Race Against the Dark

Kings of Kal'brath Book 1

Book Cover: Race Against the Dark
Editions:Kindle: $ 0.99
Pages: 361
ePub: $ 0.99
Size: 5.00 x 8.00 in
Pages: 361
Paperback: $ 13.99
ISBN: 978-1530302055
Size: 5.00 x 8.00 in
Pages: 314

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Sanity is overrated.
Rethink what you think you know.

Plagued by visions of poison green eyes, the name Ka’lei, and strange singing, Haylie knows she’s crazy. When she finds herself in the elf world, everything she thinks she knows gets blown away. Now, she’s a changeling come home, and her name really is Ka’lei.

Thrust into a battle of wills, Ka’lei struggles against the elfin Council to prove her adulthood and fight for the right to love whoever she chooses. Her birth mother’s attempt to kill her during the Council meeting then throws her straight into her ancestor’s ancient plot to destroy everything.

Looking exactly like her psycho ancestor, Ka’lei must get past her friends’ fears and somehow rally dubious allies for a race against the Dark. She battles not just to save two worlds. She fights to protect those she loves, and somehow hold onto the only place where she ever felt sane.

Reading Order

  • Race Against the Dark
  • Healing Wounds
  • Twilight's Children

The Kings of Kal'brath Pilot Book.

The Kings of Kal'brath series is a string of stand alone novels and duologies set in the same universe where Mother, the sentient planet, cradles the races of three parallel worlds: Adradis of the elves and other magical races where the continent of Kal'brath resides, Earth of the magicless humans, and Morka of the magic-negating bashkai. Each book brings back favorite characters for more fun, romance, and gripping adventure.

These light fantasy romps are sure to be favorites you will want to read again and again.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

The singing began again. A beautiful woman’s voice undulated with the words. Haylie knew it was all in her mind. Doctor Rosenthal did his best to medicate her so that the auditory hallucinations would go away, but this singing remained persistent. It was beautiful in an odd way as Haylie could never understand the words. The song was always different. The melodies were never the same. If she knew how to write music, Haylie often wondered if she would make millions off the songs in her head.

Though, as the song progressed, Haylie focused on the road. Tired, hungry, and angry at Doctor Rosenthal, she made her way home to eat and relax. The drive, though, was gorgeous and quick to divert her attention.

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For being early spring, the day was hotter than normal. With the passenger and two back windows of the ancient Chrysler Concorde rolled down all the way, Haylie drove down the narrow two lane highway through the verdant forest fifteen miles past the outskirts of Shadetree. Tall evergreens and still-bare skeletons of trees lined both sides of the road, and would canopy the drive in luscious shade in the coming months. The air was sweet with the scent of fresh cut grass and pure mountain air though passing through the random fielded area brought with it the odor of fresh cow manure. The smell, to Haylie, was more earthy than disgusting. It brought with it the dreams she had all her childhood of working on farms and tending to livestock and horses.

The visual was still as vivid in her mind as the singing, and it painted a pretty picture of her astride a tall black draft horse with flowing mane and tail. That image kept her company in the lone drive and kept her fingers from itching to roll down the broken driver’s side window. She’d need to get her father to replace that whole door one day. It was his car after all.

As she rounded a bend, her thoughts followed the trees. The sprouts on the branches were lush here. The clean scent of the woods became stronger. The sky seemed bluer than it had ever been. The evergreens that stood tall and proud seemed to shiver.

And as the bend in the road smoothed out, she squealed and slammed on the brakes. A silver horse darted in front of her and stopped in its tracks. It was a good thing nothing was coming toward her because she hit the brakes hard. The rear end fishtailed. As she fought to regain control and steer around the horse, she imagined herself as an expert race car driver. The car careened into the oncoming lane as the rear end scooted around. When she finally came to a stop, she was on the shoulder of the road, facing the wrong way, with a horse staring her down. Its saddle and bridle still clung to the beast. The saddle had carefully placed silver and gold filigree along the sides in intricate knot-work designs. The stirrups seemed ornate from what she could see. His coat gleamed in the hot sun.

Once she shut the ignition off, she pulled the key out and stuffed it into her pocket as she got out. Locking it was idiotic, as all one needed to do to gain access to the car was push down on the driver’s side window with minimal force, the tracks and gears long since broken beyond repair.

With careful, slow steps, she approached the horse, taking its beauty in. A glance told her he was male and not gelded. His eyes were dark and intelligent. So pretty, just like in the movies. I wonder where his rider is.

The horse stamped his hoof in warning as she got close, and Haylie stopped where she was. “Whoa, boy. I won’t hurt you.” She smiled. “My name’s Haylie. Where’s your rider, pretty boy?”

The horse looked at her for a long moment as if looking deep into her soul. Her chest clenched, and when he looked away and craned his neck toward the forest behind him, she let out a breath she hadn’t realize she held.

“Back there, huh? Is he hurt? I have medical training. If he’s hurt, maybe I can help him, but I need your help to get me there.”

As if the horse understood every word, he neighed and tossed his mane. She giggled and shook her head. “Look at you preening! Don’t you flirt with me, I might wanna keep you!” Calming down, Haylie sighed and looked back at her car. “You wait here, and I’ll get things that may help when we find him, okay?”

Without waiting for an answer, she went back to the car, grabbed her purse and popped the trunk. Inside, she had a road kit and a first aid kit. From the road kit, she pulled out an orange cone and let it pop up, then got a piece of wood to weigh it down so the wind wouldn’t blow it off. The first aid kit came out in its entirety, and with those two items, she dropped the trunk with a loud bang and slung her purse over her shoulder as she headed back around to the front of the car. After she placed the cone, she went over to the waiting horse.

“There we go. All ready. I don’t want to scare you anymore than I have to, so I can just follow you, okay?”

Again, intelligence flickered in the beast’s eyes and he canted his head. A gentle whinny rang in the air like music. She walked toward the woods, but soon found a soft muzzle pressed to the small of her back. Puffs of hot breath from his flared nostrils penetrated her t-shirt. She reached back, rubbed one of his attentive ears, and chuckled.

“Come on. Let’s find your rider.”

Pretty Boy, as she called him, came around to her side and knelt down, one foreleg stretching out gracefully before him, while the other tucked beneath him. His neck craned so his face was parallel to the ground. Haylie stopped and stared, her mouth open. Is this horse a film prop or something? Show horse? I mean, I know all animals can be trained to take verbal and visual cues, but this is... weird.

When she stood and stared, the horse’s face turned toward her and he snorted. Startled from her thoughts, she jumped and nearly dropped her first aid kit. I haven’t ridden a horse in years. What if he decides I’m not worthy or something and goes crashing toward the lowest possible branches to get me back off?

Another derisive snort, and she jumped again, this time in the stallion’s direction. He seemed pleased with this as his head went back to its proper position in wait. It took her a moment, but she tucked her foot into the stirrup and hopped awkwardly into the saddle. She gripped it as Pretty Boy smoothly rose and started walking. The walk soon turned into a loping canter as he steered himself between the dense brush. It almost seemed like the forest created a path for them where there hadn’t been one.

“I hope you know where you’re going, Pretty Boy. I’m lost already.” Pretty Boy nickered. It almost sounded like he was chuckling at her. “Hey now, no laughing at the green horn. Just because I don’t know where we are doesn’t mean I couldn’t get back out on my own. I’m not totally useless in the woods, thank you very much.”

She couldn’t help but rub his neck affectionately. At least he was good company. He even “laughed” at her jokes. After a while of going back and forth, Haylie idly watched the reins drag along the ground. Since she didn’t know where they were going, she’d not even thought to pick them up. Now, though, she realized the inherent dangers of the forest floor and reached down to her left. “Hey, Pretty Boy, toss your head this way so I can get the reins so they don’t catch on anything, okay?”

Pretty Boy turned his head far to the right for a moment, then whipped his head around to the left so that both reins flew back toward her. She almost missed them, but after a little scramble, she got them situated. Since the long strips of shiny leather hung loose and unconnected, she tucked them loosely under her legs. No sense guiding a horse when you don’t know where you’re going, Haylie. Don’t be dumb.

Time seemed to stand still as they loped easily through the woods. As they went, the surrounding trees became denser. The leaves here were thick and lush on the limbs where nearer the road they were still bare from winter’s grasp. The scent on the air was cleaner, somehow, and laden with a hint of summer. A cool breeze drifted through the boughs, rustling the leaves in a dizzying lilt of what sounded like whispers.

I’m going crazy. I must be going crazy. Leaves don’t do that. They either grow on all trees, or none... they don’t just grow faster the deeper into the woods you go. Right?

Soon, her thoughts dashed away as they entered a clearing. In the center was a prone form. It looked to be covered with a green blanket. It laid so still, Haylie was afraid whoever it was wasn’t breathing anymore.

“Hello?” Pretty Boy came to a stop a few feet away from the figure and bowed again to let her off. Haylie grabbed her first aid kit, jogged to the person’s side, and knelt to draw the green blanket away. The cloth was velvet soft, and when she pulled, she found it anchored to the man’s neck with an emerald and silver chained clasp. His long dark hair covered his face and hands, but his body was definitely male. Even through the roleplay gear he wore, the masculinity of his body was unmistakable. “Hello? Sir, are you okay?”

As she pushed his hair away from his face, she gasped. His bronze face had paled almost to the color of cream, made all the more stark with the trail of caked blood that ran from his temple down the side of his face. She carefully slid his hair back away from the line of gore until she found the source of the flow. It was above his temple, and not too deep, but with a look around, she couldn’t see any rocks he could have fallen onto.

“Pretty Boy, how’d this happen?” As if the horse could tell her. I ask the dumbest things of animals. I really do. No wonder everyone thinks I’m batshit.

In the next moment, her head felt light. Images flitted through her mind like a movie playing at a high speed. It took a moment for things to clear, but then she saw it all as if it were Technicolor. Pretty Boy galloped through the woods. She could feel the strong thighs around her sides, pressing and guiding her along as if she were the stallion. The forest again seemed to part for them, the path opening just as fast as Pretty Boy could run. From the side, a rock hurtled toward them. Then another, and another. Horse and rider ran toward the clearing where they’d have a better vantage. Master! I must save us! The rider’s legs twitched against her sides as a well-aimed rock struck him, and Haylie felt a throb pulse in the side of her head, a phantom pain that mirrored the rider’s.

Once they broke through the clearing, the rider’s legs went limp and his body slid out of the saddle to lie lifeless on the forest’s carpet of soft grass. Pretty Boy whirled around and reared up, pumping at the air with his powerful hooves. From the forest, little red eyes peered through the foliage and another volley of rocks heaved at them.

Master! Get up! Imps... I’ve never seen them in such numbers. Where did they all come from? This isn’t right. Master! Sol’kyr! Please! Get up!

But Sol’kyr wasn’t answering his mental pleas. Anger, fear and murder welled up in Haylie’s chest. It burned into a seething hatred that made the world drown in red. She ran into the brush, chasing down the imps, and only after a handful died under thundering hooves did the storm of rocks stop as they fled in fear.

Haylie’s mind became her own again, and she found that she was lying atop Sol’kyr. How did... what... just happened? Panting, she pushed herself upright. The world swam in a sudden vertigo. Pretty Boy’s muzzle came to rest at her side as she tipped over, and he brought her back up and remained there until she stopped teetering. With a sigh she reached out and rested a grateful hand on his face and gave him a fond rub.

“Batshit. I’m definitely batshit. Yup.” Pretty Boy snorted and nudged her a little more roughly than he had before. “Offended by bad words, too? Man, you’re more high class than I thought.” He nickered and went to chomp grass near her.

Getting all that black hair out of the man’s face was a chore. He had so much of it! Before doing much else, she checked for his pulse. He was breathing, but that meant little more than that he was alive. His pulse, though, was strong and steady. “I wish I had a back board and neck brace, but I’m not ambulance equipped.”

Another nicker came from beside her, and she shook her head. “Quit giggling, nag.” An indignant snort was his reply.

“Well, Sol’kyr... this would be easier for me if you’d landed on your back.” Remembering saddlebags, she stood, walked over to Pretty Boy, and rifled through them. Her search got her a water skin with its cork dangling from a string, a few sugar cubes, one of which she gave to Pretty Boy for being such a sweetheart, and a few wrapped packages that smelled like food. The last made her stomach grumble. She’d had fasting blood work done that day and still hadn’t eaten.

She shook the water skin, grimaced, and looked around. “It’s almost empty. Are there any streams around here to fill it with?” The horse tossed his head and walked toward her. Without another sound, he snatched the skin from her hands and galloped off into the woods, leaving her there by herself, confused, and with an unconscious Sol’kyr.

“Great. Just great.” Frowning, she wrinkled her nose and called after the horse. “I hope you know that I have abandonment issues!”

Would that make Pretty Boy hurry? He already galloped like the devil was at his heels, so who knew? “I’m too afraid to move you. If your neck or back are broken, I could do permanent damage, or even kill you. So... what do I do?”

The obvious answer still oozed down his face. Haylie opened a few pads of gauze from the first aid kit, along with the small bottle of alcohol, and dabbed the blood away, cleaning up his handsome face. As she pushed his hair behind his ear to get at his wound better, her breath hitched. His ears were delicate and tapered to a very distinct point that angled toward the crown of his head.

Her thoughts stilled. Whatever might have been going through her mind suddenly disappeared. With a gentle touch, she fingered the whorls and lines. There wasn’t even a faint scar anywhere telling her they’d been surgically altered. They felt whole, warm, and, most of all, real. “That, my friend, is one awesome birth defect. Or, I’m crazier than I thought when I woke up this morning.”

Her continued attentions to his ear made his breathing stutter. Another touch and he moaned and shifted. Haylie snatched her hand away and looked down at him wide-eyed.

“Whoa. Okay, waking up is good. Hey, Sol’kyr? Is that your name? I’m Haylie. I’m here to help. Please, don’t move yet.”

His eyes fluttered open and closed again. His breathing rose to a more wakeful rhythm as he flexed his hands. “Where... where is Kormir?” His accent was rich and thick, but for all Haylie’s worldly knowledge, she couldn’t place where it was from.

“Kormir? You mean Pretty Boy? I think he went to go get water. He snatched the water skin from my hands and ran.”

Sol’kyr chuckled and sighed. “He is like that.”

“Does anything hurt, sweetheart? ...Besides the nasty gash on your head?” She rested a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Not that I can feel, no. It feels like I had the wind knocked out of me, however.”

“Yeah, falling from a horse while unconscious could have that effect. Can you move your feet for me?” She put her fingers in his hand and smiled. “And squeeze my fingers as hard as you can, please.”

Haylie looked down at his booted feet and watched him roll his ankles. Though, she felt no squeeze on her fingers. Her breath hitched. “Um, I told you to squeeze my fingers, sweetie. Please do.”

He looked up at her then. His eyes were a stunning amber color that turned gold when the sun caught them. Her lower lip went between her teeth and she worried it a moment as he regarded her. “I do not wish to hurt you.”

“Uh... then squeeze gently. Just squeeze, please.” When he did, she sighed and sat back on her heels. His grip was gentle, but at least it felt strong. “Well, that’s about as far as my emergency medical training goes. I’m more trained for the operating room than field work.”

She smiled down at him. “Try things at your own pace, but I’d like to see your eyes soon. I only saw the one.”

He gave her a strange look, but nodded and sat up. His perfect hair stuck up everywhere with grass and twigs clinging to it. The side of his face he had lain on was red and bore the indents of his fingers. Haylie scooted close as she took a pen light from her first aid kit and quickly shined it in each eye a couple times. “Good pupil response, both are the same size. Congratulations, you made it out of an imp attack without a concussion.”

Just then, Haylie heard the thundering of hooves, and sure enough, Kormir erupted from the forest with a whinny and toss of his head that sloshed water out of the skin that hung from his teeth. “There’s my Pretty Boy! I worried about you. Abandonment issues, if you recall,” she teased.

Kormir snorted and trotted over, lowering the water skin into her waiting hands. “Such a smart boy. Oh, I wish I could just keep you forever!” He nickered at her in a way that sounded like a chuckle, then went to Sol’kyr with a soft neigh of recognition and nuzzled into his shoulder. “Fine. Be that way, then. One man horse, yeah?” Another soft nicker and she chuckled.

“Does he always act as if he understands everything we say?”

Sol’kyr perked a brow at her as he stroked his horse’s face. “He does. It is no act.”

“What?” She blinked. “You’re not serious.”

“I am quite serious, Miss. For instance, how did you know my name?”

She blinked again and slouched as she tried to think of it. And the movie scene in her mind came back to light. “Uh, I heard it in my mind?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Maybe?”

Sol’kyr tipped his head back and laughed. The sound was deep, rich and lusty. She could listen to that laugh all day, but it ended too soon. “He shared a mental link with you, then. It is rare for any horse to do so with anyone other than their riders and capable handlers.”

“So, um, the imps from the little dream thing are real, too? And your ears? Aren’t surgically altered?” She gave him a disbelieving look. His brows shot toward his hairline, though, and his hands rose to both ears. He spat a word she didn’t recognize and looked a little ill.

“I am guessing I wasn’t supposed to see those. Well, your secret is safe with me! No one would believe me, anyway.”

He gave her another one of his strange looks, but there was a soft smile this time that accompanied it. “Oh?”

“Everyone knows I’m ba—” Kormir snorted and Haylie got a face full of lush horse tail and changed her wording a little. “Insane. Everyone knows it. I just got back from my brain doctor, who, like every month before, confirms it.”

Sol’kyr chuckled, took a sip from the water skin that Haylie handed him and shook his head. “You have the touch of a healer. Healers are often not quite all there, but I doubt very much that you are insane.”

“I won’t argue with that!” She grinned. “So, you’re okay, I need to get back to my car and get it back to my parents before they have coronaries.”

He frowned a little. “Where are you from?”

“Do you want my entire life story as a traveler, or do you just want to know where I live now?”

He laughed in that deep, rumbling way of his again and stared at her with twinkling golden eyes. “I think I would like to hear the former, but I would like there to be enough time for the tale. For now, I will settle for where you live at this moment.”

“Well, I live about...” She looked around for the nearest tree, found the moss, and pointed northwest. “A twenty minute drive that way... or, I would if I remembered to count how many minutes it took to get here from my car.”

“Ah, I see.” Something passed across his face that Haylie didn’t catch, and he went on. “In any case, I think we should escort you before it is too late.”

Haylie jumped to her feet. Panic gripped her chest, and she looked around frantically. “Too late for what?”

Before she could say another word, he pressed her against his powerful chest. Sol’kyr’s arms wound around her, holding her securely to him. Her face pressed against his shoulder, and she turned it, tucking her head under his chin. It felt so strange. She took in a deep lungful of his scent and wrinkled her nose. He smelled of grass and blood from his tumble, but beneath that, his clothes and skin exuded pine and mountain air mixed with an exotic spice she couldn’t put a name or memory to. Trembling, she tried to pull away, but he held fast. Sol’kyr placed a kiss atop her head. His warm breath puffed against her ear as he spoke in deep, rumbled murmurs.

“Nothing will harm you with me near.”

“Yeah, says the man who was lying unconscious from an imp’s stone attack in the middle of a clearing,” she said in a flat tone.

He chuckled and sighed. “I will give you that, Haylie. But, I am not so useless as that has made me seem.”

She smirked and shook her head. “I feel so much better now... And you still haven’t answered me. Too late for what?”

“The veil between my world and yours will close soon, disrupting your way back. We must away now. Are you calmer?”

She nodded, but tried to get away again. When he resisted, tears pricked her eyes.

“You are crying. Why?”

Haylie wiped at her eyes and pulled away. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry. I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Sol’kyr frowned and looked like he was about to say something else, but nodded and took another long pull from the water skin. He capped it and expertly tied it to the saddle bag as it would no longer fit inside. As he packed it, he regarded the first aid kit with interest, but it was clear time was of the essence. That got stuffed inside the saddlebags in place of the water skin and secured. Then, he lifted her onto the saddle, took up the reins and vaulted up behind her with as much grace as a ballet dancer leaping through the air. When he settled, he held the reins with one hand, and held to Haylie with the other. Feeling his broad chest against her back brought a wave of panic, but she made no mention.

CHAPTER TWO

As they headed through the path that opened for them, they were quiet for a long time. Haylie watched the trees go by, counting them idly. It seemed like time went on forever. Kormir loped at the same pace as he had to bring her to the clearing, but it felt like they had been traveling twice as long from the clearing back toward the car. And still, the trees were in full bloom. Not a bare branch in sight.

“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction, Sol’kyr?”

“You may call me ‘Sol’ if you prefer. And I do not know the direction toward your... car. Kormir is the one leading, so I assume that is where he is taking us.”

She frowned and craned to look up into his face. “I’m not going home, am I?”

“Why would you say that?” He gave her a thoughtful expression.

“Because we would have hit the spring trees by now. These are in bloom like it’s late spring to early summer. Where I came in, the trees were still trying to wake up from winter.”

“Ah, I see. That is very observant of you.”

“You’re not letting me go home, are you?” she repeated.

“That is not for me to decide, young one. You have caught me at a disadvantage with my glamor down. I must take this to the council.” At least he sounded apologetic.

“What about that thing with the veil? When will it open again? I have to get home!”

He hugged her again and rested his chin atop her head. “I am uncertain. I am not used to abiding by time according to human standards. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say a month.” He went quiet at that, then nodded. “Yes, I believe that is correct.”

“I can’t go home for a month?! What about my home? I have to pay rent! What about my cat? She needs food and water! Can’t I even call someone so she’ll be cared for?”

Sol sighed and hugged her tight against him again. “I am sorry, Haylie. For now, I do not make the rules. But I promise you I will do what I can to make this bearable for you.”

Tears burned their way to the surface, and she covered her face with both hands. Panic once again welled in her chest, tightening it with a ferocity she hadn’t felt since her psychiatrist diagnosed her with chronic anxiety. She tried not to, but the tears made her nose watery and forced her to sniffle. This earned her another, warmer hug. Sol sighed and wrapped the reins around his wrist and used both arms to hold her against his chest. That closeness forced everything out. Where before she had only a few tears streaming down her face, now she flat out bawled in a stranger’s arms.

“I have to get home! You can’t keep me here!” She hated how small, childish and terrified she sounded. “Let me go!”

“Where would you go, Haylie?” His voice was warm, soothing with a tinge of sorrow. “The way is already closed. We could not have made it in time if we tried. Am I such bad company?”

“I don’t know you!”

“How can you know someone if you do not give them a chance to be known?”

He had a point. She couldn’t deny that. All her life, people proved over and over again that no one in her life could be trusted except her animals. His arms were warm around her. A hand lifted to stroke her short, wavy auburn hair. The petting only relaxed her somewhat. When she sagged against his chest, he guided her right leg over so she sat sidesaddle and pulled her closer.

“How old are you, Haylie?” Curiosity tinged his conversational tone.

“I’ll be twenty next month.” A yawn escaped her. Her mind was clouded, and it made it hard to think. The singing returned, a soft cadence that relaxed her further.

“So very young.” He sighed and petted her hair.

“I feel so old...” Haylie turned and buried her face in his chest. If he had to hold her, she might as well be comfortable. Sol shifted them so he was in the saddle and she sat on his lap. That felt odd. The last time she sat in anyone’s lap, she was a toddler, and she wasn’t sure she liked it. As old as she was, he moved her with the grace and ease of a parent to a child. Suddenly, she felt quite childlike.

“What do you think makes you feel so old?” She couldn’t tell if he was interested, or if he was just making conversation to pass the time. That sounded like something her therapist would ask. She wanted to ask “why do you care?” but that seemed a little too mean to say to someone who was holding her like she was a treasure... or a possession.

“I’ve always felt old. Even when I was a toddler. I’d have tantrums because it pissed me off that I had to go through childhood all over again. It didn’t seem fair. As I grew up, it felt like I was growing too fast, but not fast enough. I kept having dreams I was someone or something else. During history lessons, I remembered things. It felt like I grew too fast, and the more it felt like that, the more I became obsessed with it until I’d lose whole days in the library, or watching history movies. That’s when people called me crazy, because I’d sit there and argue with my teachers. And when they’d ask how I knew, I’d go blood red and say that’s how I remembered it.”

“What if they actually were memories?”

“Now that’s just silly, Sol.”

“Is it? Kormir asserts that my ears did not startle you. Would memories of a past life be as silly as meeting an elf?”

Haylie frowned and thumped her forehead against his chest. “You have a point. But why does it matter?”

Sol went quiet for a long moment, but when he spoke again, his voice was soft and thick like warm honey. “We will see on that. For now, however, let us speak on another matter.”

She looked up then and gasped. Her hand reached up to touch the side of his face. “You’re bleeding again. Keep hold of me.”

Seeing blood instantly brought out the medical professional in her, even if she hadn’t worked in the field for half a year. Without warning, she bent so she could reach the saddlebag and fished out the first aid kit. Sol almost lost his grip, but he kept her on his lap as best he could. When she righted herself, he shifted her into a more comfortable position. Haylie opened the first aid kit on her lap and fished out more gauze. She opened and pressed it to his gash with one hand while the other tried to keep the contents of the first aid kit from being bounced out with Kormir’s movements.

“I might need to stitch that closed unless speedy healing comes with those ears.”

He gave her an amused look. “I believe we heal at the same rate as you would. Perhaps a little faster, but only marginally.”

As she applied more pressure she wrinkled her nose. Sol hissed through his teeth and closed his eyes, but Haylie wasn’t letting up. Part of her believed that he deserved a little pain for keeping her from going home. “If pressure doesn’t stop the bleeding in a few moments, we need to pull over and you need stitches. I have a suture kit in here, but I’m not about to stick you with needles while on a cantering horse, no matter how smooth he moves.”

“Yes, that would be wise. We should meet up with my camp soon, and you may do as you wish there.”

Sol’kyr trembled from the pain. It turned his normally bronze skin a dull, ashen color. The way they sat, she studied his face. He reminded her of a Native American with his hair and skin coloring. Sol had high cheekbones and full lips. His skin was flawless and held a natural tan. He almost resembled the airbrushed models she’d seen on magazines at the checkout counters in grocery stores. His eyes were that rich amber color, but she remembered how vivid a gold they changed in the sun. Thin lashes fringed the almond shapes. Sol had an angular face with a straight nose and powerful jaw. His thin brows looked sculpted by an experienced salon artist and framed his eyes elegantly. There were features that some might call feminine, but he exuded masculinity in such a way that even insinuating such things seemed wrong.

His eyes looked into hers then. For the briefest moment, they hooded, his chest seized, but the moment passed as fast as it came on. Recognition passed over his face before he turned his eyes back to their path.

“You are not what you seem, little one.”

Haylie’s mouth dropped open, then worked as if she would say something, but she clamped it shut with a snap of teeth to try again. “What do you mean by that?” Where did that tone come from? I’ve never been that acidic.

“Forgive me. I will explain when my head is no longer pounding.”

At that, Haylie pulled the gauze back to check on the wound. She could see the gash more clearly now that the pad lifted away the clots. It was deep and raw looking. The jagged edges would give her fits when stitching him up. “You’ll have a nasty scar, but your hair will hide most of it when it isn’t gross with dried blood.”

He laughed at that and peered down at her; something twinkled in his eyes and she couldn’t tell if it was amusement or mischief. “We do not scar. At least, the marks do not stay long. They fade rather fast.”

Sol glanced over at her and pursed his lips in thought. “Nor do I see a scar on you, Haylie. Either you do not scar, or you have lived a very sheltered life.”

Blood rushed to her cheeks, setting them on fire, and she ducked her head. Taking a deep breath, she sighed and closed her eyes. Haylie hated the way she felt around him. Her arms and legs were free of scars though she didn’t understand how. She wasn’t graceful and often ended up with cuts, bruises and abrasions, despite the blue jeans she always wore.

The way he said that made her wonder what he was getting at. “Not so sheltered. I’m clumsy as a newborn colt.”

He grinned at that. “Children are often clumsy, yes.”

She pursed her lips, but suddenly his breathing changed. His eyes grew more alert. His pupils expanded and contracted as he scanned an area. Haylie turned her head to see a clearing near though she couldn’t see much through the trees other than a few shaded figures on the opposite side. Sol let out a low bird call whistle, and someone responded with a similar sound.

They entered the clearing and soon Sol set Haylie on her feet. Her legs wobbled, and she promptly fell onto her backside when she tried to walk. She hadn’t realized how numb her legs and butt had become during the ride.

The first aid kit went tumbling, and she sighed, glad she closed it during their conversation. Sol leapt out of the saddle, scooped her into his arms and carried her across the clearing. Voices from the other side came to them. The language was unfamiliar to her, yet familiar in a strange way at the same time. It sounded vaguely like what she’d heard once in a dream, and somewhat like the ever constant singing.

Sol responded to them in the same language, but when he looked down at her, a knowing smile crept across his features and he changed to English. “Come brothers, we have a friend who does not speak our language. We must not be rude.”

The other three stared at her for a moment, then nodded almost in unison. “Who is your friend, Sol?” The voice sounded like it came from a woman. All three had long hair, but with the shadows clinging to them, she couldn’t tell which she was.

“My name is Haylie. I’m, uh... human. Sorry to be an inconvenience,” she groused, but Sol’s lips met her forehead, and he spoke loud enough for the others to hear, yet his voice was tender.

“You are not an inconvenience, little one. Do not think such things. If anything, I have inconvenienced you.”

The woman came closer. Her hair that shone copper in the sun, hung in loose ringlets around her face. Her eyes sparkled like emeralds, vivid, almost faceted. “Ah, it is a pleasure to meet you Hay—my word...”

Her eyes widened as she stared at Haylie. Her lower lip quivered a moment, but then she seemed to recover, clearing her throat. “My apologies. It is a pleasure to meet you, Haylie. I am Lin’ra, and these quiet brutes are Velithor and Morough.”

The two shadowed men bowed their heads in greeting. Strange. They both stayed in the shadows as if they had something against the sun. However, Velithor ventured out after a slight hesitation. He held a warm smile and was more lithe than the other two males. He had leaner muscle, a bow at his back and a quiver of arrows slung over a shoulder. His hair hung down past his rump in thick waves of silvery white. Morough reached out and tugged on his hair as he followed. Like Sol, he had the sculpted muscle of a hardened warrior, his chest was bare and his hair wet and slick, tied back in a tight braid, obscuring its color.

“You should not take in strays, brother. She has seen us, so she cannot go back, yet she is human, and cannot enter Y’lon Stral. What do you intend to do with her, Sol’kyr?”

Velithor turned a frown on Morough and walked closer to Sol. “Watch your tongue, Morough. Just because you haven’t any feelings doesn’t mean she doesn’t.” He turned to Haylie with an apologetic smile that lit up his electric blue eyes. “Don’t mind him, Haylie. We will figure something out. Lin, we should stay here tonight. I think this poor dear has spent enough time in the saddle for the day.”

Haylie lifted a hand like she was in class asking questions. “Uh, I was sitting sidesaddle most of the trip. I’m fine. Just a little weak from being hungry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.”

Lin’ra’s eyes went wide again, and she rushed over to a pile of packs. “Veli, get the stones. Morough... just try not to hurt her feelings again. Sol, get that poor child comfortable. I’ll get the stew warmed up as soon as the stones are hot.”

Veli grinned and stroked a comforting hand over Haylie’s hair, then turned to get “the stones”, whatever that meant. She watched him as Sol carried her over to a fallen log and sat down with her in his lap. She wondered if he was keeping her this close due to caring for her safety, or worrying she might run.

Once Velithor finished rummaging through a few sacks, he brought over three flat stones about the size of odd-shaped dinner plates and set them close to the log. When he finished, they glowed a fiery gold that reminded Haylie of Sol’kyr’s eyes. Soon the warmth of them washed over her. The heat of the day seemed gone when she had entered the summery forest. It wasn’t as muggy; a cool breeze blew. As the sun made its slow descent, blessed chill air breathed in. The relief of those glowing stones was welcome, and her body relaxed against Sol’s form.

The contented sensation caused her to close her eyes, but noise near the stones brought her attention back to the present. She watched as Lin placed a large stone dish over them to heat, and soon the scent of something meaty filled her nostrils, making her stomach rumble loudly. Her cheeks flushed, and three of the four elves chuckled at her.

“It will be ready soon, little one,” Sol reassured her. Then he winced, and Haylie peered at him. Her eyes trailed up to above his temple, and she wrinkled her nose.

“I need water, clean cloth, and my kit.”

He sighed and motioned for Velithor to fetch the white box over by Kormir who lazily mowed the sweet grass. When the white-haired elf brought it over, and she had the other necessities, she busied herself tending to Sol’kyr’s gash.

With everything within her reach, she pulled his head down with both her hands, and sucked on his hair, which received a groan of disgust from Sol. She stopped and made a face. “Oh, quit that. The easiest way to un-clot blood for cleaning is with saliva. You’ll get over it if you want to keep your hair from infecting your stitches. I have to get it as sterile as I can without full medical supplies.”

He sighed, but nodded. When she finished drooling in his hair, she worked the mats with her fingers until the moistened clots separated. It took a good few minutes, but Haylie got his hair clean enough to her standards and sterilized the strands and area around the gash with alcohol. As she treated him, she grinned. “Your blood is sweet. It isn’t the dull metallic taste of human blood.”

“You taste blood often?” The disgust was back in his tone.

“I used to work with a lot of kids. Kissing boo-boos is part of the job. That means blood. I found that it’s better to kiss near the bloody boo-boo so the blood can run the bacteria from the kiss away than it is to kiss near a cleaned wound, because the bacteria stays put longer. Either that, or I have magic kisses. Who knows?”

He chuckled at that and shook his head. “Perhaps you should just kiss my... ‘boo-boo’ and avoid the stitches?”

She wrinkled her nose. “I think you’re a little too old for that, don’t you?”

Something sparkled in his golden eyes, seeming more like mischief this time, and he smiled. “Humor me?”

She sighed and sat up. His hair and skin reeked of alcohol, and it stung her nose as she inhaled. When her lips met his skin, though, she felt something flower deep inside her belly and flow like water through her body and into her lips. It left her breathless. Her eyes closed, and she found Sol holding onto her tightly, as if begging her not to stop.

When he relaxed his grip, she slumped against him and trembled. “What... was that?”

He lifted a hand to the faint scar above his temple and smirked. “I think your kisses are magic.”

Lin overheard them and wandered over. She peered at the small bald area of his head and then down at Haylie. “Sol? I think we need to speak alone for a moment.”

Sol gave her a look of displeasure. “Whatever you have to say, Lin, you will say it in front of her. This must frighten her.”

Haylie looked up at Lin for a moment and noticed the worry in her face. She patted his chest and shook her head. “No, it’s all right, Sol. My butt hurts from sitting for so long, so I’ll go bug the other two while I stretch my legs, okay?”

He continued to hold her for a moment as different thoughts raced across his eyes, but ultimately nodded. “Very well. Just give Morough some space. He isn’t very personable to humans.”

Haylie nodded and got off his lap. Relief flooded her that he actually let her go. “Fair enough.”

Her legs felt like jelly, but she could walk now. She waddled the first few steps, but went over to the silver haired one. She grinned up at him as she approached. “Sorry for barging in on you two, but the others wanted privacy.”

Morough gave her a hard stare and turned away, glancing at Velithor. “I will scout the camp. I will return when the food is ready.”

Veli nodded, and when Morough left, his eyes turned sad. “Don’t mind him, Haylie. He’s been through some trying times of late. He shouldn’t be so rude.”

Haylie shrugged. “He’s fine. People deal with their crap in their own ways. I can’t fault him for that.”

“Thank you for your understanding.” He glanced back to Sol and Lin for a moment. “What happened? I have not seen Lin so animated since we were children.”

“I kissed Sol’s wound and something happened, and now the gash isn’t there anymore.”

Veli’s eyes widened, and a slow grin crept across his face. “I see. Interesting.”

“Uh-huh. What’s so interesting that people keep looking at me like that?” These people are weird. Why the hell won’t anyone tell me what’s going on?

Velithor must have seen something cross her face, as he gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I think we should get closer to our home before we go into that. No one knows for sure, and there is no reason to give you false information when we can get definitive answers soon enough.”

There was a finality in his voice that told Haylie the discussion was closed, so she sighed and looked down as she scuffed her feet across the grass. “I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

“Nor do I. I also dislike being misled, which is why I refrain from speaking what three out of four of us seem to think. All will be well, Haylie. You will see.”

Haylie nodded and then squeaked as he pulled her into a warm hug. At first, her muscles tensed, but within moments, she relaxed into it. She liked hugs, and somehow Velithor’s touch didn’t send her into a panic. A sudden realization seized her. Before today, she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged her. And she thought no one at all had hugged her like these people had. It brought tears to her eyes again, and as if he smelled them, he kissed the top of her head. “Why are you crying?”

With a deep sigh, she pressed her forehead against his chest. “Nothing. I’m all right. I have weird emotional patterns or emotional whiplash, and today’s been stressful.”

He nodded against the side of her head and slowly let her go. “They seem to have finished their discussion. Come, the food is ready.”

Morough showed up as if out of nowhere and brushed past them as he strode toward the fire stones. It was strange to see flames and warmth without smoke in a campground, but she liked that she didn’t have to smell burning things. The cooking food smelled too good to taint it with smoldering wood.

Once everyone settled down in front of the fire and they passed around the food, Haylie stared into her stoneware bowl and poked at everything. Despite the delicious scent and her ravenous hunger, she recognized nothing in it, not even the meat. Sol rested a hand on her shoulder. Neither he nor Lin would say anything to her about their talk but she expected that. It felt odd to have his hand on her now. Somehow, she’d suspected that talk would make him act different with her.

She looked up at him, and he smiled at her. “Do you not like it?”

“What’s in it?”

He tilted his head. “Root vegetables from our home, meat you might be best not asking where it comes from, cream, and spices.”

She wrinkled her nose, but tried a spoonful against her better judgment. The meat melted in her mouth as if it had cooked for hours. The vegetables were soft but still had a bite to them. The broth was thick and creamy. It tasted better than anything she had ever eaten, and before she knew it, the bowl was empty, and she had to stop herself from licking it clean.

Sol stared at her for a moment as he paused his own eating, trying in vain to keep his mirth reined in, and filled her bowl again. “Eat your fill, little one.”

Looking at him shyly, Haylie thanked him and tucked into that bowl slower. Halfway through eating, her mind worked again. Her earlier daydream of becoming Kormir flashed through her mind. The imps came back to her memory, and she shuddered.

“Sol? What happens if the imps come back?”

Lin sat up straighter and furrowed her brows. “Imps?” She turned to Sol, and her face went stoic. “So that is how you received your wound.”

He nodded. “I have never seen them assembled like that. It was almost like an ambush. I had not thought they could be that organized.”

Velithor frowned and set his empty bowl aside. “I’ve noticed the hishkir being unusually mobile as well.”

Haylie grimaced. “What’s a hishkir?”

Sol frowned and looked into his bowl as he spoke. “They are vicious creatures that resemble large house cats in your realm, but feed on children. They prefer elven blood, but will go after any bipedal child if they are hungry enough.”

That made her stomach squirm. Haylie’s thoughts went to her cat, Punkin, at home. Was she all right? Would someone notice Haylie went missing and take care of her while she was gone? No one cares. No one would even check for me. My parents would just call the police thinking I’d run off with their car. But, when they found the car without me in it, would they think to take care of Punkin then?

She felt ill and set the rest of her stew aside and curled into a ball. Sol’s hand rested on her back, gently rubbing. “Are you all right?”

“No. But, I’ll be fine.” I can’t go home for a month, anyway. No sense getting them upset. “It made me miss my cat, is all.”

He nodded and squeezed her shoulder. “I am sorry to have taken you away from it.”

You should be. “It’s all right.”

CHAPTER THREE

Haylie didn’t go back to her meal. She ate a little too much, her stomach fitfully full. She couldn’t fight the drowsiness any longer. Haylie closed her eyes and leaned against Sol’kyr’s side. It felt like she was falling. She heard the conversation between the four elves like she was underwater. Nothing sounded right. The surrounding forest loomed closer. Haylie couldn’t open her eyes. Her breathing became hitched and labored, almost like one of her panic attacks.

Footsteps neared, rustling the undergrowth from behind them. Muscles tensed, but she couldn’t make her body respond to turn around. She tried to speak, but her mouth wouldn’t open. Something putrid filled her nostrils, the rot like a mangled corpse that had been festering in the sun for two days.

Haylie, wake up. Wake up!

Who’re you? Haylie didn’t recognize the voice.

Don’t worry who I am yet. You must wake up!

I can’t! I can’t feel anything. I can’t control my body!

The voice sighed. You are stronger than this! You remember how you felt when you kissed Sol’kyr. Try to draw that feeling again. Force it outward and make it fill you.

Haylie tried. It took a moment, but she imagined kissing Sol’s forehead again, and reached for that tingle inside her. She drew on it, still with that image in her mind, and pushed it through her limbs and core.

Sol roughly stroked Haylie’s face when she woke. Her body jerked, and her eyes flew open, looking about as she tried to calm her frantic breathing. The four elves stood around her in a circle, worry shining in even Morough’s eyes.

“What happened?” she squeaked.

Sol frowned and rubbed her cheeks more affectionately. “I hoped you could tell us.”

“I don’t know. I was listening to you four talking, and suddenly I couldn’t move or anything. It was hard to breathe, and I smelled something gross and decaying.”

Lin’ra hissed. “Skels.”

“Do I want to know?” Haylie asked. Sol shook his head. “I’m asking anyway.”

Morough kept his eyes on the tree line. “They can take on any form by magic. They almost never come this close to the fire stones. Lin, a little help?”

She walked over to him and placed her hands around his forehead from behind. A moment later, his dark eyes glowed a soft blue. He grabbed his sword and crossbow from their place against the fallen log and disappeared into the forest.

Lin frowned and sat down on the other side of Haylie while Velithor watched with his bow in hand and an arrow at the ready.

“They also rarely attack this early. Most often they wait until nightfall. It is still daylight.” Lin’s voice wavered. “Sol, what is going on?”

“I do not know yet. I—” He looked down at Haylie and his eyes softened. “Morough is skilled, Haylie.”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t.”

“No, but your eyes are larger than a frightened doe’s, and you are shaking.” He wrapped her up a little tighter against him.

“Well, yeah, but it isn’t the thing out there that’s got me freaked out.”

Lin frowned, running her fingers through Haylie’s hair. “Someone here is making you upset?”

“Only if one of you four is talking in my head all of a sudden...”

Snatching her hand back, Lin’s frown deepened, and she looked hard into Haylie’s eyes. “What do you mean?”

Haylie shrank as much as she could against Sol’s chest and pressed her lips together. “It’s nothing. It’s just my crazy showing. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Sol poked her in the side. “Answer her, Haylie.”

No, Haylie. They cannot know about me. Not yet. The voice was almost pleading, but stern at the same time.

But why? Who are you, and what are you doing in my head? She wasn’t all that sure she wanted to know.

Just trust me for now.

Not when you won’t tell me who you are or why you want me to trust you.

The masculine voice sighed, and it was then she heard Sol’s voice. “Haylie? Haylie... Are you all right?”

Blinking, Haylie looked from Sol’s worried gaze to Lin’s and back. “Oh, uh, sorry. I think I’m more tired than I thought. I need some... water, and to rest for a moment.”

Good call.

I’m not through with you yet. She shivered and accepted the water Veli gave her. You’ll tell me. Now. Or I’ll tell them about you and see just what they can do to get you out.

Or, the voice chided, they will just reassure you how batshit you are. Or did you suddenly forget that when the handsome elves came to whisk you away from your doldrum life?

Haylie’s heart stopped, and she looked between the two faces near her. She could feel Velithor staring at her from behind. Haylie swallowed hard to get the water past the lump in her throat, cleared her airway with a small cough, and shivered.

“It just unnerved me really bad.”

Both nodded and seemed a little relieved though Sol didn’t seem convinced. He looked about to speak when a loud squeal issued from behind them. A few long moments later, Morough came out from the shadows. His eyes weren’t glowing any longer. Morough had a strange beast that looked like a toddler with claws, horns and razor-like teeth set in a mean, thin mouth impaled on the end of his sword, though it wasn’t dead. He forced it to get closer to the fire stones, and the closer it got, the worse the reek stunk up the camp. None of the others seemed able to smell it, but when Morough shoved it right next to the fire stones, it burst into flames with a shrill squeal. As it twitched and writhed in its death throes, Haylie lurched over to the side and retched her stomach’s contents into the grass behind Lin’ra.

Sol held her so she didn’t go face first in it. Lin rubbed her back. Velithor’s feet were in front of her face. She’d gotten sick on his boot. When she finished vomiting, she realized what she’d done. It hit her like a ton of bricks and she sat up, horrified. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Veli!” She cringed as her voice came as a gravelly whine. “I’m so, so sorry!”

Veli smoothed back her hair and handed her a few leaves. “I’ve had worse on my boots, Haylie. Chew these. It is mint. It will help ease your stomach’s distress.”

She shuddered, and Sol tucked her back onto his lap as she stuck the leaves into her mouth and chewed. They tasted wonderful after what had just left her. They filled her nostrils with sweet minty air as she exhaled and helped to get rid of some of the ick from the whatever-it-was.

“You guys didn’t smell that? How could you stomach it?”

The four elves looked between each other with perplexed expressions, and then all four sets of eyes landed on her again. “What do you mean?” Morough asked.

“I mean, the closer that thing got to the fire, the worse it smelled. That’s what made me sick.”

Careful, Haylie. The voice warned.

Do you know why I smelled it and they didn’t?

I can’t tell you that yet.

Why not?

Because I don’t want you blurting it out to them until we get closer to the city.

Now I really don’t trust you.

“Haylie? You drifted off again.” Sol hugged her and smoothed her hair away from her face.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry. Rough day.”

Lin leaned over and sniffed her. “Haylie, what did you smell? Only those sucked into the skels’ dream vise can smell them, and only during the dream state...”

Nothing. You smelled nothing.

Are you kidding? It smelled like decaying flesh. I spent a few weeks in a morgue. I know what rotting flesh smells like. That was rotting flesh. She wailed in disgust at the voice.

Yes, well, I can’t argue with you there, but don’t tell them that. It could get you into trouble.

T—trouble?

“I’m not sure. I’ve smelled nothing like it before.” Haylie could see the disbelief in Lin’s eyes, but the woman let it go for now.

Sol reached up and unclasped his cloak. He brought it around over his shoulders and wrapped it around Haylie’s. It smelled more like him than his shirt. He must only wash it when it’s gross. Why is his scent so calming now?

You will know that soon, child. When we get to Y’lon Stral, you will know.

How long will that be? The voice annoyed Haylie. Can you even tell me your name? I’d like to know what to call the thing I’m about to curse out.

The voice sighed. You may call me Taryn.

Taryn? Sounds like an elf name. How did an elf get inside my head?

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Now, pay attention!

At that moment, she realized Morough was knelt at her side, speaking. “You really do go off into your own little world often, young one. It is good that Sol keeps you so tightly wrapped, else you might float away.”

Haylie gave him a small, rueful smile as she tucked the cloak around her throat a little more. “I find I’m usually my own best company. Please forgive me.”

A spark of amusement lingered in Morough’s soft violet eyes. “Spoken like a warrior.”

“I’ve never seen you take to anyone this fast, Morough.” Lin gave him an amused grin. “Especially a human.”

“I have never been pitted against someone who was more interesting than myself before, Lin.” The grin vanished into a soft pout. He grinned and turned back to Haylie. “Sleep now. I will keep watch to make sure those creatures leave you to your own dreams.”

It was like Morough had given her mind a command. As he stood, she felt her eyelids droop and then close. Her body felt heavy. Sol held her a little closer.

Her dreams were more vivid than she’d ever had. She sat in a meadow, the colors rich and vibrant, with flowers in her hand as she braided them into a circlet. Someone came up behind her and covered her eyes with his hands. She recognized his scent, heard his voice, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. When he took his hands away, the meadow disappeared.

Now, Haylie stood on a battlefield. Creatures she had never seen, nor imagined, surged toward a beautiful city of silver. The purple and gold glow from the city dimmed more the closer the hordes came to it. Her heart thundered in her chest as she watched elves fall like autumn leaves.

“Is it not wondrous, Ka’lei? The city falls to ruin.”

A few feet to her left, Haylie saw a cloaked figure. His hood covered his entire face except for his chin and the tip of his nose. He looked to Haylie, spoke to her. Her heart felt heavy, and hands trembled as she clenched them at her sides. Haylie tried to scream at him to stop, but she couldn’t utter a word.

She glanced up. They were in an enormous cave, the ceiling too far up to see. A storm brewed, and a black blob with thousands of eyes tried to drip out of a black hole.

Fierce violet eyes flashed behind the figure. An ornate and battle-scarred faceplate covered the lower half of his face and wrapped around the back of his neck. Dents marred his gilded armor. Blood dripped from a gouge in his brow. Golden hair streamed behind him in a high ponytail. A crossbow glinted in the dim light, and a silver bolt shot toward the cloaked figure’s head.

The bolt bounced off without connecting to the figure, and a golden bubble shimmered around him. As the bolt fell harmlessly to the ground, a surge of energy shot from the bubble, following the bolt’s backward trajectory, and hit the warrior square in the chest, knocking him flat. A hiss of surprise preceded a low incantation as the cloaked figure’s hands limned in yellow light. Balls of fire filled his hands, and he laughed with sinister glee. “Ah, the Black Prince!” He sneered and motioned for the warrior to stand. “On your feet.”

The warrior struggled to his feet. Haylie could feel the hatred rolling off him. His hand curled around the stock of his crossbow, but a bolt of golden light knocked it out of his hands, and it skittered off the edge of the cliff on which they stood.

“What do you think, Ka’lei? Kill him, or use him as false ransom to finish the ruined city?”

Haylie tried her hardest to scream, to move, to do anything. Those violet eyes looked at her, betrayal and confusion hardening them. She tried to cry, but her body wasn’t her own. The cloaked elf’s hands grew brighter, and as the warrior lunged forward to knock the other off his feet, those deadly hands exploded and sent the warrior off the edge. His battle roar echoed upward. It cut short as the bested warrior met the jagged rocks at the bottom of the chasm.

Haylie watched in slow motion as he tumbled over the edge, the front of his armor torn asunder by the intense magical blast. She filled her lungs and screamed.

“Morough!”

Her eyes flew open as she woke up. Morough skidded to a stop in front of her. Sol’s strong arm tightened around her, pressing her back to his chest. Haylie and Sol laid curled up on the ground, her head supported by Sol’s arm. Morough’s worried violet eyes stared down at her.

“Haylie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Tears slid down her cheeks, and she gasped for breath. Sobbing, she reached out and groped for his hand until he gave it to her and she curled around it, pulling away from Sol. She felt up along his arm and found his chest. Her fingers explored the swells and valleys of naked muscle until satisfied he was whole, and she collapsed again. Several long minutes passed before the gentle petting and soft murmurs calmed her down to where her sobs came as hiccupped sighs. Morough tried again.

“Haylie? What’s wrong?”

“A dream... creatures were attacking an underground city. Their darkness was dimming the lights. Someone was standing with me, but I couldn’t talk or move. You tried to kill him, but he blew you off a cliff’s ledge!”

With a heavy sigh, he sat on the ground with a thump and gathered her up, kissing her palm once he pried it off his arm. “Such vivid dreams. I’m fine, as you can see.”

She shook her head. “He—”

Haylie, no! The rest is best kept to yourself! Taryn shouted. You mustn’t!

She sighed. She wasn’t awake enough to argue and thudded her head against Morough’s chest. “He was scary. It felt so real and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

Lin stood behind Morough and gave her a look that Haylie didn’t understand. She knelt next to them and laid a hand on Haylie’s head. Where she touched her felt too warm, and the warmth soon spread into Haylie’s head and down her neck. It choked her, and she tried to jerk away, but Lin held her head still. When she finished, she tilted her head, her facial expression showing her confusion and displeasure.

“I can’t access her mind.”

Haylie blinked up at her. “Why would you want to? Also, asking permission before doing something like that would be nice, you know. My mind is mine, is the only thing that has ever truly been mine, and it should stay mine.”

Morough covered his mouth and snorted a chuckle. Lin kicked his leg as she stood. Haylie looked between them, confused and still trying to wake up. It was Sol who piped up. “Morough said that to her not long ago. You two think too much alike, I think.”

“This isn’t amusing, Sol. She was absorbing my magic.”

Sol stared at her, then glanced at Haylie. “That’s impossible. Not even an elf can do that.”

Morough snatched her into a fierce hug and narrowed his eyes at them. “You said yourselves that we need to get her back to the Council. Let us not go making judgments on the journey there.”

Sol relaxed and scrubbed his face with a hand. “You curl up with her. It is my turn to take watch. Rest well.”

He got up and stretched, fixed his cloak about his shoulders and grabbed his own crossbow. Before Haylie could think of anything to say, he disappeared into the trees. Morough sighed, set Haylie down on the grass, and went to get his own cloak. It was so black it seemed to absorb the light. When Morough spread it onto the grass, he laid on his side facing her and held out his arm. She grabbed her purse. She needed her meds. Maybe with the meds, she’d not dream again.

Once she fished them out, she looked into the bottle. It was empty. All the bottles were empty. Why didn’t she remember that she’d taken the last dose the night before? How could she not notice they didn’t rattle when the phlebotomist asked her for the bottles?

Her mouth went dry, but she dumped the empty bottles back into her purse with a disgruntled sigh. She went to Morough without a word and curled up facing him. His arm settled around her as she laid her head on the other. He didn’t even ask about the pill bottles.

“Morough?”

He shivered once and pulled the cloak about them to block out the night’s chill. “Hm?”

“Why are you so protective of me now?” Her voice sounded small to her own ears. It made her sound vulnerable, and she hated it.

“I’m unsure, to be honest. The others might put it to the fact I’m a ‘sucker for a beautiful lady’, as they say in your world, but I’m not even sure it is that.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” Her stomach fluttered.

“I have never seen another like you. Eyes the color of peridot shards, hair the color of a cloudless sunset, skin as pale as heavy cream with cheeks tinted the barest rose. You are a sight to behold, Haylie.”

The more he spoke, the hotter her face got. She was sure she could use her cheeks to start a campfire. As embarrassed as she was, she had trouble tearing her gaze away from his eyes. His pupils expanded so there was only a small ring of vivid purple of his iris visible. They hooded and his fingers played hypnotic patterns on her back. Her heart pounded in her chest, and the butterflies in her stomach grew more active with each heartbeat.

“Oh... thanks?”

He laughed, throaty and deep. It made his whole face change. The way it lit up made him seem more striking and handsome than normal. Haylie couldn’t help but grin. She wanted to see and hear him do that often. As often as she could make him.

“Come, little one. We should sleep while the stars are still out. We have a long day ahead of us in the morning.” He kissed her forehead, settled his head beside hers on his arm, and closed his eyes. Haylie’s cheeks were still aflame, but she closed her eyes and at least tried.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Life of a Crazy Mom on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Good Fantasy

Haylie/Ka’lei (btw…LOVE that name) always knew she was different. She had visions of poisonous green eyes, memories of being called Ka’lei and of strange singing. When she tried to tell her parents and other people this, she was dubbed strange and eventually she was declared insane and put on heavy medications.

So it was no wonder that she thought she was losing it when she almost hit a horse who seemed to understand her, who wanted her to ride him (he bowed down) and takes her to an injured man in the forest. Even when he basically kidnapped her and brought her to his friends, she still thought she was going nuts. It wasn’t until she got sick and was pushed into remembering who she was….Ka’lei. An elf who was sent as a baby into the human world to protect her against an evil mother and something more sinister.

I absolutely loved that the elves could not only soul bond with their mates (bit of a spoiler but Morough and Ka’lei soul bonded) but with their mounts. And of course, Ka’lei bonds with what was probably scariest mount out there….a darksire called Culthar. See darksires are a man killing horses who eyes glow with a blue inner fire and who is magic neutral…which means that he can absorb magic. Their female counterparts are nightmares (which made me giggle a bit….lol) .

She got summoned to the Council and gets a surprise. Her mother, Lillias, was the current Queen of the Summerlands (Morough was the Prince of the Netherdark). When she was exposed, she tried to attack Ka’lei and ended up hitting the current King of the Netherdark….Iliastaire Lo’lorien. In an attempt to try to heal the King, Ka’Lei accidentally pulled his soul into her head. Whoopsie.

The love story between Morough and Ka’lei was fantastic. The sex scene was great….until it was pointed out that they had sex with the windows open so everyone could hear them. Then I got a little creeped out….as did Ka’lei. It was pointed out that royal newlyweds did that as custom to bless their people but still….ewwww. But before they had sex, they fell in love and their love story was so sweet. They had to be my favorite fictional couple????.

The subplot of Lillias and her crazy psycho ancestor that was trying to come back from the dead (she of the green eyes) was pretty good too. See Lillias, and Ka’lei, is a direct descendant of Syr’del….an evil elf who was killed ions ago by Morough but who’s spirit is still around and she wants someone to restore her body so she can unleash hell on the Summerland and take it over.

Not going to go much into the book after that. Put it this way, there are deaths and births. Some of the deaths were tragic and one death….well that person really had it coming to them.

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it*

Tonya Collier on GoodReads ★★★★★ wrote:

Very well written. Has love, family, and magic all things I love reading about. Jennifer will keep you on the edge of your seat and begging for more.

Cass on GoodReads ★★★☆☆ wrote:

(No text review)

Sandra Monse on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

great read

Bonnie Mitchell on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Give it a try if you love fantasy!

I thought this was a fascinating story. I love elves, evil, magic, and the unfamiliar. This has all that and more. I could not stop reading it. I read the entire book in two sittings. I hated when it was over. I loved the characters, the story line, and twists and turns the plot took. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for something different, freeing, fun, something that will make you laugh , cry and get mad all within moments. Very good read.

M. Pars on Smashwords ★★★★★ wrote:

A roller coaster ride from beginning to end. The few spelling/grammar errors do not detract from enjoying this adventure. Well done!

Danielle L. on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Not cool..

Thanks for uploading the missing chapter 8. The story was very engaging and well written - I really enjoyed it. I could have done without the graphic sex scenes, however. They were very descriptive and the author used words most women do not like to hear. Some things are best left to the imagination. But still, an exciting story.

Kymberly on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Surprisingly Good

I had very mixed feelings about this book when I read the Synopsis and then the first few chapters. At first I had chatter thoughts of yeah right, uh huh, I'm sure etc. Then all of a sudden I was sucked into the story and knew nothing more than the words on the pages for the next 4 hours. I drove the kids out trick or treating and every time I parked, I opened this book on my Phone in the Kindle App. I managed to read the whole thing over a few hours and was pretty happy with the Book!

Its not Nora Roberts quality but I highly enjoyed it! There were some Cliches and forced situations and that's why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. But give it a shot. Its worth it.

Navajo74 on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Amazing plot

This story has an amazing plot, good strong characters,and a female hero that stumbles everyone around her. Chapter 8 is missing so it did lose me for a bit but I could still follow the story pretty well. That's why only 4 stars. If 8 would have been there I would have given it a 5 star.

Amazon Customer on Amazon AU ★★★★★ wrote:

Freaking Loved It!

I really truly love this book. Only one moment was slightly predictable but not enough so to upset. Some points were hard to keep up with but OMG it was bookgasmic (I mean the tale not what the characters may or may not get up too). Download it and have a read, what have you got to loose?

Kindle Customer on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Be prepared for adventure, love and lots of magic.

Ms. Amriss has opened a whole new world for me. She went into so more, she brought to life some amazing, and nightmarish creature's.

Haylie, our super, amazing and very magical heroin, was taken at birth to be raised with the humans. Twenty years later, she is led to the land of the Elves. She meets her mate Morough. She has so much to learn, voices in her head, she can talk to horses, and no, she is not crazy. Ms. Amriss takes us on an amazing journey, I was spell bound and could not turn the pages fast enough. There is so much I want to write, but it would just give it all away, and spoilers are no fun.

I love an author that has an imagination, and is bold in creating the fantasy world in her books. Ms. Amriss is blessed with that gift. There was not a dull moment in this book for me, I loved going on the wild journey. I truly can not wait to read part two. Thank you Ms. Amriss for an exciting journey, a sweet love story, and meeting some exceptional Elves.

I freely volunteered to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

alias11 on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Good read

Good Read, although I was confused for most of the book. Almost everything came together in the last 20-25% of the book. I was really sad about the death at the end (name withheld to avoid spoilers!) I really thought magic would be able to bring them back. I enjoyed the book overall, although the interlude with Sol'kyr seemed an unnecessary red herring that served no real purpose, and it never was explained how Ka'lei got the dark into her in the first place or if it was or wasn't truly dark and what happens now. Despite those weaknesses, it was an enjoyable read if you like fantasy stories, with characters that you really come to care about. It's not Tolkien, but I would definitely recommend it to others.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. This is my honest review.


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