Book 6: Order of the Blade
Alice’s heart began to race as she saw Ian dive through the waves in pursuit of her, his powerful body breaking through the white caps with minimal effort. Just like before, the mere anticipation of his nearness sent waves of awareness and desire rushing through her…along with a pulsing sense of danger.
He was too determined, and the look on his teammate’s face too arrogant as he followed Ian through the waves. She didn’t know what they wanted from her, but she knew she couldn’t afford it.
She quickly turned her back on them and moved to the edge of the rock, scanning the surface of the ocean for the bumps that were too sleek and too misty to be natural. The pearl was still cold in her hand, clenched there despite all that had happened since she’d thrown herself into the water.
The Mageaan had known she was in the ocean. They’d tried to kill her, which meant they were nearby, or they had been at least. Were they still around? Trying to ignore the sound of Ian getting closer to her, Alice inched toward the edge of the rock. She opened her hand and looked at the pearl. Glittering streaks of red, orange, crimson and silver sliced across its surface, like the clouds at sunset on the eve of a hurricane. “Please let this work,” she whispered. It was such a risk to reveal that she had the pearl. To give it away was to surrender the one safeguard she had against an eternity of hell, against the future that Ian seemed to be pushing her towards.
But without the help of the creatures in the water below, she had no chance to find Catherine. The Mageaan owned the oceans. They knew everything and everyone that passed through their waters. They would know where Catherine was, but they would never reveal it. Not to an outsider. Not to someone who represented all they had lost…unless she had something to offer them that was more than they could resist.
The pearl was that item. She might be able to convince the Mageaan to trade information for the jewel. Of course, once she reached Catherine… A cold chill rippled through her. How would she manage that without Flynn? She couldn’t do that on her own.
No. She couldn’t worry about that now. None of it mattered if she couldn’t find Catherine in the first place, and the Mageaan were the only ones who would know how to find the lair that was hidden, obscured by magic and tricks so that no one could find it. No one but the man who had created it… and those who haunted the ocean.
She carefully held the pearl up between her thumb and index finger so that the moon’s blue-green rays seemed to refract through it, bringing it to life. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Ian was almost to the rock, his muscled shoulders churning powerfully through the whitecaps as he neared.
Crap! He was almost to the rock! Alice quickly extended her hand out over the ocean. It was risky, exposing it like that, but she was over a hundred feet above the water. The Mageaan were ocean bound, and they would not be able to steal it from her up here. “I have one of the Pearls of Lycath,” she shouted. “I will trade it for your help!” The wind seemed to strip the words from her mouth and thrust them out across the water, reverberating again and again. “You can have it,” she yelled, even as fear rippled through her at the idea of giving it up. “I will offer it freely!”
A haunted call sounded across the ocean, making the hairs on her arms stand up. Alice searched the water, and she saw a faint drift of mist forming on the horizon. Excitement shot through her. Was that the Mageaan? “I have the pearl,” she yelled again, holding it out for them to see. “It’s genuine. I will trade it for your help!”
The mist swirled closer and thicker, and the water churned more violently as the wind began to howl. Her hair slashed her cheeks, her clothes snapped in the gusts. On the edges of the wind, Alice thought she heard the sound of a woman screaming. Dozens of women screaming, the kind of screams that heralded a brutal death coming for them. Their torment was horrific, the pain of souls being ripped apart for an eternity of suffering.
She froze, horrified by the sound. Oh, God. What was that? Was that the Mageaan? If it was, it was so much worse than she’d expected. She’d heard the stories. She’d been warned a thousand times. But there had been no way to comprehend the depths of such suffering. The edge to their screams was like a blade shredding the night. Was that her future? Was that what she would become without the pearl to protect her?
Real terror rippled through her. I can’t do this. Her hand faltered, and she started to lower it—
A violent gust of wind slammed into her shoulders from behind, thrusting her forward off the edge of the rock. She screamed as she was thrust into the air, and then the wind tore the pearl from her grasp. “No!”
Anguish tore through her as she lunged for it, but her hand closed on empty air as the pearl plummeted down toward the water, the wind howling in triumph, as if the Mageaan themselves had compelled it to help them. Beneath her swelled the mist, but it was no longer white. It was a seething, frothing purple and black pool of poison—
“Hey!” A hand clamped around her wrist, jerking her backwards.
Alice gasped as she ricocheted back against the side of the rock, her body slamming into hard granite, suspended above the tumultuous ocean by one arm. She looked up, and her heart stuttered when she saw Ian down on one knee on the top of the rock, his fingers locked around her wrist. “No, no!” She tugged at her arm. “Let me go! I have to get the pearl! I dropped it in the water!” Frantic, she kicked at the rock, trying to tear herself out of his grasp.
“Hey!” He tightened his grip, ocean water streaming down his arm over his hand. “A pearl? You’re serious? You’ll never find a pearl down there. That ocean is trying to kill you.”
“I don’t care! Let me go!” Without the pearl, she had nothing: no future for herself and no way to find Catherine. “I have to get it!” Frantic, she twisted around to search the frothing depths, but her heart sank when she saw the ocean churning beneath her. Hate-filled green and purple swells fighting to get to her, to reclaim the victim they’d lost once, and deadly mist swirled over the surface of the water.
She couldn’t survive that. There was no way she could reclaim her pearl from that. Despair coursed through her, utter despair. It was gone. Without it, Catherine was lost to her. One moment of fear and hesitation for her own stupid life, and she’d lost her chance. Frustration and guilt burned through Alice, and all the fight drained from her body. She hung limply from Ian’s grasp, the cold wet rock pressing against her as she dangled over her death. This couldn’t happen again. She couldn’t fail again.
“Alice.” Ian’s voice was low. Impatient. “Look at me.”
She pulled her gaze off the ocean and looked up, compelled by the urgency in his voice. The moment she met his intense gaze, awareness coursed through her. Awareness of the man, of herself, of something more personal than it should have been. Fear rippled through her, fear of the warrior who held her wrist.
“I’ve never met someone more likely to die than I am,” he said conversationally, as if he wasn’t the only thing standing between her and a nightmare. “It’s damned inconvenient.”
She met his gaze, her jaw jutting out. “I’m not afraid of death.”
“No, I can see that.” One eyebrow was raised, but his eyes were cool and calculating. Water was streaming down his arm over hers, but his grip was tight and secure. “What is it that you are afraid of, Alice Shaw?”
What was she afraid of? Unbidden, the memory flashed into her mind. Her mother, blood pouring from a wound in her chest, laboring to breathe. Her mother’s blond hair matted with blood and dirt, her bright blue eyes glazed over with the onset of death, her lips parted as she fought to share those last words while Alice sat there, inches away, unable to do the one simple thing that would have saved her life—
Ian’s gaze sharpened. Who is that in your mind, sheva? Who died like that? His voice was soft and gentle, reaching deep into her soul, tearing away at the protective shields that enabled her to get through her life every day.
She quickly stiffened, and shook her head. “Leave me alone.”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you should save that request for after I pull you back up.”
Alice grimaced, and glanced down, the sea was still churning beneath her. Waves splashed up, reaching for her ankles. Instinctively, she pulled her feet up, bracing them against the rock. “You have a point.”
“As I thought.” Ian grinned then, and braced himself on the rock. “Ready?”
She met his gaze, fighting not to be swallowed up by his piercing stare. “Ready.” She dug her toes into the rock.
“On three.” He cocked an eyebrow. “One.” He held his other hand out to her.
After a split second of hesitation, she reached up and took his hand. His grip was strong around her wrists again. Damn, the man was powerful. How was that fair? He could probably take down the world, and she, the angel of life, couldn’t save even a single person, no matter how simple a task it would be to help them.
He nodded. “Two.”
She wrapped her fingers around his wrist, and electricity jumped between them. Dammit. Why hadn’t things lessened between them? Why was he still affecting her like this?
“Three.” He gave a curt nod and pulled.
She pushed off the rock as he shifted his body, easily swinging her to the top of the rock. Her bare feet landed silently on the rock, her toes tiny and pale next to the heavy boots he was still wearing. “Swimming’s easier without boots,” she said, trying desperately to put distance between them.
He shrugged. “I was in a rush. You were getting away.”
There was that sense of being hunted by him again. Alice instinctively pulled out of his grasp. “What do you want from me?”
Ian went still for a moment, and his gaze bore down on her. She felt pressure in her mind as he tried to break past her barriers, connecting with her too intimately. She stiffened immediately and folded her arms over her chest, raising her chin as she faced him, fighting against the swirl of emotion he aroused in her. “You’re not stalking me because of the soul mate thing, are you? Because I’m not yours—”
“Yes, you are.” His response was instant and unyielding, and she felt her pulse quicken in response.
She couldn’t afford to belong to him. She didn’t want to crave him so badly that she felt like her own soul would burst into violent flames if he walked away from her… but she did. It was like he’d ignited a raging fire within her, one that he stoked ever higher with each touch, with each word, with each kiss.
And as a smug grin spread over his face, she knew that he was well aware of exactly how he affected her.
“Damn you, Ian,” she snapped.
He grinned more broadly, and she suddenly realized that she’d just laid down a challenge that he was delighted to accept.