Excerpt: Mystic Realms

Excerpt: Mystic Realms

Romance Story Collection

An Excerpt from Silent Storm

“So, if I hand over my wallet you’ll let me go?” she asked, putting a tremor into her voice to show she was suitably cowed.

“Of course,” the first guy said.

There was no ‘of course’ about it. She could tell by the way they bounced from foot to foot, unable to keep still that they were juiced up on something. As soon as she handed over her wallet she was as good as dead, especially once they discovered the lack of coin inside.

“Hand it over, kid, and you can go back to your mommy,” one of them joked. The others cackled.

Oh, ha, ha, ha.

She was blown away by their wit. Idiots. How many other people had they robbed of their hard-earned money? Atlas snarled, sensing her rising anger.

The two idiots in front of her looked at each other nervously for a moment.

“Hand it over,” the one of the left ordered.

“Sure.” She undid her coat, careful not to pull it away from her body and reveal the only advantage she might have against them. She grabbed her near-empty wallet out of her pocket then threw it right into his face. He snarled as she quickly grabbed two of the chakram that hung from her belt. She held one in each hand as she widened her stance, shifting her weight forward onto the balls of her feet.

“Look, she wants to play Frisbee,” one of them jeered.

“Sure do, asshole. Catch!”

She spun one of the chakram. The man on the right howled as it embedded itself in his chest. The other man just stared in shock as he collapsed to the ground, still screaming. She turned side-on so she could keep an eye on the two behind her, but she needn’t have worried. They were too busy staring in surprise at the idiot on the ground to care about her.

Somehow, she didn’t think they were professional thieves.

“Get it out! Get it out!” the thief on the ground yelled.

“Oh, I wouldn’t advise that,” she said seriously. “That will just make it bleed more.”

The round, thin discs might look a bit like a hollowed-out Frisbee, a game which children had been playing for hundreds of years, but they were sharp and deadly. Used correctly, they could slice a limb off.

She might be outnumbered, but she was probably smarter than the four of them combined. She could find a way out of this.

She hoped.

One of the thieves made a move towards her. She flung another chakram. She didn’t have time to make certain she’d hit her mark, although his scream of pain told her everything she needed to know. Her attention turned to the two men still standing, who had realized by now that she was no easy mark.

Atlas snarled as they moved in towards her. They were about to rush her.

“You’re dead, boy,” the leader snarled.

Her heart raced, beating so hard she felt slightly ill. The urge to run pounded through her. Or to scream.

So she smiled instead. She knew it would confuse them.

She grabbed the small blade she kept in a holster on her belt. One of them laughed.

“You call that a knife, boy? What’s it used for? Stabbing roast beef?”

Pretty much, but it was all she had.

“Now, Atlas!” she yelled as she rushed forward, using the element of surprise to attack the closest thief. But he must have been expecting her because he pulled a blade out from behind his back and slashed at her. She pulled up short, diving to the right. She fell to the ground and rolled. Fuck. This was it. She was dead.

“Run, Atlas,” she screamed. She wasn’t about to let her dog go down with her.

But the expected blow never came, and she turned to see a tall figure dressed in dark clothing fighting the thief she’d attempted to rush. Another of the thieves was on the ground, his throat ripped out. Atlas stood next to him with a satisfied, doggy-grin on his face.

She swung back to see the new-comer stab his sword into the last thief’s stomach. As he turned towards her, she clumsily got to her feet, leaning back against the wall behind her, her legs weak. Darkness had fully fallen, and she couldn’t make out the features of his face. Atlas walked over to her and leaned against her.

“I’m insulted you didn’t invite me to the party.”

Relief filled her at the familiar, deep voice. Quickly followed by irritation. Fuck. This was all she needed. She’d almost have preferred to face the thief.

“If you weren’t invited then why are you here?” she snapped, reaching down to run her hand through Atlas’s fur.

“Easy, boy,” she told him. “It’s over now.”

If only she could ease her own nerves so quickly; adrenaline still surged through her veins, making her heart race.

“That’s the worst thank you I’ve ever had.”

“That’s because I wasn’t thanking you.”

Why would she thank him?

Maybe because he had helped her.

“Thank you,” she muttered.

He put his hand to his ear. “Pardon? I didn’t hear you?”

“Don’t push your luck,” she told him. “What are you doing here, Nicolas? Are you following me?” He was a pain in her butt. He was her brother Seb’s oldest friend. Possibly his only friend. When she was seventeen, she’d had the biggest crush on him. One night she’d made a stupid mistake and attempted to kiss him. She could still see the look of horror on his face. She’d smarted over that rejection for years.

The last time she’d seen him was eight months ago. She’d just won a huge pot in a game of poker when the sore loser had decided to ambush her. Pete and Jono—two members of Seb’s crew, had been with her. Sheets, the poker loser, and three of his friends cornered them on their way back to the Mazu. When Nicolas arrived, he’d more than evened up the odds. Supposedly, he’d seen her leaving the backroom of the bar where the poker game had been held and followed her. She didn’t know if she believed him. It was kind of suspicious how often he turned up when she was in trouble.

“I wasn’t following you.”

“No? What do you call it then? Stalking?”

He hissed out a breath. “I am no stalker.”

“Then what are you doing here? Are you saying you just happened to be walking past this alley at this particular time and saw me fighting off four men?”

“There wasn’t much fighting going on. It looked like you were lying on the ground about to be gutted like a fish.”

“I had already injured two of them!” she yelled back.

Standing here, arguing over who killed who probably wasn’t the wisest choice of action. Not unless they wanted to explain the four dead thieves to the militia. At least, she thought they were all dead. None of them were moving.

The last thing she wanted was the attention of the militia, not only did Captain Stanton have it in for their family, but if they discovered that Atlas had torn a man’s throat out, they’d shoot him. She tightened her hand in his fur. He turned and licked her arm, as though sensing her fear.

“If I hadn’t come along, you’d be dead. What are you doing out here on your own, Kaley?”

“I’m not a child who needs an escort.”

“No?” There was a note of disbelief in his voice.

Her temper spiked. She might dress like a pre-pubescent boy, but at twenty-four she was no child. She hadn’t been a child for a long time. Not with the things she’d seen and done.

“I don’t know why you keep turning up like a bad smell but stay away from me. I don’t need or want you in my life.”

He stepped towards her, and she resisted the urge to draw back. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how he unsettled her.

“And here I thought you would be happy to see me.”

“Are you seeing someone about those delusions?”

“Surely, you’re not still angry over what happened eight months ago?”

She ground her teeth together at the memory. “You threatened to spank me! In front of Jono and Pete! How do you expect me to feel? Grateful? And then you spent the next hour lecturing me like I was a child.”

“Maybe I should have followed through on my threat to spank you. Perhaps then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this situation again and again.”

By now he was only a few inches away from her. “Have you got a death wish?”

“Maybe next time I won’t bother to come to your aid.”

“Good! Suits me!” It would suit her if she never saw him again.

Liar. Liar.

The wind whipped around them as the skies opened and rain pelted down. Suddenly the ground shook, and she groaned.

Fuck. This night just kept getting better.

A huge creature thundered into the alley, coming to a stop a few feet away. It stared around for a moment, taking in the bodies, Nicolas, Atlas, and herself.

At over eight feet tall and at least three times as wide as she was, most people would have been terrified by the giant creature. He was completely hairless, his skin rough and gray like the rhinoceroses she’d seen on the African continent. His head was too small for his large body, his eyes slits, his nose large and bulbous, and his mouth too wide. One shoulder drooped lower than the other, and despite the fact that his clothes were custom-made, they never seemed to fit him properly.

Most people thought him a freak. Hideous and terrifying.

To her, he was just Ari, the creature her brother had summoned when she was a young child to protect and watch over her. Ari didn’t have much of a mind of his own. He ate, he slept, and he obeyed Seb’s commands.

Seb had special abilities. No one knew where they’d come from. When he’d reached puberty, he’d developed summoning powers. She’d only been a baby at the time, so she couldn’t remember any of this. Everything she knew came from bits and pieces she’d overheard and what she could get out of her other brothers.

Her father found a sorcerer who’d helped Seb control his power. She had no idea where the things he summoned came from, she wasn’t sure even Seb did. But everything he summoned, he could control, including the Mazu. He’d summoned the ship after their other ship was attacked and destroyed.

Seb never left the Mazu. She wasn’t sure if he couldn’t, or he just didn’t want to. So he used Ari to see and hear what he wasn’t able to.

Ari opened his mouth and roared.

“Jesus, Seb, you trying to bring the militia down on us?” she snapped.

Ari brushed out his hand, pointing at the bodies.

“Yeah, yeah, I can see them. Who do you think put them there?” she boasted.

Ari made a snorting sound then crossed his arms over his chest. She ground her teeth together at the obvious disbelief. Did no one think she was capable of fighting a few idiot thieves? Ari turned to Nicolas and let out a low growl. That surprised her. She thought Seb and Nicolas were friends.

“I only arrived a few minutes before you did,” Nicolas snapped at Ari. “You can’t blame me for the trouble she gets into. You’re supposed to be watching her. Where were you?”

She gaped at Nicolas. “No one needs to watch me. Grown woman, remember?”

But neither man paid her any attention. They just glared at each other. Finally, she threw up her hands, exasperated. “I don’t know what is going on with you two, but just quit it, will you? Seb, these men attacked me on my way back to the ship, unprovoked I might add. I didn’t set out looking for trouble. Nicolas arrived just as I was fighting off the last one.”

Nicolas made a noise in the back of his throat, and she scowled at him. But he didn’t say anything to dispute her claim, and she eased up on her glare. Maybe she’d been a bit harsh on him before. He wasn’t a total ass.

“You should have taught her to fight better,” Nicolas told Ari/Seb. She quickly changed her mind about him. He was an ass.

“I fight just fine!” she protested. “I took two of them down before you even got here!”

Ari snarled and, grabbing her by the waist, hoisted her up and over his wide shoulder.

“Hey! Put me down, Seb! I mean it! Put me down!”

Ari just grunted and turned away. He paused briefly to rip both of the chakrams from the thieves’ bodies. Neither moved so either they were dead or on their way. She swallowed, refusing to feel guilty. They’d attacked her. And she bet she wasn’t their first victim. She sighed as Ari turned and set off down the alley, resigned to suffering through this small punishment for leaving the Mazu without telling Seb.

She just wished Nicolas hadn’t been there to witness it.

Nicolas watched until Ari disappeared, a furious Kaley hanging over his shoulder. He grimaced. At least Seb would be the target of that infamous temper of hers for a while. Although from the look she’d given him before Ari had carried her away, he didn’t think he was her favorite person.

Probably not his best move, insulting his mate.

His mate.

Fury erupted inside him as he looked around at the bodies littering the filthy ground. He was actually surprised at her talent with the chakram. At least Seb had given her some means to defend herself. But the chakram only worked if she was some distance from her attacker. She needed more fighting skills.

He snarled down at bodies on the ground.

They had dared to attack his mate, touch what belonged to him. He erupted into his other form, his clothes splitting from the effort, and roared his displeasure. This form was taller and leaner than his human body. Devoid of any hair, he was lean and leathery. He kept his wings folded in, the alleyway too narrow for his wingspan. His long tail brushed against a building as he turned, fire burst from his mouth, incinerating the bodies, as well as his own clothes, and destroying all evidence. At least nothing would come back on Kaley now.

Nicolas crouched then sprang high into the air, his wings catching a huge gust of air and nearly sending him spinning. It wasn’t exactly safe flying weather, but he needed some way of expending the furious energy still coursing through him.

She’d nearly been hurt.

He’d nearly been too late.

His mate could have died.

He roared again, safer now in the skies where no one could hear him. He knew it was dangerous to change while on the ground. Everyone thought he was a drifter, a merc who took high-risk, high-reward jobs. Because that’s the persona he’d created.

That’s who Kaley thought he was.

Because he didn’t think she could handle the truth.

That he was actually a beast.

A monster.