To celebrate the release of the first book of my YA fantasy series, The Guardian’s Mark, I’ve decided to offer an exclusive excerpt as today’s freebie! 🙂
Though the book doesn’t officially release until April 17th (tax day!), early copies are available in print! For those looking to download onto their Nook and Kindle, keep your eyes open for the link which I’ll be sure to post as soon as its live. 😉
Either way, Happy Friday, folks!
IT WAS WRONG to stare. She knew that. She just couldn’t help herself. Some irrational part of her thought if she looked hard enough she’d see something new.
She was wrong. Everything about Kieran remained exactly the same, as closely guarded as the very first day he arrived.
She thought she’d gotten through to him out in the courtyard a few weeks back. She’d felt the little crack, caught the smile he’d tried so hard to suppress. But just as quickly, he’d built his walls back up. Now, it was nearly impossible to get through the thick emotional armor he hid behind.
Kieran shifted uncomfortably. Amaya looked away. He must have felt her prying eyes.
She turned the page of the book in front of her. The words looked foreign. She had no idea what she was reading.
Taking a chance, she peered at him from over the cover. He hadn’t moved. He still sat all alone, his eyes focused on something outside the library window. The longing etched on his face was almost too painful to bear. Amaya bit her lip, anxious to think of something to say.
He sighed. She didn’t have to open her empathic connection to know just how unhappy he was. She could hear it. Her stomach clenched. She hated how helpless she felt. Wasn’t there anything she could do or say to make him feel at home? Or at the very least, to put a more permanent smile on his face?
“Are you done examining me?”
Amaya’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You’re staring at me.”
“Oh!” Her cheeks burned hot. Nervous fingers pushed hair behind her ears. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry, I… I just…” she slammed the book on her lap shut. “I was just thinking.”
“Why don’t you just ask me?”
“Ask you what?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “Whatever it is that has your eyes looking at me as though I were some sort of specimen. Go ahead. Get rid of some of the curiosity. Maybe then you can go report back to the rest of the group.”
“I didn’t mean to be rude.”
He scratched the back of his neck. “Neither did I.”
Amaya took it as the apology she knew he meant it to be. Unable to help herself, she crossed to the nearest chair and sat down. “You did really well in training today.”
A moment passed. Then another. She got the point. He wasn’t going to answer. “I’ve noticed how much control you have over your power. I’m jealous. Master Iagan is constantly chiding me about my control. I suppose I do all right, most of the time, but it requires me to remain emotionally unattached. Objective. Otherwise, my own emotions magnify the ones I feel from other people. They can be so overpowering, it feels as though I might explode.” She laughed, a tense mixture of nervous giggle and self-deprecating humor. “I’m a bit of a walking disaster.”
He didn’t respond. She swallowed the last bit of laughter. The silence was stifling. She could take a hint. He obviously wanted to be alone. She just couldn’t bring herself to leave.
He stared out the window. Enki and Phoenix wrestled in the courtyard. Amaya watched them carefully, trying to see what Kieran did when he looked at them.
“Can you really take souls into Arezh?” she asked, unable to contain the question any longer. Master Iagan said he could, but she had to hear it for herself.
No word ever carried more shame, visible in the weight Kieran bore on his shoulders, a weight too heavy for him to carry alone. Compassion moved her closer. Without warning, her mind opened to him, smoothed his rocky soul with strong, warm waves of empathy.
“Don’t do that.”
She blinked, startled back to reality.
“I told you. I’m dangerous.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“It isn’t my concern whether or not you believe me. Either way, it’s true.” He leaned forward, glared at her with a look that would have sent Hana out of the room crying. “Do not. Do that. Ever. Again.”
“You know what I think?” she asked, her voice tight, “I think that you tell yourself that to excuse your separation from us. I think you use it as a barrier to keep others away. You can’t do that here, Kieran, we’re family–”
“You are not my family.”
His voice echoed against the high library walls. It rang like thunder, caused the ground to feel unsteady beneath her feet. She kept her hands close to her side, pushed away his burning anger.
The pain felt so raw. Tears welled in her throat. Even without an open connection she felt him. His feelings changed the emotional landscape of the room.
“I’m sorry. I realize you have other family. We all do. But within the Temple walls, these,” she took his tattooed wrists in her hands, “these unite us in a bond as thick as blood. You, Kieran, are my family.”
He looked up from his wrists into her eyes. The intensity of his gaze unnerved her. She forced herself to remain steady, to keep contact.
“Why aren’t you afraid of me?” Like everyone else.
Sympathy curled her lips into a smile. Could she really explain what she felt in him? He had so much self-loathing. She doubted he saw the good he still possessed.
“I’ve felt part of the struggle you carry within you. Your feelings, even the darkest ones that frighten you, stem from a very pure feeling: love.”
His dark brows scrunched in deep thought. She watched his face register confusion, epiphany, and then understanding. Her smile grew wider. There was something incredibly innocent about his face when he wasn’t brooding.
In one swift, fluid movement, he twisted his wrists until hers were in his hands. His fingers grazed the tattooed mark on the skin of her left arm, from her wrist up toward her shoulder. She shivered. The touch, so soft from such coarse fingers, felt strangely electrifying. The intricate bends and twists of her branding felt hot. On fire. Amaya’s smile faded.
“You want so badly to see the good in me,” Kieran whispered. His gaze pinned her. The depth of its darkness fascinated her. She leaned forward. His breath felt warm against her face. “You can’t seem to grasp the fact that I could kill you just by thinking about it.”
“But you wouldn’t.”
He sighed. The puff of air blew stray hair off her face.
“Don’t be blinded by what you want to believe, Amaya. I’m not like you or any of the others. I never will be.”
His hands fell limp at his sides. Without another word, he stood and walked away from her. The blazing touch of his fingers left a cold frost in their absence.