Authors: Theresa Dalayne
Lights of Aurora
Book Three of
The Stone Legacy Series
Lights of Aurora
Copyright © 2015 by Theresa DaLayne.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: January 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
The scent of dried herbs and fresh rain poured through the open window.
For the rest of her life, with every whiff of sage or wet earth, Zanya would remember Contessa’s quaint home in Moscow and the shock of that day—of losing Jayden.
She might as well have been gone when he needed her most. Zanya could still see Jayden’s bright blue eyes staring back at her while he struggled to hold Sarian off long enough for them all to escape.
She could have saved him if she’d been more focused, more experienced with her abilities. Instead she’d done exactly what Contessa thought they’d do all along. Failed. She couldn’t even heal Jayden. Instead she froze under the pressure.
A tear slipped down her cheek, and she tightened her fists while staring down at Jayden’s body. Someone had to care for him. Even though his spirit had been torn from this world, he deserved his last rites.
Zanya dragged the sheet that covered his body over his face.
Their mission to retrieve his soul could also fail, and the boy she’d first met in the orphanage could be ripped out of her life, leaving an empty hole of memories and regret.
She crouched beside Jayden, placed a kiss on his shrouded forehead, and whispered in his ear. “Hang on. I’m coming for you.” She curled her fingers around the cotton sheet. “I’ll get you back.” Her voice caught in her throat, and she choked back a flood of tears.
Arwan placed his hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him and saw empathy in his gaze. “We will get him back.” The silky tone of his voice usually comforted her, but not now. Not until Jayden was back, alive and safe. It would happen somehow. She’d make sure of it.
Zanya forced herself to stand. The fabric of her canary-yellow ball gown swooshed with the movement, a badge of blood smeared across the front. Jayden’s blood. Somehow that made it worse.
First she needed to get out of her ridiculous dress. She wouldn’t be able to hike through the caves of Naj Tunich in a gown.
Renato’s dress shoes tapped over the floor as he approached from behind. “I’m calling Peter.” He dialed a number on his phone, stealing the occasional glance at Contessa from the corner of his eye. “I hope he is still at the hotel.”
“Make sure you don’t tell Tara where we’re going,” Zanya said. “She’ll freak out.”
“As she should. This mission of yours may as well be a suicide attempt.” He frowned. “The king of the underworld will never allow you to leave there alive.” Renato walked outside to Contessa’s front step without another word.
He was probably right, but she couldn’t turn her back on Jayden when he needed her the most. Suicide mission or not, she was going after him.
Hawa moaned, tearing Zanya’s attention away from her thoughts. Hawa lay on Contessa’s couch with her leg elevated on a stack of pillows. The break was bad, but she wasn’t crying anymore. That was a good sign—even if Contessa had only healed Hawa to make her shut up. The red-haired witch even had the audacity to say that aloud.
Renato walked back inside, the corners of his mouth sloped into an even deeper frown. “Peter did not react well to our plans. He insists on going with the two of you. He’s coming here right now.”
“No, he can’t come with us. Tara will already be pissed at me for taking off without telling her. I can’t take Peter too.”
“Then you should depart as quickly as possible.” Renato rested a hand on Arwan’s shoulder. “I know you will take good care of her.”
Determination sparked in Arwan’s eyes. Zanya didn’t doubt what Renato said was true. He would protect her, no matter the cost.
Zanya bit her lip. She was touched that he cared so much, but he was risking his life now too.
The cab took nearly an hour to arrive. While the taxi waited by the curb, Zanya stood on Contessa’s doorstep. She and Arwan would drive straight to the airport, but first he’d have to come out of Contessa’s house. No doubt Renato was giving him every precaution to take before their journey.
She gazed lifelessly at the mud-crusted rims and the fogged taxi light while her mind wandered between realms.
Whispers yanked her out of her thoughts.
You will never recover him. You are a failure, just as your mother was. But I have plans for you, and soon you will be mine.
She turned and peered over her shoulder, expecting to see someone there—someone she would promptly punch in the face for being such an asshole. But she was alone on the steps.
Was she seriously going crazy?
The blare of the taxi’s horn made her jump. It must be the stress, or the fact she had barely slept for the last few days. Deprivation played tricks on the mind.
Renato’s voice became louder as he and Arwan walked toward the open door. He handed Arwan a credit card and some cash before they shook hands. The lines on her uncle’s face deepened when he turned to her and pulled her into a hug. As he cradled her against his tailored suit, the rich scent of tobacco surrounded her. All of her life she had wished for someone to care about her the way Renato did, though she’d only known him for a short time. Still, his embrace was enough to make her hesitant to say good-bye.
“You must make it out of this journey alive,” he said in a raspy whisper. “Even if you do not succeed in retrieving Jayden’s spirit, please—” he held her tighter, “—return unharmed.”
Zanya nodded and forced a smile. “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. The stone needs me.”
His grip loosened, and he looked down at her, his familiar brown eyes filled with a mixture of despair and pride. “The stone is not the only one who needs you, Zanya.”
His fear was well founded. She was about to walk straight to the gates of hell with no knowledge of what to expect.
“Now go. Go, and come home safely.”
“Make sure to tell Tara…” Her throat ached. Leaving her best friend behind was something she’d sworn she’d never do. Not in the orphanage. Not after they were taken away from that place. Not ever. Now she was going against every oath she’d ever made to herself—and to Tara.
Zanya reached into her bag and grabbed the pendant Cualli, the middleworld goddess, had given her. The pendant was a gift and an omen of support, and usually it calmed Zanya.
Arwan lifted a duffle bag from the floor. He traced his fingers down her cheek, holding her gaze until she finally allowed a hint of a true smile to break through. His touch was all he could give to comfort her. Showing him it had worked, even a little, was the least she could do in return. After all, he insisted on going with her, and there was nothing she could do to repay that.
The cab’s horn blared again. Zanya jumped and glared at the taxi. “You’d think he’d be happy to just sit there with the meter running.”
Arwan shook Renato’s hand one last time. Her feet were rooted to the ground, contemplating one last hug. When she glanced at her uncle, her eyes stung with more tears. He must have noticed her hesitation. Maybe even understood it.
With a soft smile, Zanya walked straight to the cab without any more good-byes.
After grabbing some clothes off the rack of a sporting goods store, Zanya continued into the dressing room and checked herself in the mirror, horrified at her reflection. Wet, limp hair stuck to her cheeks and neck. A huge bloodstain spread over the front of her once-beautiful gown, which was now smeared with mud and torn in several places. Her cheeks were burned from the biting cold, and her nose was so red she could pass for Rudolph.
She sighed and worked at removing the pins and ties from her hair until it finally came undone, and then used one of the ties to lock it in a bun. The next thing would be to get out of her dress and change into something warm and dry.
Zanya craned her neck as she fumbled with the strings laced down the back of her gown. The damn thing was threaded so tight there was no way she could do it herself.
She grabbed the dressing room curtain and pulled it aside. “Arwan?”
“Hm?” He lifted his head from his hand where it was rested, his eyes half-glazed over with sleep. Her shoulders slumped forward. The poor guy was exhausted. She couldn’t blame him. He’d been through a lot these last few days. They all had.
“I just…” She pointed to her back. “I need some help with this corset thing.” The man sitting two chairs to the left of Arwan gawked at her. Zanya made double sure the curtain hid the stain on her dress.
Arwan stood and eased toward her. “Turn around.”
She noticed more people shopping and several men slumped in the rows of chairs in the waiting area. “Uh, no. Come inside.” The fact she had to ask for help undressing was humiliating enough. There was no way she’d let him undo this thing with everyone around.
He opened the curtain and slipped in, then secured it behind him. He rested his hands on her waist. “Turn around.”
She did and stood with her back straight, watching his reflection in the mirror while he worked at to loosen her bodice.
The pressure around her ribcage eased, and she drew in a deep breath. “Thank you. That thing was killing me.”
The air caressed her skin as the damp corset slowly opened, exposing the curves of her back. She crossed her arms over her chest to prevent the top half of the gown from falling off completely.
Arwan worked to unlace the last of the silk ribbon. His fingers brushed against her lower back, spreading warmth up her spine. She studied him in the mirror. He was soaked and miserable, yet he hadn’t complained—not even once. “You should go get changed. I can handle it from here.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders, and his gaze slid over her bare back.
Besides riding together in the taxi, they hadn’t spent more than a few moments alone since London. The longing she had carried all this time now suddenly overwhelmed her.
He placed a kiss on the curve of her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she gripped her dress tighter, tilting her head to the side and exposing her neck.
“Arwan.” This wasn’t really the best place, never mind the fact she probably smelled like wet dog.
He hooked her elbow and gently spun her around. When they stood face to face, it was clear her heart was no longer hers. It belonged to him completely, and even though they’d only met recently, it seemed as if they’d known each other for a lifetime.
Whatever drew them to each other—whatever made her promise herself to him so completely—they had a bond that would never be broken. And even though it surprised her, she’d made that promise with all of her heart.
He cradled her face. “If anything happened to you…” His jaw flexed. She wanted to press her fingers against his chest and run her hands along the curves of his shoulders, but if she let go of her gown, it would fall to the floor.
He brushed his thumb along her lips, and his gaze flickered to them. “
Si algo te hubiera pasado…me hubiera roto el corazόn.
Her chest fluttered. She really, really needed to learn Spanish. Regardless of what he said, hearing him whisper like that made her weak in the knees.
He pulled her close and kissed her, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other caressing her cheek. The light in her chest—the mark of her heritage and power—flickered on and filled her with the cold energy it always brought.
She pried her arms free and wrapped them around his neck. With the top of her gown pinned between their bodies, the sides of the corset fell open, exposing the curves of her waist. He ran his hands along the length of her bare back before resting them on her hips.
The light in her chest brightened, and electricity sparked over her skin. His lips curved into a smile, causing them both to pause.
He pulled away just enough to look her in the eyes. “Your heart’s racing. I can hear it.”
She ran her fingers through his hair and drew him closer, into another kiss. He held her with a tenderness he hadn’t shown before.
Her light dimmed as a new type of passion took over.
She didn’t just want him, she wanted his heart, forever.
“Ahem.” A woman on the other side of the curtain cleared her throat, sounding annoyed. Zanya pulled away and looked down. At the bottom of the curtain, she saw the foot of a store employee tapping impatiently. “Is everything all right in there, or do I need to call security?”
Zanya’s cheeks blazed with heat. “Everything’s fine.”
Arwan clearly wore a crooked grin. “Maybe we should finish getting our supplies.” He slipped out of the dressing room to speak to the woman waiting outside. His tone was apologetic while he explained Zanya’s wardrobe malfunction.
The time is getting closer now
, a voice whispered in her mind.
She shut her eyes and tried to block it out. The light in her chest grew warm rather than cold, making her stomach gurgle with a sick heat.