Sunday, March 4, 2007

Elemental Desire - Chapter One

Teagan folded his hands as he distracted himself by watching the dark streets seventy floors below, littered with flickers of light and pitiful humans. He pretended to listen to Seig, but he already knew what Seig would say: that it was time to reveal themselves to the humans.

"If we could interact with them with magic," Seig continued, "we would find our Heart's Desires much easier."

This is new, but not entirely unexpected, Teagan thought, as he turned his gray eyes back to Seig. Like any elemental taken human form, Seig looked like a human at his best, tall and lithe, smooth skin over sleek muscle. Still, there was that pathetic look in Seig's green eyes, hidden behind his coffee-colored hair, like a lost puppy that Teagan itched to kick in the stomach.

There was a moment of blessed silence, when Teagan wished that the conference would be over, but he knew better.

"We should control them, instead," Fernanz said, always rash and forceful.

"Enslave them, you mean," Celia corrected serenely, her white hair framing her perfectly oval face and bringing out the hazel in her eyes.

"However you want." Fernanz made a cutting motion impatiently. He turned to Teagan. "You should—"

Teagan stood up suddenly. "I'm bored. Decide on something and then tell me."

"But, Teagan," Seig objected, "you need to be here—"

Teagan barely paused at the door of his penthouse, his black hair and black silk shirt blending with the shadows beyond the entrance. He waved his hand negligently. "I don't really care what you do with the humans."

"But our Heart's Desires..." Seig said that, of course, still caught up in his dream.

Teagan turned around in impatience. "You've had four thousand years to grow up, Seig."

Celia's laughter sounded like sweet silver bells tinkling. "That's very mean of you, Teagan. You shouldn't dash Seig's belief in the impossible just because you know you are so despicable to humans."

"I don't deal with humans."

Again, Celia laughed, even under Teagan's glare. "You shouldn't lie, Teak."

"Go back to Dram," Teagan suggested as he disappeared, but Celia's laugh rang in his ears.

Teagan preferred to stalk the human world invisibly, faded from the humans' limited sight. Usually, he stayed near his penthouse, because there was no purpose in expanding more energy to go elsewhere when there were humans here. Given a choice, he would rather not see humans at all, but it was part of his duty—he sneered at the useless word—to observe the humans. It didn't matter much in the end, Teagan thought, since he had run out of things to do long before Seig had been born.

Sifting through the street bored him, and he sunk into a human façade again on the street. He wove a spell so that curious eyes would glide over him, and nobody looked at him, or even noticed him. Even without the spell, though, he would have been just another person on the busy night street, hurrying to somewhere he had to be.

Except, he had nowhere to be. The New York night teemed with lights and lives and deaths, but it was always like that in cities. Trying to keep track of human lives was like counting ants at a picnic, just as troublesome and useless.

He had had enough of pointless human-watching when he felt a strong tug of survainer magic. He thought of resisting it, but then he thought he might as well investigate. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do.

When his surroundings settled, he found himself in a small windowless room lit by a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, whining piteously with every slow swing. Mildew and cigarette smoke filled the air. Five men, with day-old growths on their chins and glazed looks in their eyes, stood in a circle around a girl. She was too small and too pale in her white dress. Her face was drained of pallor and her light blond hair would have been beautiful if it weren't all stuck together in a tangle. When Teagan's eyes met hers, hers widened, as if she could see him.

Then she fell down, her knees cracking loudly against the concrete floor. One of the men had kicked her behind the knees. She bit down hard on her lips—the faint scent of copper colored the air—but refused to cry out.

How typical of humans, Teagan thought, to hurt those weaker than themselves. He watched as the girl crumbled on the floor, her brown eyes pleading. But she couldn't see him, and besides, it was none of his business. Since he didn't feel any more survainer magic, he turned to leave.

"Call an elemental for us, bitch," one of the man said.

Teagan stopped as he heard this. He had thought that these were just drunkards, who had cornered a girl stupid enough to wander into their midst. But if they knew about elementals and they thought that she controlled survainer magic...

The girl shook her head. Her eyes shined wildly and desperately. Teagan could almost see the gold tint of survainer magic in her. "I don't know what you are talking about."

A loud crack rushed through room, and the girl fell down from the slap. Her cheek started to turn red, even under the dim lighting.

"Stop playing with us. We want an elemental and you are going to get one for us."

"I can't." The girl shook her head and sobbed. "I really can't."

Before the men could abuse her any further, the door burst open, its hinges broken and it was landing on the floor and kicking up dust. Another girl stood there, slightly older and on the verge of womanhood. She wore a plain t-shirt and non-descript jeans, but Teagan could see the determination—and the gold of survainer magic—in her eyes.

One of the men asked her, "Who are you?"

The girl at the door narrowed her eyes. "You should have done your homework better; you've got the wrong sister. Emily, here, doesn't have any magic." She didn't give the men any time to respond as the air danced around her, whipping her brown hair about her, and transforming her into something vivid and angry and awful.

Teagan felt lesser air elementals answering her requests and rushing toward the five men, but he could also see the awareness in the men's eyes. They weren't stupid or unprepared, and they dodged the air elementals quite easily.

One of them chuckled, "So we have. You look like more fun to play with, anyways."

That man took a step toward the girl at the door, and she sent more air elementals to batter him, but he evaded them easily, too. When the man stood barely a foot away from the girl, her shoulders tensed. Fear lit her eyes brighter than anger had. She tried to control the elementals, but they were only lesser air elementals and tired out from the earlier attacks. They filtered away from the room.

The man must have felt the elementals leave, too, because he laughed at her, a sort of gleeful grunting from the nose. "You." He grabbed the girl's arm and twisted her around.

Teagan saw her wince, and surprised himself with a surge of anger as the man leaned close to her neck and smelled her.

The girl struggled, of course, as the man tried to force her to join Emily. Teagan saw her clenching her hands uselessly, trying desperately to summon the air elementals who had already fled, but being a survainer, there was little else she could do.

Suddenly, the girl stopped, and the man walked into her. "You want an elemental?" She asked him.

The man laughed at her. "Are you going to cooperate?"

"If you let Emily go."

Out of the corner of his eye, Teagan saw Emily shake her head fervently.

"How do we know you'll cooperate?"

The girl glared at the man. "Fine, I'll summon one now." She tried to shrug out of his hold.

The man hmmphed, but didn't let go.

"Oh, you who control the elements, spirits who surround us..." the girl started chanting in a sweet, soft voice. It was all needless and senseless drivel. Still, Teagan could feel the fire of survainer magic warming up in her. It was a thing that he had always despised... and yet, he felt himself pulled towards her and her deceptive magic.

This girl... her magic was like nothing he had ever experienced. Its warmth cradling him just so. Its strength pulling him closer. Not forcefully, but coaxingly, and he wanted... Teagan could feel the answering heat in his own body, rushing to claim her—her mind and magic and body—as his own, because she was his.

And the man, the hyena of a man had his hand on her. Teagan felt his form waver, his impulse telling him to change into something savage and primal so he could use teeth and claws to tear the man into pieces small enough for rats to devour.

He heard the words that she was still chanting, but she had already finished weaving her magic.

Please, somebody, help me, she pleaded desperately to the elementals in general.

So she hadn't forced a binding, then, like he had expected her to, even though he could still feel her magic hugging him close, shifting its shape to fit his own.

The few remaining air elementals skittered and darted a bit, unsure whether they should help her or not.

Teagan scoffed at their cowardliness. And her. There was a reason that humans forced bindings onto elementals; otherwise, the elementals rarely obeyed. Still, hers was a fault of kindness while the man holding her...

With a whispered thought, Teagan banished the other elementals in the room.

They hesitated. What about Losana?

Losana... He'd take care of her.

As soon as the other elementals left, Teagan shook off his human shape, which had been invisible anyways, and unfurled over the room. The light dimmed until there was only darkness accompanied the incessant creaking of the single light bulb and soft, raspy breathing. When he knew that neither Losana nor Emily could see a thing, there was a loud pop, a bit of half-hearted screaming, and the sound of liquid splashing.

When Teagan let the light through again, the room was painted like one of those three-dimensional modern art pieces, dotted in red and decorated in bits of flesh, crushed bone, and torn sinews.

Teagan had already transported Losana and Emily to the outside of the building.

"Somebody killed humans." Seig sounded upset.

Teagan shrugged. Some humans deserved to die, especially if they meant to ruin magic so warm and sweet that he could still taste it in the air and feel it caressing his skin.

"An elemental," Seig clarified.

What did Teagan remember of Losana? Gold eyes... but all survainers had gold eyes when they worked magic. They were probably brown under sunlight. But would they be dark like coffee or soft like honey?

For once, Celia didn't say anything. Probably distracted by Dram. Teagan wished that Dram would come to more of these conferences, if he could always keep Celia's tongue so busy.

And he remembered a bit of her hair, wildly dancing about her, carried by those lesser air elementals. Did they know how soft or light her hair was? Did it tangle easily and delicately or stay beautifully ordered? He should have at least flowed through her hair before he had let her go.

He should have...

Teagan stopped himself. What he needed to do was to find the girl and fuck her senseless before somebody else stole her exquisite magic.

"So we should—"

"Talk it over with Fernanz," Teagan suggested as he stood up to leave the room. He savored Seig's stricken expression, but was more distracted by the thought of finding his little survainer.

Losana hugged Emily to her carefully. With a whisper of magic and help from the elementals, she healed Emily as best as she could. The bruises wouldn't be as bad, but they would still be visible.

"I'm sorry."

Emily hugged her back, a bit awkwardly. "They were bad men."

"But if I couldn't do this... magic... none of this would have happened."

Emily smiled a little. She looked like a well-played china doll ready to fall apart, complete with tangled hair and dirty smudges on her white dress.

"It's okay, Lo," Emily soothed, making Losana feel even guiltier. "If you hadn't had the magic, we wouldn't have been saved either."

Losana remembered the cool wind brushing past her like a lover's ghost and the sudden, stifling darkness. She shook her head. "That wasn't me."

"I know it's more powerful than anything else you've done before," Emily said as she tested out her legs. Her knees hurt, but she could walk, at least the length back their house. "But nobody else could have controlled the elemental."

Emily leaned a bit on Losana. Losana found that she didn't need to slow her pace for Emily, because of her own exhaustion.

"I don't think that the elemental was... controlled."

The two sisters made their way slowly down the street. The streetlights were still on, but the first rays of sunshine were already peaking through between the buildings. People who worked early cut through the streets.

When they neared their parents' apartment, Losana said quietly, "I should tell them about magic."

Emily shook her head. "It's okay. I'll just tell them that I was clumsy."


"It's okay." Emily winced as they stepped over a curb. Her knees really did hurt. "You know mother would want to examine you, instead."

Losana nodded and then sighed. "I'm really sorry."

Emily just shook her head again. With a wry smile, she said, "I just wish that you'd show me your magic someday, without using it to save one or both of us."

Losana laughed. "Me, too."

Teagan slipped through the wall easily when he determined where Losana was. It hadn't been too difficult. Even though her magic had been dormant, it was too powerful—and too distinct—to be hidden from him once he knew its shape. And when he had brushed past her magic, it had flared to life, like a beacon guiding him to her room.

Losana was covered with blankets. He could see her face, fine features framed by soft brown hair, almost black in the darkness of the room. She was curled up under her blankets, and Teagan marveled at the smooth skin covering the fine bones of her hand that held onto the blanket so tightly. Awake, she had had that spitfire personality, warning strangers away, but asleep, there was nothing hiding her delicate beauty or her magic, which those men had wanted to use.


The thought came unbidden, but once it came to him, he agreed.

The air elementals in the room—and the one fire elemental—stirred. His magic must have flared when he had decided Losana was his. But they were all lesser elementals, and quailed when he drifted out a warning.

Teagan coalesced into his human shape, kneeling next to her bed. With a careful hand, he ran his fingers through her curls, satiny and long.

He stopped when Losana stirred, shifting slightly in her bed. When she didn't wake up, Teagan leaned forward. His lips barely brushed hers. It was a soft and sweet and careful kiss. And Teagan felt his craving for her sharpen until he bit on his tongue to fight for control.

He heated the room and slowly pulled the comforter off her. She slept in a long, white tank top, riding up her pale thighs. He could see her chest rise and fall gently from her breathing.

Teagan leaned in and kissed her again, firmer this time instead of that of a phantom lover. His hands found hers, small and yielding. He followed her arms up to her graceful shoulder and inhaled her smell, a pleasant scent that made him heady with desire.

Losana shifted again and Teagan stilled, but didn't take his lips off hers. He knew she would be upset if she woke up to find him, but as his hands skimmed down her body, he knew he could also wake her, wanting him mindlessly. She wouldn't think of denying him.

His hands slid under her long tank top and touched smooth skin. He saw her nipples harden through the tank top and he knew that he could make it good for her—perfect for her. So much so that she would compare all other men to him.

Mine, a part of him growled, the part of him that still cared about something. No other man would touch her. Ever.

Losana sighed in her sleep and smiled, as if dreaming of something pleasant.

Teagan wanted to know if she was dreaming of him. He was tempted to go into her thoughts to find out, but he knew that he would only steal her memory at best and possibly break her if he wasn't careful. He wondered if she had a lover and dreamed of him as Teagan touched her.

With a jerk, Teagan stood up and backed away from her. She had better not have a lover, or she had just doomed a man to his death.

Teagan realized that he didn't know anything about Losana besides that she belonged to him. With him. He needed to rectify this situation if he wanted her surrender, and he needed her surrender if he wanted to feel her magic cradled around his. Besides, since he had decided that she was his, she should acknowledge it, too.

Teagan straightened up and disintegrated into the morning light.

Blearily, Losana rubbed her eyes.

She had not slept enough, but she supposed that she should be grateful that she had had any sleep at all. She should have been prepared for the kidnapping last night, but somehow she hadn't thought that Charles' men would come so soon, or mistake Emily for herself.

Losana pulled out a t-shirt. She considered wearing a skirt, but she decided that she was going to be cranky and irritable the whole day anyways, so she might as well just wear jeans. Besides, it wasn't as if she was going to meet a guy around here.

She sighed. Her last date had been with David, ten months ago at the end of last summer, right before they started college and he broke it off with her. Her mother said that it was natural, a textbook case, to not want to date after a bad break-up. Emily just said that of course, Losana would have to wait a bit until a man nearly as good looking as David came along. Sara, her roommate from last year, said once, when she had popped in to change into a thong for boyfriend of three weeks, that good boyfriends were hard to find.

Specifically, David had told her, "Girls just aren't my thing." Losana had wondered if he had referred to her reluctance to sleep him—because not all girls were like that—or if he had meant that he missed his boyfriend, who flew back to the west coast for the summer. Losana hadn't known that David had had a boyfriend, but apparently, the two were in an open relationship.

David had been too good to be true, anyways. He was good-looking, with sand colored hair and eyes like the ocean. He looked like he walked off a surfing poster and sometimes, when he had kissed her, Losana swore that she could smell the Pacific ocean on him. He dressed well—which should have given her a clue. He talked intelligently and acted considerately. He was there when she wanted a listener, and left her space when she needed it. He gave her a rose a day, but allowed her to pay for half of their dates. And he never pushed for sex.

Contrary to what her mother thought, it hadn't been a particularly bad break-up... just a bit shocking. Losana hadn't be sure whether she should feel better or worse that David preferred a man over her, but she finally decided that David had just been lonely and confused in the summer, without Gary. Besides, there had never been that spark between them. They had been good friends, though, and remained good friends.

Her mobile bleeped at her. "David," the display said.

"What's up?" she asked him as she struggled to brush her hair with one hand.

"Um-hm," Gary answered at the other end. "I'm in your lobby."

"Okay." Losana winced a bit as she tugged the brush through her hair. "David knows my floor."

There was a moment of silence before she heard Gary say, "No, no. We're quite happy to wait in the lobby."

The she heard David's muffled voice. "Really hot man, waiting for the elevator."

Losana rolled her eyes even if they couldn't see it. "You're interested in gay men. I'm not."

"Unfortunately," Gary answered with a sincere hint of regret. "He doesn't look gay. Oh, wait, we're going on the elevator now. He's getting in it."

Then, a click signified the end of the call. David was a fine listener by himself, and so was Gary, but together, they were very easily distracted. Losana checked her phone again. It said twenty past eleven, so Emily was probably just finishing her dance class. Mother and father were both at work.

Losana made her way into the kitchen and pulled out two pieces of bread and stuck them in the toaster when someone used the knocker.

"It's unlocked," she yelled as she rummaged through the refrigerator for butter. She wasn't going to have toast without butter.

She heard the door open and shut. "Well," she said, still with her face in the fridge. "Would you believe it if I said Emily was kidnapped last night? And that I saved her?"

"Yes, I would," the man answered, his voice a smooth bass, and shocking Losana into standing up so quickly that she bumped her head on the fridge.

Then she stared.

And she stared.

If David had been sunshine and boyish charm, this man was shadows and sensuality. Looking at David made you think about water skiing and canon-balling into the pool; looking at this man made you think of nothing beyond tangled silk sheets and foggy windows. Losana could feel her whole body warming just looking at him, standing there, leaning against the wall.

Then, she remembered that she had been expecting Gary and David. And this man—very unfortunately—had no place in her apartment. "What are you doing here?" she asked.

The man smiled, lifting up a corner of his sensual mouth. "I'm here for you."

When Losana remembered to breathe again, she backed up into the kitchen counter. The man had unfolded himself from the wall, and crowded the kitchen. Losana wanted to turn around and grab a knife, but that would mean taking her eyes off this man in front of her and possibly warning him of her intentions. Instead, she called her magic.

The man stood inches in front of her. She could see the muscles rippling underneath his black t-shirt and smell him, a mix of musk and cedar wood and man. He trapped her with one hand on the counter on each side of her and his height towering over hers. Losana felt small and stayed still as he leaned down to her neck and dragged in a deep breath.

"Your magic is lovely," he whispered to her. Then, he kissed her neck gently, his lips unexpectedly soft for his chiseled features. "But useless against me."

Losana didn't want to be scared, but she swallowed anyways. In all the years she had used magic, nobody had ever been able to detect it, especially when she had barely called it. Sylvia, she called, hoping that the air elemental was near.

"I've forbidden Sylvia from doing anything." The man put his hands on her shoulders—large hands on slender shoulders—and kissed her temple. "Don't worry; I'll take care of you now."

Losana looked up and met his eyes—colorless, swirling gray eyes. "Who are you?"


Somebody knocked, breaking Losana out of her stupor.

"Open up," David's voice carried through the door, slightly muffled. "Since when have you started locking your door on me?"

She looked back up at the man named Teagan. He gave her a chiding glance, but glided away from her. Losana took a deep breath and refrained herself from straightening her clothes; she hadn't been doing anything unseemly, even if she must have thought of a million different scenarios of what could have happened if David and Gary had not interrupted.

David crushed her in a hug when she opened the door for him—which hadn't been locked—and she stiffened when she felt a flare... of something... dark and unsettling. Involuntarily, she looked over to where Teagan stood, and though his face remained impassive, she could sense the alertness in his hooded eyes.

When David let go, Gary stepped through the door and gave her a goofy smile and a loud kiss on the cheek. "And how is our favorite girl today?" he asked.

Tell them to back off.

For a moment, Losana couldn’t figure out who said that, because usually only Sylvia talked to her mentally. Then, she looked at Teagan. They're my friends, she told him.

Tell them to back off, Teagan repeated, and Losana could hear the slight snarl in his voice. Or I won't be responsible for what happens to them.

Losana turned to glare at Teagan. Why was this happening to her anyways?

Last night, her sister had been kidnapped, and she had managed to find Emily—with Sylvia and a few other elementals' help—and yes, last night, she had been scared out her wits, because it had been dark and damp and her sister had been taken hostage. But that was last night.

Today, the sun was shining, and she was in her own apartment, with two of her best friends. If Teagan was attractive—though it's not really an "if" as much as a "though"—so was David. Besides, attractiveness was no reason for intimidation, or his overbearing attitude. So Losana had left her door unlocked... big deal! He had no call to walk in here, as if... as if...

Losana ground her teeth at his nonchalant attitude. It was not his apartment.

She stalked up to Teagan, and glared for all she was worth—but it was difficult to glare at someone so much taller. "Do you have a last name, Teagan?"

He shrugged, and Losana admired his shoulders. "Nusquamesse."

Losana blinked. "Okay, Mr. N," she decided. "I am afraid that you have walked through the wrong door."

"No, I have not." He ran his hand through her hair casually, and Losana was too startled to object. "You're here."

Before Losana could think of something to say, Gary asked, carefully, "Losana, who are you talking to?"

"Pshha," David waved away Gary's question. "Our favorite girl here is a very special girl. She can do voodoo séances."

"It's not voodoo or a séance," Losana corrected David. No matter how many times she had explained, he never seemed to remember. "I don't talk to the dead."

"Then who are you talking to?" David repeated Gary's question. "Only ghosts are invisible. Besides, what do you call yourself anyways?"

Losana took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I don't know what I'm called because I haven't met anybody else like me. And I'm not crazy." She said the last part in response to David's blatant signing to Gary that she was cuckoo.

"That's what they all say," David replied easily. "But we love you anyways, Lo."

David stepped forward to give Losana a I'm-sorry-and-let's-make-up hug, but stopped mid step. Gary suddenly turned into a fire alarm gone wrong, and continuously made high-pitched beeping noises. Losana stared, "What is wrong with you guys?"

Finally, Gary stopped and David whistled. "Dang, did you make him?"

Gary added, "We want one... actually, can we each have one?" Then, he went back to beeping.

"Gary," Losana asked slowly. "Why are you... beeping?"

Gary gave Losana a droll look, which Losana did not appreciate. "It's the hot guy alert."

Losana looked at Teagan. He didn't seem any different. She asked David and Gary. "You can see him now?"

"Yes," David answered. "I know I'm looking. Now I know why you haven't had any boyfriends for a whole year; you can make your very own lovers."

Losana opened her mouth a couple of times, trying to say something, but what David imagined was so preposterous that she hadn't the faintest idea of how to persuade him that Teagan was not made by her or under the control of her magic in any way, shape, or form. "David, Gary, meet Teagan," she finally introduced warily. "I did not make him, and he is very welcomed to leave this apartment anytime he wants."

She hadn't been sure if she should offend Teagan, since she didn't know him very well—and he was a bit intimidating, if only from sheer size. Still, he had waltzed into her apartment, which was under her jurisdiction. If he chose to stay, he stayed at his own peril.

But he surprised her by putting a hand around her waist. It looked casual, but Losana could feel his muscles and knew that if she tried to shrug him off, she would only embarrass herself. She glared at him instead, and noticed that he was showing his teeth in the semblance of a smile.

Gary didn't seem to notice Losana's careful rigidity or the sharp-toothed gleam in Teagan'st smile. Instead, he stuck out a hand. "Very pleased to see you."

The moment hung in the air as Losana waited. She almost wished that Teagan would refuse Gary's friendship, but she realized that Teagan wore the veneer of civility too well. "I'm always glad to be introduced to Losana's friends," Teagan answered as he shook Gary's hand.

Grudgingly, David held out a hand, too, which Teagan shook with a nod. Suddenly, Losana felt cramped in the kitchen with these three men and stifled in the handshakes that made it all very official, even though she wasn't quite sure what "it" was.

"Well," Gary said, guiding David back out of the door, and winked. "I think we are going to tell Sara about your previously-hidden boyfriend, right now."

Losana was so startled by the word that started with "boy" and ended with "friend" that she didn't quite process the rest of the sentence before Gary and David were already out the door. She saw that Gary walked with a bounce in his step, and David took long strides to keep up with Gary. Then, the door swung shut.

"Some friends," Losana muttered, looking morosely at the white, wooden door. It was reinforced with some sort of metal underneath, but that was useless unless the door was actually locked.

Then, she heard Teagan say, "I don't think I mind them much."

Losana stared, utterly speechless, at Teagan's audacious high-handedness, but he didn't even seem to notice.

Or maybe he did, and he added with a dark, smooth chuckle, "It means that I will allow you to see them from time to time, little one."

Losana fumed; Teagan had the gall to settle himself on her sofa. She tried to read a book, but she knew that his pale eyes were fixed on her. She watered the plants, instead. Nobody had been on the internet—too busy vacationing in Europe or Australia, probably. The air elementals seemed to have vanished. And Teagan N. still sat in her room.

"I'm going to call the police," she informed him.

His gray eyes dared her from under the dark lashes.

Losana hadn't quite expected him to just accept it, but satisfied that she had given fair warning, she reached for the telephone. She kept her eyes on him, as she used her fingers to find the numbers. Nine... one...

And then somehow Teagan was behind her, his arms caging her. Somehow, he had slipped the phone out of her hand. Losana could feel her heart picking up speed, as if in answer to the heat emanating from the man behind her. She could feel the solidity of his chest, hear the steady beating of his chest, and smell him, a smell that she wanted to bottle and spray on her pillow every night. She felt lightheaded in his hold—must be how tight his arms are around me, Losana thought.

"Don't," he whispered in her ear, his breath tickling her.

For a second, Losana couldn't remember what he was talking about. When she remembered, she stiffened and tried to twist out of his arms, but it felt like pushing against marble, just as smooth and unmovable. Then, his arms tightened even more. It wasn't painful, but Losana couldn't struggle at all now. Incredibly, she felt tears of frustration in the corner of her eyes.

"Shh... I won't let anybody endanger you."

Losana could almost believe him, with his beautiful bass promise and his chest rumbling as he spoke, but she knew she shouldn't. She gathered her resolve and spat, "It's not other people I don't trust; it's you."

A breeze chilled Losana's back, and though sunlight still lit the room, she only noticed the sharp edges of the shadows.