Authors: larissa ladd
An Elemental Series Part Seven
Copyright © 2015 Larissa Ladd
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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ABOUT LONELY HUNGER
In the aftermath of the attack on his brother, Aiden and his bride, Elemental leader, Aira, at their wedding, Dylan is sure of one thing: Leigh is
at the heart of the conspiracy. Though she admitted to being a spy, he knows in his heart she didn’t do it. But until he can find her, she remains a suspect. Using his own elemental powers, Dylan discovers that Leigh is a prisoner of the rogue elementals who executed the attack. Anger and a fierce desire to save the woman who sets his soul and his body on fire, consumes him…and heaven help the rogues as Dylan sets out on a trail of vengeance could destroy them all before the dust settles!
DYLAN LEANED AGAINST THE WALL, rubbing at his temples to try and rid himself of the headache that was brewing. It had been three days since the wedding, three days since the reception that had ended in pain and tragedy for the air elementals who had come to celebrate their ruler’s marriage. Thanks to the attack on the hotel that had housed the air-aligned elementals, Aiden and Aira hadn’t left for their honeymoon yet, and the strain was starting to show. Dylan closed his eyes. Aira had been closeted with the elders and the other elemental rulers for hours already, and he knew that the meeting would continue to drag on.
He wanted nothing more than to get on the road, to chase down the people involved in the attack on the hotel. Leigh had mysteriously disappeared, along with the fire and earth elementals who were definitely involved; Dylan was still holding out hope that she was only swept up in the attack, that she wasn’t part of it at all. Her words had haunted him ever since he’d gotten the call from his brother.
“No one is going to attack them at their wedding…when this is all over and everything gets back to normal, call me.”
But he, Aiden, and Aira couldn’t get on the road to apprehend the people involved in the attack on Aira’s kith and kin until the elders and the elemental monarchs came to a decision about how they would be treated. It was an act of war, Aira had noted—and Dylan was inclined to agree. He had known for a while that there were many elementals who didn’t agree with the elders; Aira herself had considered going rogue when they started jerking her chain during the trials to select a ruler of the air element. Certainly, the elders were inclined to err on the side of protecting the community as a whole by weeding out unstable elementals—something that those targeted, like Alex and Dolores, Aiden and Aira, to name a few, understandably resented.
That Aira had done a great deal to protect unstable elementals in her position as the ruler of her element had apparently been lost on those members of the fire and earth communities who resented her power. Dylan knew that his sister-in-law was the most understanding of all the rulers, at least in regards to instability. She advocated for those who were brought in on the charge to be given a chance to stabilize, rather than to be dismissed immediately as a danger. Dylan could see both sides, and he knew that when Aira did vote for an elemental to be put to death, she was certain that they were irredeemable.
A few feet away from him, Aiden was pacing. Dylan wondered idly now much sleep his brother had gotten since the news had come in about the attack. Not enough, to judge by the older man’s hair, which was in disarray and looked finger-combed, the bags under his eyes, the drawn look to his face. The fact that Aira was definitely a target—that this attack was certainly meant to be a message to her, and that she was no safer now that she was married than she had been before—had to be wearing on the fire elemental. Aiden’s nature made him protective—sometimes overprotective—and while Aira was strong, her abilities were volatile, and she was not immune to the kinds of magic that the earth-aligned could bring to a fight; in fact, she was so strongly aligned to her element that she was more vulnerable than she readily admitted.
Thinking about his brother’s need to protect Aira, Dylan’s thoughts went back to Leigh. He could picture her easily in his mind: the beautiful red hair, green eyes, the strikingly feminine shape of her body as she stood next to him. That Leigh might make it onto the list of assailants—and be branded a traitor to the elemental race as a whole—had plagued Dylan for days. She had been so candid, so upfront with him about the fact that she was spying on the wedding proceedings; how could someone like that go and kill and injure people? It didn’t seem to make any sense. But then, Dylan thought to himself tiredly, Dolores and Alex had seemed benign at first too. Dylan scolded himself, not for the first time, that he hadn’t been more penetrating, that he hadn’t tried harder to read the woman as she sat with him, as they danced. If she’d had any idea about the attack that was going to happen, he should have been able to pull it out of her mind.
The door opened and Dylan stood up straight. As one of Aira’s de facto bodyguards, the last image he wanted to present was fatigue. He saw in the corner of his eye that Aiden had snapped to attention as well; his brother’s blue eyes—though bloodshot—avidly focused on the door. “We need to find out what these people want,” the elemental ruler for earth was saying, her voice carrying through the door easily. “I just don’t think we should consider this an act of war.”
“If it had been your people killed in a tornado, you’d assume it was an act of war,” Aira countered quickly, her voice strident. Dylan smiled to himself.
“But if they were truly interested in deposing you, wouldn’t they have attacked your hotel?”
“They attacked air elementals. I agree that we should question them once they’re apprehended, to find out just how large this thing is, but it couldn’t have been clearer who they were sending a message to.”
“It’s certainly like the earth elementals to go that route,” the ruler of the fire community was saying. “But you know, Aira, that my element doesn’t go for subterfuge.”
“They do when they align with earth elementals—or had you forgotten about Alex?” Dylan tried not to laugh. It was a good reminder, he thought; not only that Aira had been poisoned by an alliance of earth and fire elementals while on her way to becoming the ruler of her own element, but also—on an unspoken level—of the fact that she had disposed of the threat without any problem.
The three rulers filed out of the room, followed by a few of the elders. “We’ve decided,” the spokesperson for the elders said. “Aira will travel with Aiden and Dylan to apprehend as many of the group as they possibly can. Between the three of them, they should be able to get the job done.”
“Thank you, sir,” Aira said, inclining her head slightly to the elemental elder. She was, nominally at least, higher in rank than the elders were. Dylan had yet to truly appreciate the separation of powers between the different ranking groups.
“Once we have them in custody, the final decision as to what to do with them will be made.” Aira nodded, and Dylan fought back the smile he felt twitching at the corners of his lips for the triumphant little glance she flicked at his brother. She was looking almost as tired as Aiden was; there were signs of strain on her face, and in spite of her authoritative tone of voice, Dylan could hear the fatigue crackling through it.
“Aira, keep in touch. We need regular reports.”
The other two elemental rulers went off, looking discontented. Dylan and Aiden both moved at the same moment to flank Aira, making their presences more obvious.
“Aiden, Dylan, you two should take the initiative in apprehension—don’t get offended, Aira.” The elder said.
Dylan saw his sister-in-law hold back a retort. “You know as well as we do that you are vulnerable to elemental attacks. Dylan and Aiden quite simply aren’t as vulnerable as you are and can withstand earth-aligned attacks better than you can. You need to remember that you are no longer simply an elemental. If you’re deposed or disabled, there will be very great consequences to the balance of power.”
“I’m aware of that,” Aira said. Dylan noticed that she was taking a deep breath to restrain her impulse to argue. “I have no intention of taking too many risks.” Dylan suppressed the snort that started in him. Aira would stop taking risks on the day she died. “I understand the need for protection. I’ll be safe.”
The elder nodded and turned back into the meeting room to continue the debate with his colleagues. Dylan watched, suppressing his feelings of envy as Aiden wrapped his arms around Aira, pulling her close. The two kissed and Dylan could feel the crackling air around them as they exchanged energy, buoying each other’s flagging essences. “When was the last time either of you slept?” he said, trying to keep the flush of resentment out of his voice. He hadn’t been sleeping much either—but he suspected that part of the insomnia that Aiden and Aira were suffering through had to do with their insatiable sex drives, given only a partial outlet with the need to be alert to new information. They couldn’t go on their honeymoon soon enough, he thought.