Adrenaline pumping, I pushed away the fear. I pushed away the panic. Then I pushed away emotion all together. It wouldn’t help me now.
I swung my legs up and clasped them around his middle before locking my ankles. I squeezed and twisted my body, much stronger with my legs and core than I ever had been with arms.
He groaned before twisting back, trying to weaken my hold. His hand came down to shove at my knees. His breath wheezed.
I stared up at his face, but it was currently bent to look down at my legs around him. Head-butting his forehead would hurt me as much as it would him. I needed to get him looking up so I could head-butt a softer area, like his nose.
He sucked in a startled gasp before convulsing down, curling in on himself. My hands were pulled with him, his grip on my wrists painful. He was trying to cover his middle.
Kieran had once said that my magic felt like I was pulling apart his chest and reaching in. You don’t know you’re doing it, he’d said. You don’t know how to control it.
Was I somehow working my magic right now? Was that what this man was responding to?
Mind racing, I thought back to the day I’d spent with Bria. To what she’d taught me about feeling for and identifying souls.
How different could feeling them and grabbing hold of them be?
I slipped into a light trance, then deeper, but the world didn’t drop away like usual. The opposite, in fact. My awareness surged, boosted by the adrenaline flooding my body. Or maybe just flourishing in this non-emotional space.
I took in the world around me. The Line pulsed, never far away, welcoming those who would like to cross. Outside, two spirits moved in my yard, one hanging around purposefully and the other drifting through space and time, wandering. Possibly lost.
Finding spirits without a body was easier. There was no solid cage for them to hide within.
The guy on top of me yanked my hands back above my head to keep them secured. He had a loose hand, and soon he’d use it.
I had to move fast.
Gritting my teeth and yanking my legs to the side, I concentrated on the squishy place inside me that held my soul. It fluttered in a sudden breeze, which, I realized, was from the Line.
The guy glanced up at my hands. His face was in reach!
I surged up with my upper body. My forehead smacked him in the middle of the face. The soft crunch of cartilage rang out.
His nose. Bingo.
Muscle flared within the squeezing grip of my legs, and I knew the pain he felt would soon turn to anger. Trained fighters didn’t go down. They got mad, and then they got even.
I traced his body with my mind before sinking any further into my trance. The Line pulsed brightly now, and souls throbbed beyond it. Within this spectacular world of shadows, strange colors, and light, I could feel the soul of the man on top of me, burning brightly inside of him. It fluttered in the breeze but couldn’t escape. It was tacked to the walls of his body.
I needed to unstick it.
“Fuck this,” I heard, low and guttural. Primal. Warm liquid splattered my cheek. Blood. His body lifted up, and I saw his fist pulled high, ready to strike.
Fear made my trance wobble. The man’s soul dimmed in my sight.
Breathing fast now, I tried to regain my focus. Tried to figure out a way to latch on to the soul and separate it from the host. Bria would probably know, but we hadn’t gone into this in practice. I’d only been training for half a day.
His fist reached the peak before starting the downswing. It picked up speed in a hurry, now rocketing toward my face. If he hit me, it would be lights out.
I jerked to the side, mentally clutching at that soul. Trying to envision grabbing it. Slicing it. Blowing it up. Anything!
He grunted, and a strange keening sound exited his mouth, but his fist kept coming. It barreled down.
At the last moment, I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Enough.” The rough, commanding voice rolled through the room.
Light rained down on us, Kieran having flicked the light switch. The Line dimmed before blinking out. The feeling of souls vanished.
“Thank fuck,” the man on top of me said before releasing my hands and cupping his face. “She nearly broke my fucking nose.”
Kieran’s voice turned vicious. “Get off of her.”
“I would, sir, but she has a death grip on my guts.”
Dawning realization struck as I blinked into the brightness, seeing the enormous arms attached to the large body.
“Let him go, Alexis,” Kieran commanded.
A surge of anger rushed through me. What was this, a training exercise? Breaking and entering, battering me around—all a drill?
I didn’t sign up for this. Daisy would’ve told me if I had.
I gritted my teeth and squeezed harder, pinching that thick body between my Trouble Makers.
“Please stop,” Jack whined, still cupping his face. “Call her off, sir. She’s got a fucking Kung Fu grip on my…my middle or something…”
I needed to figure out how I did that. I could no longer see or feel his soul, but apparently he felt whatever I was doing to it.
“Alexis,” Kieran said, and a blast of intense, spine-splitting magic pulsed through the room.
Jack and I groaned together, but I didn’t relent. Sexy magic, painful magic—it all amounted to someone messing with me. This girl didn’t like getting pushed around.
I squeezed harder, Jack not innocent in all this (he’d battered my face against the wall), as I glared at Kieran, wishing I could kick him in the face.
Kieran winced and his body tightened, solid muscle under form-fitting black clothes. Breaking and entering clothes.
“What the fuck, Kieran?” I asked through clenched teeth, keeping eye contact and hopefully magical contact.
His magic pumped harder at me, as if the tide were washing into the room. Jack curled into himself again, shaking between my legs, but not protecting himself from my magic. It must’ve relented from him. Pain blossomed deep inside of me and curled outward, blazing through my limbs.
I sank into it. Fuck him. A little pain was worth making a point.
Kieran’s fists clenched and he opened his mouth to speak, but a shape dodged in front of him, sliding to the ground next to me like a baseball player.
Bria, with her Necromancy kit and a lighter.
“Hang on to it, Lexi,” she said, her hands moving fast. “Kieran’s a horrible twatwaffle. Everyone hates him. What a dick. Let’s kill him.” She rolled her thumb across the top of the lighter and it sparked to life. She put it to one of her incense sticks. “Kieran, blast that bitch.”
“Can I leave?” Jack groaned.
Another intense pulse of power filled the room, cutting into my center and setting my blood on fire. It was like what he did with his sexiness, only terrible. Very, very terrible.
“Oh shit, that…hurts,” Bria wheezed, her hands shaking as she set up candles. “Can’t you localize that to her?”
“I am,” he said, his vicious, stormy eyes locked on mine. Challenging. Dominant. “You’re only getting the peripheral magic.” He stepped farther into the bedroom. “Alexis, let him go. That’s an order.”
“It’s not”—I squeezed harder—“working hours.” The pain from his magic sliced my nerves. Crawled across my scalp and laid babies that bit into my flesh. “Asshole.”
I soaked in the pain, letting it bolster my determination.
The muscles along his arms flared. His jaw clenched. His matching determination sparked in his eyes.
And then smoke drifted through my line of sight, carrying the fragrance of sandalwood with it. Thick cords of waxy power connected Kieran and I, growing out of a haze around me and burrowing into his chest.
“Holy shit.” Bria turned away from looking at Kieran to flash widened eyes at me. “Keep doing that. Hang on…”
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said, staring at the waxy cords without emotion. Those things should’ve been heinous, or maybe surprising. Possibly I should’ve been as awestruck as Bria. But all I felt was detached curiosity, comparing what I saw with what I felt. Finding the points of connection.
The Line flashed above me, and a strong wind bore down on the room, making my soul flap. Power infused my body, strengthening me. It felt like I’d tapped into the Line itself. Like I was wielding this soul-wrenching power on its behalf. Doing it without emotion as I was, it became obvious what a danger this power would be in the hands of the wrong person. Someone without morals, without a clear sense of right and wrong, could use it to create unlimited destruction in the world of the living. Correction: someone had used it to create destruction. To create nightmares.
“What the hell?” Jack said in a strangely high-pitched voice.
“Alexis,” Kieran said, the tide of his intense magic continuing to surge into the room, pummeling me. It felt like I was buried in sand up to my neck with tide water lapping at my chin, threatening to climb higher and suffocate me. And it would. He was stronger than me. I could feel that. When his magic swelled higher, I’d be swept away.
Could I take him with me?
I lowered my brow as more colored smoke drifted into the air. Red, then green, mixed with the gray sandalwood. Eerie fluorescent lights strobed within them. Those thick cords strengthened, then moved, burrowing deeper into Kieran’s middle.
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