? copyright June 2006, Marie Harte
Checking up on her charge, a brooding prince and Storm Lord who had no idea she existed, the last thing Alandra le Aelle expected to see in the grimy little Seattle apartment was bloodshed. She stared at the ongoing fight in shock, safely concealed by the shadows of the dingy room.
Several Light Bringers, Tanselm‟s fierce Storm Lords to be precise, dueled with „Sin Garu, a malevolent Dark Lord and sorcerer who was
seriously beginning to piss her off.
She had missed the signs that „Sin Garu would attack this soon, and worse, that he‟d have the audacity to steal one of the Storm Lords‟ mates, the River Prince‟s beloved affai. Only three of the four Storm
Lords were fighting back, and Marcus‟ affai lay unconscious on the ground. Prince Darius, the fourth member of the legendary Royal Four, had returned to his homeworld of Tanselm with a new bride a month ago.
From what Alandra had observed through her charge, Darius‟ marriage
would be a strong one, one that would bode the land of Tanselm well against „Sin Garu and his Netharat, an evil scourge that no one, not even her family, found promising.
“Tessa! No!” Marcus cried from a large pool of red contaminant that
chuckled gleefully in a language only Alandra could hear. Staring at the red goo, Alandra took a deep breath, frustrated that her intention to remain invisible, and thus effective, would have to change. The red goo, an immature youngster known more commonly as a Nocumat, clung to Marcus, his brother Cadmus, and even her charge, prince and Wind Mage Aerolus Storm.
She knew the youngster, Oxcen, would not relent until he had devoured them all. A Nocumat‟s appetite was well-known for being one of the most
voracious of the Shadren.
By the Shadow‟s Curse, she hadn‟t wanted to meet Aerolus like this. Damn Oxcen! She glared at his spreading substance, at the many hands and mirrored form of Marcus that molded from his red being. How one of the Shadren came to be in this place, a world with so little magic as to be nonexistent, boggled the mind.
She shifted her gaze to „Sin Garu, who struggled against Marcus‟ impressive defense. A thin sheen of water encased the sorcerer from head to toe, slowly suffocating him to death.
Good. A fitting end to the Dark Lord, considering his quest to subjugate not only the Storm Lords and their people, but all who opposed his future rule over Tanselm. To that end, he employed ice wraiths, the rebellious Djinn and a handful of ignorant Shadren willing to believe in his obscene plans.
And speaking of ignorant Shadren... she glared at Oxcen as he toyed with Marcus and his brothers, and deliberately stepped closer to Aerolus.
Her Wind Mage, as she‟d expected, had Oxcen‟s appetite in hand, but even he could not hold the Nocumat back forever. Neither, for that matter, could „Sin Garu. What had he been thinking to bring a Nocumat here, of all places?
While „Sin Garu wrestled with Marcus‟ magic, Alandra noted yet another
complication, and her head began to throb. Cadmus, the Earth Lord, began flashing as if under a spell. She rubbed her temple, grimly wishing she had never heard of Tanselm and the Storm Lords. By all that was Shadow, the four identical princes were more trouble than they were worth. She eyed Aerolus. Well, almost.
A movement to his left caught her attention. As if Cadmus‟ odd shifting
weren‟t enough, the white-gold fiery form of a man covered in
otherworldly black flames low-crawled toward „Sin Garu with his dark
hand outstretched, threatening under his breath. A Djinn, a stupid, haughty, trouble-making Djinn, interfered openly in the presence of the narrow-minded Light Bringers. Had he no concept of what the Storm Lords would do with him once they rid their world of „Sin Garu?
Similar to the Shadren, the Djinn were widely regarded as evil, simply because they preferred, and even lived in, the Dark. But like Alandra, this Djinn appeared to believe in the Storm Lords‟ dynasty, knowing that only with their powerful leadership could the possibility exist that someday, somehow, the Djinn and Alandra‟s people, the Aellei, might be allowed to return to Tanselm, a land of celebrated prosperity, wealth and magic.
Tessa, Marcus‟ affai, diverted her attention by rising to wield an
incredible amount of elemental and psychic energy at „Sin Garu, draining some of Alandra‟s psychic energy in the process. Extraordinary, she thought, staring at the warrior-like redhead with a hint of envy.
What she wouldn‟t give to be that tall.
„Sin Garu faltered, and in that moment, the Djinn grasped his ankle, merging his Dark energy with the sorcerer‟s. Moved by his efforts to free his people, even at the cost of his own life, Alandra sent him a hint of her magic, pushing him and „Sin Garu toward a dark welling in the floor.
A moment later, a loud boom sounded, the noise made by their clumsy reentry into the pathways between worlds. She had no idea where the Djinn would take „Sin Garu, or if the two would even survive the trip.
But she had given the Djinn a chance, one he wouldn‟t have had if he‟d used his remaining energy to expel the sorcerer from this world.
“Marcus,” Tessa cried before falling to the floor.
Quickly noting what she‟d ignored in her attempt to aid the Djinn,
Alandra reluctantly made the decision to make her presence known. Aerolus could not hold Oxcen back any longer, and her red kinsman was slowly consuming one Storm Lord while easing his way up Aerolus‟ knees. And that would definitely not do.
Shimmering into the image of her aunt, the Aellei queen, Alandra assumed “the royal presence” she‟d learned through her miserable years spent
at court and decided to give young Oxcen a piece of her mind.
It would be too much to hope that he‟d keep the tale of the queen‟s visit to Seattle to himself. No doubt by this time tomorrow everyone in Aelle would know someone had impersonated the queen, yet another sin to add to Alandra‟s lengthening list of crimes against her world and the royal family, of which she was no longer considered a part.
But she would at least have the chance to meet Aerolus face to face and give him the opportunity to see who‟d been watching over him during his pressing time in this world. She hungrily studied him from head to toe, from his dark hair and glinting, silver eyes filled with power, to his broad, muscular chest, and lower, to that other impressive part of him.
She couldn‟t help the naughty grin that escaped. Time to show Aerolus her patience had worn thin. And when she was done with him, maybe, just maybe, she‟d finally get the irresistible Aerolus Storm to herself. What she wouldn‟t do for five minutes alone in the dark with the Wind Mage....
Three weeks later
A little to the left, no, stop, don‟t move. Okay, two more steps, ah,...
there. Now, slowly, one button at a time. Yes, yes, that‟s right.
Alandra/Trudy Warner stared through the telescope carefully positioned in the corner of the bedroom, obscured from view by shuttered blinds and a large, potted fern should the male under scrutiny decide to give her window a second glance. She felt ridiculous having the fern near with closed blinds, but she knew better than to underestimate a Storm Lord.
“Oh yeah, baby,” she uttered on breath and a prayer. “I love that chest.”
Helplessly fascinated and growing steadily more aroused, she watched her tall, strapping neighbor lose his shirt as he readied, she assumed, for a bath?the light in his adjoining bathroom was on, and steam fogged the bathroom mirror.
She swallowed around a dry throat, wishing for a glass of water, but refused to leave the sight of Aerolus Storm stripping down to nothing.
Long fingers reached for the snap of his jeans, his hands graceful and sure as they unzipped the denim, allowing a brief thatch of dark hair to appear.
Mother of all that was holy.
She stopped breathing, anticipation making her almost dizzy. Come on, Aerolus. Drop them, already. I‟m dying here!
Jeans slid slowly to his knees before he kicked them off, giving her an uninhibited view of sizzling male perfection. Golden skin rippled as he moved under the sunlight streaming through his room, casting beautiful shadows of a warrior in his prime. A sprinkling of dark, silky hair covered his upper chest, tapering over a taut abdomen packed with clearly delineated muscle. The hair trailed lightly down his belly to frame a thick, mouth-wateringly large shaft that whispered “yours” the longer she stared at it.
Shadows, how she wanted to touch that part of him.
She swallowed loudly, her heart hammering like a ringing alarm clock that refused to turn off. Trying to rein in her boiling needs, she took a deep breath, then released. Repeating the process several more times, she finally sighed, hopelessly in lust with the god-like image before her.
Aerolus was so beautiful, so very desirable, and so utterly slow.
Her hands gripped the base of the telescope as she watched him stretch and rub his chest, a motion she could have been performing had the stubborn man answered her summons.
Instead, Aerolus Storm, both warrior and sorcerer, Storm Lord and Wind Mage, acted as if he had nothing to fear, as if she hadn‟t rescued both him and his brothers from sure death just a few short weeks ago.
She huffed, perturbed that apparently she‟d been so easy to forget, all the while her eyes remained glued to the naked mage rotating his neck and shoulders, which only emphasized the abundant physical strength he possessed in spades.
Aerolus appealed to her on more than a visual level, regrettably making her attraction all that harder to shake. The man‟s extraordinary grasp of sorcery, especially considering he was really just a novice, and his potential for power thrilled the heart of her that pulsed with magic.
She itched to be near him, to stroke his warm skin and feel the energy that coursed in his blood. Scowling, she cursed the day Aerolus had sealed his house from all but the Light Bringers. Now, as much as she wanted to, she couldn‟t simply phase into his home. Despite her pixie-like size when “observing,” she couldn‟t pass the spelled shield he‟d erected around the house. Even in the guise of an ant, she‟d be expelled from the premises.
Thus her masquerade as Trudy Warner, the nosy neighbor.
Aerolus finished his stretch, capturing her attention once more. He did the oddest thing. Staring down at his penis, he grasped it in a firm hand, then began rubbing it and closed his eyes. The action seemed at first clinical, but then his face changed, became charged with a raw intensity that caused an instant throbbing in her womb.
His fingers stretched his flesh, pulling almost viciously as his breathing quickened. Sweat beaded on her brow, and she licked her dry lips, wishing he were here, with her, thrusting not into his hand, but inside her with that massive shaft. Into her body and out of her system, ending this annoying craving she had for his touch.
His biceps clenched, and his forearm strained. She could see his nipples
standing erect, as much from arousal as from the breeze that lifted his hair. Her breath caught as she saw his elemental nature freeing itself from its usual constriction.
Wind whipped at the sheets on his bed, at the papers lying atop his dresser, at the curtains framing his window, interrupting her scrutiny as dark fabric swirled against the panes. Glimpses of Aerolus showed him building toward climax, his neck muscles prominent, straining as he gritted his teeth and pumped faster.
Then suddenly the curtains dropped, the wind ceased, and Aerolus turned his head, blinking directly at the hidden telescope, at her. He should have been embarrassed. Shadows knew she would have been. But Aerolus stood uninhibited, still gripping his shaft, his face an almost expressionless mask, unless one knew where to look.
She did. And the slight tightening around his eyes showed a muted frown. He released his penis?a damned waste, in her opinion?and took a step toward the window, his eyes glowing with unfettered anger.
With a curse she flew back, knowing he couldn‟t possibly have seen her, yet he had. She felt both annoyed and embarrassed to be caught peeping and sank heavily onto the bed. Well, really, it wasn‟t as if he was around to cure her of this insatiable desire.
She shook her head, muttering under her breath and returned to the telescope. “Damn.” He‟d disappeared, and the bathroom door had closed.
Alandra toyed with the idea of marching over there and asking for a cup of sugar, an egg, anything just to get inside that house again, a step closer to the man who, for reasons unknown, filled her every waking thought. Her growing obsession with Aerolus was irritating, alarming and disturbingly arousing.
The last she‟d seen, only Aerolus, his brother Cadmus and that
unpredictable sorcerer of Tanselm, Arim, were in residence. None of them would recognize her in this guise.
But did she want to take the chance she might be wrong?
Walking to the dresser mirror, she stared at the likeness of Dr. Trudy Warner, a nice, if boring, middle-aged woman currently on sabbatical in Europe. House-sitting for Professor Warner had been a no-brainer, a fortuitous circumstance she‟d been hoping for when she‟d first begun
observing Aerolus a year ago.
To Trudy, she‟d been an eager, naïve college student needing some extra cash. But to the Storm Lords, she remained Trudy Warner, an average neighbor who never attracted attention, the same dull professor day in and day out.
The month she‟d been here had been hell, but so worth it if only to
see Aerolus naked. Her lips quirked. This job had definite perks. And a killer downside. With the source of her attraction so close, it should have been easy to fulfill her needs.
Unfortunately, Aerolus felt no compunction about ignoring both her and the dire situation encroaching steadily nearer.
The doorbell rang, halting her indignation, and she hurriedly adjusted her attitude and mindset to match Trudy‟s. As she slowly trudged down the steps toward the front door, Alandra focused on recalling Trudy‟s monotonous voice. Appearances were easy to assume, but voices and mannerisms took skill and practice?both of which she was working to improve.
Drawing a deep breath, she opened the door and exhaled slowly, a pleasant if dim smile on her face. “Yes? Marcus, isn‟t it?”
Aerolus frowned, his silver eyes glinting with suspicion. Oh, yes, he‟d definitely noticed her watching him. “Actually, I‟m his brother, Aerolus. We‟ve never met.”
Thank the Shadows. Now, how to play this to her advantage... If Arim weren‟t in residence, she would have knocked on Aerolus‟ door and demanded his cooperation weeks ago. But with the formidable Light Bringer at the house, maybe even spying on Aerolus as they spoke, she didn‟t want to chance being recognized. Who knew what repercussions she‟d suffer at his hands? And if word got back to the Aellei of what she‟d been doing before she was ready to face them, she‟d be better off dead.
Aerolus stared down at her curiously, and she realized she‟d been staring
as she thought. She flushed and tried to act intimidated, as Trudy would have.
“I‟m so sorry, please, come in.” She stepped back and waited until he entered before locking the door behind him.
An idea firmed in her mind, one she‟d been toying with for weeks in
the event she was caught. Lies and deception worked so much better when a hint of truth worked into the mix.
“I know why you‟re here,” she said in a strangled whisper, peering through her front window nervously before turning back to him.
“Excuse me?” His deep voice sent shivers through her that she worked hard to suppress. Why this happened only around him she had no idea. He was just a man, albeit the best-looking one she‟d ever seen.
“It‟s that woman,” she whispered dramatically, pleased when he actually frowned. “I‟ve seen her hanging around your house the past few days. I had a feeling I should have told you sooner”
His eyes narrowed. “Describe her.”
“She has white hair, stands a few inches shorter than me, and I guess you could say she‟s quite pretty.” Gorgeous, really. As soon as she thought it, she wanted to smack herself in the head. Vanity at a time like this?
The Aellei wanted her dead, Arim would transform her into a spotted lizard if he knew she interfered with one of his precious Royal Four, and by now, Oxcen had told everyone the queen had ordered him away from a Storm Lord, the same queen who‟d been in council for the past few weeks. One guess as to who had the gall to impersonate Her Royal Bitchiness and they‟d be inscribing “gorgeous” on Alandra‟s burial marker.
Oh, what the hell? She might be on death‟s door, but at least let her be pretty. “Yes, she was especially attractive and just lovely in white.” Alandra frowned. “She had the most intriguing eyes.”
“Violet eyes, a sensual, lustrous lavender,” he muttered, his words complimentary though his manner was anything but.
“And you didn‟t mention a woman stalking my house because...?”
Alandra blushed and looked down. “You and Marcus are grown men. It would have been silly to presume a woman who looked like that wasn‟t invited to your home.”
“Then why the telescope?” he asked wryly, still not believing her story.
“Because she started acting strange.” Alandra licked her lips. “I know it sounds crazy, but she seemed to shimmer, to almost fade in and out. Must have been a trick of the light, I know. But then, I thought I saw her inside your room the other day, and again just now.”
She didn‟t explain why her telescope was fixed on his room, or why she‟d been watching. Hopefully, he‟d be too concerned with an invading Aellei to focus on her voyeurism.
He rubbed a hand over his stubbled, clenched jaw. “Damn, she has no patience,” he said softly, then stared unblinkingly into her eyes. “I appreciate your thoroughness.” His gaze darkened most threateningly. “I‟ll keep an eye out for her and any other trespassers invading my privacy.”
She blinked, deliberately looking guilty. Irritated, was he? About time. Maybe now he‟d move his tight, sexy, sorry ass between planes for that overdue visit he owed her.
“Er, sorry for any misunderstandings. But if you don‟t mind, I have some work to do.”
He left with a grumbled thanks, leaving Alandra in a quandary. Should she stay and continue to observe, though inconspicuously this time, or should she phase between planes? She could tell she‟d irritated him with mention of “the woman in white,” but had she lit a big enough fire to head him in her direction?
Bored with being Trudy, she decided to venture back into the shadows when a knock at the door sounded. Most likely Aerolus with more questions. Damn, just when she thought she‟d convinced him to seek her out.
She opened the door with a polite smile and froze.
“I hope you don‟t mind, but I had a few questions of my own about my nephew‟s „visitor.‟” Arim, Tanselm‟s legendary sorcerer and Killer of