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“Ah.” Our hands moved over the various rocks and gems. A nondescript brown one, as dull and plain as they came, surged when our joined touch floated over it. I took my hand away, and it settled back down, the power simmering. “That one should be used if we’re working together.” I pointed. “Keep moving your hand over them.” I closed my eyes, paying attention to the surges and grumpiness. Because some of the stones were not pleased with Emery’s energy. Too wild and crazy. That made me smile.

“What?” Emery asked.

I opened my eyes and pointed at the various stones that would work best for him. “The reactions between your and their energy are funny. I’ve never experienced a grouchy stone before, but you set it off in them.”

A funny look crossed his face and he started laughing. “You’re a trip, Penny Bristol.”

“That’s one way to put it.” I grabbed a few more stones for myself and tucked them into my utility belt, which Emery had insisted I wear over my jeans.

He handed me a sheet of paper. “I heard somewhere that you can do a spell if you have directions. Here are some directions. Can you handle it?”

“Oh no.” I waved my hands and backed away. “No way. I’m not falling for that again.”

A grin tickled his lips. “This isn’t going to turn you into a zombie, Turdswallop.”

“There are plenty of awful things out there, and this could be any one of those things. No. I’d rather watch from a safe distance.”

“It says what it does. Right on the top.” He pointed. “This one is titled and everything.”

“Anyone could write a fake title and vague description on a piece of paper.” I shook my head.

“Trust me, the vampires don’t want to kill us.”

It was the trust me that had me reaching forward like a fool. “I will never forgive you if this kills me.”

He laughed and separated two sheets of paper before dropping the stack to the table. “Let me know if you need any help. It has the elements—sorry, ingredients—listed, so you should be able to match up the feeling with the item.”

I nodded, glancing over the sheet of paper. As with last time, power and energy surged around me. A force I couldn’t explain came over me, and the words and characters jumped on the page. It was calling out to me, willing me to bring the spell to life.

“You’re a natural.” Emery was studying me. “If I’d had any doubt before, this would prove it. You were born to this, Penny Bristol. You’ll be one of the greatest mages the world has ever seen.” He paused. “But first you’ll need to properly learn to swear.”

I released the breath I’d been holding. “Jerk.”

He laughed, and it began. I went through the spell exactly like he’d said—like I was born to it. Ingredients came to life, and the magic weaved together so tightly and perfectly that it was a miracle to look at. With each spell, different emotions throbbed in my middle, pouring into my work as surely as the leaf of basil or pinch of dirt. It was my emotion that glued it all together and made it sing.

After each, I tucked the spell into a color-coded casing like Emery had showed me, and moved on to the next. As the day waned and my exhaustion rose, I reached the end of the list Emery had given me. He was back to staring at me, his pile of spells only a fraction larger than my own.

“Ready for the last one?” He held up three sheets of paper. “I can’t do this alone.”

“Why not?” I wiped the hair away from my wet forehead and headed over, taking the pages and looking over them.

He moved until he stood at my back, then reached his arms around me and slid them along mine. “Because it requires multiple mages working in tandem. It’s a beast of a spell that will require extreme focus. Focus I only have with you.”

“You need to work on that.” My words were wispy, and I leaned against his body. The hum deep in my core rose to a fever pitch. This time, I didn’t want to ignore it. I wanted to soak in it and let it overcome me. Emery was the first man I’d ever wanted to give myself to completely. In some ways, it felt like I already had. I’d given my magical self to him in its entirety, and now I wanted to follow up with the rest of me.

I tabled that for now, since I didn’t think a warehouse was the optimum place to express my growing need, and read over the spell. Some parts required the mages to work together, and others—the hardest bits—were divided between the two.

“Ready?” His hands tracked back up my arms and then down my sides until they rested low on my hips.

Maybe this warehouse was exactly where I should express myself. Judging by my body’s sudden fever pitch, it certainly seemed so.

“Yes.” I nestled against his collarbone, and when I tilted my face up, his lips immediately settled on mine. The energy and power I’d come to expect didn’t disappoint as it rolled over and through us. I deepened the kiss, turning and looping my arm around his neck.

As though a floodgate had burst open, passion overcame us. I slid my hands under his shirt, feeling the sculpted muscle there. He cupped my butt and pulled me tighter against him.

I moaned against his lips and worked my hands between us, ripping at his belt and reaching in. He groaned and followed suit, tracing his fingers along my panty line before dipping in and making my mind buzz.

An unsettling ache vibrated through me, a need that defied thought but required action.

But there was one thing that he had to know before this went where I finally wanted it to.

Chapter Thirty-Three

“You’ll be my first, Emery,” I said without preamble, expecting to be extremely embarrassed by my lack of experience. Surprisingly, I wasn’t. Not at all. My lack of follow-through in the past had not been because of my mother’s overprotectiveness. I’d had the opportunity a few times; I’d just never taken it. I’d gotten really close, but never jumped the hurdle. It just hadn’t felt right. I’d felt my way through my sensual side in the same way I felt out spells and the power stones, and no one had properly fit.

Until Emery.

He fit perfectly, and it felt like I’d been waiting for him all this time.

He slowed his ministrations as a soft moan escaped his lips. A moment later, his fingers started up again, winding me up and making me gasp for breath.

“And you would choose me?” he asked, emotion soaking his words.

“Yes.”

His kiss expressed his reaction, raw and consuming. His touch spiraled me higher until my whole body tightened and I clung to him helplessly. I blasted apart, shuddering against him.

He slowed then and backed off. Before I could completely get my breath back, he was holding me tightly, crushing me to his chest.

“I can’t let you give me something so precious, Penny. I can’t let you do it. You deserve a man that can offer you the world. One that has both legs under him and pureness and light to match your own. Someone that can take care of you. I’m not any of that. I can barely take care of myself.”

“Is this because of what my mother said, because—”

“No, this has nothing to do with your mother. It has to do with what’s right. I am extremely honored. You have no idea how much I want you, Penny. Beyond thinking. It goes all the way down to my bones. But…” His voice broke. “I’m no good for you. In time you’ll see that, and you’ll thank me for this moment.”

My heart swelled and ached over his mini-speech, but it didn’t break. We fit together, him and I. Call me stubborn, but I wouldn’t be the one who came around in the end; it’d be him. But I had turned violent in the past when someone had tried to rush me, so out of courtesy, I wouldn’t rush him. He wasn’t ready. He had too many hang-ups and self-loathing issues. Fine. I’d waited this long for him; I could wait a little longer.

“Okay,” I said, resting my face in the hollow of his neck. I breathed in his smell, soap, cotton, and his own blend of masculine.

“It’s not that—”

“Shhh.” I leaned back and put a finger to his lips. His eyes held torment and sorrow. “It’s okay. I respect your decision. But there are a great many things two people can do to pass the time that don’t cross any lines.”

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