Wednesday Afternoon, September 7, 2032—Las Vegas, Nevada
There are only two beds.
Saari Mitchell stood in the hallway separating the bungalow’s two bedrooms.
Her Trigonal match included three people.
Does the Tueri Council expect me to rotate my sleeping arrangement each night? Because the guys sure as hell won’t share a bed.
“Saari, come see our room,” Dhelis Guidry called.
His voice came from somewhere on her right.
Our room. As in just the two of us.
Anxiety squeezed the breath from her lungs. Black dots crowded her vision, heralding an approaching panic attack. She fought to keep her expression blank, as she stared at Brogan Vincent—her other mate.
Brogan’s hand lightly traced the length of her hair. “Deep breath, Saari. You’re about to hyperventilate.”
Of course Brogan picked up on her emotions.
Ever since his physical healing energy had bonded to her emotional healing energy four months ago, he’d been able to decipher her moods as successfully as a Vulcan mind-meld—without touching her. His knowing was almost as invasive as if he’d actually read her mind. And there were too many things she didn’t want him to know.Like the fact she was immortal.
Since she hadn’t told either of her mates that little tidbit, she didn’t want him reading her emotions about that specific detail. They deserved to hear the truth from her, as soon as she figured out the right way to tell them.
Her instincts for self-preservation took over.
A thick mental fog normally swirled around her older memories and the emotions attached to them. Anxiety at being in a bungalow on what amounted to a honeymoon with both of her mates reduced her efforts to wisps of patchy mist.
“Everything’s going to work out. You’ll see.”
Oh how she wanted to believe him.
He wrapped his hands around her biceps and lightly squeezed, redirecting her focus. A liquid honeyed calm seeped through their connection. The steady thump of his heartbeat seduced her racing heart, its pace slowing to match his.
The band of anxiety squeezing her chest loosened, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
The corner of his mouth turned up in a sexy half smile. “I’m gonna take a shower in our room. Go check out your other room with Dhelis.”
Another “our room” comment—except Brogan had added “your other room,” telling Saari he understood the reason behind her temporarily averted meltdown. He’d tried to give her some measure of control by calling both rooms hers.
Neither of them closed their eyes when he brushed his lips across hers. An accelerated thump thump thump filled her ears. Emerald sparks of desire flashed in his amethyst and silver-colored eyes. He stepped back and pulled his shirt over his head.
Muscles flexed and rippled with the natural movement.
She noticed everything: arms strong enough to carry her forever, a well-defined chest for her to lay her head on, and honest-to-God washboard abs that topped a dark line of hair that trailed below the waistband of his jeans. Her gaze returned to his. A warm flush colored his skin—even his sexy, shaved head.
God, what a body.
“Join me, if you’d like.”
Even without his touch, her heartbeat still matched his rhythm, accelerating in anticipation.
“Still here.” Dhelis called to her again.
And then her connection with Brogan coughed and sputtered.
How could I forget about Dhelis?
She glanced toward the other room, hoping Dhelis hadn’t come into the hallway and seen her reaction to Brogan. None of them had talked about how they would handle the next phase of their relationship—which seemed like a huge mistake now that they were all together, in a two-bedroom bungalow, with only a hallway and small living room in between.
How am I supposed to deal with this?
Before she could say anything, Brogan’s door closed. He’d made their situation easier for her. Again. A few moments later, the shower water came on.
She went to the other bedroom and stepped through the doorway into a tropical haven. Potted banana trees and huge ferns loomed in every corner. Vines crept along ledges built into the ceiling, which hung strategically throughout the room. Birds of Paradise plants—with bright orange, gold, and white flowers—exploded from pedestals throughout the room. In the center of the room, supreme on its own platform, stood a bamboo-framed four-post bed, draped with mosquito netting.
Dhelis leaned casually against a post at the foot of the bed, hands in his pockets.
He’d dressed for comfort today, in jeans and a crew necked t-shirt. The soft material stretched across his broad shoulders. The ivory color melted against his sun-kissed Mexican-Indian complexion.
She took in the relaxed pose and wasn’t fooled for a moment.
His tight smile and narrowed eyes told her he didn’t like waiting while she’d been with Brogan.
“Brogan and I were just talking.”
“I know. I heard.”
Oh, God. He knows exactly what happened in the hallway.
Her stomach twisted into edgy knots.
“I don’t think you need a shower—yet.” His predatory gaze stroked her body.
He pushed off the bedpost and closed the distance between them, faster than her eyes could track. Royal purple overshadowed the silver and amethyst-colored swirls filling his eyes, telling her he’d traveled through the other dimension he used to move from place to place.
“No fair, sneaking up on me like that.” Saari wagged a finger at him, trying to lighten the mood.
“I didn’t sneak. You saw me the entire time.”
“Fine. No Stone Riding when I’m not expecting it. It’s jarring when you pop up right in front of me like that.” She shoved her hands in her back pockets to hide their shaking.
“My turn to say sorry then. I didn’t mean to startle you. Just kept thinking about how much I wanted to touch you, and decided there was no reason I should wait.” His hands settled on her hips and pulled her against him.
“Oh.” Saari couldn’t help her breathy response to his blatant need.
His lips curled in pure male satisfaction. His hand slid under her blouse at the small of her back. He placed his other palm against the back of her neck. The skin to skin contact instantly generated warmth. A burning arrow of pleasure shot down her spine.
Her back bowed and she arched against him, softening with the bone-dissolving heat. His head dipped forward. Sparks flashed behind her eyes each time he nipped the hollow where her neck sloped toward her shoulder.
“So, what’s the plan for the afternoon?” Brogan asked from behind them.
Saari’s eyelids popped open in shock. She tried to pull away from Dhelis. He tightened his grasp.
“Thought you were taking a shower?” Dhelis growled.
“I was going to, but then I realized we hadn’t made any definitive arrangements.”
“We were about to.” Dhelis lowered his head toward Saari again.
A strangled moan of frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety squeezed past her lips.
Dhelis bared his teeth in a grim smile before stepping away from her.
“So you decided we should talk now?” Dhelis’s hands flexed.
An inferno of warmth engulfed her senses. Between Brogan’s advances heightening her senses through their grounded connection and Dhelis’s blazing passion melting her from the inside out, her fried nerve endings didn’t stand a chance. Her body twitched like she’d stuck a fork in a light socket.
I am so not ready to have this conversation—with either of them much less, God forbid, both of them.
Saari backed away from her mates, intent on escaping the bedroom.
Dhelis started to follow her. “Saari, wait.”
She ran for the front door. “I can’t do this—not right now. I need some air.”
Saari floated, in a sea of blackness, carried by a steady current that pushed wave after wave of nothingness out into forever. A burst of disparate energy streaked through the undertow, suddenly sending her in a different direction. The new force in the ocean rocked her peaceful drift, and her blissful comfort changed. Waves rolled furiously, hurtling her forward.
Her eyes flew open at the exact moment her mind crashed into reality, and she gasped in pain. Though immortal, her body still experienced physical death each time she was fatally injured.
"Oh, God," she moaned. "Consciousness is overrated."
She remembered the 8-inch blade of a psychotically strong, seriously tweaking vampire had caused today's inflicted pain. Having a knife slam through her heart topped her "personally-experienced" list of Most Painful Ways To Die. Her chest ached as if it had been wrapped in gasoline-soaked elastic and set on fire.
Blinking away grit, she forced her eyes to focus. Painted stars on the ceiling winked at her through the mosquito netting draped over the rod-iron railing of her pine, four-post bed. A careful sigh of relief escaped. Mag had found her and brought her home.
If she was in her bedroom, her secret of immortality was safe.
The world couldn't know of her eternal existence. A new search for the "elixir of life" would lead to her front door. She'd end up as a pin cushion for some ego maniacal entrepreneur if anyone got a hold of the security tapes at the hospital.
After not showing up or calling, did she still have a job at the hospital?
A very masculine and wonderfully familiar chuckle drifted from her right. "I can see from your frown you've jumped right to worrying. Quit. After I found a broken camera in the parking garage, I called the hospital and let them know you're home sick. They didn't mention anything about the attack, so I doubt they have any viable footage."
Feather-soft linen brushed her cheek as she rotated her head across her pillow with measured caution. She needed to see her adopted sibling, but she didn't want to set off a new battalion of pain marching in a different direction somewhere else in her body.
Her gaze moved up his face until their eyes met. "Mag." Her voice cracked with gratitude. He would keep her safe until she could care for herself.
His lips turned up in a smile, showing perfectly straight teeth. Even his pearly points seemed whiter against his mahogany skin. She wondered for the umpteenth time how he could form a comforting yet cynical smile, all at the same time.
Mag leaned in toward her, the chair creaking in complaint. "Thank God you woke up," he whispered against her ear. He lifted a curl of hair off her shoulder, twining the strands around his shaking fingertip. "I swear you gave me a heart attack, stepping in front of that blood-crazed vampire."
"You'd have done the same."
"I just knew you were gonna die."
"I did," she groaned.
He pulled back from her enough to lean his forehead atop hers. The solid pressure behind his touch anchored her awareness. Chocolate eyes shot through with amber bored into hers as he rolled his brow across hers.
His deep sigh brushed her cheek.
"You know, Saari, our friendship has a lot of perks, but dying vicariously through you is not one of them," he murmured fiercely.
A bark of laughter burst from her mouth, only to be cut short by a moan of pain. Her chest burned in retaliation. "Don't make me laugh," she begged. "It hurts."
His head shot up. "I'm sorry, Nefer Ka."
He looked so noble.
Coffee-colored skin and sharp angled features spoke of an Egyptian heritage that lent credibility to his calm and regal demeanor. But hearing him use his pet name for her waved a mental red flag. Nefer Ka meant "beautiful soul" in his native language. They'd been friends, each other's family so long, he only slipped into such personal vernacular under highly charged emotions-good or bad.
Today, worry lines marked the grim set of his jaw.
He shifted away from her, careful not to jostle her and accidentally cause more pain. The weight of his left hand settled around her smaller-fisted right hand. She stared intently at their clasped hands before looking up again.
He followed the direction of her glance, looked back up and shrugged. His eyebrows lifted. "Made me feel better, holding your hand."
The memory Jordan had shown her flashed behind her eyes: Mag, unwilling to hurt anyone, intent on killing himself. I came so close to losing him and didn't even know it.
She raised their joined hands to her lips and pressed a kiss to the back of his hand before rubbing her cheek gently over his skin. "Now let go of my hand so I can feel better."
His fingers loosened, allowing her to shift in measured increments on the bed. Her lungs filled with a calming breath, preparation against the coming pain. She rested her fist directly over her heart, fingers clutched tight together. The air in the room crackled. A teakettle's hiss burst from her lips, teeth grinding against the pain. Healing energy burst from her palm, heat scorching the sensitive skin.
The energy output flared past the barriers that defined her personal space, pulling strength from every available outside source, augmenting her minimal reserves. She couldn't sustain this level of flowing power for long. This injury was severe and needed more than the use of her usual ability.
She required time and sleep to heal.
Exhaustion forced her to shift her hand off center on her chest. The crackling in the air subsided to a low hum. Heat radiated in a tolerable wave across her skin. Psychic walls she'd thrown up in an attempt to contain the energy pouring out of her dropped.
Awareness expanded beyond her body, encompassing the familiarity of her bedroom: the quilt she lay under, scented candles on the dresser, and framed pictures on the wall. Each calmed her in a way nothing else could. This was her home. Saari's energy meandered around the room, pulling comfort and strength from the known around her in a metaphysical blanket of security.
Her auric senses circled to the chair-and encountered a man with an unknown source of power. Saari's body bounced on the bed from the psychic contact. Up to this moment, she hadn't sensed anyone other than Mag in her bedroom. Such a lack of perception could be deadly. Her stomach knotted, the chink in her extrasensory armor a testament to how gravely she'd been wounded.
Something had gone drastically wrong.
Why was this stranger in her room?
Her gaze shot sideways. A man sat up straight in his chair, literally on the edge of the seat. Hands, palms down, gripped his knees. His knuckles showed white against the black of his pants, suggesting his own nervousness. The intensity of his emotion pounded her intuitive shields, and his body language struck her as downright disturbing.
~ ~ ~
From the other side of the bed, Dhelis watched the interaction between the vampire called Mag and the striking woman in the bed. Joy and tenderness radiated from their every touch, making him feel like a voyeur. He presumed they were lovers, his presence an intrusion on a private reunion.
Doctor Conzatti had to have been mistaken about her healing abilities. Dhelis hadn't sensed anything from her. He considered leaving.
Until the woman rested her fisted hand over her heart.
He felt the air in the room shift, every molecule of oxygen sizzling with therapeutic energy. She hissed in pain, the sound escaping through her gritted teeth. When her hand relaxed on her chest, the currents of power flowing toward her changed direction and disbursed throughout the room, passing through him.
His gut churned with certainty that this woman was the source of a power shift so intense the hairs still stood up on his arms. Could she be clutching a healing stone? His heart raced with anticipation and excitement. That kind of energy displacement meant she held something gripped in her hand. The heel of his boot tapped the floor, his leg bouncing with nervous energy. His hands ached from the tight grip on his knees.
He willed the woman to look at him.
One look at her eyes, and he would know if she was Tueri.
Her head turned sharply. For an instant, he wondered if he'd spoken his thoughts aloud. The woman boldly met his gaze. Her eyes rounded with surprise.
Shock rippled through him.
No matter what he had thought he expected, he was in no way prepared when her full attention settled on him. Her tri-colored eyes were striking; the most incredibly beautiful color he'd ever seen. More so, he thought, than even his own. His people all had crystalline-like eyes, amethyst and silver combined with a third shade based on talent and purity of bloodline.
The color of this woman's eyes reflected pure Tueri descent. But she was an Unknown, and for the life of him, he couldn't fathom how this could be. The fact they shared the same eye color went beyond incredible. Only Stone Riders had his color of eyes-and only men were Stone Riders.
Except a Predecessor.
Predecessors were always women.
There had been no female Predecessors for centuries-at least none that he knew of in the last five hundred years of Tueri history.
That this woman was a Predecessor defied all logic.
Dhelis dropped to one knee and, without asking, took hold of the woman's hand, enveloping it within his own larger hands. The instant they touched, energy arced like a burning flame from a welder's torch. Like coronal waves from an exploding sun, light and heat blasted the room.
The force of the psychic connection slammed into him, punching the breath from his lungs on an outward surge of rolling energy. A returning wave refilled them with super-charged oxygen.
Disbelief shone in the Predecessor's eyes. Her mouth opened and closed several times, trying to speak. "You aren't healing me," she finally gasped. "So why is your energy reacting with mine?"
"I don't know." He shook his head back and forth, perplexed.
Every nerve ending tingled, his entire body aware of the woman in front of him. He knew he'd never met her. He hadn't even laid eyes on her before tonight. So why did his energy connect with and respond to this woman? Realization dawned like a clapping thunderbolt.
Only a true Tueri soul match generated this kind of energy connection.
He'd found his mate!