|by Camille AnthonyCover art: Bryan Keller|
|Genre(s): Paranormal, Dark Fantasy|
|Theme(s): Interracial, Magic and Mayhem, Alternative Universe|
Elias Wylder, that egotistical SOB, had the gall to trick Mariah into bonding with him during her Opening Ceremony! Now her year of hiding is almost up. Only eight days and she'll be free. In eight days, Mariah can repudiate the bond with Wylder and claim her rightful place in Arcane Society. Until then, she dare not allow the powerful warlock to discover she still loves him, despite his trickery. She must keep her distance, no matter how close she wishes they could be.
But Wylder's not the kind to take no for an answer.
Humbled by her loss, Elias will do anything to find Mariah, even begging the Council of Magick for help. Unfortunately, his year of futile searching is almost up. An Athame Warlock must present his lady to the Council before the year passes, or lose her forever. Elias can't allow that to happen. Mariah's taken more than Wylder's magick -- she's stolen his heart. He's got just eight days to find her, and win her back!
All rights reserved.
Copyright (c)2011 Camille Anthony
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Thursday, October 14, 11:00 PM
(Northeastern Division Time)
"By the Lord and Lady! Wylder, how did you come to misplace the academy's most promising student?"
Wylder sneered at Lemuel Westerner, refusing to give the irritating council member the satisfaction of answering. Yet he could not help acknowledging, if only to himself, his utter responsibility for the disaster now facing him. By totally fucking up, asshole. How else?
My own actions had caused this. I saw something I wanted, something wondrous, and with my usual damned arrogance, tried to snatch it for myself.
"And why are you only now bringing this to our attention?"
Just being here, ordered to be here, had his temper flaring hotter than the salamander-ignited fires blazing through San Francisco at this very moment, and here was Westerner, an old enemy, finally mated and a full member of the council, trying to lord it over him.
Elias Wylder -- the most powerful warlock since his evil ancestor, Grimm the Rogue -- glared at Lemuel Westerner until the hairy, burly shifter gulped and hunched down in his seat. Elias narrowed his eyes, bunched his thick eyebrows in an intimidating scowl, until he realized there was more likelihood of the man growing a second head than there was of his growing the balls to truly confront Elias in challenge. "What's gotten into you, little mule? You know better than to speak to me in that tone of voice."
Just the thought of Lemuel trying to stand up to him made Elias's lips turn up in a contemptuous smirk. "Little cat, you couldn't possibly be thinking about challenging me. Even drawing upon the enhanced power bestowed by your mated state, you haven't a hope in hell of defeating me. Any contest between the two of us would be ludicrous -- no contest at all."
The werecat's lips pulled back from his teeth in an angry snarl but before he could do other than posture, another council member spoke up. "I, too, would like to know the particulars of Miss Maganistus' graduation. Where is the record of the ceremony? If you officiated at it, why has she yet to come before this council to receive her diploma and wand? The shock waves we've been attributing to her graduation were felt as far away as the Outer Isles."
Lady Selima's quiet voice worked wonders on his mood, as usual, and Elias turned to face her, sensing her nurturing magick flowing over him, calming his fractious anger. "Until now, I deemed it a personal matter. I didn't feel the council needed the information, as at the time, it did not fringe upon national security. It does now."
Her gentle mind reached out, attempting to touch and soothe his turbulent spirit. He closed his eyes, resting a brief moment in the peace she generated before mentally jerking back with a curse. Giving a sharp shake of his head, he broke contact with the compassionate lady, unable to afford even one second of weakness. The fluctuation in his power continued to increase. His control deteriorated daily. "Stop stroking my aura, Selima. You weren't invited."
The mellow magicker spread her hands out, palm up. "I sense great upheaval in your heart and soul. I but seek to ease --"
"Butt out! I don't need you softening me up." His low growl rumbled through the room like static electricity. "Don't make me tell you again."
The dark menace in his voice would have made any other cringe, but it didn't surprise him to see Selima continue toward him, arms still outstretched. Before she could reach him, her husband drew her back, arrowing an admonishing glare toward the male upsetting his tenderhearted mate.
Antoiyn Grooden placed a comforting hand over his wife's while his other hand furtively sketched a powerful protection rune in the air. "She means no harm, Wylder."
Elias snorted, an imp of adversity temping him to burn a rune of his own into the air. He resisted, knowing the situation was already hot enough. "Stand down, Grooden. I mean her no harm." He enjoyed teasing the stuck-up, tight-assed older male, and a toothy grin curled his lips as he continued to bait the powerful mage. "As if any signing of yours could stop my magick if I were inclined to --"
"Oh, for the goddess' sake, Wylder, cut out all the dramatics and just tell us what happened with the girl. We put you in charge of seeing to her graduation exercises, and now no one can find a trace of her. It's as if she fell off the face of the earth. So, what did you do... kill her?"
Horrified silence cloaked the room's occupants in the aftermath of the daring outburst made by Westerner's mate, until the silence shattered under the bark of Wylder's involuntary laughter. Only Judith would actually come out and say something like that to me! How could I have ever fucked this mentally blonde airhead?
Oh, well, he reasoned a second later, chuckling and shaking his head, my cock didn't give a fuck about her absent thought processes...
His grudging amusement over her customary no-clue-ism gradually faded as his night-dark eyes touched on each of the mated pairs, noting with disdain how they had drawn back, distancing themselves from poor Judith and the anticipated backlash of his anger.
Wylder's black eyes flashed, a grimace drawing his mouth tight. "Look at you, presenting as small a target as possible, pretending you aren't frightened enough to piss yourselves." He taunted them, not bothering to hide his disgust at his fellow council members. "None save Selima and Judith have the courage to speak their minds, let alone meet my gaze." He snorted, mouth curling up in a mocking half smile when even the Elven pair -- next in power to him -- refused to acknowledge his derision. "Judith may not have enough sense to fill a thimble, but apparently she and Selima are the only ones in these chambers with any balls."
Like a caged beast, he paced the parquet floor, running agitated hands through his shoulder-length mass of dense, black hair. Turning on his audience, he shouted, "What has this council come to? Once, this body of rulers stood for something. Now all I see is a pathetic group of cowards. Is this all that remains of the mighty Council of Magick? Well, you need an infusion of new blood. You need me!"
"Not yet, we don't," Lemuel snapped, face distorted with a mix of jealousy, envy and fear. "You don't get to take control of this council until you are mated."
"Meanwhile," Grooden interrupted, smoothly bringing the conversation back on track, "you were telling us about Lady Maganistus --"
"No Lady until she receives her wand, Chairperson Grooden," someone reminded him.
"As for what happened with Lady Maganistus --" The emphasis on the title did not go unnoted by Wylder's listeners. "-- I supervised her graduation, which she passed with glowing expertise. I left her sleeping, recuperating from the rite. When I returned, I found she had escaped."
"Escaped? Why did she need to escape? She was a graduate, not a prisoner."
"What did she do... better yet, what did you do?"
The memory of what he had done made his cock, never totally quiescent since that long ago evening, swell to painful hardness. Wylder chose his words with care, his rebellious thoughts running in counterpoint. "In my judgment, she was too powerful to risk with just anyone, so I chose to personally supervise the ceremony." And I didn't want any Warlock's cock in her but mine!