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“That was a shifter bar?” I glanced back over my shoulder. Or tried, anyway. “I’m still in total awe that shifters actually exist! It’s nuts. But I heard his wolf. I…felt it. The magic. It was a really awesome feeling.”

“What is this strange gift you have? I wonder if it’s unique or if others have it in some way.” He pushed me down a side street and into an alleyway. A light mist drifted down from the darkened sky, one of the more annoying weather patterns in this area of the world. Sunshine or rain, fine, but don’t tease us with this in-between annoyance.

“Couldn’t you feel all that? I mean, the power was pumping between us. Right? That’s what it felt like.”

“Yes, it was,” he said roughly, but didn’t offer any more. Instead, he veered us to the side and stopped, facing the wall.

“Is this where you kill me?” I asked. “Because that won’t go well for you.” Unfounded threats—I was great at them.

“If we were in a field with nothing around us, I would simply step away and let you blow. But we’re in a city filled with dangerous magical people, and I can’t do that. So to control what you have brewing, I’ll have to be hands-on.”

“Hands on what?”

His smile barely registered in the dim lighting of the alley. “You, unfortunately. I’ll be holding your hands…or maybe you’ll hold my wrists? It’s been a long time since I was trained by a mentor. I forget the guidance portion of it. We’ll have to figure out what feels right. So I’m going to step behind you and reach forward for your hands, okay? I’ll give you as much space as I can. Only our hands, and maybe arms, need to touch. I’d do it another way, but I don’t know how.”

“So you’re going to expend a lot of effort and probably get the same result?”

His blown-out breath mussed my hair. He pulled my wrists toward his side and shifted, moving behind me. “That’s kind of how my life works, so probably.”

“Don’t worry—that’s how my life works, too. Misery loves company.”

He did as he said, moving behind me and clasping my wrists in front of my chest. His elbows grazed my upper arms, but his chest did not touch my back. Instead, he strained away, his head back and to the side, as though I had a horrible stink he could barely stand to smell.

I wrinkled my nose and wiggled within his arms. This felt wrong. Uncomfortable and off-putting. The low hum in his hands on mine seemed dangerous and ill at ease. The pulse in the air around us felt sporadic instead of rhythmic. Even the energy I’d grown so comfortable with pushed and pulled aggressively, not finding the peace and natural current I was used to.

It occurred to me that, even before I’d known I had magic, I’d always been in tune with nature, more so than most people. I knew its currents and could feel them soaking peacefully into my soul. Most importantly, I knew what felt right, and what felt off.

This felt off.

“Okay, so first we’re going to—”

“No.” I closed my eyes and let my temperamental third eye guide me. Whatever felt wrong needed to be amended, and that didn’t require my brain power, it required my intuition.

I just hoped this wasn’t one of those times when, instead of helping me, my temperamental third eye created a much bigger problem.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“What’s the matter?” Emery asked with his feet spread apart and his body pulled away to give her as much room as humanly possible. As a kid, when Isaias had done this to help him learn, the size difference between pupil and mentor had been much larger. That, and they’d established trust and a parent-child sort of mentality. As much of a lie as it had been, at the time, proximity hadn’t been a problem.

But this was a grown woman. A beautiful, charismatic, witty grown woman with sexiness in spades. The situation was vastly different. Women in general didn’t like strange men pressing against them, and this one, with her naivety and overprotective mother, had probably had few encounters up until this point. She might react aggressively to the situation. Not that he would blame her, but with all the magic pumping around her, that would work out badly for him.

“You’re not doing this right,” she said, annoyance in her voice. She wiggled, and her shapely butt glanced across his groin.

“What—are you doing?” He jerked his lower half away. His jaw hit off her head and she flinched, their hands pushing and pulling at each other.

Magic pulled harder on their surroundings, the tone and mood changing drastically. The pleasant, delicate hum from before turned wild and unruly, the type of magic he’d always struggled with in his dual-mage pairing with Conrad.

“Stop!”

He froze at her whip-crack command.

“Just chill out for a second, would you?” she barked. “You’re too wound up. You’re messing everything up.”

“What are you talking about?” He felt her tug on his hands.

“You’re uncomfortable, which is making me uncomfortable, which is affecting everything else. Just…relax. Feel the world around you. It’s a pretty gross little alleyway you’ve pulled us into, but there is still beauty if you look for it. There is still balance.”

Her hands spread out within his, her fingers pushing outward. Following her lead, he threaded his fingers between hers, immediately feeling a soft hum vibrate up his forearms. She tugged again, and he grudgingly stepped forward, his front now glancing against her back.

“Let’s pause for a moment and see what we’ve got,” she said, her voice a soft, feminine hum. “Just breathe.”

He couldn’t help a smile, hearing his words in her firm tone. He breathed. In and out, rhythmically, slowly letting the world drop away. Even though a mistake would mean death or worse, he let his troubles and pain melt until they oozed out of him. He focused on the clean-smelling air, fragrant with her fabric softener and shampoo, filling and exiting his lungs. On the feel of her warm skin against his, so comforting and reassuring, like it had been in the car when she’d taken his hand. On the sparks of fire that ignited in his body each time her back brushed against his front, or her butt or legs slid against him.

He let his eyes droop, then close, listening to her soft breath, the speed and depth matching his own. Feeling the movement of her body. He laid his cheek against her head before pulling her in a little tighter, flush with her now. His hands curled around hers, the grip a little too tight, but the fear of her pulling away took control.

Still he focused, shutting out the world.

Heat unfurled within his body, but not the romantic kind. It wasn’t lust or even attraction. It was so much deeper. Raw energy shot up from his core, the source of his survival magic. The hum in his arms intensified until it was traveling his body, a live wire. Energy pulsed around them, comforting, peaceful, pleasurable. Sensual.

Flutters rolled his belly. Tingles rode his skin. A deep, earnest pounding rose within him. A consuming drumbeat.

“Emery, look,” Penny said in an awed whisper.

He fluttered his eyes open, but those wonderful feelings stayed with him. His focus didn’t fracture. His thoughts didn’t scatter.

Holding on to her, he was perfectly grounded. Balanced. The way magic should be, and something he’d never experienced before, not even when he and Conrad had been in the zone.

“What are you, Penny Bristol?” he asked in barely more than a whisper. Bursts of light and color surged through the alleyway, rolling and flowering in the air, the texture highly detailed and intricate. But for all its beauty, it had nothing on her.

“A girl that has had to find peace in the quiet times between getting into trouble and causing havoc.” She let her head fall back, hitting his collarbone.

Not able to help it, he turned his head, letting his cheek slide against hers. “That was probably your magical side trying to break free.”

“This is beautiful.” She dropped her hands until he was holding her tightly around the waist.

“I’ve never created something like this,” he said, watching the magic play and frolic. It seemed like it had a life of its own.

“I haven’t either, if it makes you feel any better.”

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