Lights of Aurora Excerpt
In the dressing room of the sporting goods store, Ashley checked herself in the mirror, horrified at what she saw. Wet, limp hair stuck to her cheeks and neck. A huge bloodstain spread over the front of her once beautiful gown, now smeared with mud and torn in several places. Her cheeks were burned from the biting cold, and her nose was so red she could pass as Rudolph.
She sighed and worked at removing pins and ties out of her hair until it was finally undone, and then used one of the ties to lock it in a bun. Next was to get out of her dress and change into something warm and dry.
Ashley turned to the side and craned her neck as she fumbled with the corset strings. The damn thing was laced so tight there was no way she could do it herself.
Ashley sighed. Perfect.
She grabbed the dressing room curtain and pulled it aside. “Arwan?”
“Hm?” He lifted his head from his hand where it was rested, his eyes glossed over with sleep. Her shoulders slumped forward. The poor guy was exhausted. She couldn’t blame him. He’d been through a lot these last few days. They all had.
“I just…” She pointed to her back. “I need some help with this corset thing.” The man sitting two chairs to the left gawked at her. Ashley made double sure the curtain hid the stain on her dress.
Arwan stood and eased toward her. “Turn around.”
She noticed more people shopping, and several men slumped in the rows of chairs in the waiting area. “Uh, no. Come inside.” There was no way she’d let him undo this thing with everyone around. The fact she had to ask for help to undress was humiliating enough.
He opened the curtain and slipped in, then secured it closed with a Velcro strap. He rested his hands on her waist. “Turn around.” She did, and stood with her back straight, watching his reflection in the mirror while he worked at loosening her corset.
The pressure around her ribcage eased, and she drew in a deep breath. “Oh thank God. That thing was killing me.”
The air caressed her skin as the damp corset slowly opened, exposing the curves of her back. She crossed her arms over her chest to prevent the top half of the gown from falling off, as the tightly laced ribbon was the only thing holding her top in place.
As Arwan worked to unlace the last of the silk ribbon, his fingers brushed against her lower back. Warmth ran up her spine and tickled her skin. She studied him in the mirror, soaked and miserable, yet he hadn’t complained—not even once. He should get into some fresh clothes so he didn’t catch a cold. Thanks to her stone, she could heal him if he did. Her abilities were becoming more powerful, but every bump they avoided made for a smoother journey.
“You should go get changed,” she said. “I can handle it from here.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders. She watched his gaze slide over her bare back.
Besides riding together in the taxi, they hadn’t spent more than a few moments alone since London. The longing she felt for him in the coffin house overwhelmed her.
He placed a kiss on the curve of her neck. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she gripped her dress tighter as she tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck. “Arwan,” she whispered. This wasn’t really the best place, never mind the fact she probably smelled like wet dog.
He hooked her elbow and gently spun her around. She missed being close to him, and knew her heart was no longer hers. It belonged to him completely. And even though they had only a short history together, it seemed as if they’d known each other for a lifetime. Whatever drew them to each other—whatever made her vow her love so completely in so little time—was a bond that would never be broken. It was a bond made without her consent but with all of her heart.
He cradled her face. “If anything happened to you…” His jaw tightened. She wanted to press her fingers against his chest and run her hands along the curves of his shoulders. But if she let go of her dress it would fall to the floor. Her cheeks flushed at the thought.
He brushed his thumb along her lips, and his eyes flickered to them. “Mi mariposa. Si algo te hubiera pasado…me hubiera roto el corazόn.”
Her chest tightened. She really, really needed to learn Spanish. But regardless of what he said, it always made her weak in the knees. It wasn’t the words, but the way he said them, and the heightened intensity of his gaze.
He pulled her close and kissed her, one arm wrapped around her waist as the other caressed her cheek. Her crossed arms acted as a barrier, annoying but necessary. The light in her chest flickered on. The rush of cold from the light sucked the breath out of her lungs with a sharp blast.
Screw it. She pried her arms free and wrapped them around his neck. With the top of her gown pinned between their bodies, the sides of the corset fell open, exposing the curves of her waist. His hands ran along the length of her bare back before they settled on her hips.
The light in her chest brightened, and electricity spread over her skin. His lips curved into a smile, causing her to pause. Whatever he was thinking made him happy, or maybe a better word was pleased.
Impatiently, she ran her fingers through his hair and drew him closer to deepen the kiss. He didn’t object, but from then on, handled her with a new tenderness that wasn’t there before. He calmed her, and her light dimmed as a new type of passion took over.
She didn’t just want him, she wanted his love. She wanted his heart, forever.
“Ahem.” A woman from the other side of the curtain sounded clearly annoyed. Ashley jumped and noticed the foot of a store employee tapping impatiently on the tiled floor. “Is everything all right in there, or do I need to call security?”
Her cheeks blazed with heat.
“Maybe we should finish getting our supplies,” he said in a low voice as he faced the curtain with a crooked grin.
She nodded, and Arwan slipped out of the dressing room to speak to the woman waiting outside. His tone was apologetic while he explained Ashley’s wardrobe situation.
The time is getting closer now, a voice whispered in her ears.
She shut her eyes and tried to block it out. The light in her chest grew hot rather than cold, making her feel sick.
Prepare to rule under me, the voice continued.
Ashley cupped her hands over her ears and squinted her eyes shut.
You are mine. Don’t ever believe differently.
After spending more than she could comprehend at the sporting goods store, they placed all of their new supplies into two hiking backpacks. She’d chosen a smaller one with an external frame to fit her more petite build. He had a much larger pack, the frame inside and with fewer pockets than hers.
With Zanya’s pendant hung around her neck, Ashley zipped up the largest pocket and finally transferred the very last and most important thing.
Large and oval in shape, the only pocket large enough to accommodate the stone was in the front. The stone’s energy was still raw and sharp from Sarian’s partial hold. He may have broken the obedience spell, set upon the stone at its creation, but it still recognized her. Unfortunately, unlike when she first bonded with it, her stone no longer spoke to her. It was quiet. Too quiet. Its colors morphed and pulsed dimly, transforming from its normal hues of white and blue, to deep violet and brown. Its polluted energy burned her skin as if she were handling a hot light bulb.
“Are you ready?” Arwan stood and slung his pack over his shoulder. She rubbed her temples, then blinked to clear her vision. “What’s wrong?”
Ashley glanced up at him. “Nothing. I just have a headache and—” She thought about telling him of the whispers, but she would probably just sound stupid. If she got some rest, her mind would be back to new. She stood and slipped on her backpack. “Never mind. It’s not important. Let’s go.”