounce around her pixie-like face. “I’m missing something critical. I’ll be damned if I know what it is.”
“What about her parents?”
“Never met them. Apparently, they died when she was little. She was put up for adoption. Raised by humans. I still don’t think she really believes in any of this.”
“Shit,” Jack muttered. That could complicate things. But if she was truly untrained, then how had she produced the vortex?
“I’ll be back in a few. I meant what I said.” Olivia gave him her best don’t-screw-up face. “She’s not one of your witches to be fucked and discarded.”
Jack winced. She was right about one thing, this Zoe wasn’t a woman to be discarded. She was, however, a woman to fuck. And he had every intention of doing so.
Carrying two mugs of tea, Olivia disappeared through the door. Mist and wind rushed in, the ocean crashed, and doorbells clanged. Then, all was quiet.
Alone at last. Jack sat down on the bed and brushed the dark hair off Zoe’s forehead. For the first time in years, he allowed himself to imagine what it might be like to pass on his powerful genes to children. To know his clan would be safe for another generation.
Her lashes fluttered open, and her brows drew down when her eyes focused on him.
“You’re okay?” she whispered.
“Oh, no. I’m definitely not okay, Zoe.” He let the Z linger across his tongue. He breathed in her exotic scent and cupped her cheek in one hand. Oh man. She got to him.
“What? Is the darkness back? Is Olivia here?” She reached blindly over the driftwood side-table and on the floor beside the bed. “Where’re my glasses?”
“No. It’s not the darkness.” His hands shook when he placed her glasses on her nose. Her big brown eyes focused on him behind the thick lenses. Overwhelmed, he choked out the words he’d longed to say for years. “I want you for my mate.”
“What?” Her eyes went huge. She shuffled to a sitting position with her back pressed tightly against the headboard.
Holy Goddess. Her body said yes and her mouth said no. Olivia had to be wrong. Zoe was perfectly trained for the ritual about to unfold.
He placed his hand on her bare thigh, just below where her shorts ended, and allowed his heat and energy to infuse her. She squirmed, pulling her legs together. So nice. So sweet. He added tiny jolts of electricity as he stroked her bare leg, and chuckled at her responsiveness. Her full lips parted, and her gaze went to his mouth.
Not yet, Angel.
“I’ve been looking for you for a lifetime.” He touched a lock of her dark hair. “You’re my hope. My salvation.”
“I can’t be.” Her soft breath hit his nostrils with a scent that spoke of sex.
His brothers had warned him about the hot and the cold of the mating ritual, but how could anyone truly be prepared?
“You’re not already mated?” He held his breath.
She shook her head and her lips parted.
He exhaled. “You’ll be mine, now. Forever.”
Reaching out, he gently pulled the elastic from her hair, and the long, dark locks fell over her shoulders. She closed her eyes and moaned. He moved closer, caressing her cheek, inhaling her intoxicating scent. Strawberries and beach sand. His cock swelled.
His tongue glued to the roof of his mouth. Never had he imagined that his clan’s sacred oath would be so hard to say.
“Fight me off, witch.”
Her eyes went wide and then she dissed him with a flawless amount of disdain. “I am not a witch.”
He laughed. Her act couldn’t be any better.
She placed her hands on his chest and gave him a small shove. “Listen, what’s your name? Jack? You’re very…attractive…but this is so not going to happen.”
“You know how this works. Either fight me off or kiss me. Decide.” There wasn’t a whole lot of rational thought left in Jack’s mating-brain.
“Okay. I choose to fight.” She scrunched up her face, raised her arm, and screamed. A violet vortex zoomed out of her hand and hit him dead center in the chest.
He was thrown clear across the room and lay on the floor with his eyes closed. Her sweet, beautiful energy exploded into his torso. Her essence was laced with stars, ocean breeze, and a silver moon. God almighty, he was so hard that he wasn’t sure if he’d last another minute.
“I knew you wanted me! Stop messing with me.” He needed to get the pressure off his dick. He unfastened his jeans, pulled his t-shirt over his head, and opened his arms wide. “Go ahead. Throw everything you have at me.”
“Dammit. What part of no are you not getting?” Her mouth curled down and she scooted into a corner of the daybed, as far away from him as possible.
Was that fear he saw in her eyes?
Something was off. He’d heard all the stories of mating from his brothers, friends, and even his father. Every woman was different, but at some point, they turned as lusty as the male. But fear was never a part of it. What was going on? He’d give her anything she asked to feel that vortex rock his balls again.
He crossed the room and tried a different tact. “Give me your hand.”
She slid further into the corner, but after a moment, she held out a tentative hand.
The hair on his arms stood on end as he gathered all the spare electrons in the room to him. He laced the energy with his fierce lust, his dreams, his everything. He put his whole heart out on the line as far as it would go. This moment was the most important one of his entire life and he wasn’t going to blow it. He gave her it all.
Her eyes went round, her legs fell open, and her head fell back. She panted and gasped for breath. He forced another surge of erotic energy into her body and a keening wail tore from her throat.
He smiled at the lust that infused her eyes. “You want more?”
She nodded hesitantly, biting her lip.
Thank fucking God. He pulled her down on the bed, under him. Through her thin shorts, he could feel her wet heat against his bare waist. The air sizzled around them. Desire, a living, breathing entity that pushed him close to the edge.
She was trembling, shaking against him. Her mouth opened in invitation. It was all he needed. He covered her lips with his, and the whole world exploded. His fingers clenched in her hair, and he tasted her. Sweet, perfection.
His brain was dazed with the overload of sensations. It was so fucking good, but not enough.
Barely able to pull away, he rasped, “What are you waiting for, angel? Fill me with your energy. Fight me.”
Her brows creased. “Fight you? I thought you said you wanted me.”
“I do.” He gritted his teeth and pushed himself off the bed. What game was she playing? “But not like this.”
“I don’t understand.” Her lips trembled.
Why wouldn’t she fight him?
She tucked her hair behind her ears. Her eyes wide, innocent, and yet filled with cock-swelling lust.
He moved quickly, boxing her against the wall, his palms firmly planted beside her head.
“Stop playing around and fight me.” He counted the awful seconds that felt like eternity.
“What the hell?” Anger glittered in her eyes and flushed her face. “You said kiss you or fight you off. I kissed you.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you? You really don’t know?” He gave a hard shake of his head and stared back at her incredulously. The tips of Jack’s ears throbbed and his gut wrenched. He’d tried cocaine once as a teenager. His heart had raced, his hands had shook, and he’d wondered how the hell to get more… and then more. This was so much worse.
He took a fist and hit the drywall beside the bed, creating a gaping hole. The pain in his hand eased the one clutching at his gut.
Her eyes widened and her mouth gaped open, tears swelling in her eyes.
Great. Can I fuck this up any worse?
“Dammit all to hell.” He wiped his hands over his face and fought for control. “You’re not a healer. That vortex is a warrior trait. It’s for fighting enemies, not curing headaches.”
“What?” Her voice squeaked up an octave.
“Know how long I’ve been looking for you? Ten years. Ten fucking long years and I finally find you and you’re clueless. I could’ve killed you. You could’ve killed me. I need to get out of here before I do something stupid and try to start this up again.”
Jack tore out the front door and let his cursing bring up a fierce storm. He stayed on the beach until the frigid pelts of water doused his raging lust.
♥ June 6-8 ♥
♥ Click on the image to learn more ♥
Stella Marie Alden
Growing up in Vermont, crayons fought over placement in their cardboard box and imaginary friends crowded the house. Her brother complained. “Tell her no one’s here, Mother."
She’s been a librarian, a clarinetist, recording engineer, electronics repairman, and now architects software. She lives in NJ with her life-long hero and two cats. Her girls are grown but ever supportive. Go Mom!
Win a magnet SWAG set!
(5 winners, USA only)
Win a Kindle Fire, $10 Amazon gift card, signed swag and a signed copy of How to Train Your Knight!