include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Undertow by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.

A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

Undertow

Copyright © 2018 by Brooklyn Ray

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com.

Printed in the USA

First Edition

September, 2018


eBook ISBN: 978-1-949340-68-6


Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers, and depictions of blood play, murder, death, and gore.

Undertow

Port Lewis Witches, Book Two

Brooklyn Ray

Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

About the Author



For the alchemists itching to transcend their skin

For the magicians drowning in magic they do not understand

May moonlight weave intuition into your spirit

A rose bud for new beginnings—a bit of smoke to blur the lines

Listen for a song from the sea, listen for your power

Chapter One

The ocean swept around Liam’s ankles. Night hovered over the water, turning what was left of the day into a washboard of dusty rose and deep violet. Sea foam dampened his calves. He rolled a smooth, gray stone in his palm.

Magic made itself known, a current wound tight in his core, churning blood and flexing bone. Uncertainty misted his cheeks, stung his eyes, and even when he willed it away, it clung to him. All magic was different—Fire, Earth, Air—but Water was something else entirely. It waited for no one. When it took, it took completely. When it gave, it gave until it hurt. Liam wasn’t used to being volatile, but tonight his magic thrashed within him, whispering lies about power and promises about the deep.

Storm Wielder, the ocean said. Come closer.

Port Lewis was a beautiful, awful place full of beautiful, awful things—the ocean and beaches, the unyielding storms, and wet weather-beaten sidewalks. Liam Montgomery often wondered if he was one of those beautiful, awful things too. Full of rage and antiquity; powerful and unknowable.

Warm fingertips followed the ridge of his knuckles and slid over the stone he kept worrying in his right hand. Ryder’s energy blistered and taunted. Its darkness had an unmistakable heartbeat, a tantalizing, insidious taste that Liam still wasn’t quite used to. A hot breath hit Liam’s neck and he closed his eyes.

“You’re still out here,” Ryder said. His lips touched the shell of Liam’s ear and Liam was reminded that unknowable was a useless label with Ryder Wolfe, who knew him like clouds knew rain and foxes knew forests.

Ryder was one of those beautiful, awful things. He might’ve been the most beautiful. The most awful.

Liam leaned back until his spine met Ryder’s torso. “Where else would I be?”

“I can think of a few places.” Ryder’s lips curved into a smile against Liam’s neck. A long, pale index finger traced the veins in his wrist to his thumb, over his knuckles and back again. “Labradorite.” He touched the smooth surface of the stone and hummed appreciatively when Liam let him pluck it from his palm. “The stone of transformation?”

“Yeah, figured it might be worth a try.” Liam tilted his head until Ryder’s lips were close enough to catch. He kissed him gently, a soft press and nothing more. “How’s Jordan?”

“Ruthless,” Ryder said through a groan. “I didn’t think being a necromancer would be this difficult or require a fuck-ton of studying. How’s the ocean?”

Liam smirked. He flicked his gaze to the sea and said, “It’s ruthless too.”

“Anything new out here?” Ryder’s chin settled on Liam’s shoulder. “Merfolk stealing babies in the night?” he mused playfully. “Selkies and sirens arguing over meals?”

“Selkies don’t eat people,” Liam corrected. “And no, there’s nothing new out here. Not yet, at least.”

“Not yet,” Ryder teased. His mouth dusted Liam’s jaw, following the line of it to his cheek. “C’mon, Water witch, we’ve got a circle meeting.”

“Joy.” Liam would’ve stayed at the beach with Ryder and the ocean for hours if he could’ve. He would’ve stripped down to nothing and dragged Ryder into the water with him, touched and been touched, let moonlight drape over their skin. But the ocean sang too loudly tonight, and if Liam let it have him, he might not make it back to shore. “Are we at least eating?”

“Yeah, of course. You think I’d agree to a circle meeting after training with my sister if Tyler didn’t promise to bring pizza?” Ryder stepped in front of him, the fine angles of his face sharp and pronounced. His shaved head was covered by a beanie that slouched over the back of his neck, and a black peacoat was snug over his broad shoulders.

It had been weeks since Ryder decided to become a necromancer. Since his Fire magic battled with the darkness inside him, since a King of hell took residence in his body, since he died and came back as this—a powerful, wicked darkling. It’d been weeks since Liam and Ryder cut through the red tape wrapped around their friendship and fell into bed together.

Everything still felt new, somehow.

“Are we going to the house?” Liam asked.

Ryder laced their fingers and tugged. His palm radiated heat. “The barn, actually. But yeah, we’re going to Tyler’s.”

They walked toward the banks at the edge of the beach. Roots sprouted from the dirt, tickling the sand. Giant trees that had fallen years and years ago littered the place between beach and forest, home to crabs and critters, overgrown with odd teal moss and sprinkled with beige mushrooms.

Somewhere far off, an owl hooted. Somewhere closer, a creature screamed.

It echoed from the water, a gurgled, awful howl, torn and pained, as if it’d ridden the backs of waves for miles and miles. The sound looped through gusts of wind, splintering around them.

Liam had heard it before. Once. He whipped around at the same time Ryder did, fingers buckled in Ryder’s iron grip. Ryder’s magic surged. Heat blistered the air, lashing out at the unknown.

“What the fuck was that?” Ryder shifted in front of Liam. Black tendrils snaked over the ground beneath his heavy combat boots.

“A kelpie,” Liam whispered. He watched Ryder carefully, the way his jaw tightened, the way black drifted over his eyes like ink on a canvas. “Chill out, Ry. Put that shit away.”

“Fuck off,” Ryder hissed. “I don’t need some water horse biting a chunk out of my neck tonight, all right? Since when have they come this close to shore?”

The shrill, sudden call of the kelpie echoed until it faded, replaced by waves crashing, wind careening through tree branches, and Ryder’s steady breath beside him.

“They don’t—they haven’t in a long time,” Liam said. He squeezed the heel of his shoes in his free hand. “It’s unusual. It means…”

“It means we’re leaving,” Ryder snapped. He tugged Liam’s hand until Liam stumbled along, glancing over his shoulder as he went.

The ocean looked back at him, whispering, wanting.

The kelpie’s call meant something was coming for him.

Liam swallowed hard. He kept hold of Ryder’s hand and listened for another scream, for the sound of hooves, but they never came. He climbed into the driver’s seat of his old Subaru and stared out the windshield, hand tight around the steering wheel.

Mist clouded the glass, but he could still see the black ocean yards away, the white foam on dark sand and the moon’s smile rippling on the water.

Ryder climbed into the passenger seat. “Hey,” he rasped. “Princess.”

Liam tore his gaze from the sea. Ryder’s sharp eyes melted back to their jungle green and picked him apart, long eyelashes sweeping up and down. His lips thinned, and he reached over to brush his knuckles over Liam’s thigh.

“Don’t call me that,” Liam mumbled. “I’m fine. It’s just the moon.”

Ryder scoffed. His hand stayed put on Liam’s thigh, and Liam was grateful. “It’s just the moon,” Ryder parroted sarcastically.

The car rumbled to life. The headlights cut a path through the darkness as they drove to the canyon outside the Port Lewis woods.

Liam watched the ocean disappear in the rearview mirror, but he knew it would follow him.



Tyler’s family lived in a large, one-story house in the middle of the woods. They’d been there for three generations, cooking up spells, talking to the dead, hosting full-moon parties once a month, and Liam had spent days, weeks even, exploring the property.

The barn on the outskirts of the empty pasture had been plucked out of a horror movie. It was typical and haunting, painted dark, earthy brown, with a sturdy roof and two giant doors. Their circle of young witches had gathered there for the last few years—calling spirits, doing readings, inviting creatures from other realms to join them.

Tonight was no different.

Ryder walked through the door, coat open and billowing around him. Liam kept hold of his hand, even when Tyler’s jaw tightened at the sight of them. No matter how many weeks went by, no matter how many circle meetings they attended, Tyler was still unnerved by Ryder’s necromancy, and even more frightened of what it might do to Liam.

Liam squeezed Ryder’s fingers when they slackened in his grasp. “Ignore him,” he whispered.

Ryder snorted and rolled his eyes.

The barn was lit by strings of white lights looped over eaves and wrapped around pillars. A couple of lanterns hung on braided ropes and blankets were strewn on the ground amidst hay bales. Tyler filled a kettle with water, his long, lean frame covered in a tight navy sweater and blue jeans.

Christy’s dark hair hung over her shoulders, tickling her grimoire. She flipped a page and sighed. “Sorry, Donovan. No luck on the unearthing Earth magic front.”

Donovan frowned. He was perched atop a hay bale across from her. His ginger hair caught the light, along with his orange freckles and petite, pink mouth. “Hi, Liam.” He nodded to Liam and Ryder. “Eaten any souls lately, darkling?”

Ryder snickered. “Fuck off, baby witch.”

Liam plopped down beside Christy.

“Oh, hi,” she cooed. She tucked her hair behind her ears and glanced at him. Necklaces weighed down by crystal pendants ringed her neck over a loose white top. “How was the water?”

Ryder’s magic bristled, crackling the air. Liam’s jaw flexed.

“A…” Christy’s breath caught. The tickle of her magic prodded his thoughts. “A kelpie? That’s—”

“I could’ve just told you,” Liam said. Sometimes having a psychic in their circle was bothersome. “No mind-reading necessary, Christy.”

Her violet lips pulled down in a grimace. “Sorry, bad habit. But that’s what it was? You’re sure?”

“I heard it too.” Ryder strode toward Tyler and snapped his fingers. The kettle started whistling at the touch of his Fire magic, spewing steam, and vibrating in Tyler’s hand. “Careful, don’t get burned.”

It was a good thing Tyler held the kettle by the handle. He glared at Ryder and shook his head but went to work filling short, round teacups rather than scolding him.

“Kelpies don’t come to shore anymore,” Tyler said. “They haven’t in years.”

“I don’t know what else it could’ve been,” Liam said. His eyes fluttered to Ryder, tracking each movement as Ryder slipped off his coat.

“The tea might have something to say,” Donovan said. His lips twitched into a half smile and he shrugged. “Or maybe it was a fluke thing.”

It wasn’t. Liam still wore chills from the sound of the kelpie’s scream. The echo of it had stayed with him, cutting cold and merciless through his skin. He smiled back at Donovan anyway and nodded. “Yeah, maybe.”

Tyler passed out the cups and sat cross-legged on the ground with his back against Donovan’s hay bale. Christy straightened her back, shoulders pulled tight and chest elevated. Ryder leaned against one of the wood pillars, stirring his hot tea with his pinky finger. Liam stared into his own cup, watching, waiting.

Christy’s lips moved quickly. Her frenzied whispers came on long, winded breaths, fading into each other until her voice was one layered chant. She waved her hand over her cup, slender fingers stretched toward the steam. She opened her eyes and they were ghostly white.

“Drink,” she said.

Liam gulped his tea—clean, green jasmine—and covered the top of his cup once he was done.

Tyler did the same. Donovan sipped his until it was gone. Ryder tossed his back like a shot and settled his pitch-black eyes on Liam, closing one in a wink. Liam glanced away before he made a fool of himself.

“All right,” Christy chirped. She grinned at her cup and wiggled restlessly in place. “One by one, please. Donovan, you first.”

Donovan slid off the bale and handed Christy his cup.

“Hmmm…” She squinted and cocked her head. “Two mountains. A journey is ahead. The first one is small and…” She traced the shape of the leaves with her index finger. “Predictable, maybe? But the second will be hard. Harder than you think.”

“That sucks,” Donovan said through a laugh.

Christy wrinkled her nose and grinned. “It doesn’t! Journeys are good for the spirit. Tyler, c’mon. Your turn.”

Tyler scooted forward and handed the cup over.

“Your leaves are as stubborn as you,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. Concentration furrowed her brow. “Pain,” she whispered. “Something… Someone is going to hurt you soon.” Christy’s gaze flicked to Tyler. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Tyler blurted. His elegant, sharp features morphed into confusion a little too late. Liam had seen it, the acceptance, the knowing, before Tyler had smothered it. “I don’t… It’s probably just something stupid. I bet I’ll fall down the stairs tomorrow.”

Tyler attempted a laugh, but no one else joined him.

Ryder cleared his throat. “Or maybe you’ll get another gift from your old man.”

Liam closed his eyes. His chest tightened. Tension filled the room like smoke, dipping in and out of their magic in clumsy, fast jolts. When Liam looked at Ryder, his hard gaze was unapologetically fixed on Tyler.

“Tyler…” Christy touched Tyler’s hand.

“Get out of my head,” Tyler snapped.

The tension shattered. Christy’s magic flared: A crisp, protective bubble.

“Ty, c’mon,” Donovan whispered. “It’s fine.”

“Bring up my dad again.” Tyler slid his attention to Ryder. “And you’ll have to resurrect yourself.”

“Don’t fight,” Christy whimpered. “C’mon, please.”

Ryder hummed. His smile was mean and distant, and he traced the line of it with his reaver, scraping the tip across his bottom lip. Despite the challenge in his eyes, Ryder wasn’t wrong. They all knew it. Tyler’s father had never been kind, and the bruises Tyler brought back with him after fights at home were enough to solidify the circle’s suspicion.

Still, Tyler never admitted it.

“Oh yeah, Wind witch?” Ryder smirked.

“Ryder,” Liam growled—a warning.

Donovan cleared his throat. “Tyler, enough.”

“Listen to your lovers,” Christy mumbled. She raised her brows at Tyler and Ryder. “They’re both pulling on your collars for good reason. Ryder…” She nodded to him. “Stop pushing. Tyler…” She handed him his cup back. “Be nice.”

Liam sighed through his nose. They didn’t talk about certain things—Liam and Ryder. Tyler and Donovan. It would end in an argument, jabs at each other over Tyler’s insistence that no one in the circle should date while he’d been sleeping with Donovan for weeks without telling them. The whole thing was ridiculous, but it was sore and new, an unspoken secret that lingered just beneath the surface.

Tyler’s father, though. That was a wound that kept festering.

“Your turn, Ryder.” Christy held out her hand expectantly.

Ryder tapped his reaver against his cheek, glaring at Tyler.

“Ry,” Christy snapped. Ryder pushed off the pillar and walked past Tyler to hand Christy his cup. “Okay, let’s see.” Christy jumped into her usual self, upbeat and charming, wearing a smile that was half-faked and half-true. Slowly, the thick, syrupy tension dwindled. “Transformation, maybe? Or—wait… Yes, that’s it. Transformation through trials.”

“Lovely,” Ryder droned.

Liam handed Christy his cup. “And last but not least,” she said and offered him a smile before turning toward his tea leaves.

A choked, sharp gasp cut through the barn. It was shrill and warped, a noise that usually accompanied bad news. She clutched Liam’s cup between both hands and heaved in great, pained breaths. Her head whipped around, glancing from each of them before she looked back into Liam’s cup.

Everything was still. Everything was quiet.

Liam heard his blood running fast through his veins.

“What is it?” Ryder said, voice clipped and serious.

Christy opened one hand and tipped Liam’s cup over. A cluster of leaves fell into her palm.

“Dry leaves,” Christy whispered.

Liam swallowed hard. He stared at the leaves, dry as they’d been before they were brewed, and remembered the sound of the kelpie’s scream. “Murder… Conquest.” The words felt alien in his mouth. He ran his tongue stud across the back of his teeth, chasing them away. “That’s… I don’t understand.”

Footsteps hit the ground close to Liam’s legs. Ryder knelt beside him and clasped a hand over Liam’s knee. He didn’t speak, but his presence alone was comforting.

“You heard a kelpie tonight,” Donovan said softly.

Liam nodded.

“And your leaves are dry…”

Liam nodded again.

“Something is coming for you. Something is coming to…”

“Kill me,” Liam said.

“We don’t know if it was a kelpie.” Tyler shook his head, feigning confidence. “And dry leaves don’t just mean murder—conquest could be defeat; it could be annihilation. This reading might be pointing at something else, okay? Everyone calm down.”

Christy curled her fingers around the leaves. “Yeah, you’re right… It’s probably just… We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Witch 101: Don’t overreact.”

Ryder’s hand was steady on Liam’s knee. “Doesn’t matter if it’s true,” he said, voice rough and low, close to Liam’s ear. “You know that.”

“We should…eat, or something. We should do literally anything else besides this,” Donovan said.

Christy placed Liam’s dry tea leaves in a drawstring pouch. She cleared her throat and nodded. “Donovan’s right. Let’s eat. We’ll consult the cards later and go from there.”

A tiny, white mouse scampered across the barn and into Christy’s lap. Willow, Christy’s familiar, blinked red eyes at Liam, translucent whiskers twitching next to her nose.

A second later, talons curled over Liam’s shoulder. Opal, a barn owl who had been with Liam since his magic manifested years and years ago, nudged his cheek with her beak. Their familiars must have sensed the unrest and came to investigate.

“Hey, Opal,” Liam whispered. He craned his neck to make room for her and didn’t brush her away when she nibbled on his jaw.

Tyler cleared his throat. He stood and walked to the other end of the barn where the pizza was. Donovan trailed after him. Their voices were low and quick, words hissed and sighed in hopes that Liam wouldn’t hear them. They walked on eggshells, careful not to be too loud, but Liam still caught a few words. Kelpie. Water. Murder. Ryder. Demon.

“We should go,” Liam said.

Ryder’s eyes had faded back to their bright, forest green. His nostrils flared, and he nodded.

“No, Liam, please stay,” Christy said. She scrambled for his ankle, but he pulled away. “They don’t mean it—guys, would you stop!” She aimed the last bit at Donovan and Tyler. “We need to figure this out and we can’t if we don’t stay together…”

Liam walked away. His chest ached. Tyler’s words stung, whether he’d meant for them to or not. “I need to sleep on this, okay?”

Ryder snatched his coat from one of the hooks on the wall.

“Liam, wait!” Christy called.

“Let him go,” Tyler said.

Opal clung to Liam’s shoulder until they got to the car. As soon as he opened the driver’s side door, she took off into the sky. Ryder slid into the passenger’s seat. His eyes were hard and unwavering, fixed on the dark forest outside the pasture. Liam couldn’t tell if Ryder was hurt or worried or thoughtful or scared.

Liam was all those things, though. He was everything at once.

“They think I’m gonna kill you,” Ryder said.

Liam turned the key in the ignition. “It doesn’t matter what they think.”

“Then why’d we leave?”

A heavy, lucid quiet slipped into the car with them. The night watched, starless and black, until Liam turned the headlights on and drove toward the sea.



The ocean crashed yards away. Dark waves licked the sand, and Liam could’ve sworn he saw fingertips in the water, dragging like claws through white foam, trying to crawl onto land. Somehow, the sea had grown twice as powerful on the night when Liam had grown twice as fearless.

“Liam—” Ryder reached for him, but Liam slipped out of the car before he could be caught.

He stripped off his shirt and kicked his shoes away. Whatever was out there, whatever was coming for him, he needed to find it first. He hopped from the bank onto the sand. “Come get me if I’m not back in ten minutes.”

“What the fuck are you doing? No. You’re not… Liam!” Ryder grabbed his wrist, halting him in place. “You’re not getting in that water tonight.”

Cold, dark water slipped around Liam’s ankles. His magic pulsed, vibrating under his skin, urging him to take another step, to let the ocean have him. Another wave crashed. Slimy, wet hands slid along his bare feet, and wind whispered against his cheek.

Storm Wielder, it said. Come closer.

Ryder’s fingernails dug into his wrist. “Seriously,” he rasped. “Come on, don’t do this.”

“I need to know what’s going on,” Liam said. Another wave lapped against him and he closed his eyes. “This is my element. It won’t hurt me.”

“No, but the kelpie who happens to live in your element might.”

Liam tugged his wrist out of Ryder’s grasp. He took a step. Ryder protested with another breathy snap, “Liam, seriously!” But Liam kept going and going, wading into the water until it covered his shoulders. His heart raced, adrenaline overrun by the elemental magic throbbing inside him. The ocean cradled his arms and legs, dark as the sky above and haunting in ways Liam couldn’t express. It knew him. It wanted him.

He closed his eyes and concentrated, palms open beneath the water, reaching for answers to questions he hadn’t spoken aloud.

What’s happening to me? What’s coming for me?

Something old and brutal twisted in him. It was his magic, but it wasn’t—like understanding a word in a language he didn’t know.

Fingertips pressed on his palm. They were ice cold. Liam’s magic lulled him, making room for those fingertips to slip between his knuckles. Something brushed his stomach. The ocean sang and shushed. Rain born. Liam watched a man appear—a boy, maybe—somewhere between the two. He rose from the water inches from Liam’s face. His skin was ghostly pale, violet veins webbed over too-pronounced cheekbones and down a slender neck. Water dripped from his eyelashes and sharp chin, off strands of black hair and almost-pointed ears.

“Liam Montgomery,” the kelpie said. “The ocean sings about you.”

Liam’s voice was somewhere on shore, lost to him.

“It tells me you you’re a witch.” His eyes were the color of abalone. His fingers left Liam’s hand and he ran them across Liam’s abdomen, over his chest. The kelpie slithered closer, his body lithe and strong in the water. “Tell me, Liam the Water witch, what secrets do you keep?”

“I…” Liam’s eyelashes fluttered. The kelpie tilted his head, mouth wet on Liam’s cheek. “What do you want from me?”

The kelpie moved like the ocean, slow and then fast. Liam had never pondered how not to kiss a person back—he’d never been faced with the issue before. But here he was, in the ocean, and a kelpie was kissing him. The kelpie’s lips were slippery and soft, his mouth tainted by seaweed, salty and rich. A webbed hand pressed on the nape of Liam’s neck, drawing him closer.

Images flashed behind Liam’s eyes. Blood between teeth. Hooves beating damp sand. A hand around his throat—Ryder’s hand. A sigil carved into flesh. Blood on his lips. Candlelight. The dry tea leaves in Christy’s palm. Lightning splintering the sky. Ryder’s mouth shaking around a gasp.

Liam’s eyes closed. His chest ached. His head fell beneath the water; the ocean roared above and below him, a magnificent, sentient thing. The kelpie’s tongue rubbed against Liam’s, sure and slow, before he pulled away and stared at Liam through the dark, dark water.

Ancient, strange magic squirmed in Liam’s stomach. It burrowed into him, slipped over his bones like the kelpie’s hands had slipped over his skin, and Liam found himself helplessly, hopelessly drowning in it.

“The ocean does not need to make a weapon out of love. It is, in its own right, born a weapon already.” The kelpie’s mouth didn’t move, but Liam heard his voice. “Water is only patient when it needs to be. Remember this, Liam Montgomery.”

The kelpie’s figure cut through the water, growing smaller and smaller the further he swam. Liam lost sight of him as he broke for air, gulping in breath after breath. He let the waves carry him to shore, kicking until his legs were numb and burning the kelpie’s words into his memory.

The taste of him—old, like wet leaves and sea spray—lingered.

“I was this close—” Ryder pinched his fingers together. “—to fighting the ocean if it didn’t give you back.” He ripped off his coat and draped it over Liam’s shoulders. “Aren’t you cold? Jesus, Liam. What happened? Did you figure anything out?”

“You were gonna fight the ocean, huh?” A fond smile stretched across his mouth. Despite it being after midnight, neither the water nor the wind bothered him. “I met the kelpie… It was…” He watched Ryder’s expression tighten. “I’ll tell you in the car, c’mon.”

“You met the kelpie and it didn’t drown you? Or eat you?” Ryder stayed close to Liam, shoulders hunched and hands stuffed in his pockets, enduring a blast of chilly wind.

Liam tossed Ryder’s coat to him and squirmed in the driver’s seat. His wet jeans clung to his legs, sopping and heavy.

“No, he didn’t drown me—well, he almost drowned me. But it—he kissed me,” Liam said, listing his head to the side. It still didn’t make sense. None of it.

Ryder barked a laugh. “You kissed a water horse?”

“No, a water horse kissed me, and he wasn’t a horse, he was a guy, or he’d taken the shape of a guy or…something. Anyway—oh, c’mon, don’t look at me like that. It’s not like I initiated it.” Liam turned the key in the ignition. His face flushed, and he chewed on his lip, ignoring Ryder’s arched brow and wry smile. “He showed me things, but none of it made sense. I don’t know if it was the past or the future, or what it was.”

“Did he say anything to you?” Ryder smirked. “Or were you too busy pulling his mane—”

“Fuck off, oh my God,” Liam hissed. “He told me that love was a weapon and that the ocean isn’t patient. He also said that the ocean sings about me.”

“Oh,” Ryder purred. “A-plus flirting.”

Liam shoved the car into drive and ignored him. “He showed me you.”

Ryder went quiet. He stilled, all of him suddenly fixed on Liam, listening intently.

“He showed me us. Bloodletting, our magic, things we haven’t told anyone.”

“Was this before or after he said love was a weapon?”

“Before. I just—I don’t understand. I don’t get what any of this means. A kelpie comes to shore for the first time in decades and talks to me in fucking riddles, and my tea leaves say murder is in my future.”

Ryder tilted his head back against the seat. His eyes were faraway, somewhere out the window or further, even. “A kelpie showed you images of me, the tea leaves said someone is going to kill you,” he mumbled, a strange, alien sadness filling his voice, “and you’re still trying to put the pieces together?”

They were on the winding road outside Port Lewis between the forest and the sea. Liam clicked his tongue stud along his teeth. Headlights lit the fog.

Liam didn’t know what to say. He stayed quiet but rested his hand over Ryder’s wrist and held on.

Chapter Two

Liam dreamed of the kelpie.

He dreamed of wet lips and opalescent eyes, of a voice that turned time inside out and the slide of a webbed hand over his chest. His dream was as blurry as any other dream, a loop of movements and words that didn’t make sense. The kelpie sang to him in a language he didn’t understand. He teased the tendon in Liam’s neck with his teeth and slipped his hand down the front of Liam’s jeans.

“Don’t be scared, Water witch,” the kelpie whispered.

Liam gasped awake. He stared at the ceiling and shifted, earning an irritated meow from Percy, Ryder’s familiar, who was curled by his feet.

Ryder slept soundly, bare skin warm against Liam. They hadn’t spoken—not a word. Once they’d gotten to the apartment, Ryder made tea, Liam took a shower, and when Liam was dressed again and ready to talk, Ryder had already been in bed, asleep or pretending to be.

They hadn’t talked about the kelpie or the tea leaves, or the persistent, nagging thought that Ryder would be the cause of Liam’s death.

The circle had thought it. Liam, despite trying not to, had thought it. And Ryder, as confident and powerful as he was, had thought it too.

But thinking and believing were two very different things.

It wasn’t quite morning. Darkness blanketed the apartment. It turned the witching hours into a mix of navy blues coming through the blinds, shadows stained by muted, cloud-covered moonlight. The dream faded. Times like these, when the night wasn’t quite night, turned movement into poetry and breath into artwork.

Ryder stirred against him and Liam swallowed, paying mind to Ryder’s slender hand settled on his stomach, to Ryder’s mouth hovering over the top of his spine and his thigh pressed innocently between Liam’s legs.

Times like these, when morning was far enough away to be ignored, Liam remembered that he was allowed. To have. To touch. To cast spells with his body. To not let empty prophecies frighten him. To ask for things.

He pushed his waist back until his ass met the warm, soft jut of Ryder’s hipbones. Ryder’s fingers twitched on his stomach. His breath deepened into one long inhale and Ryder exhaled gently as he asked, “You okay?”

Liam felt the brush of his eyelashes, the drag of lips on his nape and the lift of Ryder’s chest against his spine. He grasped Ryder’s wrist and tugged it over his sternum, between his collarbones, up the column of his throat to his mouth. Ryder’s thumb stroked his jaw and Liam closed his eyes when Ryder curved around him, guiding his thigh higher, coaxing Liam’s legs open.

“It’s…” Ryder probably meant to say early, but Liam took two of his fingers into his mouth and Ryder trailed off, words stuck somewhere in the back of his throat, disintegrating into a low groan when Liam’s tongue stroked the underside of his knuckles.

Blood rushed fast in Liam’s veins. His heartbeat skidded, dancing behind his ribs where his chest was tight. His cheeks heated, and he closed his eyes, taking Ryder’s fingers deeper until his throat flexed.

Ryder’s breath hitched. His teeth scraped the soft flesh behind Liam’s ear, followed the echo of his pulse. He bit down, and Liam whimpered. “Tell me what you want,” Ryder said, sleep-rasped and quiet.

Liam’s stomach jumped. It shouldn’t be difficult to articulate, but the space between morning and midnight, between what had happened at the ocean and what was happening now, made him hazy and light, weighed down with desire and unable to get the words out in the order he wanted them. He settled for slipping Ryder’s fingers from his mouth and placing them below his tailbone, under the waistband of his boxers.

Everything was slow until it wasn’t. Liam gasped when Ryder pushed him onto his stomach, when he tugged Liam’s boxers down and fumbled in the nightstand, returning with slick fingers and a hot mouth on the nape of his neck. Ryder’s fingers were nimble and bony, rubbing hard and slow over his hole.

Liam jerked, dick trapped against the bed, and closed his eyes, allowing the shadows bent at odd angles around the bedroom to disappear. He clutched the sheets and canted his hips back, grinding shamelessly against the heel of Ryder’s palm. The same fingers that were in his mouth moments ago curled deep inside him, pulling winded, bitten sounds from Liam’s lips.

Ryder’s breath halted on his neck and Liam felt him pause. He squeezed his eyes shut and rolled his hips. Keep going, don’t stop, don’t make me beg

“Can I…” Ryder stopped and swallowed hard, wrist digging into the swell of Liam’s ass.

Power rushed into Liam. It squirmed and writhed, tugging on Liam’s Water magic until it surfaced. Ryder’s breathing turned choppy, his necromancy present and palpable in the dark. Liam let him syphon—he gave and gave until he couldn’t. Until his muscles twitched and his hips stuttered, until Ryder’s fingers grew relentless and rough, until he felt the magic flood back into him, repurposed and energized, dark and thick.

Ryder’s weight holding him down was the only thing that kept Liam from arching off the bed. He muffled a hoarse cry and twitched away from Ryder’s hand. His orgasm lingered in his shuddered breath and shaking limbs, body raw and oversensitive.

“Stop.” The word gusted from him. “Ryder, enough.”

Ryder’s magic retreated. He put space between them, rolling off Liam and onto the other side of the bed. Liam listened to Ryder hold his breath. He heard his own heartbeat ricochet off his bones, the tail end of their shared magic bursting and sparking inside him.

Liam wanted to stay in this darkness, the space cracked open by their graceless desires. He wanted to take Ryder apart and eat him alive, he wanted them drunk on magic, bare and unyielding. He wanted to become what he was capable of being, as beautiful and awful as Ryder.

“Liam…” Ryder placed his hand on the small of Liam’s back.

Liam heard the apology building in Ryder’s mouth and turned over in time to stop it. He grasped Ryder’s cheek and pulled until their lips met, until Ryder was beneath him, his briefs pushed out of the way with Liam’s palm between his legs. His fingers slipped through slick, wet heat, stroking and massaging until Ryder’s legs fell open and he ground into Liam’s hand.

They’d kissed plenty of times before—rough kisses and messy kisses and long, deep, unhurried kisses. But none of them competed with this. Ryder surged against Liam. He kissed as if he was drowning, unapologetic kissing that accompanied soft moans and stirring hips. His teeth scraped Liam’s bottom lip before they sank in.

The night was almost gone. Liam was drunk on Ryder, quivering in the wake of dark magic with the ghost of pleasure burrowing beneath his skin.

Ryder gasped, head thrown back, thighs clamping around Liam’s hand as he twitched and trembled.

Fuck, good morning to you too,” Ryder mumbled. He turned away to catch his breath, the line of his cheekbone sharp in the darkness. One moment Ryder’s eyes were pitch black, the next they were lively green. The rise and fall of his chest slowed. He took Liam’s slick fingers from between his legs and lifted them to his mouth, nipping at them.

“It’s not morning yet,” Liam said. He tugged his hand away from Ryder’s mouth and leaned in to kiss him, accommodating the bump of their noses and their wandering hands shifting over bare shoulders.

Ryder swallowed another deep breath. “You could’ve told me.”

Liam’s brows quirked.

“That you want me to fuck you.” Ryder kissed Liam’s mouth, his cheek and jaw. “I’ve gone down on you, I’ve gotten you off plenty of times, why didn’t you just say something?”

“I didn’t—it’s not…” Liam huffed. He found Ryder’s eyes and stayed there, trapped in them. “I like fucking you. I like you fucking me. I didn’t know we had to talk about it.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-21 show above.)