Illusions paranormal sha.., p.15

Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1), page 15

 

Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1)
 


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  He could only hope that Phist would not be punished for the sin of sharing his bloodline.

  * * *

  Sera was sitting inside her house, having fixed the door through a spell, when she heard hooves contacting the ground solidly outside, the earth itself seeming to shake. Leaping up, she raced to the window to see Paxx jumping off his mount, who quickly altered into Rohan’s human form.

  Rohan’s naked human form. The one she’d seen twice, and the one she hadn’t seen enough of.

  Paxx raced towards the repaired front door, knocking, his tied hands serving as a mallet. Sera opened it for him, ushering both men inside. Quickly she pulled a blanket off the couch and handed it to Rohan, averting her eyes.

  “You shouldn’t have come here,” she said. “They’ll be looking for you.”

  “We will leave, if that’s what you want,” said Rohan. “We wanted to make sure that you’re unhurt.”

  “I’m fine,” she said, slumping back onto the couch. “No, I’m not. I have to give in. I have to give them what they want, or they’ll kill her.”

  “Why do they want you so badly?” Rohan asked, kicking himself. Of course they wanted her. He wanted her so much that it hurt.

  “I don’t know,” she said. “But Melina can’t think I’ll be that stupendous. She would never want a woman around who was more powerful than she.”

  “But she wants allies,” said Paxx. “And she thinks you’ll be one, as long as they control you. And if they mate you with their own, you will be at their mercy. Bonded forever.”

  “But if I don’t, I am sisterless forever,” she said. “I lose Circe, I lose my life. I couldn’t go on living.”

  A thought struck her then and she looked up at the two men before her: Rohan, shirtless, the blanket comically wrapped about his waist, and Paxx, earnest as always.

  “You’ve said that before: I would be bonded forever,” she said. “And Melina insists that the Ritual would give me powers beyond my imagining.”

  “Yes, both of those are likely true,” said Rohan. “My sister acquired talents from her mates. She was already a shifter, but she is now all but unstoppable.”

  “And if you, Paxx, mated, you would be able to shift?” she asked, standing up, the tone of her voice altering as she stroked Nyx, still perched on her shoulders.

  “I…I think so. I’m new to this,” he said. He didn’t want to hope, to mislead her into some sort of deal. She needed to come to this herself.

  Sera dashed to the door, opening it, and turned back to the two men. “I’ll be back,” she said. “Don’t leave, whatever you do.”

  Chapter 22

  Resistance

  Hedy opened her door seconds after Sera knocked.

  “Sera,” she said. “You were unsuccessful, I take it?” It didn’t take the Sight to know that her young friend was worried, frazzled.

  “Yes,” she said. “I need to tell you, Hedy: it’s Melina. She’s heading the Guild now, and she’s strong.”

  The old woman moved to the couch and allowed herself to slump into its cushions. “I suspected it, but all this time I hoped against hope that it wasn’t true. That she wouldn’t be so cruel.”

  “Well, unfortunately she is. And she anticipated us. She’s grown very powerful. And it’s the Ritual that did it—the bonding with the Guild members, the shifters. She and the Guild are stealing the women for the Ritual, as well, for their own gain.”

  “Damn,” growled Hedy. “I suspected that, too.”

  “I know that you’ve kept a good deal from me, but tell me, please: have you known about the Rituals for a long time?”

  Hedy looked up at her friend. “I know a great deal, Serafina, some of which I wish I could forget.”

  “Yes, of course,” said Sera.

  “I shouldn’t have let you go. But I had hoped that between the three of you…”

  Sera took her hands and looked into her eyes. “I think, in fact, that the three of us could be very powerful. But we don’t have much time. Can you do something for me, right now? Could you gather the Crones and bring them here, please? It’s very important.”

  “All right. But are you going to tell me why?”

  “I will when you’re all here. I need to speak to you about something. I need your blessing.”

  “I’ll do anything to help bring that angel home,” said Hedy. “Let me ring for them.” With that, she reached for the handle to the town bell and pulled it twice: the signal calling the Crones to a meeting.

  Within minutes, each of them stood at her front door: Sasha, Guilana, Decca and the others, each alongside her Familiar. Hedy ushered them in, and the women gathered in a circle inside.

  “There is no doubt in my mind that you know why I have asked you here,” said Sera. “I need your blessing. I need your forgiveness, because what I’m about to do will certainly get me expelled from the Sisterhood.”

  * * *

  “What do you suppose is going on over there?” asked Paxx, who had watched the Crones enter Hedy’s place in single file.

  “I think that Serafina is about to make a great sacrifice,” Rohan replied, chewing on his lip. “To save her sister. But we can’t allow it, not like this.”

  A few minutes later, Sera reappeared, swinging the door open, a look of utter determination on her face. Nyx sat confidently on her shoulder.

  “The Crones have granted me permission to do this. And as I see it, it’s the only way to save Circe. The only way to take on Melina. Tonight,” she said, taking both men in with her eyes. “Tonight we three must perform the Ritual. Tonight, I will give my body over to you.”

  “Serafina,” said Rohan, unsurprised by the revelation, as Paxx was. “You cannot do this. You cannot make this decision lightly.”

  “Lightly? My sister’s life is at stake,” she protested. “There’s nothing light about it.”

  Paxx spoke up then, stunned at his willpower, but determined to save her from herself. “What Rohan means is that the Ritual is not—shouldn’t be—a simple business transaction. Women who enter into the ceremony against their will do not receive the same benefits as those who are fully committed, as I understand it. Not to mention that you will be linked to us for all your remaining years. You need to consider that your life is also at stake, Serafina. Not to mention ours.”

  “I realize that you both must think me impulsive,” she said, pacing the room. “But I am not.” She turned to face them. “I know what I’m doing.”

  Both men appeared sad, almost hurt by her offer. This wasn’t the reaction that she’d anticipated; not at all.

  “You would resent us,” said Rohan. “For the rest of your life. You would resent Circe as well, and I—we—cannot allow that to happen. You should want this—want us—more than you’ve ever wanted anything in this world. Like a need, as though we are your sustenance, your air, your water. At the moment you see the Ritual as a tool, but that is no better than what the Guild does, using it for their own gain.”

  Sera understood then. He was right; whether she wanted to admit it or not, she was on the verge of using these men to empower herself, just as the Guild was doing to women. It wasn’t right.

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I suppose I saw the opportunity—and it’s not as though I’m not drawn to you both…”

  “You are a beautiful woman, Serafina,” said Paxx. “But that is not what drew me to you. I wanted instantly to look after you, to offer you my soul, my body. I felt as though destiny had seated me next to you. And that means that you are entitled to my life, my devotion. My déor would protect you, whatever that may be.”

  “Déor? Ah yes, that’s what you call them. Rohan here has many, I’m told,” she said.

  “My true déor is one that you haven’t yet seen,” he said. “One that is rarely seen, by anyone outside my family. But one day perhaps you’ll meet it.”

  “I’d like that,” said Sera, remaining in place. The men still hadn’t said an outright “no.”

&nb
sp; “But as for tonight,” continued Rohan, “It is not right for us to perform the Ritual—not now. This is not the way; you aren’t ready. You would regret it forever, and Circe would not approve.”

  “But…” began Sera. Her eyes were moist with tears already. If not this, then what? “The alternative is to give myself to them,” she said. “To the Guild. At least you two are men that I know a little. And I trust you both. They would force cruel men on me. Would you rather I bond with them for eternity?”

  “Of course not,” said Paxx, stepping forward. He could feel her pain acutely. “It would injure us both, for many reasons. But there are alternatives. You’re not thinking straight, Serafina. It pains me to say this, as I think that you know how much Rohan and I would like to be with you. But let us help you. Today did not go as planned, but that doesn’t mean that we will let them win.”

  “How on earth will you get her back?” The tears were coming freely now, Nyx twining around Sera’s neck, his head stretched to lick her cheek.

  “We’ll find a way,” Paxx replied. “This man can turn into a dragon, for God’s sake. Surely we can manage without you sacrificing yourself.”

  “But you, Paxx. You’re…”

  “Just a man,” he said, smiling. “But there is a good deal at stake for me, too. My brother is still there. I need to get to him.”

  “Tomorrow we’ll go back to the compound,” said Rohan. “We’ll get Circe back. But we’ll do it our way. And then there will be the wrath of the Guild to contend with, so you should talk once again to your Sisterhood. You should prepare Ealdor for what may come. Something tells me that Melina will not be merciful, and we haven’t yet seen her mates’ powers.”

  “All right,” said Sera. “You win. But I’m going with you tomorrow, to the compound. If you wish, I’ll remain out of sight. Just, please don’t ask me to stay here. I couldn’t bear the wait.”

  “Of course not,” said Rohan. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to retreat for the night to my hovel in the woods.”

  In truth, he didn’t trust himself. In this environment, surrounded by Paxx and Sera, it was too hard. His brief taste of Sera in the woods on the way to the compound had caused a searing ache to burn through him all day, an unfulfilled desire gnawing at him. Though he would never have thrown himself at her against her wishes, any touch of her fingers would have been the end of his restraint.

  He turned and left the two of them, to hike back alone. As he passed Hedy’s house he kept his gaze focused on the distance, though he knew perfectly well that inside, the Crones were watching him, wondering if it would occur; if they would lose their most promising Aspirant.

  “Will you stay?” asked Sera. “And keep me company?”

  Paxx suffered from the same issues as Rohan: a desire unfulfilled. The knowledge that they could have had her, had they been slightly more irresponsible. And here he was, alone with her. So close.

  “I will stay if you’d like,” he said. He hadn’t bonded with her as Rohan had, after all. It was easier for him to hold back. “I realize that it must be difficult for you to be alone on this night.”

  “Thank you,” she said, sitting on one of the hard wooden chairs by the kitchen table. “I’m terrified. I wish I could see what’s happening over at the compound.”

  “As do I,” he replied, sitting down opposite Sera. “They will punish Phist. I know they will, despite his innocence in all of this. He has grown fond of your sister, you know.”

  “Has he?” Sera managed a smile. “Of course he has. No one who meets her can do anything but. Circe is a sweet, lovely thing, and gifted in many ways.”

  “We are not all bad, you know,” Paxx said quietly. “We men of the Old Blood. The Guild is led by the corrupt among us, but I am not one of them. Neither is Phist.”

  Sera stared at him, her eyes turned a deeper shade by her tears. “Of course you’re not.” She reached across the table, taking his hands in hers. They were so large, so warm. “You and Rohan are the best of men. I have never met any like you.”

  “There aren’t many like us,” he said as he watched her fingers caress his skin. Dear God, this was hard to take. Between his legs, activities were taking place that made him glad to be sitting.

  “Paxx, I would like to know you better,” Sera continued. “Tell me about your childhood.”

  “We—Phist and I—were born here, in Salem, actually. Our mother died shortly after Phist’s birth, from complications. And when I was fourteen, our father died of scarlet fever.”

  “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

  “Thank you. The Guild took us in when they recognized what we were. I suppose they saw potential in us.”

  “I’m learning that it’s not so hard to identify your kind, you shifters. It’s the eyes, the build. They way that you carry yourselves. It’s as though you come from another world entirely.”

  “Well, in a way we do.” He smiled. “As do you. I’m not convinced that you were created on this earth.”

  Sera blushed under his gaze, and Paxx opted to change the topic.

  “Tell me about yours and Circe’s parents, would you?”

  “Our parents died long ago. Like you, we were taken in. The Sisterhood had its reasons, I suppose. And they still insist that Circe and I are gifted, in spite of our seeming lack of skills. Though mine are growing. The day that I first met Rohan, in fact, was the first day that I noticed a real change.”

  “Do you think it was him? Who made you change, I mean?”

  “Perhaps,” said Sera. “He knocked on the door seconds after I…” Her lips closed as she thought about it. “Hedy thought that it was more than coincidence. I guess she must have been right.”

  “There was a bond from the beginning, with you two.”

  “There was. I felt it. And with you, Paxx, I felt something, though I fought it.”

  “I saw you two that night, you know. I watched your Bonding.”

  Sera’s eyes went to her hands, which she pulled away from him, her cheeks flushing a deeper shade of rose.

  “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It was a beautiful thing to see, though I already knew that I wanted you. Watching you…pleasured like that…I felt envy, but gratitude as well, just to get to witness such a thing.”

  “You are strange men, aren’t you?” Sera laughed. “Most men would hate to see another man make love to their potential mate.”

  “I suppose it’s in our blood to accept it for what it is,” he said. “I found it arousing. I would have given anything to join the two of you.”

  Inside her chest, Sera felt a burst of heat which seemed to shoot in beams to the place between her legs. The very thought of it…of him, Rohan and her, making love. The thought of them going hard for her, of touching them, kissing them. Of taking them in her mouth. Inside her, deep, filling her with themselves, their heat. All of it made her wet, her channel aching at the very image.

  “And yet,” she said, “You two turned me down tonight. Why?” Her eyes managed to find his again, to lock on them.

  “Because we respect you, Serafina. You are a wonderful woman. But you are not of our blood. Neither Rohan nor I wishes to force you into this world of ours without fair preparation. Saving Circe is noble, but it would be less than noble of us to take advantage of your goodness.”

  She stood and walked to the window, staring out at the surrounding houses, the clock tower, the quiet town square.

  “I don’t want to be good,” she said, turning back to him. “If you knew how I wanted you, how very bad I would like to be…”

  Rising from his seat, Paxx took two broad steps towards her. Sera’s eyes went to the floor again; she’d done it. She’d said it, asked him for this. But it was dangerous. Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut? Why couldn’t she maintain the discipline that the other Aspirants had for so many years?

  His hand went to her cheek, his thumb caressing her soft skin, wiping a tear away.

 
I…” she began, looking up into his eyes. So light, so deep, those eyes. They took her in, clothed her, warmed her. A woman could lose herself, her very soul, to eyes like those.

  Paxx leaned down, his lips grazing hers ever so lightly, and she felt herself respond, kissing him as her hands circled his neck, pulling him to her. This was greed, pure and simple. This was want. This was something that the Sisterhood could not provide: the gift of one’s body and soul, offered up to another. No masks. No lies. Just…

  And then it was Paxx who pulled away, taking a step back as his mind reeled.

  “I should go,” he said. “I must. Or I’ll take you to your bed, and I will remove every scrap of clothing on you. I will do to you what Rohan had the good fortune of doing. I will take you, claim you, eat you up. I will come inside you, Sera, make your body my own temple. Because there is nothing, in this moment, that I want more.”

  Deep breaths sounded from both, almost an animal panting as they stood only a few feet apart, holding themselves in place, their eyes locked as if in challenge.

  “I ache for you,” she said. “Paxx. I want you.”

  “I know. And that’s why I need to leave.”

  Chapter 23

  Troubles

  Paxx spent the night outside, sleeping beneath an oak tree. Whether because of his shifter blood or some other factor warming him, he had no trouble staving off the night’s chill. Sleeping was another story, but then his mind was occupied with a constant cycle of thoughts about Serafina, Phist and Circe.

  At dawn he rose and hiked over to Rohan’s cabin, where he found the intense man pacing the floor, dressed in clean clothing and deep in thought.

  “What do you think?” he asked simply when Rohan looked his way.

  “Something’s gnawing at my gut. I don’t know what, but I’ve a bad feeling about today,” he said. “I don’t usually get bad feelings.”

 
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