Authors: Anise Rae
Mayflower Mages, Book One
By ANISE RAE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
For Katie, for L and C, and as always, for my mom
This book has been my baby for a long time, but as the saying goes, it took a village to raise it to adulthood. It never would have made it relying on me alone. In fact, I’m quite sure Vincent and Bronte wouldn’t want to show their faces to the world without our army of molders and shapers.
First, hugs and kisses to the people who read the first drafts and didn’t laugh: Cheryl and Christine, who were with me with I took my first firm steps on the writer’s path; Katie, who read multiple drafts and probably needs a new red pen since she likely ran out of ink correcting my mistakes; and Larissa Reinhart, my fabulous critique partner and author of the Cherry Tucker Mysteries.
Next, many thanks to all the people who listened to me blather on about my stories and the ups and downs of writing, and kept on encouraging me, though they had to be sick of hearing me talk about it: my kids, (rest assured, I never mentioned anything about the
parts of the story), Julie, Dad, (once again, I left out the good parts. And, Dad, please tell me you’ll skip those parts), Sandy, the Clandestine Book Club, Jill, Renee, Mac, Cecilia Dominic, Terri L. Austin, and LynDee Walker.
Also, big thanks to Lyrical Press and Piper for the opportunity to release this story into the world.
Last but foremost, bushels of gratitude to my mom, who has always been behind me every step I’ve taken, who taught me to read when I was three, and provided a home filled with books, including some of my grandmother’s old romance novels. It was a fateful day when I discovered those in the cabinet. When my father caught me, he said to my mother, “Should she be reading those books?” My mother responded, “Probably not.” Then she walked away. And I kept reading.
And to you, dear reader, thank you for taking a chance on a new author. I hope you enjoy Vincent and Bronte’s story. Edmund’s turn is next.
Bronte Casteel had eleven hours, ten minutes and five seconds before her Non-mage pass expired. Her nerves crackled like the groomed pea gravel crunching beneath her old Volvo’s tires. The car limped down the grand estate’s long driveway. She looked up at her cracked rearview mirror to see the gates closing behind her, locking her inside the den of the most potent mages in the country. Ahead, the gray stone mansion sat tall and proud. Its symmetrical wings sprawled to either side. Rallis Hall was as imposing and majestic as she remembered it.
She passed beneath the arch of the gatehouse, circled the driveway, and parked the car. Its dimpled nose pointed toward the gates for a quick escape. She glanced at the plastic clock stuck to the dashboard. Her neck muscles tightened with every
of the second hand. Eleven hours, eight minutes. Her mother—a mage powerful enough to intimidate most of the Republic—had allotted just enough time for her powerless daughter to make the trip north, deliver the Casteels’ morbid message to Senator Rallis and scamper back to her assigned city.
The ticking clock wasn’t her only problem. After all, the Rallises would likely kick out any member of the Casteel family in a flash of mage vibes anyway. And that was the best-case scenario. For Bronte, the worst case was much…well, worse. Burning to a crisp was as bad as she could imagine. She took a deep breath to loosen fear’s tight grip. Senator Rallis had no reason to suspect her of anything. To his eyes, she was nothing but a struggling Non-mage musician. All she needed was a little luck, the goddess’s grace, and a lot of poise, to pull this off.
It wasn’t as if she had a choice. She either obeyed her mage sponsors or she’d be exiled from the Republic of Mage Territories forever. A chord of sadness rippled through her at the thought. Her soul would wither if severed from the enchanted music that existed only here. She craved the sound of the mages’ songs as much as she yearned to play them, though no mage would ever let her on stage. Mage citizens would never see past her true self, no matter how magical she could make her violin sound.
Forging ahead her only option, she leaned forward to get the car keys. Her fingers brushed against them as a gentle whisper of mage energy spiraled into her. She recognized it immediately. Vincent. He wasn’t supposed to be here. She froze as her forbidden power reawakened and soaked up his blissful vibes, but terror overpowered the bliss.
“No. No. No.” The denial puffed from her lips. Her pounding heart competed with the sound of her words. If she were the powerless non-mage she pretended to be, she’d never sense him.
She dropped her head to the steering wheel, tense muscles creaking in protest, as the warmth of his vibes fed into her. His energy felt so familiar even after all those years. It touched her lightly, faint from the distance between them, but the bottomless pool inside her drew his vibes with a constant, steady strength.
Syphon mages were long forbidden, now relegated to mere legends.
But the death sentence still applied.
She sucked in a hard breath of the car’s rapidly warming air, held it, willed his energy away. Her head drummed with the fruitless effort. She wished she could stifle her energy signature, something an average mage could easily do.
Maybe Vincent wouldn’t sense her presence. After all, she had spent her entire life without anyone else noticing her unique vibes. Her energy signature registered as faint as a black hole, a fact she knew thanks to a lifetime of insults from her family. Today her faint vibes were her only hope at getting out of here unscathed. He couldn’t reveal her secret if he didn’t know she was here. Her meeting was with the senator, not with the famous Colonel Vincent Rallis.
She squinted through dark bangs for another glance at the clock. Eleven hours and five minutes. Her fingers itched to shred that darn pass into a thousand pieces. Her frustrated sigh seemed to blow against the second hand of the clock, speeding it along its circular path.
She peeked at the rearview mirror, half-expecting to see Vincent dashing down the stone stairs, an army of mages behind him with a big stake. The only person around was a gardener mage, spying from behind one of the fat trees lining the drive. Bronte craned around to look at him. Even from this distance, the tuning spirals tattooed on his temple appeared dark and thick. The permanent circles channeled the universe’s energy into his sixth sense, providing more mage power than he naturally possessed.
For his sake, she should get out of the car. It couldn’t be easy to keep the red and gold leaves of autumn neatly on their trees when they only wanted to tumble to the ground willy-nilly. The gardener wouldn’t dare let that happen in front of a guest. Autumn was too messy to tolerate for a powerful founding family. The unnatural trees gnawed at Bronte, their strangeness reminding her of the odd, new tune her songwriting partner had composed for her. Even now it grated against her ears. She’d changed Claude’s song onstage last night, improvised new notes in a disobedient but beautiful melody that sang from the strings of her violin. She’d get an angry earful the next time they spoke.
As she watched, the leaves began to shake on their branches like Claude’s angry fist. The gardener mage smiled at her beneath the fiery canopy’s shimmy. He was putting on a show. Though it was a distraction from Vincent’s invisible presence, she couldn’t afford to encourage any mage’s attention. She didn’t smile back. Instead she looked away, curled her fingers around the car key, and slipped it out of the Volvo’s ignition.
She reached for the straw cloche hat resting on the passenger seat and placed it just so for its short ride to the entrance of the house. Her thin cardigan was next. Her brooch acted as a pretty version of the required letter
. A constant reminder of her status, it pulled heavily on the knitted fabric. She buttoned the pink sweater to support it. Respectably attired, she stepped out of the car.
The unusual September heat tried to force her back in. She would have preferred to comply, but her orders were not optional. She reached under her hat to check that her low chignon was still neat and then dropped her keys into her secondhand leather purse.
Coiffed and composed. That was her life’s formula, her self-defense.
She pulled the black violin case from the backseat. Subjecting it to the scorching temperature of a closed-up car was unthinkable. She never traveled without it. The instrument was an extension of herself. It would brave the Rallises with her.
The car door gave an impolite groan as she pushed it closed. With the violin in one hand and her purse tucked under her arm, she set a fast pace to the grand entrance, making up for lost time in the car. Her low heels scuffed against the pebbles of the drive.
She didn’t get far, halting as movement to her left drew her gaze. She looked up from under the brim of her hat. A solitary red leaf danced on invisible currents of heat. Bronte followed its pattern as it glided up and down, first by its tail end and then its tip. It drifted toward her. She couldn’t resist. Setting the violin case down on the stone, she held out her empty hand. The perfect red leaf landed there with a whispered grace.
She glanced back at the mage. He stood beside his fat tree trunk and stared, daring her to do something. She opened the discreet latch on her purse and tucked the rebel leaf carefully inside. It was as daring as she could get. The leaf was now a companion to the cursed note she was to give to the senator, her identification papers, and her car keys, which she moved into the zippered interior pocket to better protect her delicate refugee. Picking up her violin case, she marched toward her task in the stone house.
Had there been a moat, the steps could have been replaced with a drawbridge that angled up to the gray structure. The tall rectangular windows, over a dozen of them on the front, saved Rallis Hall from looking like a medieval fortress. The glass left a wavy impression, warped by generations of mage energy. There was a stark beauty to the manor’s straight lines. Rallis Hall hadn’t changed since she’d been here thirteen years ago for the Gathering ceremony.
The two dark wooden doors, a story and a half tall, were punctuated by knobs in their middles like matching belly buttons—unusual since mages didn’t need door knobs to open a door. In a mage home, energy was the universal key.
The twin doors opened before she’d climbed to the top of the stone steps. Bronte stumbled, expecting Vincent’s face. Instead, a gray-haired man in a dark suit and a gray silk cravat stood in the doorway. His hand fell to his side. He’d used the knobs instead of his mage power.