Never Go That Way! (Why I’m so mean to the Mystic characters)

The above clip is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the Bog of Eternal Stench, you’ve seen the Jim Henson/George Lucas cult classic Labyrinth, so I’m not going to give you the entire synopsis (if you haven’t seen it – GO! Get it now and watch! You will not be disappointed). But in case it’s been a while, here’s a rundown – Sarah must navigate a tricky maze filled with whacky characters in order to reach the castle and save her little brother from Jareth, the bulge-tastic Goblin King.

Are you all caught up and wondering what this video has to do with the Mystic series? Well, it has to do with most stories, and I’ll tell you how.

I’ve been a Labyrinth fan since I was too young to understand the appeal of Jareth’s bulging codpiece, and while the above scene has always struck my funny bone, it wasn’t until I watched it as an author that I comprehended the wisdom of the worm and how it relates to practically every suspenseful story ever told, including the Mystic series. To understand how, let’s break it down.

Sarah was hopeful when she entered the maze. “It’s a piece of cake,” she declared, but the first corridor goes on and on with no turns or passageways. After running jogging for what seems like forever, she gets discouraged and slumps down the slimy wall creeping with eyeball fungi.

And that’s when we hear “Ello.”

Okay, first, I gotta say – I love this worm. As child I thought he was funny and cute with his spunky, blue ponytails and tiny voice. As an author I think he delivers the best creative summation of how conflict should work that I’ve ever heard.

We’ll start with Sarah’s third question – “You don’t by any chance know the way through this labyrinth, do you?”

Oh, if only it were that easy… we wouldn’t have a story, but I digress. It’s the worm’s reply I want to focus on.

“Who me? Naw, I’m just a worm.”

Now, I know some writers plot their entire stories before jotting down paragraph one, but that’s not me. I develop a vague idea about characters, setting and conflict then start writing, so the worm’s reply strikes a chord with me. If at the beginning of Descension Layla had asked me “Do you know how I can find my family and save us all from the wrath that will soon rain down on me?”, I can see myself having answered “Who me? Naw, I’m just the author.” And like the worm, who then invites Sarah in to meet the missus, I went about distracting Layla with Quin.

But the distractions only last so long before the plot is spurred by the protagonist’s curiosity and the reader’s need for more, which brings me back to the worm’s wisdom. Following Sarah’s complaint that there aren’t any turns or openings in the maze, the worm says, “Well you ain’t looking right. It’s full of openings; it’s just you ain’t seen ’em.”

Wise words and true for every story with a resolution. The solutions are there, but the character doesn’t see them at the beginning. They are revealed slowly or saved up for an explosive end, but they are there, down a path the protagonist has yet to discover. It’s the author’s job to set the character on this path in a creative way, and though the worm would make a tremendous author, at this point, he’s the tool that reveals to Sarah there’s an opening right across from her. Sounds too easy, right? Well, we’ll get to that 😉

Sarah stubbornly argues, as protagonists often do, and the worm once again tries to distract her (this time with tea), as authors often do (coffee anyone?). But Sarah’s curiosity prevails and she insists there’s no opening. That’s when the worm delivers this bit of knowledge “Things are not always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted.”

Isn’t that the key to so many suspenseful stories, to the twists that are so common they’re almost expected? The parallel is so recognizable, I’m almost convinced this is what the script writers were going for.

Okay, now we’re to the part that inspired the title of this post. Following the worm’s bit of advice, Sarah discovers an opening cleverly blended into the wall. Her mood lightens as hope rekindles and she heads left down the new path. And that’s when the worm convinces me he’s an author.

“Hey, hang on,” he calls, stopping Sarah in her tracks. She thanks him for being incredibly helpful, but little does she know that little worm, as cute and polite as he is, is about to ruin her day while making the viewer’s so much better.

“But don’t go that way,” he tells her. She’s confused, so he reiterates “I said, don’t go that way. Never go that way.”

He’s been helpful thus far, so Sarah takes him for his word and sets off the other way, a bounce to her hopeful steps. Once she’s out of view, that ornery worm, in true author fashion, shakes his head and says “If she’d kept on going down that way, she’d gone straight to that castle.” (We knew this seemed too easy!)

In this teeny worm, this seemingly small, side character, lies the key to many great tales. As authors, it’s our job to give protagonists a nudge in the right direction, and then crush their rekindled hope to smithereens by throwing yet another conflict in the mix. If they need to get across the ocean, we provide them with a boat, but we don’t tell them its engine will die as soon as they’re in open water. If they need a way out of a burning building, we guide them to a clear hallway, but we don’t tell them the ceiling will cave in when they’re halfway down it. We set them up for failure over and over again, and that’s a vital factor in a worthwhile story.

I love my characters. I truly do, but one might question that proclamation when reading the hell I put them through. That’s my job, though. If I’m not mean to my beautiful, kind-hearted Layla, I don’t have a worthwhile story. Is it hard to torture the characters I love? Well, let’s just say it’s no “piece of cake” to write and cry and blow your nose all at the same time. I’ve shed rivers for them, and I harbor guilt over the torture and terror I inflict on not only them, but on my readers as well. At the end of the day, though, I know it’s necessary, because if she’d kept on going down that way… there wouldn’t be an incredible story to tell.

So what do you think? Am I crazy for reading so much into this scene? Or is this a connection you’ve already made and I’m just slow to catch on? What other tidbits of wisdom did you gleam from one of the greatest movies of all time? I love hearing from you, so speak up, and don’t forget to subscribe by email at the top of the HOME page.

If you haven’t read the Mystic series and want to catch up, wait no longer. Just click on the titles below!

DESCENSION (MYSTIC 1)

IMPASSION (MYSTIC 2)

Teaser Tuesday (Mystic 3: Deception)

Before you say it, I know, I’ve been slacking on blogging. I have no excuse save for lame ones, so I’ll spare you the excuses and employ a teaser to win you back. Bwahahaha!

This isn’t a long teaser, but I’m working on a way to bring you even more exclusive and extra content, so bear with me as I align the stars.

Now, without further ado, here’s a teaser of DECEPTION – Book 3 in the MYSTIC series.

♥ Teaser

“I came to see if you need anything,” Finley returned. “Despite what you think, I worry about you and would like to help.”

“Well I don’t want your worry, and I get all the help I need from my family.”

“I can give you things the rest of them can’t. Will you not give me a chance to prove it?”

“No.”

“You didn’t even think about it.”

“I don’t need to.”

“Come on, Layla. Stop being so cold. I’m trying to help here.”

Caitrin’s pipe disappeared as he leaned forward. “She’s told you no, Finley, and she’s clearly expressed she doesn’t want your company, so if you insist on staying out here, you need to find another place to sit.” He waved a hand toward the table, summoning an extra chair. “You’re welcome to our food and a seat, but take them away from my granddaughter.”

Finley stared at Layla for several more seconds, watching her eyes and mouth. Then he sighed and straightened. “I’ll move, but I’m staying on the lawn, so if you change your mind, I’m only a shout away.”

Layla shrugged and averted her gaze. “As long as you keep your distance, I don’t care where you are.”

He took a deep breath as he examined her profile. Then he left the circle and sat on the ground, his gaze aimed at her face.

Copyright 2013 B. C. Burgess

Thank you for reading this teaser of book 3 in the MYSTIC series, due to release in March. Don’t forget to subscribe by email at the top of the HOME page to receive future previews and teasers delivered straight to your inbox. In the meantime, get caught up on the adventure with books 1 & 2 – DESCENSION and IMPASSION. Just click on the titles!

Celebrating Another Hurdle with Music Monday!

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope the new year has treated you well so far. Mine has been incredible. Sure, I have a ferocious head cold and a nose so abused it now cringes at the sight of tissue, but not even that can get me down. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you, there are big things happening with the Mystic series, and I just cleared a tremendous hurdle by sending book 3 to the editor. Fingers crossed she loves it half as much as I do. I’ll let you know in about a week. For now, let’s celebrate with some videos from one of my favorite bands.

Like many of you, the first performance I saw by Walk Off The Earth (WOTE) was their cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know (see 1st video). Five members of the band play one acoustic guitar and it’s amazing! I was so intrigued, I started hunting down other WOTE videos and ended up falling in love with nearly all of them. The band members are humorous, creative, and beyond talented. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite WOTE songs to celebrate the new year and Deception‘s journey to the editor. Woohoo!

The guy in the beanie (Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor) cracks me up! Here’s a cover of a classic – The Beatles From Me To You

This next one is just Gianni & Sarah, and it’s perfect for kicking back and relaxing with a smile on your face 😉

There are so many WOTE songs I love, but I’m only going to post one more. It’s one of their newer releases, and it’s become my newest favorite…. Oh who am I kidding? I love them all! Check them out, guys. They’re fantastic!

Thank you for celebrating with me. I love music and will post videos often, so make sure you go to the Home page and subscribe by email. As always, I love hearing from you, so tell me, are you as crazy about WOTE as I am?

Write For Your Life Wednesday (Commonly Confused Words Cheat Sheet)

I don’t know everything there is to know about writing, but I’m learning as I go, and what I do know, I’d like to share with those of you who love the craft. That’s why I’m starting Write For Your Life Wednesdays, where I’ll post tidbits of priceless info I’ve picked up from other great authors, bloggers, and the good old fashioned act of making mistakes.

This first Write For Your Life post may be the most invaluable of all, and I’m going to give it to you in the form of a nice and neat cheat sheet. Following is a list of commonly confused words. Some of them get jumbled because our fingers slide along the keyboard trying to keep up with our imaginations and sometimes miss a vital part of the message. We know these words and how they should be used, but once we type them wrong, they can be hard to spot. Then there are some on the list that get mixed up because we really didn’t know there was a difference. I have been guilty of several of these, but no more! Keep this list handy, and once you’re ready to polish your manuscript, do a quick “edit” + “find” for them and voila – you have a much cleaner creation.

Ready or not, here are 26 rules to write by:

1) Effect – noun vs. Affect – verb

2) Counsel – advice or guidance vs. A Counsel – a lawyer or counselor vs. A Council – body of people assembled for a purpose (the members are Councillors)

3) Adverse – usually applies to situations & means hostile or antagonistic vs. Averse – used to describe a person’s attitude & means reluctant

4) Lightening – to illuminate or make less heavy vs. Lightning – bolts of electricity

5) Rack – to strain, as in rack your brain vs. Wrack – an old time form of wreck

6) Compliment – to praise vs. Complement – to complete or make perfect

7) Course – direction or route, to run through vs. Coarse – harsh, vulgar, rough, not delicate

8) Conscience – moral principles vs. Conscious – aware, alert, having active mental faculties

9) Vile – wretched vs. Vial – small container for holding liquid

10) Break – to smash or fracture, to rest or pause vs. Brake – to slow a vehicle, the mechanisms to slow a vehicle

11) Teeming – swarming with vs. Teaming – to join as a team

12) Creak – a squeak vs. Creek – a stream

13) Waist – narrow part of the torso vs. Waste – to wear away, to destroy, to use more than you need

14) Merry – happy vs. Marry – to join, as in man & wife

15) Bear – to hold or support, to bring forth or give birth, to move as in bear north, the ferocious beast or snugly teddy vs. Bare – naked

16) Peak – the top or summit vs. Peek – to peep or snoop vs. Pique – to excite, as in one’s interest

17) Lose – to misplace something or not win vs. Loose – not tight

18) Feet – the plural of foot vs. Feat – an accomplishment or a goal

Time for some annoying easy ones!

19) Your – possessive vs. You’re – you are

20) Their – possessive vs. They’re – they are vs. There – that place

21) Were – was vs. We’re – we are vs. Where – which place vs. Wear – to adorn, as in clothes

22) Its – possessive vs. It’s – it is

23) To – used to indicate a direction, the opposite of from vs. Two – a number vs. Too – in addition, to an excessive extent

24) Then – at that time, next in order of time vs. Than – used to compare two words

Time for two bonus cheats!

25) Always take the S off towards

26) Change alright to all right

What commonly confused words trick you? I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so if you think of more, post them below and make us all better writers.

I hope this cheat sheet helps you polish your work. And make sure you subscribe by email at the top of the Home page to receive future Write For Your Life posts in your inbox.

Teaser Tuesday (Mystic 3: Deception)

Before launching this blog, I brainstormed content ideas and decided to start a Teaser Tuesday. Posting teasers is one of my favorite things to do on my Facebook page. In fact, I can’t seem to stop. I’m addicted to teasing you, so from now on, I’m going to try to find at least one teaser a week to post on here.

The one I had picked out for today (teaser #2) is really short, and since today happens to be New Year’s Day, I’m going to celebrate by giving you 2 teasers. So read on and enjoy these sneak peaks of Deception. Oh, and Happy New Year!!!!

P.S. Both Teasers have been slightly altered to stand alone.

Teaser #1

Quin kissed Layla’s forehead, and she was able to relax for the remainder of the trip, but the moment they entered Morrigan and Caitrin’s guest bedroom, she jerked to attention.

Quin jolted and tightened his hold on her. “What?”

Stunned into silence, Layla scanned the chamber, taking in every detail. Some were different, but for the most part, the room hadn’t changed in twenty-one years.

“What’s wrong?” Quin urged.

“Nothing,” she mumbled. “I just forgot.”

“Forgot what?”

“This room. It’s where my parents bonded.” She tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow. “I was conceived in this room.”

“Then it’s a very special room,” Quin noted.

“It is a special room,” she agreed, her voice muffled by a lump. “It’s where he asked her to marry him.” She held up her right hand, flashing the zultanite and diamond wedding ring. “Where he gave her this.”

“Will you be okay staying here?” Quin asked.

“Um,” she mumbled. “I think so.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“I am,” she insisted.

Quin took her word for it and carried her to the attached bathroom. “I’m going to use one of the other bathrooms and find you something to sleep in. Having your bare chest against mine is a dream come true, but I think you should sleep in clothes until the danger passes.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “May we keep our shirts off until we fall asleep?”

“I was hoping you’d ask, and yes we can.” He kissed her forehead then left the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Layla turned to the sink and splashed water on her face, heavy-hearted, guilty, and at a loss for resolutions. Her new world was falling down around her, and if they didn’t come up with a way to stop Agro soon, all of them would die.

She sighed as she flipped off the light and opened the door, finding Quin standing nearby in a clean pair of pajama pants, his appearance ever tidy. Even the small lock of hair that always fell over his forehead looked like it belonged there, the tip of its wave parallel to the slanted end of his eyebrow. Once in a while he pushed it back, but it always returned.

“You move with super hero speed,” she noted, sliding the straps of her dress off her shoulders. “I’ll never be able to keep up with you.”

“I’d never leave you behind,” he vowed, watching her gown fall to the floor.

She tucked her fingers into his waistband and pulled him to the bed. Then she crawled to the pillows and lay on her back. “I believe you.”

After helping himself to a long look at her body, Quin moved to the spot beside her and propped his head on his hand. He reached for one of her curls as he spoke – something about healing her – but she didn’t comprehend. The image of him lying like that, in that room, was all too familiar. Only her memory wasn’t of a man with shiny dark eyes, but of a man with bright emerald eyes.

Tears blurred her vision as she reflected on her existence. Her parents’ love and sacrifice, the coven’s endangerment… her life – it had started much like this, moments after her dad lay in that room, just as Quin was lying, and looked at her mom, just as Quin was looking at her.

A lump consumed her throat as Quin’s dark eyebrows pinched together. “Layla?”

“You have to move,” she blurted, squeezing her eyes shut. “We have to do something different, lie a different way or… something.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed.

Layla felt his weight leave the mattress and opened one eye, finding him standing beside the bed. “I’m sorry,” she offered, already missing his warmth. “But I can’t handle the similarities. It’s weird and too much to take in.”

“I get it. You don’t have to explain.”

“Thank you.”

“Should we change rooms?”

“Can we make it look different? Maybe if we move the bed and I face the wall. There are enough pillows to hide the headboard.”

Quin scanned the room then smiled. “Close your eyes.”

“Okay,” she agreed, grinning as she obeyed.

Several minutes passed before he crawled into bed, but she patiently waited, beyond thankful for all the ways he took care of her. His body heat crept over her right side as he scooted close. Then he laid his fingers over her heart and kissed her lips.

“That was tasty,” she whispered, licking her grin.

He kissed her again then leaned back. “Open your eyes.”

She did, and her lungs yanked in air as she glanced between him and his creation. “Oh my god, Quin. It’s beautiful.”

Teaser #2

The enchanted guestroom was even more beautiful than Layla remembered, so she rushed her bathroom routine, anxious to return. Quin was already lying down in nothing but pajama pants, so Layla stripped to her panties and climbed in beside him.

“That was sexy,” he praised, pulling her closer.

She crossed her arms on his chest and propped her chin on them. “You’re sexy.”

He laughed as he brushed her hair back and took her cheeks. “I bet that’s the first time those words have ever left your mouth.”

“Did it sound stupid?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.

“No,” he assured. “It sounded like beautiful music.”

He drifted a finger down her spine, and she shivered while watching his eyes. Their dark depths were very expressive, sometimes conveying more than his mouth, but they didn’t tell her everything she wanted to know.

“There’s something I want to ask you,” she said, taking an unexpected plunge.

“Shoot,” he offered.

Now that she’d jumped, she feared delving deeper, so it took her several nervous seconds to go on. “Why haven’t you told me about your dreams?”

Copyright 2012 B. C. Burgess
Thank you for reading teasers of book 3 in the Mystic series, due to release in February 2013. Don’t forget to subscribe by email at the top of the home page to receive future previews and teasers delivered straight to your inbox. In the meantime, get caught up on the adventure with books 1 & 2 – Descension and Impassion! Just click on the titles below 🙂

Santa’s Here with an Extended Preview of MYSTIC: book 3 (Chapters 1 & 2)

Prologue

2010 – Oregon (Clatsop State Forest)

Ears ringing through rushing blood and clipped voices, Agro paced between two western red cedars, their trunks as thick as storage sheds and creeping with neon moss. Impatience slithered in Agro’s stomach while chaos reigned around him – unorganized soldiers rushing to extinguish fires, dress and don their cloaks. Only a handful stood in a line nearby, ready to fly to the Conn/Kavanagh coven.

The turmoil took Agro back sixty-three years, when he was young and naïve and had no idea how to control the will of an army.

More soldiers fell in line, and Agro looked over, laying eyes on a boy no taller than his waist.

Stepping from the trees, Agro grabbed the boy by his collar and lifted his feet from the ground. “What’s this?” he demanded, scanning the line as he shook the child. He tossed the boy aside then moved to a young girl, pushing her out of formation as well. “Why are there children in this unit?”

“You said you wanted everyone in camp ready to fly, sir,” a few soldiers murmured.

Agro growled as he shoved another kid out of line. “Obviously not the useless piss-ants who can’t take care of themselves. Get them out of here.”

Adult soldiers rushed to obey, and Agro’s nostrils flared as he watched the pandemonium. He needed to replace Farriss, but he didn’t have time to nominate and test loyal candidates. Who knew his missing brute held such value?

He studied the nearby wizards, pinpointing one who’d kept calm, dismissed the chaos, and lined up in an orderly fashion. “You,” Agro said, stepping toward him.

The man tucked his right fingers into his left sleeve. Then he straightened and lowered his arms to his sides. He had a polished bald head and tattoos running from his shoulders to his neck. “Yes, sir.”

“Your name,” Agro demanded.

“Guthrie, sir.”

“What’s up your sleeve, Guthrie?”

“Silestra,” he answered, raising his left hand, and a small coral snake poked her black and yellow head from his crimson sleeve, smelling the moist air with her ebony tongue.

Agro cocked his head at the serpent then found Guthrie’s gray eyes. “How long have you been a member of the Dark Elite?”

“Forty-two years.”

“How old were you when you joined?”

“Twelve.”

“That will have to do,” Agro mumbled. “You’re my new lieutenant. Get these imbeciles organized. When we approach the community, I want half of them to enter the trees and fly ahead of the rest. They’re to take up post behind the houses while we make our way to the lawn. If any of the coven members try to sneak out, I want them apprehended and brought to me. But no one is to harm the family without my say so, or they’ll find themselves digging their own graves. You have one minute to gather the unit and prove yourself worthy, or I’ll kill you and find another deputy. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” Guthrie agreed, ushering Silestra into his sleeve.

“Then what are you waiting for?” Agro barked “Go.”

Guthrie hustled away, and Agro huffed as he resumed his pacing.

Patience was vital in his quest, but his nerves had never been so thin. “I will not butcher her family until the witch is in my hands,” he vowed. But the fire in his eyes threatened to burn everything around him to the ground.

Chapter 1

Oregon (Conn/Kavanagh coven)

A rainbow of shiny mist dazzled Quin’s retinas as he awoke in the middle of the night, his mind oddly alert. His head lay on his left bicep, and his right arm cuddled Layla to his chest, her rhythmic breaths pulsing over his pecs. Though her aura flowed peacefully, Quin’s spine straightened under the sting of agitated nerve endings.

He raised his head and looked around the dark bedroom, searching for the cause of his unease. A quiet shuffle echoed in the hallway, and Quin flipped his gaze to the open door, where a faint glow illuminated the dark wood. Finley.

Quin threw the comforter over Layla’s top half and soared from the bed, landing toe to toe with the intruder. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Layla jolted awake and rolled over, finding Quin and Finley locked in each other’s line of sight, their crimson auras bulging from their tense and feral frames.

“Cool it,” Finley hissed, sucking his blazing haze back in. “Agro’s here and he’s going to search the houses.”

The tension between them snapped as Quin shot to the bed. With a flick of his left wrist and a wave of his right hand, Layla’s luggage vanished and the comforter rolled her into a cocoon. Quin scooped her into one arm as he grabbed his bag and her cell phone from the nightstand. Then he bypassed Finley and flew toward the back door.

“Conceal us,” he whispered, magically tethering the satchel to his waistband.

Layla’s aura retracted as her body and the blanket disappeared, and Quin secured his hold while making sure she’d concealed him as well.

He swung open the kitchen door with his elbow then leapt over the table, but when he reached the back door, he slid to a stop. He closed his eyes and waved a hand, expanding his mind beyond the deck to the dense forest. He didn’t sense the enemy, but he had no way of knowing for sure.

He took two steps back, used magic to open the door. Then he counted to five before shooting from the house. By the time the door clicked shut, they were surrounded by timber.

He strained his senses, trying to hear if they were being followed as he zigzagged around tree trunks. He didn’t hear any voices or cloaks, but he felt a foreign presence.

His dad’s panicked voice broke his concentration as it echoed in his head. ‘Get out of here, Quinlan! Now!’

Quin furrowed his eyebrows as he responded, wondering why the warning was so delayed. ‘We’re gone.’

A snap echoed through the forest, and Quin sealed his mind as he turned his attention to the west. Tree branches creaked and moaned. Then a flock of birds burst from the foliage, cawing as they soared southeast. The Unforgivables were moving through the timber.

Quin shifted his course, staying low as he followed the path of the winged creatures, but once he reached the edge of the property, he veered south, confident the Unforgivables were far behind him. The foreign presence that had followed him from the house, however, lingered. Quin assumed by the speed, silence and invisibility it was Finley, and he wasn’t sure which was worse – Agro, or the most powerful wizard on earth. Both would do anything to get their hands on Layla.

In a matter of minutes, Quin had put fifteen miles between him and his home. It was his fastest time yet, and he’d never done it carrying someone. Of course, she wasn’t just someone; she was his motivation.

He slowed and called over his shoulder. “Is that you, Finley?”

“Yeah.”

Quin recognized the voice and slowed a little more. Damn, Finley was clever. There probably wasn’t another soul in the world who could keep up with a bonded child who’d been concealed by a twice-bonded child.

Quin flipped upright and descended, straining his eyes and ears. The earth rustled five feet to his left, so he turned. “Reveal yourself, Finley.”

Finely sighed as his body appeared, but his aura stayed hidden. “Stop being so damn paranoid. I just saved your witch’s ass for the second time in twelve hours.”

“She has a name.”

“Whatever,” Finley mumbled, taking a seat on the forest floor. He leaned against a tree trunk and pulled a flask from his bag. “Are you going to just stand there all night?”

Quin watched Finley casually drink. Then he tucked his chin in and found Layla’s ear. “Lift your spells, love.”

She obeyed, and Finley smirked. “You know, Layla, I would have been able to dress you before carrying you away. Guess something like that isn’t in Quin’s arsenal.”

“Shut up,” she shouted, keeping her face in Quin’s neck.

Quin ran a hand down her onyx spirals and moved a few yards away, sitting so he could keep an eye on Finley. He gently pried Layla from his neck and found her moist emerald gaze. Then he brushed her hair from her face and loosened the blanket around her shoulders. “Breathe,” he instructed, laying a hand on her heaving clavicle. “Deep, slow breaths.”

Layla found Quin’s eyes, trying to draw strength their dark depths, but all she could think about was her family. “Alana,” she sobbed, imagining the toddler’s peaceful slumber interrupted by wicked witches and wizards. “She must be so scared right now.”

“The coven will protect her,” Quin assured. “They’ll keep her safe.”

“Who’s going to protect them?”

“They’re a capable group of magicians. We did our part by getting out of there. Now try to calm your breathing. If you keep gasping and shaking like this, you’ll crack a rib. The healed bones are still susceptible to injury.”

“I hate this,” she objected.

“I know,” he whispered, touching his lips to her forehead.

His magical warmth soothed her trembling muscles, but only their family’s safety would ease her aching heart.

#

            Agro gestured toward his army while watching Caitrin’s eyes. The Conn patriarch was once again accompanied by a member of the Kavanagh family, but it wasn’t Catigern. This one called himself Cadman and claimed to be Catigern’s eldest son.

Guthrie remained at Agro’s side, but the rest of the unit split into smaller groups and headed for the houses.

“What are they doing?” Caitrin demanded.

Agro raised his eyebrows, delighting in Caitrin’s fear as doors flew open around them. “They’re searching your homes.”

“Shit,” Caitrin hissed, anxiously watching one house in particular. “Don’t hurt them. They’ll come peacefully.”

“So they are here,” Agro approved, following Caitrin’s gaze. “Shame on you for lying, Mr. Conn. Now I can’t trust a word you say.”

Two soldiers ushered Caitrin’s mate from their house, and Agro smiled as he looked to the house next door, finding another couple being herded onto the porch. Coven members were pouring from nine of the eleven houses, followed by obedient pets of various sorts.

While the family and animals were collected in the middle of the lawn, Agro flipped his gaze between the two houses that hadn’t yielded fruit. They were located on opposite sides of the lawn, one to the east and one to the west. Soldiers eventually walked onto the porches and shook their heads at their boss, indicating the houses were empty.

Agro grabbed Caitrin’s collar and yanked him from his mate’s embrace, pulling him toward the house to the east. They were halfway there when two soldiers emerged from the shadows, shoving a witch and wizard in front of them. Each captive hugged a small child to their chest, doing their best to shield innocent eyes and ears.

“We found them trying to sneak out the back,” one of the soldiers revealed.

“There’s always at least one runner,” Agro mused, looking in the opposite direction. “Anyone sneaking out the back of that one?”

One of the wizards charged with searching the two-story Victorian passed the question on, then listened for an answer. “No, sir.”

“Interesting,” Agro murmured, returning his gaze to the witch and wizard who’d attempted escape. “Shall we interrogate the rebellious family first? Kids do tend to have loose lips.”

“No,” the coven objected.

Still stuck in Agro’s grasp, Caitrin quietly spoke. “Leave the children out of this.”

Agro chuckled. “Now why would I do that when they’re such a rich source of information?” He motioned toward the soldiers surrounding the family of four, and they moved to take the kids from their parents.

“No,” several people yelled.

Agro glanced over his shoulder as a shuffle ensued – crimson cloaks tackling insubordinate coven members. Then he called to the soldiers reaching for the children. “Wait.”

Caitrin’s held breath whooshed from his lungs as his shoulders sagged, and Agro pulled him closer, aiming him toward the kids. “You know what I want from you. Let’s make a deal.”

“Let the children and their parents leave,” Caitrin stipulated, “without being followed.”

“And what will I get in return?”

“The rest of us will reveal our auras to their full extent.”

“That’s it?”

“We’ll offer no resistance as you search our homes,” Caitrin added, “and we’ll ensure our pets’ obedience. You’re getting a good deal here. The children know nothing of what you seek, so there’s no reason to involve them.”

“Perhaps,” Agro mumbled, noting the efforts being made to shield the children from their surroundings. “Very well, the kids and their mother may go, but the father stays.”

The coven sighed as the mom and dad sadly looked at each other. Then the father whispered in his son’s ear before passing him to his fair-haired mate. “Don’t come back until you hear from us,” he instructed, touching his forehead to hers.

She nodded, tears streaming from her pale-yellow eyes. Then the man kissed the backs of his kids’ heads and motioned for the mom to go.

Agro kept his word, letting her leave without a tail, so the dad tensely looked away from the sky and joined the rest of the coven.

“Now,” Agro said, pulling Caitrin to the others, “time to keep your end of the bargain. Release your auras.”

While the family exposed their souls, soldiers ushered them into a line, and Guthrie organized a thorough search of the homes.

With the hunt underway, Agro slowly walked down the line of coven members, scrutinizing the emerald-green ribbons swimming through their bright hazes. The evidence was mounting, his case growing stronger with every aura he examined… until he reached a man with a familiar emerald gaze.

“You,” Agro whispered, glancing at the woman tucked under the man’s arm. Then he turned and found Guthrie. “Which house did these two come from?”

“There,” Guthrie answered, pointing at Caitrin’s house.

Agro grinned as he returned his attention to the emerald-eyed wizard. “You’re the witch’s paternal grandparents.”

The mates glanced at each other then released their golden mist.

“That’s more like it,” Agro approved. “Don’t you live in Virginia?”

“Yes,” the man answered.

“Am I to believe your presence here is merely a coincidence?” Agro pressed.

“No,” the man confessed. “We arrived a few hours ago, after receiving word of your visit.”

“Am I so popular,” Agro mused, “that you must rush across the country to greet me?”

“You opened old wounds Caitrin and I share. Does it not make sense for us to heal them together?”

“You flew all this way to offer Caitrin a shoulder to cry on?”

“Caitrin and I stand on common ground, anchored by ties that defy distance.”

“Right,” Agro smirked, moving down the line. “I’ll come back to you two.”

Though the coven was obviously scared, they retained a unity and bravery Agro had to respect. Even the youngest members kept their heads up and their shoulders back.

Agro reached a couple in their forties – a man with dark hair and dark eyes, and a woman with platinum hair and pale-purple eyes. Both had a tinge of gold swirling close to their forms.

“What have we here?” Agro hummed, reaching for the elusive shimmers clinging to the woman’s face. “Another bonded couple?”

The male slid his hand over his woman’s cheek, blocking Agro’s touch. “Yes.”

“This family does impress,” Agro commended. “I’ll give you that. No sense in hiding now. Release your lights.”

Their golden hazes flowed free, and Agro clucked his tongue as he took them in. “Which house did these two come from?”

A soldier answered from a house to the northeast. “This one, sir.”

“Do they have kids?”

The soldier conferred with those searching the house then shouted across the lawn. “Looks like they have a son.”

“Bring me a photo,” Agro demanded, moving further down the line. “Catigern,” he greeted, slapping the old man’s shoulder. “Good to see you’re still breathing.”

Catigern’s jaw flexed, but he didn’t respond, so Agro moved on, stepping in front of a young man with blond hair and blue eyes. “Are you the bonded child?”

“That’s not him,” a soldier interrupted, approaching with a photo.

Agro glanced at the bonded couple on the other side of Catigern, smiling at the terror in their eyes as he reached for a photo of their child. He immediately recognized the young man – dark hair, dark eyes and a dimpled smile. It was the wizard Catigern couldn’t stop thinking about during their previous encounter.

“So this is the young man you were so worried about,” Agro noted, flashing the picture at the Kavanagh patriarch.

“Naturally,” Catigern confessed. “He’s my great grandson.”

“And a bonded child.”

“Yes,” Catigern whispered.

“Where is he?” Agro pressed.

“Gone,” the bonded couple claimed.

“Heard that before,” Agro replied. “Right, Caitrin?”

“They speak the truth,” Caitrin insisted. “They sent him away after your first visit.”

“Away where?”

“Far removed from you,” the mother snapped.

Her mate pulled her to his side as he evenly met Agro’s stare. “We sent our son abroad, to stay with distant relatives. I’m sure you understand why.”

Guthrie approached to quietly relay a message, and Agro leaned in to listen. When he returned his gaze to the bonded couple, he raised his eyebrows and smiled. “It would seem your son left behind nearly everything he owns. Will you be sticking to your story?”

“Yes,” the man answered. “Material objects hold no value to my son.”

“The lies,” Agro simmered, sweeping his gaze down the line. “They spew forth like Niagara. I’m going to ask this one time. If I don’t get an answer, we’ll do this the hard way. Where is Aedan and Rhosewen’s child?”

The coven remained quiet, so Agro motioned to his army. “Separate the men and women.”

A few murmurs echoed across the lawn as the men were herded several yards away and forced to their knees. Bravery waned as several witches sobbed and bowed their heads, but Agro told his soldiers to force their gazes back up.

“Guthrie,” he called.

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant replied.

“Let’s see what you can do,” Agro suggested. “What’s your specialty?”

“Lightning.”

“Air child, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well, but remember, we don’t want them dead. Why don’t you start with the wizard who claims his son is abroad?”

“Yes, sir,” Guthrie agreed, heading for the dark-haired man who looked so much like the son he aimed to protect.

“What’s your name?” Guthrie asked, moving him away from the others.

The wizard’s expression remained stoic as he answered. “Kemble.”

Guthrie vanished Kemble’s t-shirt, then walked behind him. “Do you have anything to tell my boss before I start?”

“No,” Kemble refused, meeting his mate’s fearful stare.

Guthrie looked at Agro, who gave a nod.

An electrical charge lifted the hair on Agro’s neck as Guthrie raised his right arm, his wrist bent, his fingers curled into a fist. His hand reached its apex, and a string of lightning unfurled – slender, beautiful and deadly. Guthrie flicked his wrist, and the mystical whip gracefully slithered through energized air, lashing Kemble’s back.

Kemble vibrated, his teeth clenched, his eyes squeezed shut, but he stayed silent and upright.

Without missing a beat, Guthrie flipped the sizzling whip around and struck again, marking Kemble’s back with a burning X.

Kemble’s mate choked on a scream, and Agro laughed as Guthrie’s whip glided down his victim’s spine. “Impressive,” Agro commended, “but unproductive.”

“I’ve just begun,” Guthrie noted, moving in front of Kemble, who withstood several more strikes before falling to the ground.

“Is he conscious?” Agro asked.

A soldier knelt and gave Kemble’s face a slap. “Barely.”

Kemble’s mate wailed, and Agro narrowed his eyes on her. “Somebody shut that bitch up.”

Her cries muffled into a wizard’s hand as it closed over her mouth, and her knees gave out, dropping her into the soldier’s arms.

Agro rolled his eyes and turned toward the coven’s men. Surely one of them would crack, so he picked four more and ordered their torture.

Shouts, sobs, curses and prayers echoed through the clearing as the army followed orders, but not one person uttered the name Layla. And when Agro went down the line, tapping into the wizards’ minds, he found nothing but jumbled and useless information.

Agro’s thin patience neared a snapping point. If he didn’t get answers soon, the entire coven would wind up dead, and his only link to the witch would go up in smoke.

“You,” he ordered, pointing at a young witch with inky-blue eyes. “Come here.”

The witch cowered and looked to the women beside her, who protectively wrapped their arms around her.

“Pick someone else,” one of the women insisted.

“I want her,” Agro fumed, approaching the feminine line.

The women braced themselves, prepared to stop him whatever the cost, but Agro motioned to his nearby soldiers, who quickly secured every witch save for the one in his line of sight.

“Your name,” he demanded, taking the young witch by the arm.

“Sky,” she meekly answered.

Agro turned, steering her toward the two-story Victorian. “You’re coming with me, Sky.”

“The hell she is,” a wizard objected.

Agro kept walking, barely glancing over as the rebellious wizard – one who’d already been tortured with searing, mystical chains – was tackled by five crimson cloaks.

“No,” the wizard bellowed.

But Agro ignored him as he spoke to Sky. “Whose house is this?”

“It’s empty,” she answered.

“Then why is there food in the fridge?” he asked.

The rebellious coven member shouted again. “No! Stop!”

Sky tried to look over, but Agro tightened his grip. “Who’s staying in this house?”

She swallowed as tears skated down her red cheeks. “I think Morrigan stocked it for Serafin and Daleen.”

“Serafin and Daleen,” Agro repeated. “Aedan’s parents?”

“Yes.”

“Not Aedan’s daughter?”

“No,” Sky whispered, eyes growing huge as they reached the rose garden.

The struggling wizard shouted once more, his hysteria mounting. “No!”

Agro halted and turned, rotating Sky with him. “Who is that man?”

“My dad,” she squeaked, lips quivering. “Belinos.”

“Do you have something to say, Belinos?” Agro called. “Before your daughter takes me on a tour of this empty house?”

Blood trickled down Belinos’ face as he huffed and puffed, a knee in his back while four more soldiers anchored his appendages. He looked to his right, making eye contact with Caitrin. Then he turned his bloodshot gaze on his daughter. “Yes.”

“Belinos,” Caitrin hissed.

“Go to hell,” Belinos shouted back. “That’s my daughter.”

Agro grinned as he pulled Sky to her father. “You make a wise decision, Belinos. Tell me what you know.”

“She’s alive,” Belinos confessed. “Layla’s alive.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Agro seethed, “or your daughter will give me a tour of her tight little ass as well.”

Sky flinched, and Belinos nodded, flinging blood from his broken face. “After your last visit, we looked into it and learned you spoke the truth.”

“She’s not here,” Caitrin interrupted, “and never has been. Tell him, Belinos.”

But Belinos shook his head, unable to look Caitrin in the eye. Instead, he met Agro’s stare. “Layla isn’t here, but she’s close. We tracked her to a hotel in Portland.”

Agro’s chest expanded as a chill slid down his spine. He was finally getting answers.

“We were there,” Belinos added, “yesterday, but she’d already checked out.”

Agro’s chest deflated as his nostrils flared. “You waste my time on that? Come on, Sky.”

“No,” Belinos panicked, “there’s more.”

“Damn it,” Caitrin scorned.

“What do you want from me, Caitrin?” Belinos countered. “He’s holding the cards.”

Caitrin bowed his head, and Belinos looked at Agro. “We found out where Layla was headed, so we sent Kemble’s son to track her down. I’ll give you the same information we gave him.”

“Which is?” Agro pressed.

“Seattle,” Belinos answered, “where her adopted mother grew up.”

“Her adopted mother haled from Ketchum, Idaho.”

“No,” Belinos disagreed, “she grew up in Seattle, and we know that’s where Layla went, because she told a waitress her plans before checking out of her hotel Sunday. The front desk will corroborate my story.”

“Which hotel?”

“Let my daughter go, and I’ll give you the address.”

Agro looked at Sky, somewhat disappointed he wouldn’t get a private tour from her. Then he shoved her aside and ordered his men to lift Belinos from the ground. “You just saved your coven from slaughter, Belinos. They should praise you for it.”

“I doubt that’s the reaction I face,” Belinos muttered, motioning for Sky to move away.

Agro produced a pen and paper and handed it over. “Name and address of the hotel.”

While Belinos jotted down the information, Agro walked along the line of wizards, delivering his final warning. “I’m going to follow this lead, and if it takes me to Layla, this coven will be rid of me.” He paused, nudging Kemble’s limp body with his foot. “If I get this one’s son in the process, even better. But if I follow this lead only to find the trail goes cold, I’ll be back, and this is the last time I’ll leave this coven breathing. Next time you see my face, you will either deliver my witch, or you’ll die a painful death after watching my men have their way with your women. There will be no more warnings, no more friendly visits. This is the last time you’ll see me fly away empty-handed. Got that address, Belinos?”

Belinos held up a folded piece of paper, and Agro smiled as he snatched it from his hand. “Excellent.”

He motioned to his soldiers while scanning the hotel information. Then he turned to the defeated coven and waved farewell. “Let’s hope there won’t be a next time.”

Chapter 2

Quin spent half an hour filling Layla with heat and counting the seconds between her shaking spells. Tears continued to stream from her eyes as she shivered, but her sobs had quieted and her lungs had calmed.

Eventually, to Quin’s much needed relief, her quaking episodes ceased altogether, and he sighed as he glanced at Finley, just as he’d done thirty seconds before, and he’d do it again half a minute later.

“That’s much better,” Quin approved, returning his gaze to Layla. “How are your bones? Anything feel out of place?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she answered, “and I don’t care. I’m so scared for them. How long do we have to wait? I don’t know how long I can do this. I have to know if they’re okay.”

“We have to give them time to search the houses, question the coven, and clear the area.”

“What if they figure out I’m staying in the house? They might kill someone. Or they might not leave.”

“We aren’t going to think about the what ifs. We can’t do that to ourselves. We’ll wait and deal with things when we know the facts.”

“I can’t, Quin. The what ifs haunt me.”

“I know, but I need you to stay calm, or I’ll be healing more bones.”

Finley got to his feet, and Quin whipped his head up. “Where are you going?”

“To take a piss,” Finley answered. “Would you like a play-by-play?” He smiled and raised his eyebrows. “Layla might be interested in some of it.”

The comment went ignored, so Finley turned and walked away. Quin waited for his pale aura to disappear behind a tree trunk. Then he quickly moved the blanket from Layla’s torso and ran a hand along her ribs.

“I think they’re okay,” she mumbled.

He found nothing out of place, so he covered her up and pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry you had to wake up to this.”

“I don’t care about that, Quin. I just want to know our family’s safe.”

“We’ll head back soon,” he assured, watching Finley return.

Finley rolled his eyes as he sat and reached for a redwood needle. “You’re an arrogant man, Quin. One would think you’d be humbled by the fact that someone else has been saving your woman’s life left and right.”

“Shut up,” Layla snapped.

“It’s okay,” Quin whispered. He’d just calmed her down and didn’t want to start over. “His attempt to upset me isn’t working.”

“He’s upsetting me,” she countered.

“Did you hear that?” Quin asked, looking at Finley.

“That’s fine,” Finley smirked. “It’s par for the course. I save the day, and you become the hero, because you cater to her like a slave. You know, Layla, you should consider cutting your servant loose. Relationships like that never work.”

“What do you know about relationships?” she returned. “As far as I can tell, you have no one.”

Finley’s face fell as he narrowed his eyes, and his burning aura momentarily slipped free.

“Looks like you hit a nerve,” Quin noted.

“Well I feel sorry for you, Finley,” Layla added. “Apparently you’ve had a shitty life.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Finley seethed.

“You need something,” she countered. “There has to be a reason you’re so hateful.”

“I’m not,” he disagreed, smoothing his expression. “I just don’t like your boyfriend.”

“Quin’s more than my boyfriend, and there’s no reason for you to dislike him. He hasn’t done anything to you.”

“I don’t like his attitude.”

“You’re one to talk. You have the worst attitude of anyone I know. You weren’t like this when I met you. If you’d acted this way Tuesday, I would have told you to get lost.”

“If I remember correctly, you were sitting alone that day because your precious Quin broke your heart.”

“You don’t know anything about that situation, so keep your judgments to yourself.”

“I saw enough to know he hurt you. You tried to hide it by concealing your aura, but your red cheeks and swollen eyes exposed his betrayal.”

“Enough,” Quin interjected.

Finley flashed an indulgent smile. “Now I’ve hit a nerve.”

“Why are you so hateful?” Quin asked. “I’ve never met a bonded child with so much hostility. Most of us have loving families. What’s yours like?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Did they abandon you?”

“Drop it, Quin.”

“Are they dead?”

Finley jumped to his feet, and Quin flexed as Layla jolted.

“I said drop it,” Finley repeated. “It’s none of your business who or where I come from.”

“You’ve been prying into our business like it’s your full time job,” Quin replied, “so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when we question yours. It’s suspicious how much effort you put into hiding the truth.”

“The world doesn’t need to know me, Quin. You should understand why considering you keep Layla locked in your community.”

“Layla’s hiding because she’s been targeted, but you’re not on anyone’s radar. You wander out in the open, letting all the locals see you, but you don’t let anyone know you. Even now that our coven knows your status, you remain hidden. What is it about your past you don’t want people to know? Or is it your future you’re hiding?”

“My past and future are nobody’s business.”

“That might be true if you weren’t sticking your nose in our business. You have ulterior motives concerning your move into our community, and it’s obvious they’re not honorable. You claim you want to help Layla, but you’re more worried about getting your hands on her.”

“You know, Quin, if you hadn’t gotten to her first, she might not mind my hands on her.”

“Blah,” Layla mumbled, laying her head on Quin’s shoulder.

“Don’t be so naive,” Finley argued. “Quin slapped a blindfold on you before giving you a chance to see he’s not the god you think he is. You wouldn’t be so wrapped up in him if you’d been given options.”

“I’m not interested,” she dismissed.

“Because you don’t know any better,” Finley insisted. “Quin’s replaceable and lacks the means to provide the life you deserve, a life only I can give you.”

Tired of his theories, Layla raised her head and looked over. “So why don’t you tell me, Finley, what exactly you can offer me that Quin can’t?”

Finley watched her with calculating eyes and a thin mouth, and Quin knew what was coming. Finley was about to lay his offer on the table. Layla had handed him the floor, and he was going to take it, presenting her with unimaginable opportunities.

Quin carefully curled his fingers in her hair and hugged her as tightly as he dared, struggling with the urge to hold his breath.

“I’m waiting,” she fumed. “You’re so sure you have more than he does, so let’s hear it, big shot. What makes you so damn special?”

Finley began pacing, but his eyes stayed on Layla as he calmly delivered his spiel. “You and I are more special than anyone. We’re the only two of our kind, which should mean something to you, but that damn blindfold keeps you from seeing the possibilities. All the experiences you’ve had with Quin would be a thousand times better with me. All the magic Quin’s impressed you with is shit compared to the magic I can show you. Every connection you’ve made with him would pale next to the connections we’d make. The world would be at our fingertips. If you wanted it, you’d get it. If you needed it, you’d receive it. Even our children would thrive beyond all others. They’d be able to do and have anything they want. We would be the closest thing to royalty the magical world has ever known, and we would reap nothing but benefits from the unique position. Above all, Layla, this danger you’re fretting over, this helplessness you’re feeling, would melt away. No more running, no more broken bones, and no – more – hiding. If you and I joined forces, nothing could touch us, and you’d be rid of your fears and cleansed of your worries. No more shackles, just absolute freedom.” He paused, running a hand through his wavy, blonde hair as he faced them. “That’s what I can offer you. Quin can’t touch those things. He’s below average compared to me, and if you stick with him, you’ll be running scared for the rest of your short life.”

Layla shifted, straightening her back as she trained her narrow eyes on him. “Now it’s your turn to listen, so pay attention. You and I are no more special than the next person. Our powers may be stronger, but that’s not what makes a person special. Three of the greatest blessings in my life have been non-magical people, including the woman who raised me, and I’d forfeit all my powers to have her back. Furthermore, the experiences I’ve shared with Quin were wonderful because of who he is, not what he can do, and the connections we’ve made are strong because we care about each other, not because he’s powerful. If I want it, all I have to do is ask and he’ll give it to me, and he pays more attention to my needs than I do. As for your comment about children, it’s the most ignorant argument I’ve ever heard, and it proves you know nothing about family. My child will be perfect no matter who fathers it, and I don’t need a powerful wizard on my arm to provide my baby with what babies really need – a loving home. I would never pick a man because he could give me a stronger offspring; the mere idea disgusts me. As for the danger, it will always be there. If not from Agro, from somebody else. Even you and I can’t rid the world of evil. Maybe we could remain safe together, but the rest of the world would still suffer, and that will always concern me, no matter how far removed from it I am, so there’s no such thing as being rid of my fears and cleansed of my worries.” She paused, taking a deep breath before calmly going on. “Regarding your comment about Quin being below average, that’s just blindness on your part. You can’t even claim ignorance on that one, because I’ve only known him for six days and can already testify that he possesses more love and kindness than any other man I’ve known. I’ve never felt more cared for than I do when I’m in his arms. He’s never touched me with anything other than a tender hand, and he’s never sent a harsh or hateful word my way. He’s respectful and considerate, and it’s not an act meant to manipulate. He’s generous because he’s a good man, and if you weren’t so blinded by jealousy, you’d recognize it, too. So you see, you have nothing to offer me, and what I have to offer isn’t yours. It’s Quin’s, and all the magic in the world isn’t going to change that. You and your fancy aura don’t stand a chance.”

Quin had watched the words tumble from her lips, submersing himself in every syllable, and his heart swelled as it thumped her name, each palpitation venerating a woman far more special than she believed. But it wasn’t her powers that made it so. Only her extraordinary soul could claim the credit for the way she glittered brighter than the rest. Many witches would have taken Finley’s offer and run with it, ready to fulfill worldly desires; and even more would have contemplated the offer, tempted by power and security. But not Layla – her heart ever pure. She was the epitome of goodness, a conveyer of compassion, and a paragon of selflessness. Her words were the most beautiful Quin had ever heard, and she’d said them with strength and honesty. She believed what she said with her whole heart, and that made his heart soar.

“Hey,” he whispered.

She turned and found his stare. “Hey back.”

“You are special,” he insisted, “but your magic has nothing to do with it. Your words were beautiful and true, and you have no idea how much they mean to me. Thank you.” He was so overwhelmingly touched by her sincere and unwavering commitment to him, he felt it wouldn’t be too inappropriate to rip out his heart and place it in her palm. “I love you, Layla, and I’ll take care of you forever.”

“I love you, too,” she returned, “and we’ll take care of each other.”

A snarl rolled from Finley’s throat as he threw his hands up. “You guys make me sick. You’re both fools.”

Layla narrowed her eyes on him. “Comments like those are just one reason you’ll never get your hands on me, Finley. You’re rude and hateful, and you don’t seem to understand the word love at all.”

Finley slowly shook his head. “You’re passing up a life of unlimited magic, power and safety for your precious Quin. That’s not love. It’s stupidity.” He paused, shifting his disdainful gaze to Quin. “And you’re letting her do it. That’s not love. It’s selfishness. You’re a thief leading a blind and naïve millionaire down a doomed path.”

“You’ve made your point,” Quin returned, “and Layla told you how she feels. You need to accept her rejection and move on, maybe learn some manners along the way.”

Finley’s blue and green eyes churned like a stormy sea as he curled his fingers into vibrating fists. “You’re more foolish than I thought, Quin. You’re taunting the most powerful wizard in the world.”

“You enjoy reminding me of your power,” Quin observed, “but it does nothing but betray your insecurities. It’s no secret your magical limits exceed mine, but I have dozens of people willing to face my enemies as if they were their own. You have no one.”

Finley tilted his head, his angry aura seeping from his rigid frame. “Everyone finds themselves alone, Quin. You must know you’d be fighting a losing battle.”

“You’ll stay away from him,” Layla snapped. “Or you’ll deal with me.”

Her aura swelled, drowning Quin in a rippling river of dark and ominous colors, and he flipped his gaze to her face, finding a temper he’d never seen before. His chest and throat tightened as he watched her jaw flex, and it strengthened her delicate visage. An untapped well of anger bubbled beneath the surface, awakened by Finley’s threats.

Quin cleared his throat and tightened his hold, lifting her with him as he stood. “Conceal us, love. We’re leaving.”

“Thank you,” she sighed, turning her face into his neck.

Quin kept his eyes on Finley as Layla worked her magic. Then he shot toward the sky, hoping Finley wouldn’t follow.

Taking an entirely different route back, Quin often dipped into the forest and flew several miles out of his way, so it took him more than half an hour to reach the northeast side of the community.

He landed two miles outside their property line then floated through the forest, straining his eyes and ears for danger, but all he sensed was nature, its serenity conflicting with his mood. He dug Layla’s cell from his bag, contemplating the risks of calling home. Then a screech pierced the silence, drawing his attention to the treetops. Zenith – his great grandpa’s hawk.

Quin searched for her, but couldn’t find her until she squawked again, this time from a nearby limb. “Clever girl,” he commended.

Zenith chirped and shook her feathers. Then Caitrin’s worried voice echoed in Quin’s head.

‘Are you okay? Is Layla okay?’

‘Yes,’ Quin answered. ‘Is it safe to return?

‘As safe as it’s going to get.’

‘We’ll be there shortly.’

Copyright 2012 B. C. Burgess
Thank you for reading this preview of book 3 in the Mystic series, due to release in February 2013. Don’t forget to subscribe by email at the top of the home page to receive future previews and teasers delivered straight to your inbox. In the meantime, get caught up on the adventure with books 1 & 2 – Descension and Impassion!

I Was Inspired By… LEGEND?

When people ask what inspires me, I never provide what I would consider an adequate answer. This brain that has spewed forth over half a million words for a series cannot come up with a reason for doing so. Instead, I stand there like an idiot incapable of stringing together enough words to make a sentence.

I don’t know why this happens, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it since the brain remains as mysterious to mankind as the female orgasm. So, when I contemplate the elusive answer to the confounding “inspiration” question, I usually come up with something rather generic. Am I proud of this? No, but even if my answers are generic, they’re true, so I use them to silence the crickets. Today, however, I had a breakthrough, and I didn’t even have to search for it. Realization slapped me across the face in a moment of unreflective boredom.

So, without further ado (Are you ready? Excited? On the edge of your seat?), I give you one of the Mystic series’ inspirations – Legend.

Yes, that Legend. The Ridley Scott magical fantasy of the 80s. I loved the movie as a child. It was up there with Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story, The Worst Witch, Teen Witch, Mannequin, Weekend at Bernie’s, Police Academy, and that sweet little morsel called Dirty Dancing. Wow, my taste varies.

So, Legend. Please tell me you remember it. If not, here’s a little refresher. The Darkness devil dude wants to create eternal night with a little help from his minion goblins. To do this, he must kill the last two unicorns, because as long as the unicorns live, evil cannot harm the pure of heart. Oh, and to add icing on the corrupt cake, Darkness wants to marry the fairy princess. Got that? Okay. There’s Jack the forest boy played by a very young Tom Cruise sporting a dreadful uni-brow, and then there’s Lili the fairy princess played by the gorgeous Mia Sara, who you might remember from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (another fave). But I digress. Back to Legend. Along with his elven allies, Jack the forest boy must storm the evil lair, defeat Darkness, save the fairy princess (who happens to be his one true love), recover the unicorn horn stolen by Darkness, and reattach said horn on the male unicorn, so female unicorn can rejoice and make babies. Yay!!! Tom Cruise saves the world yet again.

Now that I’ve caught you up, let me tell you the purpose of this post. As I got sucked into an airing of Legend earlier, it hit me – the Mystic series, visually speaking, was unknowingly inspired by the visuals on Legend… minus that awful uni-brow. Some of the circa 1985 special effects make me giggle, but the scenery, costumes and overall ambiance are gorgeous. In nearly every scene there is something beautiful going on – dandelion fluff blowing in the wind; sparkling snow drifting around; bubbles or glitter flying between characters and sticking to their cheeks. A hazy glow follows the unicorns, and some of the landscapes look like something you’d see in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, only filmed with less advanced cameras. It’s been years since I watched Legend, long before I wrote the Mystic series, but I could clearly see Layla and Quin in those settings, which made me realize – this is one of my inspirations.

I never would have been able to tell you that before. I could have searched for hours and not come up with the movie Legend, but it clearly had lasting influence on my imagination and interpretation of beauty. And now that I know this, I can pinpoint other movies as well. Like the dream sequence in Labyrinth. Sarah is in a sparkly white ballgown and there are bubbles floating everywhere and music playing and the edges of the scene are hazy. Quin’s no David Bowie with his rocking hair and inescapable bulge, but that scene possesses the fairy tale beauty I’ve built the Mystic world out of.

When I decided to write this post, I went looking for a screen shot of Legend and nearly flipped when I found this video. Not only does it have some of the scenes I want to show you, it is set to Loreena McKinnett’s The Mummer’s Dance, which is on the station I listen to when I need inspiration for the Mystic series! Can you believe that? In that moment, I knew this post was meant to be, so sit back, press play, and lose yourself in a world of beauty, if only for a few minutes.

I love hearing from you, so talk to me! Is Legend a movie you recall fondly? Or do you think it’s laughable and Tom’s uni-brow ruins the whole thing? What other movies from my silly list do you love/hate?

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Welcome to my wacky world!!!

Hello and welcome to b.c. burgess (Find Your Fairy Tale), where fun-loving adults (17+) can hang out and chat about fiction, fantasies and that crazy thing called life. I’ve been writing for years, but I’m new to blogging, so bear with me as I dive head first into the deep end. Many of my posts will relate to the Mystic series, but I’ll strive to throw in some oddball subjects to keep things interesting. I want this to be a safe-zone for my readers and me, so please be kind when commenting, but don’t be afraid to get a little naughty in a nice way. Above all, don’t hesitate to comment. I love chatting with my readers and want this to be a place where everyone has a voice. My name’s on the blog, but this isn’t about me. It’s about connecting with my readers in a long-term and meaningful way, so make sure you subscribe by email so you don’t miss any posts. Together, we’ll find the beauty in life, and when it starts to get ugly, we’ll escape to a world of fantasy and fun. Hey – grownups need fairy tales, too 😉