Authors: Nina Croft
by Nina Croft
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2011 Nina Croft
Cover Artist: Victoria Miller
Editor: Clarissa Yip
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
The words of the First Law whispered through Tallon’s mind as he stood in the shadows, studying his prey.
Clearly at the end of her strength, her body wilted, each movement slow, almost painful. But then, he had been hunting her for days, driving her relentlessly into the wilderness north of the city.
He watched as she unfastened her cloak and shrugged out of it, laying it on a fallen tree trunk. Underneath, she wore a simple peasant’s dress, but the rough gown only served to accentuate the patrician blood clear in her fine-boned features, flawless but for the crimson mark high on her right cheekbone. She was tiny, much smaller than he’d expected, with long, dark red hair glowing against the pale luminescence of her skin. Looking at her, unexpected emotion twisted Tallon’s guts. She was twenty-two, but appeared younger, more girl than woman. And the thought of all that youth and beauty reduced to ashes sent a shaft of pain knifing through him.
He’d killed many in his position as Enforcer to The Order, but never a Witch or a woman. And for the first time, he allowed himself to acknowledge the truth that had plagued him for days; he didn’t want to do this. He closed his eyes and remembered the reasons why it had to be done. He knew the rationale behind the law; however young and innocent this girl appeared, she still possessed the power to destroy their world. More than that—if The Order was correct, then her very existence was slowly poisoning Arroway, draining the land of its power.
Tallon no longer believed all The Order told him, and he’d come to suspect that the Laws were merely a means of maintaining control over the masses. But still, he only had to glance up at the night sky to see that something was very wrong on Arroway. Now was the season of the Witches’ moons, and they hung, slender crescents against the darkness. Tallon remembered a time when they had pulsated with life, bathing the land in their warm crimson radiance, but no more. For years the light had been fading, diminishing until only a dull, blood-red glow remained.
He turned back to the witch. She loosened the drawstring at her neck. The dress fell, pooling at her ankles, and she stood clad in a thin under-shift. Tallon’s breath caught in his throat. The shift was almost transparent. Through it, he saw the swell of her full breasts, her nipples taut peaks in the chill air. His gaze shifted lower, over her flat belly to the shadow of dark curls at the junction of her thighs. His sex stirred at the sight, and he cursed silently.
She stepped towards the stream, obviously intending to wash. He should end this now. Instead, he stood transfixed in his hiding place within the trees.
Kneeling by the running water, she reached over to scoop it up, gasping at the first icy touch. She drank then splashed her face before sitting back on her heels. Tallon was reminded of the position the pleasure slaves of The Order adopted, and his cock hardened in his pants, his balls aching. But he’d been taught to control and subdue his sexual impulses, and he paused to run the familiar mantra through his mind.
She was humming, soft and sweet, lilting; now low, now high, the sound caressing his ears. The music sang to something in his soul, and Tallon stood mesmerized as the song weaved itself through his consciousness. He didn’t notice the flashes of crimson lightning playing in the night sky until a bolt flared directly above his head. Shock ripped through him as he realized she was casting a spell, effortlessly crafting the moon magic to do her bidding. She pricked her finger, and a drop of blood fell into the stream. Faint wisps of steam rose from the water.
Tallon had never seen the moon magic performed. Only the formal, ritualized magic of The Order and for a moment, he was spellbound by the beauty. It was as if she was singing to the land itself, and Arroway was answering. A sense of rightness filled his body and mind. Then another lightning bolt split the sky above him, as though rending a hole in the fabric of the world, and he came back to himself with a crash.
His hand tightened on his staff, and he stepped into the clearing.
The witch sprang to her feet, snatching up the cloak, throwing it around herself and drawing up the hood to hide her face with its incriminating witch’s mark.
Her voice was soft, like her music, and a shiver of sensation slithered down Tallon’s spine. He caught the faint thread of fear and was almost overwhelmed by a need to comfort her. To tell her everything would be all right, but of course, that would be a lie.
“Who’s…?” she started to ask again, then paused. “Oh it’s…”
Her hand flew to her face, pressing against her lips, as though to stop the words tumbling out. For a moment, he thought she must have recognized him. But that was unlikely. Again, he found himself wanting to explain, wanting to tell her why she had to die, why he had to kill her.
He raised his staff high above his head and began the spell that would destroy her magic forever, and with it, the fragile vessel of her human body.
She flung back her cloak, and he hesitated. This close, she was the most exquisite thing he had ever seen. Her huge eyes glowed like emeralds in her small, pointed face.
The hesitation was his undoing. Faster than he could follow, she whirled, kicking out. The heel of her foot slammed into his chest, and he stumbled in shock. Righting himself, he watched cautiously as she took up a fighting stance. She was so petite, so defiant, like a spitting cat, and he smiled. But the expression soon faded. In truth, there was nothing to smile at here, only a job that needed to be done. He raised his staff again and murmured the opening words of the spell.
She stared at him, the recognition of her own death reflected in her eyes. Then they narrowed. The nostrils of her small, straight nose flared. Plucking a pin from her cloak, she slashed it across her palm, then raised her hand high, and drops of blood splattered across the clearing. Then she opened her mouth and threw a Word of Power into the night.
Tallon gasped. The Words of Power were forbidden. Even as the knowledge filled his mind, the edges of his world began to blur. Above him, a huge rent severed the night sky. White light streamed through bathing them both, and in a flash, the notion came to him that they had been right to fear the power of witches.
Without conscious thought, he reached for the girl. She seemed shocked and didn’t fight as he pulled her into the shelter of his body, instinct taking over as he sought to protect the one he had come to destroy.
The light flared brighter, until the darkness swallowed them both.
Shayla opened her eyes. Then shut them quickly. Something was very wrong. The sun was too bright and she couldn’t move, could hardly breathe. A heavy weight lay on top of her, pressing her into the hard ground.
She opened her eyes again, this time squinting at the light and the last of the air left her lungs in a gasp. Her pulse rate picked up and adrenalin surged through her bloodstream as she realized she was sprawled on an unfamiliar green hillside, in brilliant sunshine, and the heavy thing on top of her was
Lying underneath Tallon had been a recurring daydream of hers since that first glimpse of him when she was twelve years old. Maybe this was just another dream, but in her dreams, he’d at least been moving, stroking her, kissing her and, as she grew older, doing a whole lot more. This Tallon was a dead weight.
Okay, so he wasn’t making mad, passionate love to her. What was he doing then? It came back to her in a flash; he was the one who had been hunting her. She’d recognized him as soon as he’d entered the clearing. Right before he’d tried to kill her. Obviously, he hadn’t succeeded.
Fury shot through her, and she poked him hard in the ribs. He didn’t wake.
So, what had happened next? She remembered kicking him, then seeing the glint of amusement in his dark eyes as she stood before him, ready to fight for her life. At that point, she’d lost her temper.
Oh Goddess, what had she done? Something, very, very bad, she suspected.
She pushed and finally managed to dislodge him enough to wriggle out from underneath. Sitting up, she peered around her, blinking at the bright white light, so different from what she was used to. Her eyes soon accustomed themselves, and she swore softly. Nothing was familiar.
They were on some sort of hilltop, surrounded by a ring of stones. The sky, arching high above them, was a soft insipid blue, where it should have been violet, and a single sun glared down at her. She took a deep breath and admitted the terrifying truth.
They were no longer on Arroway.
She remembered the word she had flung at Tallon in her temper. The word she hadn’t even realized she knew. Where had it come from? And more to the point, what had it done? Somehow, it had ripped them away from their own world and landed them here—wherever
Panic clawed at her; she had to get back. She needed to find her mother before The Order did. Her mother was defenseless without Shayla. The problem was she had no clue how to return them to Arroway. She had never understood how her magic worked. The spells just came to her. No one had ever taught her how to control it—after all, there was no one left on Arroway capable of teaching her.
Maybe the warlock would know how to get them home. If he ever woke up, and if she could persuade him to postpone trying to kill her long enough to find out.
Shayla glanced at his unconscious form. He was lying on his back where he had rolled, one arm flung above his head. He was utterly gorgeous, and her fingers trembled with the need to reach out and touch him. She must be mad—he had tried to kill her and as far as she knew, any moment, he would wake up and try to finish the job.
But then, her feelings for Tallon had never been completely rational. The first time she’d seen him, something fundamental had changed inside her. From that day on, she’d been drawn to him. When people whispered that the Enforcer was in town, bad men would run for cover, but Shayla would sneak out of whatever bolt-hole they were living in and watch him from the shadows. He’d always reminded her, in those brief glimpses, of some wild, magical creature. With his long, lean body and tangle of black hair, and the way he moved like some huge jungle cat, stalking his prey.
Now Shayla was his prey.
So close, he appeared even bigger than she remembered—his shoulders broad beneath the long leather coat. With a sword sheathed at his back, and a knife strapped to his right thigh, he looked dark and dangerous, and a tremor of apprehension quivered through her.
His skin was pale over high cheekbones and a long straight jaw. His eyes were closed, but she knew they would be dark violet, almost purple, the color of the sky above Arroway as the suns went down. He had a beautiful mouth—normally held so stern—now it was relaxed revealing the full, sensual lower lip.
How many times had she dreamed of kissing those lips? It wasn’t fair. Why did it have to be Tallon trying to kill her?
At the thought, her temper flared again. About time he woke up and got them out of this. She leaned close. “Tallon!”
Nothing. Giving in to an urge, Shayla raised her hand and slapped him hard across the face. She tried to tell herself it was purely to wake him up but knew in reality that it was for the destruction of her childhood dreams.
His eyes flickered open. The pupils were enlarged, almost black. He blinked and brought his arm across his face to cover them and block out the light.
After a few minutes, he sat up. He raked an unsteady hand through his black hair then squinted around, his gaze finally settling on Shayla.
“Where are we?” he asked. “What, in the name of the Goddess, have you done?”
Shayla resisted the urge to edge back. “I don’t know, and I’m not sure.”
“I don’t know where we are, and I’m not sure what I did.”
“How can you not ‘be sure’?”
Her irritation flared at his question, and she pressed her lips tightly together, before exhaling loudly. “It just happened, all right?”
“You used one of the Words of Power. The Words of Power don’t
“Well, they did this time.”
Oh, Goddess, had she really?
“I was improvising,” she muttered. “I didn’t know it was a Word of Power. I needed a spell and this one came to me. Look,
wasn’t the one trying to kill
. What was I supposed to do—roll over and die?”