Authors: Nina Croft
Tags: #Supernaturals, #UF, #Fantasy, #Erotica, #PNR, #Novella
Laws of Segregation ~ Book 4
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2012 Nina Croft
Cover Artist: Mina Carter
Editor: James Darcy
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Look for these titles by Nina Croft
The Laws of Segregation series
A thousand years ago
Arroway Casterix kicked her mare into a gallop, leaning low over the sweat-soaked neck and urging her faster.
“Slow down,” Jarrod shouted from behind her. “He’ll still be there.” Cass ignored the comment. What did her brother know? He’d never been in love.
She flung herself from the saddle before she’d even come to a standstill and raced toward the house.
“I’ll look after your horse, shall I,” Jarrod called out, his tone sarcastic.
She tossed him a grin over her shoulder, but didn’t slow her headlong pace as she sprinted up the stone steps. She’d only been gone a few hours but already she missed Callum madly. Her heart pounded, and her stomach fluttered—soon she would see him again.
The double doors stood wide open and she skidded to a halt.
“Callum, I’m home!” No answer.
As she stepped into the hallway, she faltered. The air brushed against her like a chill wind, raising prickles across her skin, freez-ing the flutters in her stomach to shards of ice. Despite the cold, sweat broke out on her forehead, and her heart slowed to a dull, heavy thud.
Forcing her legs to move, she climbed the stairs to the room they shared. Halfway up, she crashed to her knees.
The word roared through her head and then silence. For a moment, she blacked out. When she came to, her whole body trembled, while her mind screamed in denial. Gripping onto the balustrade, she dragged herself to her feet and stumbled up the remaining stairs.
At the door, she hesitated. Dread coiled tightly inside her. After pressing her fingers to the smooth wood, she pushed.
The sweet, sickly stench of blood filled her nostrils, and she gagged. She gasped for air as the breath was squeezed from her lungs, and she fought to make sense of what was before her.
Callum lay motionless on the floor in a pool of blood, his eyes staring blankly. Cass stumbled into the room and collapsed to her knees beside him. She reached out and rested a trembling finger against his cooling skin.
He couldn’t be dead.
But a knife pierced his heart. She locked her fingers around the hilt and dragged the blade from his chest. A slender silver dagger; she recognized it instantly.
Malachai, who had seen the witch’s mark on her cheek and wanted her for her power.
Malachai, whom she had spurned.
Through the open window, the sound of hoof beats thudded on the soft earth. Cass pushed herself to her feet. For a second she swayed, and then she locked her trembling legs and gulped air into her starving lungs.
Her fists clenched at her side, nails biting into her palms as she staggered to the window. Below, a lone rider raced toward the forest. When he reached the tree line, he glanced back over his shoulder. She saw his face clearly in the crimson glow from the moons, before he disappeared into the shadows.
A red haze of rage and grief blurred her vision. He thought he’d won, that this would beat her into submission. He was so very wrong. She pushed aside her grief; there would be time for that later. Instead, she allowed her fury to rise from the place deep inside where her magic dwelled.
Callum was dead, but that didn’t mean he was lost to her forever. She would defy them all and get him back. She had to; the alternative—a future without him—was unthinkable.
“Cass?” She whirled around at the sound of a voice. At the last moment, she recognized her brother and her hand dropped to her side. “Oh Goddess, what happened?” For a second, his question broke through the fog clouding her mind. But the magic was building inside her, calling her.
Raising the dagger, she slashed the blade across her wrist.
Instantly, the moon magic swelled with the flow of her blood.
From her mind, she dredged the words of a long-forgotten spell.
She started to chant, vaguely aware of Jarrod behind her, but she pushed him from her mind. The room was fading as though she viewed the world through a veil of blood.
In that moment, she knew she was capable of destroying the whole world together with her enemies. And she didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was bringing Callum back from the dead.
Outside, the sky lit up with crimson lightning and a huge rent appeared in the darkness. The land screamed as the walls between the worlds shuddered and cracked asunder.
For a thousand years, she’d lived here, and Casterix still didn’t think of this place as home. She missed the colors of Arroway, the golden sunlight, the deep purples of twilight and dawn, the crimson moons.
After pulling the truck into the parking space, she switched off the engine and sat for a moment, drumming her fingers on the wheel. This was their third day and so far they’d failed to find any sign of Shayla. Cass dredged her mind for something else they could try, some other spell, but came up with nothing as she always did. She could only hope that Shayla would return to the standing stones on Arroway and today they would find her.
Presuming she was still free. And still alive.
“She’s alive,” Jarrod said from behind her as though reading her mind, but then, there had always been a strong bond between Cass and her twin brother—the years apart hadn’t changed that.
Anyway, the words weren’t meant for her, but for Freya, his chosen mate and Shayla’s mother.
“I know,” Freya replied, but a slight tremor ran through her voice. It had been three days since she and Jarrod had come through the portal, hoping to find their daughter, and as each day passed Freya’s desperation rose visibly.
Cass was also starting to worry. The more time that passed, the surer she became that The Order must have captured the young witch and her mate. Shayla and Tallon had returned to Arroway a week ago, intending to rescue her mother from the dungeons of the Order, unaware that her mother had already been saved.
Afterward, Shayla had planned to return to Earth where Cass would teach her how to control her magic. Shayla was the most powerful witch Cass had ever come across, except maybe for herself. But Shayla’s power was raw and untamed, as liable to destroy as to obey her command. That needed to change and quickly.
Freya kept urging them to go back to Arroway, take up the hunt for Shayla there, but if they did return, they would have to go without Cass. No way was she ever setting foot on her home world again. So she had persuaded them to try one more day.
Besides, Malachai, the head of the Order of Warlocks, knew of the standing stones now, and if they returned, in all likelihood they would emerge slam-bang in the middle of an ambush.
The July sun warmed her face as she climbed out of the truck and made her way around to the rear of the vehicle. She popped open the trunk and extracted her shoulder holster. After strapping it on, she checked her favorite gun—a .38 Special Smith and Wesson “Bodyguard” revolver—was loaded, and slotted it into place. Finally, she hooked a Taser to the belt of her jeans. Despite the day being hot, she pulled a light cotton shirt over her black vest to cover the weapons. It wouldn’t do to scare off the natives.
She glanced up to find Jarrod watching her, a slight smile on his face.Cass scowled but otherwise ignored him. If they dragged anyone other than Shayla over from Arroway, she wanted to be prepared. Anyway, Jarrod carried his staff, which was far more dangerous than her weapons, but would pass for a walking stick at a pinch.
“Okay, let’s go.” It took around thirty minutes to walk from the parking place to the stones. Cass walked ahead. That way, she wouldn’t have to look at the two of them. She’d bet they were holding hands, probably murmuring sweet nothings to each other.
But then they were in love. How sweet. She was glad for them, really she was; they both deserved some happiness. That didn’t mean she wanted it thrust down her throat every few minutes.
The path grew steeper, and she welcomed the pull on the muscles of her legs. She pushed herself on until, finally, she crest-ed the hill. The land fell away steeply on either side and before her loomed the standing stones.
The day was quiet; no birds sang, not even the hum of mosquitoes; no sign of life other than the three of them. Behind her Jarrod and Freya had fallen silent. The place had that effect. As always, it filled her with a sense of limitless possibilities, whispered to the magic sleeping inside her.
Over twenty feet high, each stone stood about six feet from its neighbor to form a huge ring. Cass led the way between two of the great stones, stroking her fingers over the smooth rock as she passed, and then into the circle beyond. She remained at the edge and waited, her foot tapping on the soft grass while Jarrod gave Freya a lingering kiss. Finally, he released her and strode into the center of the circle.
“Will it work this time?” Freya asked.
Cass tore her attention from the warlock to glance at the woman who stood at her side. Freya was almost her height, five eight, with long, honey-colored hair and dark blue eyes. Cass’s gaze flickered to the mark below Freya’s right eye—a perfect crimson sickle moon—and her hand went up automatically to touch the small scar on her own cheek. Cass had cut the mark away, sliced it from her skin, wanting no reminder of the magic still living inside her.
For a moment, she thought about responding to Freya’s question with some bland platitude, but what good would that do? Besides, Freya was strong. The truth wouldn’t break her.
Cass gave a casual shrug. “I don’t know if it will work. Jarrod has the power to draw her here, but he needs to find her first.” And that depended on whether Shayla managed to make her way back to the corresponding stone circle on Arroway.
The stone circles were ancient, maybe as old as Arroway itself. They marked the places where the veils between worlds were gossamer thin. If a person had the magic, and knew the correct spell, they could part the veil and move between worlds.
Each day, they had come here and Jarrod had cast a searching spell, hunting for his daughter, but so far, there had been no sign of Shayla.
Freya fisted her hands at her sides, her teeth worried at her lower lip. Clearly, she was getting desperate.
In the center of the circle, Jarrod raised his staff into the air and started to chant the spell. Freya’s hand slipped into hers and gripped her tight. Cass forced herself to squeeze Freya’s fingers, but then she pulled free.
Cass was unused to signs of friendship; she kept herself aloof from the other witches, never allowed any of them to get close.
But Freya refused to be kept at a distance.
Freya had been born within The Order, castrated of her magic at birth, and brought up to be a pleasure slave for the warlocks.
Until finally, pregnant with Shayla and unable to bear the thought of her daughter being forced into the same life, she had escaped.
She’d managed to hide from the Order for over twenty years until Shayla’s growing magic had forced them to come out of hiding to seek help.
Cass pushed the thoughts aside. Something was happening.
Jarrod had gone still, now he turned in their direction and raised his fist in triumph. “I’ve found her. She’s at the stones.” Relief flooded through her. “Then bring her.” He nodded and began the new spell. Around them, the air prickled with magic as though charged with electricity, and she rubbed her hands over her skin. Beside her, Freya muttered a prayer to the Goddess as the first flash of lightning burst across the blue sky above their heads. Cass drew her pistol and held it, arms outstretched, just in case Shayla brought any nasty surprises with her.