Jaac Sarne looked into the face of the only woman he’d ever loved and the only woman whose loss had ever mattered. Fifteen years without hearing her voice or her laughter. Her magic had gone and the world was a darker place without her. Literally.
She stood there in the doorway without speaking.
“Aren’t you going to bid me enter?”
“Stop talking like that. No. Go away.” She tried to close the door on him but he blocked it with his foot.
“I need to talk to you, Sa’Rhea. Please.”
“Don’t call me that. I’m Rhea Harris now.” She spoke low and looked out past him, making sure no one had overheard the exchange.
“Who is it? Oh shit…” Sarai came to a halt when she caught sight of Jaac. In the stillness of the moment, Rhea took him in. He was the mirror opposite of his brother. Dark where Paul had been fair, tall and broad where Paul had been thin and athletic. Deep eyes as dark as midnight stared back at her.
“He was just leaving,” Rhea hissed.
“No he wasn’t.” Sarai pushed past Rhea. Grabbing his arm, she yanked him into the apartment and closed the door, locking it. “You can’t ignore this, Rhea. What are you doing here, Jaac?”
“The Nameless. It’s back and the entire western shore has fallen. We need you, Sa’Rhea.”
Shock, cold and hard, slammed into her. Shaking off the hand at her upper arm, she fell into a chair. “How many?”
“A lot.” Jaac was quiet as he watched her reaction. Still so fucking beautiful that looking at her hurt his chest. And he’d thrown it away like a stupid boy.
“A lot? You still a scientist, Jaac? That’s very astute of you. Precise. A lot.”
The dry sarcasm in her voice surprised him. The Sa’Rhea he’d known had been sweet and joyful. “Ten thousand, four hundred and six. Is that better?”
She opened her eyes and that stormy blue-gray gaze held him fast. “Don’t piss me off, beefy.”
“Look, Paul Bunyan, tell me what it is you were sent here to say. I have things to do.”
Sarai really seemed to think that was funny and he resolved to look it up when he could. “We need your Talent. There are no high level Practitioners left. At least none who can hold the Nameless back.”
“And you come crawling to me? After shaming me and sending me away like I was nothing? Now I’m worth speaking to, when you need me?”
“We could have used the scrolls but they’re gone now.”
Immediately, he regretted his words when she flinched as if he’d physically struck her.
“You’re an asshole, Jaac. I can’t believe I let you in here.” Sarai’s voice lowered into a growl and her face took on a more feline shape.
Damn it, a familiar minx in fury mode. Perfect.
“I’m sorry. Okay? I didn’t mean it. I know you…I know you had no choice. I believe your account of what happened.” Sighing, he splayed his fingers out before his body and then pulled them into fists. “It doesn’t change the fact that we need you desperately. You’re the last of your line. Your father is too old.”
“And my sister, Emmia?” Once she could have said “sisters”, but no longer. “Your sisters?”
“Your sister may be strong enough with the aid of the scrolls but without them…” He shrugged. “The power holding the Nameless back has been weakening for the last fifteen years. Many of those remaining have been sent away to the Eastern Mountains.”
“Who sent you here?”
“The Council. We need you. Please.”
“My father? Yours?”
He sighed, nodding. “Yes. Both. Your father would have come but he’s not in the best of health. He’s been using most of his energy to keep the boundary up. The coastal cities are in danger but the wards are holding. For now.”
Rhea went to look out the sliding glass door at the ocean. She’d yearned to be with her own people for fifteen years. Wanted to hear the sound of the food sellers as they called out their afternoon bargains. Missed her mother’s humming and her sisters’ laughter, her brothers teasing each other. Not that her mother could laugh from her grave. She missed her Talent. She wanted to go home.
Sarai came to stand next to her. “You don’t owe them anything.”
“Not the Council, no. But the millions who are threatened now, how can I ignore that?”
“You can’t, because you’re you. Get a guarantee that the geas against you has been lifted. Make sure the family holdings due you as Paul’s widow are awarded so you have a place to live after this is over. It’s not greed, Rhea, it’s common sense. You can’t come back here, you’re dying. There you can have your magic back and a living. Fuck the rest of them.” Sarai said it quietly but Jaac heard anyway.
“You’re dying?” The panic in his voice was obvious.
“Not from a sickness. The environment here drains me. I can’t keep it all out without a severe bleed on my powers.”
He wanted to touch her. Pull her into his arms and kiss the lips he dreamt of every night. “I can assure you your widow property. I have the paperwork with me. You’ve got enough of a settlement to live comfortably for the rest of your life. The geas was lifted when you agreed to leave, by the way. You’re free to return.”
Home. The mere thought of it took away the aches and pains of her day. If she lived alone with Sarai in her home—even if no one ever spoke to her—it would be better than dying a universe away. And she’d be able to save millions of lives and Practice again.
“I have to call my employers here and then we can go.”