Fae War Ch. 07byCatBrown©
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You've wanted longer, and this chapter is longer: 15 pages on Word!
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Erin woke up the next morning grouchy from going to bed cold and alone, and from the embarrassment of being rejected the night before.
Why did he kiss her in the first place if he was just going to back out when things were getting good? If he was a woman, he'd be called a tease. As a man, he was thought respectable, responsible. Erin really hated the whole double standard on all things sexual.
Now she was forced to live and work with a man who had rejected her. She felt used. It was not going to be easy to look him in the eye after she practically threw herself at him. Remembering the previous night made her hot and uncomfortable. Was she really so unappealing that he could just up and leave like it was nothing?
With too much on her mind, she showered quickly. She remembered the one bathroom incident and not wanting to get caught in the shower by the man who already had her confused and uncomfortable.
She dressed in another of his sweatshirts, drinking in his scent that lingered in the fabric. She had it bad! This was really not going to be easy.
Bracing herself to once again act like nothing had ever happened, she entered the main room. Luka wasn't there. She poured some coffee from the half-full pot on the counter and sat at the table. A key rattled in the lock and she consciously put an indifferent look on her face.
The man who entered was not Luka. Erin jumped to her feet, immediately looking for some kind of weapon. Finding nothing at hand, she used her magic to throw him backwards against the door he had just closed.
"Whoa! I'm a friend," he called to her as she searched her mind for another defensive move. "Luka sent me here to teach you more advanced magic."
"Where is he?" she demanded.
"He had things to do," the man said, "He asked me to stay with you today and work with you. I swear I am loyal to you, my Queen."
She was wary, but he had let himself in with a key, and he hadn't tried to do anything to her yet.
"Take off your coat and empty your pockets," she demanded.
"Certainly." He did as she asked, then spun in a slow circle. "Satisfied?"
"I suppose. What's your name?"
"I am Leighton. I teach. I was hoping to be of use to you as you develop your skills," he said with a small bow.
"I could certainly use some help. I couldn't think of a single thing to do to you after I tossed you back against the door," she laughed nervously. "I was just about to have some breakfast, would you like anything?"
"No thank you, Your Highness," he said with another small bow.
"My name is Erin. I'm not used to these titles, so just call me Erin, please," the grumpy coming out some more.
"As you wish, Erin. Please go ahead and eat. I will wait," the teacher said as he sat on the arm of a chair.
"No, I usually just have coffee, and maybe toast. We can start," Erin replied, taking another drink of her coffee.
"What have you learned so far?" Leighton asked.
"Well, I can heal. I can bring things to me, and send them away, as you felt," she answered with a shy grin, "I can change water to ice. I really don't have any offensive powers at all," she continued with sadness, knowing a queen of a kingdom at war really needed to be able to fight.
"I doubt you have none. You just haven't found them yet. How much defensive magic have you worked on?"
"Well, like I said, the throwing things, and the water shield...," she drifted off.
"Did Luka throw spells at you to see if you could deflect them?"
"Well, we have a lot of work to do today. I want to see the things you've learned and then test your natural defenses. You should be pretty immune to everything I send at you, but we'll still practice deflecting spells. While the spells of a weaker Fae won't maim or kill you, they do take a toll on your energy, so it's better to deflect them than to keep neutralizing them within you."
"Explain the difference to me," Erin requested curiously.
"To deflect a spell, you use a counter spell or some blocking mechanism, like an energy blast, to keep it from reaching your body. If you don't, the spell will hit you and be absorbed by your body, which then has to neutralize it, the way your body attacks and neutralizes a bacterial invasion. Both take energy, but neutralizing takes significantly more energy than deflecting or countering."
"OK. Let's get started," Erin said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
As Leighton explained different defensive spells, Erin found her mind wondering. Last night had felt so good with Luka. Then he ruined it, and she was still feeling annoyed about it. Now he skipped out on her, not even man enough to face her after rejecting her. This was just another in a long line of jerks that had better things to do than be with her. She was swearing off men. Having a mate chosen for her was starting to sound like the best part of this whole unpleasant situation.
"Now you try it," Leighton said, looking expectantly at Erin.
"Umm," not wanting to admit she hadn't heard a word he'd said, she asked, "can you show me one more time, explaining just what you're doing."
"That's what I thought. You're having trouble concentrating. I suspect learning all of this has upset you pretty badly," he said sympathetically. "Luka seemed distracted, too."
"Yeah, I bet," she said under her breath.
"He's watched you for so long, that to actually have you with him must be...well, let's just say I'm betting he's glad."
"I wouldn't count on that," Erin said, wondering why Luka would be glad she was under attack, making his babysitting duties that much harder.
"Are you making his life difficult?" Leighton asked with a grin. "It has been the way of our people for centuries to choose the mates of the next generation. It works well, since we have seers who help make the decisions. Don't be too hard on him."
"What the hell was Leighton going on about? He just jumped subjects like three times in the same number of sentences. Was he senile?" she thought to herself.
Leighton realized the look on Erin's face meant she wasn't following, and only then did he realize he may have said too much.
"Never mind," Leighton said, hoping to change the subject before Erin demanded an explanation, "Let's get back to defensive spells."
Erin tried to pay better attention, but every now and then she found herself mulling over Luka's behavior, and Leighton's strange conversation. Maybe the men of the Fae were flighty and confusing like human men were always claiming human women were. She shook off the thought and got back to lessons.
Leighton taught her how to use word-spells to deflect most of the common attacks, and how to make an energy burst. He actually threw spells as well as physical objects at her to force her to act quickly.
After lunch, he got out a knife and cut himself deeply to see her healing abilities. Blood had never bothered Erin, being a nurse and all, but watching someone drag a knife through their own flesh was disturbing.
When he wanted to inflict other injuries on himself, she asked,"Please don't. I'll probably get plenty of opportunities to use those skills on people wounded in battles. I really don't want you to hurt yourself anymore."
Leighton found her caring to be a sweet characteristic in a noble.
They went back outside and Leighton continued throwing spells and objects at her, faster and faster. She was doing a pretty fair job of not getting hit when Luka pulled up and jumped from the car, anger written all over his face.
Erin wondered what she'd done to cause it, but Luka strode past her and, with one hand around Leighton's neck, lifted him off the ground.
"What do you think you're doing, throwing deadly spells, not to mention knives and axes, at the Queen?" Luka demanded loudly.
Erin ran up and started pulling on Luka's arm. He glanced at her with the fury of a warrior in his eyes.
"Put him down, Luka. We were practicing. How can I learn to act accurately and quickly if I'm never tested against the real threat?" Erin yelled at him.
Luka lowered Leighton who straighten his collar and cleared his throat.
Luka stood glaring at Leighton.
"Luka is just protective, my dear. It's his prerogative. Have you explained that to her, Luka," the older man said.
"I told her I am her protector, that watching out for her is what I've done since I turned nineteen," Luka ground out through gritted teeth.
"Yes. Well, now that Luka is back, I think I'll make my way back home." Turning to Erin and kissing her hand, Leighton finished, "It's been my greatest pleasure to serve you, my Queen."
"Thank you, Leighton. I really learned a lot today."
Luka still glared territorially as Leighton turned and walked down the drive.
Hoping to distract Luka from his misplaced anger, Erin asked. "Where'd he park his car?"
"He doesn't drive, he flies. He has to get beyond my protection spells to take off."
"He flies?" she asked with wonder, "Why didn't he teach me that?"
"Because," Luka said, irritably, "You would have to leave my protective spells to do it."
"But he's stronger than you. Couldn't his protective spells cover me?"
"Not as well as mine," he replied, finally turning and taking her hand to bring her inside.
"Why not?" Erin asked. She was completely confused.
"Because I'm your protector," he answered, still irritable, but softening.
"Is that like a formal title or something?"
"Not exactly," Luka answered, dropping her hand and moving toward the kitchen.
Deciding he wasn't planning on explaining further, Erin changed topics, "Where did you go today?"
"I went to talk to some council members, including my father," Luka replied, not looking at her, and beginning to prepare dinner.
"What did they have to say?" Erin asked, expecting to be put off.
"The other council members want me to bring you in immediately to put you under guard and then tell the entire Fae community that you are alive and returned. My father thinks that I should keep you here until the council meets formally next week."
"Why is here better?" she asked, then realized this was back to the topic he had avoided just moments ago.
"I just told you, my protection is stronger than theirs," Luka answered sounding frustrated.
"But why?" Erin persisted. She really wanted to know why his protection was so damned important.
Luka ignored the question and continued to clean vegetables.
"Would you answer me if I demanded it as your queen?" She queried.
Luka didn't answer immediately, and Erin thought he might refuse. Finally he spoke softly, almost tenderly.
"I would. But I hope you won't do that," he said, facing the window over the sink. "I will explain to you tonight, after dinner, in front of the fire."
Erin wondered why he was being so elusive, and why he needed to set things up in order to explain why his protection was better than what the council could provide. Still, she let it go.
They ate dinner quietly. Luka half-heartedly asked about her day training with Leighton, and she answered in short, clipped sentences. She felt weighed under by all of the embarrassment of his rejection combined with the dread of what he had to tell her later. She imagined he was sorry that he ever started as her protector, and that he was going to tell her that he was taking her in to the council.
Finally, dinner was finished and the dishes washed. Luka placed the logs in the fireplace and set some kindling on fire. He continued to tend the little fire, trying to get it to catch for several minutes.
"I thought you hated starting fires the human way," Erin pointed out.
He sighed, and standing, he snapped his fingers, starting the fire. He came and sat beside her, looking forlorn.
"It's okay if you want to take me in to the council," she said, hoping to make this easier for him.
He knit his brow in consternation.
"Why would I do that?" he said.
"I don't know. You just seem...unhappy...babysitting me. I thought you wanted out, and I don't want you to think it would bother me...you know...if you wanted to be rid of me," Erin stumbled verbally, not knowing what to say or what he felt.
He took her hand in both of his. As usual, his hands were very warm, and the muscles buzzed with energy.
"Do you want to be rid of me?" he asked softly, looking into her eyes.
His eyes, already dark, swirled even darker, storm-cloud gray and deep moss green. He had such beautiful, expressive eyes. She wondered how he felt about her dull, slate gray eyes.
"No," she choked out around her threatening tears, feeling stupid for needing him so much and not wanting to be separated from him.
"Nor I you," he said with a small smile lifting the corners of his lips.
"What's going on Luka? I don't understand any of this," she almost sobbed, the tears starting to overflow down her cheeks.
He reached out and wiped her tears with his thumb, then looked down at her hand for a moment before he cleared his throat.
"We learn of our chosen mate at age nineteen. Though males usually know before females, they are forbidden to tell their future mates, or anyone else, before the ceremony on her nineteenth birthday."
He hesitated. Erin was baffled why this was the conversation they were having.
"So?" she asked softly, trying to prod him to get to the point.
"You never had the ceremony. Your parents — everyone in your family — they're all gone," Luka stammered, looking very sad.
"I know, but I don't understand what that has to do with us," Erin stated, confused.
"You are my chosen mate," Luka said, again looking deeply into her eyes.
Erin was stunned. What Leighton said about her making Luka's life difficult began to make sense. He thought she already knew this, and that she was giving him a hard time about it.
She considered the proposition. She had feelings for Luka, and last night had definite potential. But mates? For life?
"I - I don't know what to say," she replied, looking away from his intense gaze.
"I didn't think I should tell you, but my father assured me that under the circumstances, it was the only way," Luka said, dropping her hand and sitting straighter.
"But you stopped last night. You said it wasn't right," Erin questioned, trying to sort out the complexities.
"It wasn't. You didn't know. I wanted to know if you had feelings for me if we were compatible. After your life as a human, it was unfair of me to know, and you not to," Luka stumbled around verbally, trying to make sense of a complex situation.
"So, does being my - mate - make your protection stronger?" she asked, piecing together a small corner of the wide quilt that had become her life.
"Yes. Unless you refuse me, in which case my magic becomes just as ineffective as any other mid-level Fae," Luka replied, reaching for her hand with a smile, seeming relieved she was catching on so quickly.
Erin looked down at his hand holding hers. She hadn't been ready for this. He had probably been right not to tell her earlier. She wasn't sure she even wanted to know now.
"So, you aren't actually attracted to me, it's just the requirement of the Fae that you be my mate?" she asked, voice small and sad.
He lifted her chin so she looked into his eyes again. He was shaking his head and looking concerned.
"When I was told you were to be my mate, I immediately sought you out. I knew you would likely be killed by the rebels at some point, which would release me from my requirement. I didn't know if I wanted that or not, so I followed you, listened to you, watched you interact with people. I immediately felt an attraction to you, and attraction grew into love. I made myself your protector, because I couldn't bear to lose you, at the same time I almost wished for an attack so that I could reveal myself to you," he explained, beseechingly.
She still wasn't sure what to say. She looked into his eyes. She felt carried away with the currents of emotions she found there.
"You have the most beautiful eyes," she said without intending to. Then she blushed.
"They can't be as beautiful as yours," Luka replied with a smile.
"My eyes are boring gray. Yours are green and silver and change with your moods."
Luka looked confused for a moment.
"You haven't looked at yourself since you found your magic. You need to look again," he replied enigmatically.
She really only cared to look at him, but his face turned concerned as time passed and she didn't say anything more.
"You don't have to accept, or reject, me right away," he said, anxiously, "especially since you didn't know anything about your real self, or your position, before two days ago." He hesitated a moment, then continued softly, "I just hope you won't take too long to decide."
"Luka," she said, reaching up and touching his face, "I don't know what I feel right now."
He looked sad, but took her hand and kissed the palm tenderly.
"You have time to think. My protection is nearly perfect. You'll be safe. Only the most trusted of our leaders could break through my protection."
She thought she might cry. He saw the tears in her eyes and sat back.
"I understand if you need to be alone. I'll be here if you need me."
Suddenly, being alone felt like the most awful thing in the world. Erin scooted forward and leaned into Luka's chest. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close. She listened to the solid rhythm of his heartbeat and felt truly safe for the first time in days.
Erin reviewed her time with Luka. On the highway he had been cold and efficient, nothing more. Then at the beach house, he started out the same way, but then became intense, scary. His look was pure predator, and she hadn't been sure whether she was the prey or not. He saved her life at her car, and again at the convenience store. It wasn't until he got her here, where he knew she was protected, that he relaxed and began to show his true self.
She was sure beyond any doubt that he loved her and would do whatever it took to protect her. That was probably the most terrifying part. The sheer depth of his feeling was overwhelming. No man had ever loved her. This man had spent eight years watching her, protecting her, without ever meeting her. And now he had given her a choice. If she refused him, he would step aside. If she accepted him, ...then what?
She never thought of herself as a commitment-phobe, but suddenly 'forever' seemed like a very long time.
She continued to mull over her situation, secure in Luka's arms. He made no demands on her. He just held her and lightly stroked her arm and back with his thumbs. She must have fallen asleep, because she woke to find herself alone in the big bed, the windows dark, the cabin silent.
She tossed and turned for hours, finally falling into a restless sleep that ended too soon. She heard voices in the main room. She wasn't fond of the idea of another person being present when she knew Luka would want an answer.
After showering and dressing, Erin stopped to look at herself in the mirror. Luka was correct; there were changes since she arrived here. Her once slate gray eyes were now Caribbean blue shot with silver. They glistened, demanding attention, and as she thought about Luka, they darkened, just as his had! She smiled, but looked at her own reflection with unfamiliarity. There was self-assuredness in the face in the mirror that she didn't feel. She looked regal, even if she didn't yet feel it.