Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Visions of a mysterious and gorgeous stranger plague American Jilian Stewart. She is sure they’re brought on by her Scottish father’s death and the stress of her mother’s deadly paralysis. But when the stranger appears in her father’s house, clasps her to his chest and yanks her from Scotland into a magical battle, she finds herself ensnared in a fantasy otherworld—trapped by treachery and family secrets and opposing the one man who can make everything right.

That night, alone again, Jilian heard him breathe.

A cool mist wafted over her, tingling against her skin as she listened. His breaths came fast and circled all around her.

The mist contracted and began to spin like the tendrils of a galaxy.

From the center of the whorl he emerged—tall and bare-chested, tawny blond hair framing high cheekbones and steel-gray eyes.

“I need you.” His voice was deep and certain. “Come.”

The haze spun into a hypnotic rhythm. Her heartbeat echoed, intensifying with the swirls of vapor and her fear.

The heartbeats, the mist—too fast! She was caught, trapped…

He held out his hand to her.

Jilian opened her eyes and shot up on her cot.

Her father’s house was still and the air bore a sharp tang she couldn’t place. Early dawn touched the tree beyond her window and drew its slender branches from the shadows.
She clamped her eyelids shut again, willing her body and mind to quiet. Just a weird dream.

Once her pulse decelerated, she scoured her mother’s former study with her gaze. A fine sheet of dust blanketed the room’s contents: a cozy writing desk, a soft armchair of burgundy leather, and an old brass lamp with a fringed shade.

“See? A perfectly normal room,” she muttered. “Nothing here a feather duster can’t fix.
You’re being ridiculous.”

She threw off the sheets and walked to the window. As cool air brushed past her legs, she folded her arms across her silk nightgown.

Beyond the glass, several mallards and their mates waddled out into the loch, bathing themselves and pecking beneath the water’s calm surface. The tree’s leaves fluttered in a puff of wind, and the dark bulk of the mountains across Loch Leven towered above the horizontal layer of fog.

Glancing down at the desk beside her, she extended a finger and drew an arc through its years-old coverlet of dust.

Why would a father close off a room and pretend it didn’t exist? What could make him forget his family?

Forget her?

That peculiar smell returned, stronger than before—like the air after a rainstorm, or fresh snow. A strange scent for a dusty study. She swiveled toward the cot and stopped cold.
The man from her dream stood in the center of the room. The outline of his body rippled the way water moves when disturbed, then solidified. A circle of light like the symbol over the door shone from the floor around his feet.

Jilian choked back a scream. He stretched his hand toward her, palm up. In the resonant voice she already knew, he spoke: “I am Alvarr sen Danyd, and I call you in Teganne’s name. I need you. Come!”

Her limbs stiffened like timber and fright iced her spine. I’m not seeing this!

He stared at her. “Do you hear me? We can’t keep the portal open for long.” Frowning, he turned his palm down. She felt a powerful tug as if an unseen rope wound around her, but her legs resisted his command.

He whirled to his right as if something had startled him—then with one last vivid glance into her eyes, he vanished. The shimmer of his outline was all that remained, and then that too was gone. Her gaze shot to the place he’d seemed to look, but she saw nothing unusual.

Her knees buckled beneath her. She landed on the floor with a solid thwack, hands splayed against the wooden boards, rapid-fire gasps almost choking her.

She concentrated on bringing her breathing and her heart back to a normal tempo. “Just a dream,” she muttered. Because she was either dreaming…or going crazy. And that was not a pleasant thought. No, nope, can’t happen. She wanted to laugh, but didn’t have the breath. Instead she took another gulp of air and stared at the floor.

To her horror, the circle of light reappeared there, and then the man. He shimmered as before. As his gaze touched hers, panic seared her nerves.

His breathing grew labored. Again he held his hand out to her, but she didn’t move. The part of her that had the power to answer him did not. Would not!

His expressive face hardened in frustration. He drew the sign of a circle in the air, then stretched his hands toward her.

A raw force tugged at the center of her body. This time she felt herself move in spite of her fear. She screamed aloud—or thought she did—but heard nothing except the thunder of her pulse.

The mist reappeared, spinning ever faster like a chaotic whirlpool until her mind lost track. She floated up and toward him. She willed her legs to move, to find the floor—back away, run away!—but they couldn’t.

When he had her body clasped in his arms, he locked his intense gaze on hers. “I do what I must, for Teganne to survive.”

* * *

For a moment there was quiet, and peace. Jilian couldn’t hear or move, but she could see Alvarr’s eyes, gray and deep. Then, with a tremendous roar and a jolt through every nerve, the world reappeared.

Cries of struggle buffeted her ears. She twisted toward them and Alvarr set her down, but kept her corralled in his arms, her back to his chest.

They stood in a round room of mortared stone and blazing torches, and they weren’t alone. Two men and a woman in sapphire-blue cloaks battled soldiers in black tunics slashed with red belts. Three soldiers attacked each person in blue. The blues fought awkwardly, as if unused to combat.

Jilian jerked back, knocking her spine against Alvarr’s solid form. Where am I?
The heat of his broad chest seeped through her nightgown. He leaned down to be heard above the clamor, his lips brushing her ear. “Please, send me your kyrra!”
Kyrra? Her brain scrambled for a meaning.

His left hand gripped her ribcage and he reached for her right hand.

“What are you DOING?” No, this is only a bad dream. And I’ll end it. Just as she was preparing to ram her elbow into Alvarr’s ribs and wake up in her mother’s study, a soldier hurtled toward them swinging a wooden quarterstaff.

She recoiled, slamming against Alvarr.

“Takerran!” Alvarr shouted. Green fire streaked from his raised palm to his opponent’s chest. The soldier sank in a heap and his staff clattered to the ground.

The world thinned and condensed into the soldier’s murderous sneer, frozen at the moment of the fire’s impact. The glare in his eyes iced her gut.

A dream! Wake up!

But his cruel gaze was too real—as were the frantic shouts, the acrid burn of torch-lit air, and the strong hand on her hip.

A familiar ring of light encircled their feet, and from it Alvarr yanked up a crackling wall of jade fire. It surrounded them and he twisted to his right, hauling her with him. “Rokad, look out!” he yelled to one of the cloaked men.

Jilian shoved against Alvarr’s grip, unable to budge even one powerful finger. She saw the dark-haired Rokad vault to the side, panic flooding his face. A glinting spear whistled through the air but caught only the edge of his cloak. He spun and lobbed a green fireball at his attacker, who crumpled to the ground. But he didn’t escape the second soldier, or the rope in the enemy’s hands that cut off his breath.

“Rokad!” Alvarr started toward him, dragging Jilian with him once more. The wall of fire flickered erratically.

“No, the FireRing—keep her safe!” Rokad gasped, clawing at the rope around his throat.
Jilian flinched as the butt of a sword crashed into Rokad’s temple.

Alvarr grabbed her hands. “The kyrra—hurry, send me your power!”

WHAT power? A scream pounded on her tongue, but the consequences it might bring clamped her teeth.

Within moments, the soldiers knocked out the three figures in cloaks and the sapphire mantles pooled on the stone floor. A brawny man with a red circular badge stepped forward, pulling a clear cylinder from a pouch at his waist.

A scarlet glow flared within the cylinder and the officer aimed it at Rokad. Rokad’s body paled. Even the sapphire of his cloak faded to a dull slate gray. Alvarr’s furious breath rushed across Jilian’s cheek.

Through the wall of fire, she stared in horror at Rokad’s ashen face.