Heart of Magic
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“Are you lost,” he asked, voice amused, deep and as comfortable being in the shadow.
Panting, the red silk of her gown moved against the curve of smooth breast, The same gown hugged her waist, slowed down behind her almost like a wedding train, but in the brightest red. Violet eyes stared up at him, trying to decide if he were a friend. The question was hard to answer. “I....”
He leaned a little, his smile confident, engaged. Dark eyes seemed to swallow her whole as if she were a sugar cube melting in his champagne. “Well, what is it, my pretty cardinal?”
Almost as if compelled, as if tell him the truth were her most sweetest desire, she admitted, “I came in with the offering girls because I’m looking for my brother. I think the king is holding him because he’s a journalist and an activist for democracy.” Both her hands covered her mouth, those violet eyes wide with shock.
“You think the king keeps political prisoners,” he said, on hand now resting on the wall beside her head and she realized her back was now against said wall, “in the palace?”
He was so close to her. He smelled of cinnamon and cloves. His dark hair was just long enough to brush against his cheekbones, high cheekbones, strong face, like a Persian prince, with eyes made of the same shadows she’d been trying to hide in.
“I thought there might be clues,” she said, both hands against the wall, her heart racing.
“Do you like this democracy idea,” he asked, eyes on her for a moment, then down the hall, which reminded her that any moment the guards she was running from were going to come down this way.
“I think all people should be free. It’s the only way to be able to trust love or friendship. When people aren’t free, they are always in fear.”
“Um,” he said, long elegant fingers petting his neat black goatee, “You think it’s possible for love to be true then? But only between equal and free people?”
Her voice was barely above a whisper. He was so close to her that strength bridged the distance between them, so somehow the silk seemed tighter around her, her lips felt alive as if his touch might happen at any moment. “Don’t you also think that is the obvious truth?”
His smirk made him look like a teenager and all the debonair grace and gravitas evaporated faster than it had built. “I don’t think love is real,” he said, but gently, those fingers slipping into the pile of curls on her shoulder. “But that shouldn’t stop you from believing in it.”
It was like electricity traveled up her curl to set her skin on delicious fire. Her eyes watched his finger, innocent wonder at what might come next. His words broke the spell though. “Love is real! It’s the only thing that’s real!”
“Really? I see you are willing to go to great lengths to save your hapless brother.”
“He’s not hapless! He’s brilliant and brave. Don’t you have family you’d fight for?”
He dropped her curl, stepped back, but it was like time itself had blinked. One moment he was close enough to kiss, the next he was a foot back, with no transition in between. “Not in many, many years,” he said. Now he seemed aged, even though nothing physical had changed. There were no lines on his smooth face, no touch of the ages, but the weariness pulled the color from the air. His smile was almost sadistic, inhuman. “I’m going to help you.”
The tingle that went over her scalp then was pure fear. Whatever he was, he wasn’t a dinner guest in the palace.
Handlers and guards were just coming round the corner, the noise of their boots and clattering weapons loud alien to the strange otherworldly dignity the hall had had.
He held up a hand and they all rumbled to a halt like a pack of puppies. That pack of puppies carried lethal weaponry though and rage at having the palace penetrated by an intruder.
“I’m keeping this one,” he said, as simple as if he’d just selected a menu item.
“She wasn’t cleared,” Hanser snarled. “She hasn’t been vetted.”
Time folded again and the Persian was so close to the head of the guard, not touching, nothing even remotely inviting, as those dark lips, now close enough to blow in the shorter man’s ear, “Are you questioning me?”
“No!” Hanser said, back away, backing into his men. “Not at all, My Lord. There’s no better place for her than your able hands.”
“Thank you so much,” he said, a dark glittering energy almost visible around him.
The men who’d been chasing her, faded a bit, almost as if there were a clouded wall between them and her and the man. He smiled brilliantly at her, again back to being a wildly enthusiastic teenager. “Come my friend. I’ll teach you some magic.”
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