Carved in Ashes Book 2 (E-Book)

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Danger is coming.

MAIN TROPES

⇒ Enemies to lovers

⇒ Elemental magic

⇒ Dragons

⇒ Strong female character

Synopsis

Astrid finally has it all together and under control. The last thing she needs is a seductive distraction. But when Kai shows up in Kansas City—disrupting her world with all the feelings his rugged physique and piercing eyes stir up—she has to make yet another difficult choice.

What she doesn’t know is that Kai is ready to turn her life upside down to protect her from the danger that is coming.

In the face of secrets revealed, will Astrid be able to keep it all together when there’s more at stake than just her own life?

Chapter One Look Inside

I reached for the yellow magic whirling in my solar plexus. Too slow. The yellow light eluded me. My opponent took advantage of the opening, landing a blow to the right side of my face. Dust rained around me.

Red fire magic flared in my gut—an immediate response to my irritation. I shoved it down.

Focus, Astrid.

With my nerves on high alert, I allowed the cool cement beneath my bare feet to ground me. Taking a defensive position, I locked my attention on the wind magic in my center and pushed it up. It burst, in a torrent, through my hands. A gust of air whipped through the space and almost threw my attacker off balance.

She recovered with ease and hurled another attack. White dust flew in every direction. My wind magic thrust me back. I hit the wall hard, knocking the wind from my lungs. I landed on my butt, struggling for breath.

I gasped air in huge, painful gulps.

Growling, I slammed my fists down on the floor, the impact jarring my bones and stinging my skin.

“Givin’ up so soon?” My assailant took a predatory step towards me, challenge burning in her eyes. She gently tossed her next projectile in the air and caught it.

My energy waned, but I shook my head in defiance. “You wish.”

I jumped to my feet and took a fighting stance, facing her from across the mostly empty, one-car garage.

“Good.” She smiled. “I’m just getting warmed up.” The woman wound up and hurled the object in my direction. I wasn’t as ready as I’d thought. Before I could tap into my yellow magic to catch it with the wind, a sock full of flour crashed into my face.

The fine powder entered my lungs, and a barking cough came out. Bent over and hacking, I held up a hand—silently asking Jen to stop throwing her awful flour bombs.

She laughed… or cackled, really. “Baby girl!” Her large frame shook with her  hooting. “You supposed to be magically catchin’ these so that don’t happen!”

When we used to work together at the BBQ joint, her exuberant laugh had always brightened my day. Even now, as I fought to catch my breath, it eased the tension in my gut.

Once my coughing fit subsided, I stood to face her.

Jen burst out in another fit of laughter. “Now you be lookin’ like a proper ghost.”

“Thank you for that.” I rolled my eyes, but smiled. Flour paste still coated my tongue. “I think I’m done training for today.”

My yellow magic was getting low, and I felt the threat of the headache that came with a drain. I began brushing flour off of my clothes and out of my hair; the mess seemed to be embedded. “I’ve got class in a couple of hours, anyway, and I need to shower first.”

Jen threw one hand on her voluminous hip. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere ’til my garage be cleaned up of this flour.” She waved her free hand around as she turned and climbed the two steps into her kitchen.

It was a good thing the garage was empty, but for a set of shelves. It was hard enough to clean up after these sessions. Once again, I found myself wishing we could train outside where the rain would wash away the mess. But I couldn’t risk anyone seeing me use my magic. The world was in an uproar about the sudden onset of magic this year, and I didn’t want to be part of the political debates.

When Jen appeared again in the doorway, I flashed her a hopeful little smile. “We could train again tomorrow, and I could wait to clean until after that?”

She held out the broom and shot me a look that told me she wasn’t playing.

I took it and chuckled. “Worth a shot.”

“Imma take a smoke break,” she said, heading back inside.

“You know,” I teased, “you’re the one who was throwing this stuff. Maybe you should help me clean.”

She didn’t turn back. “I’m the trainer. I got privileges you ain’t earned yet.”

I wrinkled my nose. She was quite smug that she was helping me learn to control all my different colors of magic. It was endearing, though. She was a good friend.

Six months ago, when I had come home from the Realm of Light, I called her because I’d felt so alone. With Lyric ascended and Tyler in the Realm of Light, I didn’t have family around anymore.

Originally, I’d planned to keep my magic a secret here on Earth, (or rather, the “Realm of Stars”). But one rainy afternoon, over coffee and egg salad sandwiches, Jen had asked about my migraines in the weather, and I found myself spilling my guts to her.

It started with just the confession that I had magic, and how the cuff I’d worn my whole life had turned out to contain a magic suppression stone—the actual cause of my chronic migraines.

“Girl! You be trippin’!” I could hear the laughter in her voice through the memory. She’d waved her hand in the air with all the sass she was known for. “I knew there was some kinda conspiracy hidin’ how magic be real!”

I had shushed her and urged her to not draw attention to us. I assured her there was no conspiracy, and that magic had been stolen.

The rest was inevitable. After that, she had wanted to know everything there was to know. Honestly, it was such a relief to talk to another person about my secrets, so I’d opened up, and soon the stories were spilling out of me like sauce on a sloppy joe.

I’d started with my accidental adventure in the Realm of Light, and described the moment when my baby sister ascended to become the goddess Mother Earth. Jen was particularly excited upon finding out this act restored magic to our realm, because she was convinced that she would discover some kind of dormant witch power in herself.

I’d told her about Tyler deciding to stay in the Realm of Light with his dragon, and how it had felt like losing a brother as well as a sister. I’d cried, and Jen had awkwardly patted my hand, averting her gaze.

I smiled at the memory.

The one thing I regretted telling her about was Kai. I mean, I could have stopped at the fact that he was this irritating dragonborn assassin, who I occasionally wanted to strangle, but who had also helped us find Lyric and saved my life. But no, I just word-vomited everything. The part about him being ridiculously attractive, and rippling with these hard muscles, and how his eyes were unbelievably intense, and how he had kissed me into oblivion that one time.

It was a mistake to tell her that part, because to this day, despite my insistence that there was nothing between Kai and me, that I’d never even see him again, she would give Jeff the stink eye and huff her disapproval every time she saw us together. I learned the hard way that Jen had a very detailed memory and a very strong opinion about my love life.

But Jen kept my secrets and was fiercely supportive. She was proud—well, more like self-important—about the fact that she was one of the very few people in our realm who knew what was going down when magic started manifesting all over the world, causing upheaval in every nation. It was surreal that the world knew about magic now.

I came out of my memories, having gotten most of the flour swept into the trash. One lone shelf stood at the back of the garage, still covered in a layer of white. I brought the trash can to the ledge and took a step back. My yellow wind magic possessed what I thought of as a finicky attitude. Not nearly as aggressive as my fire magic, but it proved difficult to handle in its own way. Sometimes, the yellow light would dart away when I tried to access it. Sometimes, it would nuzzle up and act like it was going to cooperate, only to surge away in a gust. Sometimes, though, when I sat very focused and serene, I could bring out just a small amount and create a breeze in a particular direction. It wasn’t a very useful skill; hence why I’d enlisted Jen’s help, to see if I could figure out how to harness the wind amidst adrenaline and distraction.

Closing my eyes and breathing deep and slow, I inched my way towards the yellow wind light, just below my ribcage. Like a butterfly, it flitted about, not interested in pleasing anyone but its own whims. I became still and lifted my palm to face up. I waited, silently counting to ten, and then twenty. Finally, I sensed a small amount of yellow light breeze down my arm.

I let my eyes flutter open. A tiny, yellow orb hovered just above my palm. My lips turned up in a satisfied smile. I rolled my hand to face the dusty shelf and gently sent the light away to blow the dust from the shelf into the trash can. Most of the dust landed on the floor, but I was pleased with the little that had gone where I’d meant it to.

Nothing to brag about, but I walked a little taller as I left Jen’s garage and headed for my motorcycle. Technically, it was Tyler’s motorcycle, but I was looking after it for him indefinitely, since he decided not to come home.

It was one of those classic days in November, where Missouri weather felt perfect. Three days ago, I’d been bundled up in full winter gear. Today, I sat on the grass of the main lawn at the Kansas City Art Institute, in a tank top, basking in the warmth of the sun.

My sketchbook laid in my lap, and charcoal stained my fingers. I’d spent so many years imagining what it would be like to go to school here, and now I was well into the fall semester, drawing for homework. I surveyed my sketch—a waterfall from the Realm of Light.

 A soft breeze played with the pages of my book, adding a luscious delight to the day. Several pages flipped by, landing on a sketch that caught my breath every time I saw it. It was my best work.

Even if I hadn’t meant to draw the picture of Kai.

He just has incredible features.

One feature had led to another, and now his piercing eyes stared back at me. I let my thumb hover over the scar that intersected his right eye—evidence of the violent life he led. Heat bloomed in my chest. He was dangerous. But he’d come for me when the world was crashing down around me…

“I want you to leave.” The dragonborn’s snarled words echoed in my mind. They stung, just like they had six months ago.

It shouldn’t have hurt then. And it definitely shouldn’t have still hurt now.

I pushed the ache down and closed the sketchbook with too much force.

My phone rang, and I jolted. Jeff’s smile filled the screen. A pit formed in my stomach. Why was I sitting here thinking about Kai when I had a really sweet boyfriend who did nothing to rile me? He was safe and considerate and all the things that Kai was not.

I cleared my throat and fixed a smile on my face. “Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful.” His southern drawl always sounded stronger on the phone. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

My shoulders slumped. “You know I don’t like surprises, right?”

“I know, but you gotta trust me. You’ll like this one.”

I picked at a small brown patch of grass near my leg.

Jeff continued, unaware of my discomfort. “Let’s do dinner tonight at that Italian place you like.”

“Cinzetti’s?” I did love that place. He’d taken me there on our second date. I sighed. “We’re going to dinner at John’s Big Deck tonight. Remember, it’s Cathy’s birthday?”

“Um, no. Did you tell me that?”

I rolled my eyes. “I only reminded you to put it on your calendar at least twice last week.”

“Oh! Yeah, the group date. Yeah, I remember.”

I snorted a laugh. He could be so responsible and also scattered sometimes.

“So, I’ll swing by a little before five and pick you up,” he said.

After we got off the phone, I eyed that patch of dying grass, again. I closed my eyes and carefully reached into my chest, where I found a gentle green glow—my earth magic. This magic was so tranquil that I hadn’t even been able to find it the first time I’d looked. I glanced around to make sure no one was watching. A few other students dotted the lawn, but they were all in their books or chatting with friends.

I channeled the magic into my hand. An orb of green light appeared in my palm. I beamed at the amount of control I had over this color. Resting the magic on the dying patch of grass, I used my hand to smooth it down into the earth.

I breathed a sigh of contentment. Using my magic would never get old. I watched, knowing what would happen next.

The withered grass slowly perked up and turned green like the rest of the lawn.

Our world was beautiful and full of color, but compared to the Realm of Light, where magic had never been cut off, the colors here were still muted and lackluster. Lyric said it was akin to soil that hadn’t been watered for a long time taking a bit to let the water soak in. Magic had been gone for thousands of years, so it was taking even longer to saturate the planet.

Lyric was late. I knew she’d show up, eventually. She never ignored my summons prayer, but since she had become Mother Earth, her concept of time had become a little more fluid than I preferred. While I waited, I lay on my back in the middle of my living room with my eyes closed, mentally checking in with each color of my magic.

Red fire at the base of my core burned strong and fierce.

Like a comforting friend, the orange healing light at my navel made me smile. The yellow magic at my solar plexus was still replenishing from this morning’s training session.

My thoughts became nostalgic for the time in the Realm of Light when I could draw seemingly endless amounts of magic through me by touching the earth. Grounding here, in the Realm of Stars, felt peaceful and comforting, but the Earth just didn’t have the magic reserve to draw on yet.

My green magic near my heart center glowed bright, and at my throat undulated the blue light of water.

I avoided the magic that taunted me in the space between my eyebrows and pulled my attention straight to the magic at my crown—a magic that appeared violet in my head, but when it manifest it was simply white light. I wouldn’t have needed Kai’s guidance through the green mist of the magic storm if I had known, at the time, that I possessed this light. But I would have died from poison in the North Wilds if he hadn’t been there, so I could admit that I was glad he’d come.

“Wake up, sleepyhead!” My sister’s voice trilled through the room.

“You’re late,” I said, cracking an eye open with a playful smile.

“I know, sorry!” She plopped down next to me as I sat up to face her.

I gave her a big hug. I was just glad she could hang out with me in a corporeal form, now. Her Friday afternoon visits were always the highlight of my week. I never missed one.

She could never stay long, so we filled every second with sister-talk—something I had always cherished but hadn’t made time for nearly enough when we lived in the same reality. Then again, I’d been preoccupied with keeping us fed and with a roof over our heads.

“How are things in the ether, with Dyami?” I asked.

“Just the usual. She’s been teaching me about our creation magic.” Lyric heaved a sigh, which made her look very human. “Dyami makes it look so easy, but I don’t know if I’ll ever master it.”

“Well Dyami’s been the goddess of the Realm of Light for thousands of years.” I nudged her knee. “I’m sure it was hard for her at first, too.”

She smiled and shrugged. “But what about you? Are you still training with Jen?”

“Yeah, maybe by the time magic is fully recharged, I’ll have figured out how to harness wind.”

“Oh!” Lyric snapped her fingers. “I meant to tell you last week, Dyami has a theory about that.”

“About the wind magic?”

“No, about getting the magic to heal the Earth faster.”

“Yeah?” I smiled. This was my little sister’s favorite thing to talk about.

“Okay, so she thinks it has something to do with the fact that the Realm of Shadows is gone.”

I scrunched my brow. “I thought it just went dark because magic here in the Realm of Stars got cut off.”

“Yes, but if that was the case, why wouldn’t it be back online now?”

“Well, how do we know it’s not?”

“Because, for years, one of the High Lord’s most brutal punishments has been banishing people to the Realm of Shadows.” She shuddered at the mention of Lord Alifar—the man who had almost killed her to siphon her power for himself.

I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “That’s awful.”

“I know!” Empathy laced her expression. “Think of their poor families.”

I nodded gravely, not sure I was making the connection. “So, he’s been banishing people who oppose him to the Realm of Shadows…?”

“Yep.” Lyric’s mouth turned down, but she said nothing more.

“But, why does that prove that the Shadow Realm is gone?” I prodded.

Her silver eyes went big. “Oh! Because Dyami said that some of the families have tried to get their loved ones back, and now those people are gone for good too!”

My chest tightened. “Oh no!”

“Plus, Dyami and I still can’t make contact with the third goddess in the ether.”

I nodded, catching up. “Okay, so how does this relate to magic on our Earth being slow to heal?”

Her eyes lit up. “Dyami has this idea that we can help things along drastically by setting up a magic device here on Earth.”

“How do we do that?”

“It’s super complicated. She explained it, but I don’t really understand it all yet.”

I must have looked as confused as I felt because she wrinkled her lips, then tried to explain. “Think of it like a magical defibrillator for the Earth that will send built up pulses of magic deep into the Earth’s core.”

That makes sense.

I touched her shoulder. “I’m proud of you.”

She waved me off. “It’s Dyami. She’s the saving grace of all the realms.” Her eyes glistened with pride. “I’m so lucky I have her to guide me.”

I smiled. I really was glad she had a good friend to hang out with, who helped her when I couldn’t.

The rest of Lyric’s visit went by in a blur. She wanted to know how my job was going. I reported that Jen brought me a steady supply of senior citizens willing to pay me to heal their arthritis and liver disease.

Jen was careful to only bring people who would buy the story that I was a homeopathic healer. I would make them some herbal mint tea and ask them to lie with their eyes closed while we did a meditation. Meanwhile, I would use my orange magic to heal their ailments.

The reward money I’d gotten from Gemma’s father, for bringing his little girl home safely, had been enough to get current on my rent and live on for a while, but it was empowering to earn plenty of money to thrive. It was nice for Jen, too, because I always paid her a finder’s fee.

I asked Lyric for an update on Tyler. Perks of being a goddess, Lyric could occasionally check in on her best friend in the Realm of Light.

She reported he was happy. That he’d filled out a bit and was growing a goatee.

“Oh, I forgot! He said I should tell you to be nice to his lady.”

I laughed. “Tell him I’m taking good care of his bike, and I check on it every day.” I made a show of glancing around and added, in a whisper, “Don’t tell him I ride it everywhere and have put a few scratches on the body.”

I’d pay him for the repairs when I saw him again. If I ever saw him again.

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I write stories for all the badass babes who still believe in holding out for a hero. For the women who know that low-rise jeans should not come back in style. And for all the moms who need to escape from the dirt, and the laundry, and the clutter, and the—well let’s not dwell on all that. Settle in and let me take you on an adventure instead.

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