“Hold on, let me get this straight. Soul Complements are just two people who can cast magic together without blowing themselves up, right?”
“No, you’re thinking of Complements—two magic users who handle magic so similarly, they can, on occasion, cast magic together. There are also Contrasts—magic users who handle magic in opposite ways, and can, on occasion, cancel or enhance certain affects of each other’s spells.”
“So Soul Complements are?”
“Two people who can cast magic as if they are one person. Two people whose minds and souls fit each other perfectly. Two people who could become so close they feel each other’s emotions, hear each other’s thoughts, feel each other’s pain. Two people who can take magic to levels otherwise unattainable.”
I know that should sound wonderful, being so close to someone you could share their thoughts. But I was nothing if not the queen of trust issues. Letting someone know everything I was feeling and thinking sounded like my own little corner room in hell.
I finished off my wine. “So tell me the downside.”
“Those Soul Complements who have become too close stop being who and what they are. Lost in the shared magic, shared emotions, shared thoughts, they lose control of their magic, or use it in ways . . . in horrible ways. And if they are not broken apart, then, insanity results.”
I took a minute to absorb all that. “You and I are Soul Complements?”
“We’re going to drive each other insane?”
“All right. We won’t go insane if we just use magic together, and we won’t go insane if we are with each other in all other intimate ways.”
“Sex?” I asked.
He grinned. “I wasn’t talking about water-skiing. There are boundaries—how close we can be with each other mentally, soul to soul. Boundaries that must be obeyed so that we can be together, closer than anyone else on Earth, but not so close that we lose ourselves.”
“So, the shared thoughts and feelings are out?”
“It’s better that way.”
Well, I for one wasn’t seeing a downside.
“I could look in your mind to see if your father’s memories are still there,” he said. “I have the training. Should I? Once in your mind, once that close to you, I may not be able to step away.”
I blushed. No, I don’t know why. Okay, yes, I did. Zayvion was looking at me like I was something beautiful he wanted and could not have.
“I could make you leave my mind,” I said uncertainly.
“I don’t think so.” He let go of my hand and pushed his plate to one side so he could rest his arm in front of him. “You aren’t the only stubborn person at the table.”
I smiled. “Speaking of which, about that other thing.”
“Which other thing?”
“All those long-term scar-filled relationships you were talking about.”
“You aren’t the first woman I’ve dated.”
Yeah, well, I knew that. “Go on.”
He leaned both arms on the table. The table was small, intimate. We were close enough that if I stretched just a little more, I could touch him, kiss him. His gaze held me exactly where I was. “You just might be the last I’ll survive.”
The blush rushed up my neck and washed hot across my face.
, I told myself.
We said we’d go slow.
To hell with slow. I leaned forward, my wineglass still in one hand. Zayvion had both hands free, and drew his fingers down the side of my face, fingertips stroking the length of my bare neck. He bent toward me, his fingers slipping up to cup the edge of my jaw, as if he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t disappear, as if he wanted to draw my mouth to his. I opened my lips and inhaled.
My heart beat harder. I wanted to taste the wine on his lips, wanted to savor the pine scent of him against the tip of my tongue.
But instead of pulling me closer, instead of kissing me, his fingertips clenched gently beneath my ear. He ran his tongue across his bottom lip and then slowly, mechanically leaned back, away, shoulders squared against the back of his chair, fingertips splayed wide against the tablecloth, brown eyes filled with fire that had nothing to do with magic.
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. But I did.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” I said.
He held very still, watching me. “The best things never are.”
Our waiter of impeccable timing returned, cleared away our plates, and brought burgundy and cheeses.
I nibbled on the cheese, but mostly drank the burgundy and thought about Zayvion’s lips. Well, thought about his lips, and tried to pull up even the smallest memory of his naked body. No luck.
For his part, Zayvion finished his food, gave me a few smiles, and moved on to lighter subjects. The weather again—still foggy. The view—still sparkly. The time—late. As a matter of fact, it was past midnight, and the warm glow from all the wine was making me yawn.
“How about we skip dessert?” he asked after I’d hidden yet another yawn behind my hand.
I nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s been long. The day, not the dinner. I think I’m a lot more tired than I thought I thought.” Wait, what had I just said?
Zayvion grinned. “We’ll save dessert for next time.”
“You didn’t think this was the only date I was going to take you on, did you?”
“Uh . . . no?”
The waiter appeared like magic, took Zayvion’s credit card, and returned just as quickly.
“So,” Zayvion said as we both stood and pulled on our coats. “That list of things you said about me earlier?”
He helped me with the sleeve I wasn’t having any luck getting into on my own. Damn. Too much wine. Especially now that I was standing, my head was a little muzzy. “And
,” I said, as he offered me his arm.
“Old-fashioned?” He actually looked offended. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He placed his hand over mine on his arm and stepped closer to me. “May I have the honor of escorting you home, Ms. Beckstrom?”
I giggled. Seriously. Giggled. Bad sign. “Maybe that wine was more than I thought I drank.” Smooth, Beckstrom.
“Just try to relax when we walk out into the main flow of the restaurant.”
I was going to ask him what he meant by that, but then we took two steps away from the table and I got my answer. Like a hammer. A great big answer hammer over the head.
Magic pressed in around me, pushed up through my feet, sunk needle-deep into my skin. The spell that veiled our table had done more than offer us privacy from other diners. It had kept the thick crosscurrents of the restaurant’s long-standing and short-term spells from being so overwhelming. But now, out here, I was most certainly whelmed.
Magic sparked within me, a fire rushing up my bones, urging me to release it, to cast, to use.
I gritted my teeth and exhaled through my nose, resisting the urge to use magic. Not easy after a couple glasses of wine.
“Zayvion?” I said. He must have caught the urgency in my voice.
He didn’t talk, didn’t ask me if I was okay. He set a quick but not rushed pace and guided me out between the tables that roiled with clouds of magic, thick ribbons of it in jewel tones, so strong I could see it shifting like currents of rainbow oil through the air, even without drawing Sight.
Magic prickled beneath my skin, grew hot, hotter, until my entire body was one big sunburn.
I tried to concentrate. Sang a mantra to clear my head.
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black . . .
Magic swelled, pressed, begged to be used. And my mental hold on it slipped. Oh, hells.
Mint washed over me, cool, sweet, soothing all the places where magic burned in me. Zayvion, my lightning rod, Grounding me.
The restaurant was behind me now, glowing with so much magic, I could feel the heat of it like a bonfire at my back. We were in the parking lot, in the cold air, the wet air. I took a deep breath, let it out.
My head was no longer muzzy. The magic, and Zayvion Grounding me, had the side effect of making me stone sober. And right now, I was really glad.
“Better?” he asked.
He walked around in front of me, his hand sliding down my arm. “Wait here while I tell the valet to get our car.”
I thought I said okay, but he bent a little to make eye contact. “Okay?” he asked.
“I’m good,” I said. “Fine.”
He didn’t look convinced, but turned and walked away.
Absent his touch, magic pushed in me again. The ground swayed a little beneath my feet, and I decided pacing might help. Taking even breaths, I strolled down the brick pathway that lined the front of the restaurant. The cold air did some good keeping my head clear, and I recited a jingle to stay calm and to keep the magic in me easy.
A movement in the landscaped flower bed to my left caught my attention. I stopped and peered into the brush and ferns. Two yellow eyes as big as my fist stared at me from the bushes. For a second, I thought it was alive, a dog, a cat, or—shudder—that thing from the alley, but the eyes were too large and too perfectly round. Then the wind shifted, brushing through the bushes. I caught a whiff of stone—just damp stone—and I knew what it was. A gargoyle statue.
I leaned forward and pushed a branch out of the way so I could see the gargoyle’s face better.
The statue’s head swiveled, following my hand like a snake follows heat. Magic. Just magic, nothing strange about it. There was enough light that I could make out the creature’s body—big as a Saint Bernard’s, haunches in the back like a dog, longer human arms and human hands with wide, extralong fingers. Its broad face wrinkled back from a generous fanged and smiling mouth along a doglike snout. The huge eyes were almost comical beneath a heavy brow, and pointed ears perked up from its rounded skull. Behind its shoulders, batlike wings spread out and trembled. It looked worried but happy, as if confused at being noticed.
It looked vulnerable. Lonely. It looked too damn lifelike.
Zayvion wasn’t kidding about the artist being a master Hand.
The wind pushed again, stirring leaves, and I let the branches I’d been holding fall back into place.
Just as I pulled my hand away, cool stone fingers reached out and touched my wrist.
A chill ran down my spine. I looked down, and the creature, no, the
was looking up at me. Huge eyes wide. Pleading. It was frozen in place, hand on my wrist, head tipped at a beseeching angle.
I knew there were spells on this thing; I could smell them. But I could smell something else too, a bitter scent of sorrow. Without wanting to, I also held still and looked at the creature again, trying to convince myself that it was not alive, but just a very clever infusion of magic and art. A chain collar dug into the creature’s neck, the chain spilling down its chest to somewhere at its feet.
I pulled my hand away from the creature and it did not move, did not change position.
I touched the chain at its neck. Stone. Stone and magic. The chain cuffed the creature’s other hand and linked to an iron rod driven into the soil.
It was irresistible, the magic that infused the stone and chain. I drew my finger along the links, marveling at the spell that ran through the iron and stone, a constant conduit to the magic that pooled in the channels that had been laid deep beneath the soil here to feed and maintain the spells on the statues.
At my touch, magic flared along the chain in a sudden wash of heat. I pulled my fingers away, not wanting to interfere with the spell, but it was too late. Magic twisted along the carved glyphs and—I am not kidding—sort of jumped the carved route it should have taken. Like a freak electric arc, magic stalled for a moment and poured through my hand, making the whorls of color on my skin flash neon bright as the magic completed the arc.
The creature jerked, shuddered. Wings flapping, it pulled against the chain.
I pulled my hand away.
I heard the grinding groan, low like a dog’s growl, as metal and stone strained, snapped.
I took a step back, my hands up in a warding position.
But there was no movement in the bushes. Only darkness. Only silence.
The statue was not moving. Its wide round eyes looked at me, blank, unfocused, no longer lifelike. I looked closer and realized the chain had broken at its neck, and now lay upon the ground in front of it, glowing softly blue with unspent magic.
Hells. I broke their statue. Broke the feed of magic to the spells that bound it. Great. I was sure they had monitoring devices on the things for just this sort of problem. Any minute a gardener, sculptor, magic user, or security guard would be out here re-chaining the beast and writing me a fine.