Excerpt: Escaping Destiny






There were calls that no one liked getting at five a.m., and then there were calls. Frankie woke up in a cold sweat, her heart hammering as her phone vibrated across the bedside table next to her. Outside of that, her jagged breathing was the only sound in the dark room. Her head whipped towards the phone as it vibrated again. Was that what had woken her, or had it been her desperation to claw out of the nightmare she’d been in? Her body was soaked underneath the single sheet she slept under, the fabric sticking to her chest and legs. What had the dream been about? She scrambled to roll over as her phone danced towards the edge of the table, the caller clearly insistent. She caught it as it tipped, and brought it up to her face, squinting at the lit display. Frankie cursed. It was her partner.

“Yeah,” rough with sleep, her voice was barely over a growl.

“Got a body.”

She growled, the animalistic sound filling her small bedroom. “Text me the address.”

“Don’t stall, this one’s bad.” Anderson warned her before ending the call.

Shit.

She scrambled from her bed, wrestling out from the damp sheets. It had been another bad night. A foreign power filled her body and she gritted her teeth, pressing down on it. It had been getting more insistent as the days passed. Soon, would she be able to suppress this new magic residing within her? Tears crested her eyes, frustration and helplessness swamping her. She didn’t ask for this ‘gift’ and yet she was stuck trying to manage it.

‘What’s wrong?’

His voice filled her mind, a force of will that helped her get her new wayward power under control. She was grateful, but all the same…

‘Stay out of my head,nosy.’

His amusement filled their connection. ‘If you came in to train, you could learn to control your power. Hell, maybe even how to keep me out of your thoughts.’

It was the same thing he’d been saying for the past year. She snorted and ignored him, dialing her brother.

“Why?”

Oh yeah, it was barely dawn, of course he was irritated.

“I got a case.”

Julian sighed. “I’m not telling Ma you’re missing brunch.”

“You’re such a punk ass.” She rushed into the bathroom with the phone tucked against her ear and shoulder. Starting the water, she prayed it would actually warm.

“Says the punk ass who’s asking her younger—”

“By seven minutes!”

“—brother to take the heat from their mother. Aren’t you a ‘grown’?”

“You’re so aggy,” she whined.

“You’re thirty-two, surely you can tell our mother that you can’t make it to brunch…for the third time this month.”

She growled. Okay, she was a punk ass. No way was she calling Nadine to tell her she was missing family brunch for the third week in a row.

“Fine, but stall for me, please. I don’t know how long this will take.”

“I got you.” Julian promised. “Please be careful.”

“I always am,” Frankie assured her twin, ending the call and tucking her phone into her towel on the toilet seat.

Julian worried about her being cop, hell, he worried about everything. His anxiety was well known in their family. Lately, the added bonus of the…the…beast inside Frankie made it worse, though, so she felt guilty that she didn’t have it under control. She sighed and stepped into the lukewarm water, rushing to rinse off the sweat from last night.

‘A few weeks, that’s all we ask for, Frankie.’ Aren cajoled.

His voice was the stuff of dreams, really. In the weeks he’d been ‘haunting’ her, she’d had plenty of fantasies about him. Aren touched her mind, his probing raising the magic she was trying very hard to keep curled inside her.

‘Stop nagging at me. I said I’d think about it!’ She hissed.

‘So you say.’ He withdrew from her mind.

To be honest, she was doing everything but thinking about it. Aren, and the people he worked for, wanted Frankie to uproot her life and come to them under the guise of training. He wanted to help her control the new magic coursing through her body, threatening to erupt at any moment. He’d been roaming her thoughts for months now, admittedly helping her keep it under control, but also nagging at her to let them train her. She didn’t necessarily know if she wanted to be trained for a war that had nothing to do with her.

No way could she justify leaving her job for it, that was for sure.

Her thoughts drifted to the body her partner called her about. If she was being called, then likely it was one of the missing people they’d been searching for. She always hoped to find her victims alive, but so many times the case ended with a body. It was exhausting, disheartening, but there were enough victories that the harder cases didn’t overwhelm her.

Still.

She hated when her cases ended this way.

###

THE SOUNDS OF THE FOREST around him soothed Aren as he slid his hands across the cold clay on his table. Since he’d been assigned as the Oracle’s personal guard, he’d had a small studio built behind the safe house where he could escape to do his carving. It mostly served as a place to keep his tools, as he preferred to work outside in the open air. He missed the studio he kept in the middle of France, at the vineyard he’d bought on a whim. The large windows let beautiful light into his house and his studio. Not that he’d spent a lot of time carving over the years. Before Zahra, he’d spent most of his time alone, hunting. But Europe had been his hunting ground, and he’d found himself back at that vineyard more times than not. It had been a lonely existence, but then, he was no stranger to living on the fringes.

He dipped one hand in water, and brought it back up to the block of clay, shaking out the morose thought. Only the top of the head was visible so far. His hands lovingly caressed the curly tendrils taking form.

He’d missed carving.

He dipped his hand in water again and ran it over the bottom of the bust, wetting the clay not yet carved. In the chaos of the amulet and oracle being found, the last three years had been spent trying to rebuild their tribe.  Their pride members were being kidnapped, and used in a vicious power game, he’d barely had time to sleep, never mind carve. Keeping the oracle safe from the forces sent after her was a never ending job.

Though Francesca had asked him to leave her alone, he touched her mind again, soothing the beast that lurked under her skin, as yet untamed. He moved through her thoughts silently, using his magic to smooth some of the frayed areas of her stress before withdrawing. He didn’t dare linger in her mind. The moment she felt him, she’d tense up and all his work would be for nothing. Of course, it wasn’t just for her benefit. Now that his animal knew she was out there, the need to reach out to her, to touch her mind, became an obsession. He pulled back before she noticed, catching the stray thoughts of another person nearer. His brows pulled down in concern. It was barely dawn. The oracle hated waking early.

“I know you’re there, Zahra. Though, congratulations, you hide your thoughts a lot better now.”

She sighed and stepped from the side of the shed he used to store his tools and clay. She carried a heavy mug of coffee and was swaddled in a thick terry robe twice her size. “No one can hide from you,” she grumbled. “I built freaking Fort Knox around my mind.”

He smiled and shook his head. “She still hasn’t made a decision.” He pulled the purpose of her visit from her head.

She plopped down in the damp grass in front of him moments after a woven blanket appeared. “Frankie’s so stubborn.”

She was that, he agreed silently.

“She some kin to Dalia,” the oracle went on, plucking grass and ripping the stalks.

“She’s her niece.” He frowned. Zahra knew that.

“It’s an expression, meaning she acts a lot like Dalia. How are you able to read my mind, but still get baffled by colloquialisms?”

“Well, you southerners have curious turn of phrases.” He concentrated on slowly slicing away at his clay, keeping an affable smile on his face. Not because he was especially happy, he knew Zahra worried.

“It goes both ways you know.”

He stopped working and looked up. “What?”

“This link. It goes both ways. You can drop the fa├žade and work, you don’t have to smile for my benefit.”

A genuine smile curled his lips. Goddess, the woman was smart. “What would you have me do, Zahry?”

He turned the conversation back to the reason she was visiting him while he worked. It was his alone time and everyone took care not to disturb him while he did it. He assumed from the oracle’s presence she’d run out of patience with Francesca.

“You’re going to have to go get her.”

And he was right. “You think that will work?”

Zahra shrugged. “I don’t know. If she starts to lose her control, I’m just going to snatch her here, to hell with the consequences.”

“That won’t work with her.” He reminded her, his tool carving small lines through the hair he worked painstakingly on.

She dropped her head into her hands. “I know.”

“Her animal won’t give her much of a choice here shortly.” He smoothed down an accidental nick with his fingers.

“From her thoughts, she’s working on a case.” She commented.

“Dedication is not a bad trait to have.” He said mildly.

“Are you gonna go get her or not?” Zahra’s impatience reared.

“It has to be me?”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “You know it does.”

“I don’t know that I’m ready—”

She cut him off. “Your animal won’t give you much of a choice here shortly.”

He snarled at her throwing his words back in his face. She was right, though. She was the oracle, of course she was right. While new to her job, Zahra wore the mantle of power well, and communicated with the goddess on the regular. She knew them all intimately and some days it chaffed.

Like right now…when he was trying to wait out his mate.

She stood up and brushed dust from the back of her jeans. “A new class of warriors starts next week, so, that’s all the time you have.”

He saluted her with his wet, clay stained hand.

She snorted and walked off.

He worked silently for a few moments before reaching for Francesca again, it was habit at this point. Her mind was on her work, for now, the power inside her calm. Still, he used his power to dampen it a bit more. He hoped it would give her an easier time controlling the animal throughout her day. As he told Zahra, she was dedicated to her job. Yes, he did what the oracle ordered and called to Francesca in an effort to convince her to come train with them, but most of the time he spent in her mind was getting to know her, getting acquainted with the mate with whom the goddess had finally blessed him.

He was determined to get his mating right the first time.

 He was playing the long game, and now Zahra had pushed up his time line. Watching his brothers’ stumble through their mating was painful, and he hoped to not go through it. Though, the stubbornness of his mate may make all of it for naught.

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