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An Excerpt From Blood Heat by Maria Lima

[ Information on Blood Heat ]

Chapter Two

A crack of sound to my left. I whirled on one foot and leaned to the right. That was a close one.

Another crack, closer, heralded a brilliant explosion of light. With the smell of burning magick--a lot like hot air and ozone--searing my nostrils, I whirled again, staff clutched in my hands as a focus. Shields tightened, strengthened as I gathered my own power, trying to turn the situation from defense to offense.

Damn it, I could use some help here. But there was no one to help. No one here but me and three attackers--each at least as powerful as I am, considering my newbie status. They were using weapons. All I was armed with were my own Talents.

Not what I'd expected as the Kelly heir, I thought, as I ducked some sort of purplish energy ball that shot out of a colorful gun-like contraption. Damned thing resembled a Super Soaker, but instead of water, it shot spells.

I slid past what looked like a booby trap, something shimmering just beyond normal sensory range. I jumped to one side, wishing I could think of something quippy to say, like Buffy did when she was fighting vampires and demons on TV. Kill them with my wit. Instead, I was muttering "Fuck, fuck, fuck" under my breath as I attempted to avoid getting hit. I'd trained for nearly three months with my darling great-granny's minions. Gigi, a.k.a. Minerva Kelly, had the best in the business. Unfortunately, these guys were even better--and more determined to win. I think I'd rather fight demons. At least they had limits. These guys? None. At least as far as I could tell.

The three threw everything they could at me: fire, freezing, starvation--all spells built into their weapons--any one of which could, at the very least, cause me to break down, fall to my knees, and concede. I ducked, tumbled, rolled, and mumbled words I'd only recently learned, trying to both keep my wits about me and figure out how I was going to reach the door on the other side of the room. I knew it was my only safety. My single means of escape. Fighting three men in an enclosed space: never a good idea. But I'd picked neither the time nor the place for this confrontation. Unprepared as I was, I was slam damn in the middle of a mini-war. It could've been worse. They could've all been targeting just me. Oh wait, they were.

"Damn it," I groused to myself as I jumped over a flash of yellow mage-fire, stumbling on my landing and barely ducking in time to miss the orange sparks shot out of a flame colored mini-cannon by someone whose lap I used to climb onto as a child. If even one of those sparks touched any part of me, my skin would instantly feel as if it were being torn from my body, strip by bloody strip.

"Ouch!" A ball of red mage-fire from my left singed my shoulder as it slipped by. "Was that a warning, Tucker?" I shouted as I returned my concentration to the rest of the action.

"Not a warning, simply..." He re-aimed his weapon and shot another fireball at me. This time I was prepared.

"Bad aim, brother?" I said as I tucked back a lock of hair that had escaped my braid. About twenty minutes ago, I'd come to the conclusion that long hair was nothing more than vanity, sheer vanity, and a hell of a lot of useless in a fight. Sure, it was bound back in a tight single braid, but a couple of those witch balls had been the really ugly kind. If even a spark touches any part of you--say for example, a braid swinging behind you as you execute a defense maneuver--the witch-fire grabs hold and start devouring. The hair would go first, quicker than a Guy Fawkes Night firecracker, then fire would move on to skin, the soft jelly of the eye. It would get inside of you as slick as a flu bug and eat you up...literally burning you to death. Huh, maybe that explained some of case of spontaneous human combustion. Wonder if anyone had ever investigated things from our side of the fence. In any case, I was absolutely cutting my hair off after this--assuming I was still in one piece.

A movement caught my eye.

"Fuck you and the damned horse you rode in on, Ianto." I angled my staff in my other brother's direction, shooting my own flash of bright light. I slid back, hoping to avoid retaliation, but kept my eye on Ianto.

Ianto's gleeful expression turned in a frown as my own spell reached him: a hybrid flashbang--a stunner combined with an expanding binding. Modeled after a mundane military device, it was a damned useful spell I'd created with the help of one of my brothers. My brother threw himself into a crouch, but he was too late. A wisp of light caught a lock of his hair and, instantly, the light flashed whitehotblinding--an actinic flash searing sight--accompanied by an equally stunning smackcrash of sound, intended to temporarily cripple. He went down faster than a sack of lead weights, slamming against the floor with a grunt. As the light snaked around my now nearly comatose opponent, binding him more effectively than enchanted rope, I threw two more binding spells toward the remaining two, both stumbling about, eyes watering and ears ringing, their sense of balance temporarily gone. The bindings wrapped around them both and they fell to the ground.

"The shields held, Mr. Scott," I mumbled to myself as I set my staff on the floor and wiped my hands on my thighs, the cotton knit of the yoga pants I wore nearly soaked through with sweat. Surveying the damage, I nodded in relief. It could've been much worse. Three seasoned opponents--each of them older than me by, at minimum, a couple of centuries--sending their best damage spells against one extreme newbie. I'd brought the spell weapons, invented by one of my clever Clan cousins, back with me from the family compound in British Colombia. Here in Rio Seco, they'd become part and parcel of my new arsenal--most of which was otherwise comprised of my brothers and their natural shapeshifting abilities. Tooth and claw were often more effective than spells--especially when dealing with humans.

I beamed as I caught the reluctantly admiring expression on Ianto's face. Despite the bindings and the flashbang, he'd managed to retain consciousness. "Kudos to you, dear brother," I said in amusement. I walked over to him and patted his face. "You're awake."

He fought the bindings, trying to nod, managing only a squirm.

"Didn't think I'd make it, did you?" I looked at Tucker and Rhys, each of them blacked out on the floor behind me. "None of you thought I could do this." For that matter, neither had I, I thought, and silently blessed the fact that I'd not only grown up with these three, but three other just as formidable older brothers. It didn't hurt that I lived with a vampire tribe and was partnered to the king of the tribe, Adam Walker, who was, in addition to vampire, Unseelie Sidhe.

These last few months of training had been intensive, but well worth it if it meant I could beat out my three most combat-ready brothers, even when they'd ambushed me. The surprise attack was part of my training, but--damn.

"Brava," Ianto grunted as he finally struggled to his feet. "I knew you could do it."

I grabbed the small towel he tossed me and ran it over my face and neck. "Glad you did," I said. "I wasn't as confident."

"In your abilities?" He laughed. "Minerva told me you'd done well, Keira, don't underestimate yourself."

"She did?" I leaned back against the soft padded wall of the brand new sparring room. "I guess that's why you three ambushed me?" With a smirk, I watched Tucker and Rhys, Ianto's twin, struggle with their invisible bonds. "Ready to say 'uncle,' yet?" I asked them both.

Tucker growled. "Yes, damn it."

Rhys, said nothing but waggled his eyebrows in amusement and acceptance.

I vanished their bonds with a muttered spell. "Next time, I really would appreciate knowing in advance," I said to Ianto. "I thought I was coming to my new training room to do some yoga, maybe practice a few spell lessons. After all, isn't that why our darling matriarch had this room built?"

Tucker grabbed a towel from the floor and wiped off his own sweaty face. "One reason, yes," he said. "But hell, we couldn't let you see the room without our own brand of fun, could we?"

I tossed my towel at his face. "Thanks ever so," I said sarcastically. "Next time you want to show off one of Gigi's lovely new surprises, seriously, just tell me."

Rhys came to give me a hug. "Welcome home, sis. Glad you're back."

"Me, too," I said, hugging him in return. "Those three months in British Columbia passed fairly quickly in one respect. Gigi kept me damned busy learning things, but I missed having you all there with me." I reached over and pulled Ianto into the hug too. "You, too, Ianto. Thank you for coming home."

Ianto smiled, his quiet demeanor nearly the opposite of his always-rowdy twin's. "I'm glad, Keira. It's almost like old times to be back in Rio Seco, back in Texas."

With a happy laugh, I motioned Tucker to come over and join in the group hug. He tossed his towel to the floor and with did his best to surround us all three with his long arms. "Love you all," he whispered. "I'll echo Keira and be all soppy. Being back here, together, with the twins and my cousin Liz, as part of Keira's retinue, is more than I could've hoped." What he didn't say, and I knew he included, was his being back here with his vampire lover, Niko.

I snuggled into my brothers, soaking in the sentimentality. It could have been way different and a hell of a lot less happy-making. Instead of sending me back with my favorite brothers and Liz--our pilot and the twins' partner--Gigi could've chosen from any among her own court, people whom I knew only by name and not by heart. Instead, she let me choose my Court--and Court these guys were, not just family anymore. No more autonomous Keira Kelly, living off by her lonesome deep in the heart of Texas, away from the notice of Clan and its annoying politics. Instead, I was the Kelly Heir...well, one of them, to be exact. My cousin and former lover, Gideon, was the other, both of us having inherited all the Kelly Talents, from weather sense to spellcasting and everything in between. My brothers, Liz, Niko, and Adam had all returned to Texas before I had. They'd made Adam's Wild Moon Ranch, which was already home to his tribe of vampires, into our hearth and headquarters. Ianto and Liz had overseen the building of the training room, as well as several other additions to the Wild Moon, courtesy of my great-great-granny and with Adam's every approval.

We eventually released each other, every single one of us sporting a stupidly happy grin, endorphins and emotion vying for first place in our expressions.

"You did brilliantly, Keira." Tucker said. "I thought three months was too short--not that I didn't want you home."

"Honestly, so did I," I said. "But damn, Gigi packs a hell of a mean training schedule. I was at her side nearly twenty-four, seven."

"I take it you like the room?" Ianto asked, gesturing around.

I turned my attention back to the training room, eerily similar to the one I'd left behind in British Columbia about twenty-four hours ago. This one seemed a little larger, perhaps forty foot square. Padded walls in a muted gray-green surrounded a special soft flooring, just perfect for fight training and/or practice. Unlike the training facility at the Clan enclave in Canada, this room was underground, carved and blasted out of limestone--not with explosives and heavy machinery, but with spells. I could still feel the residue of construction magicks. The training room was underneath what had once been a large guesthouse on the Wild Moon property.

"You have a hand in the design?" I asked Ianto, who nodded.

"Did you get a good look at the upstairs?" Tucker teased.

I rolled my eyes at him. "Yeah, throne room, much? Damn thing practically appears like the hall at Edoras, minus a few mountains and a couple hundred Rohirrim. Sometimes I wonder if Minerva whispered hints into John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's ear or maybe she just saw the movies."

My brothers all laughed. "Don't know about Tolkien, but there's a lot of Gigi's influence in that room," Rhys said. "She sent me very detailed decorating instructions."

"And you followed them?" I started at Rhys as if he'd grown another head. "Unlike you."

"Not exactly," he said. "Her plans called for a lot more bling. I decided that wasn't you."

"Nor Adam," I reminded him. "That room is for our Reception, not just mine."

"Nor Adam," Rhys agreed. "I worked with Niko and Liz to make it less Minerva and more...well..." He waved a hand, seemingly at a loss for description. Not surprising. Gigi and I were pretty much two very different sides of a proverbial coin concerning style or anything else.

Anyone seeing the two of us together would immediately pick up on the very obvious fact that I was not my great-great granny's fashion child. Of course, having spent most of my life in very rural area meant I was about as far from fashionable as one could get without actually being a throwback. My idea of dressing up was wearing black slacks and a black top with some sort of jacket rounding out the safely monochromatic non-fashion. (Adam, on the other hand, was the epitome of style, in a very pared-down, simple elegance sort of way.) Gigi's dress outfits often cost more than the yearly income of most workers in developing nations...and then some. She'd tried to train that part of me over the last few months, but I was having none of it. I gladly succumbed to the rest of the education, but completely ignored anything to do with deportment and/or dress.

"You did a good job, Rhys. Thanks."

Tucker cocked his head and frowned a little. "You're not mad," he said.

"At what?"

"This, the remodeling, the fact that Gigi did all this behind your back."

I thought for a moment. As recently as two months back, anger would probably have been my initial reaction. After all, Tucker and his lover, Niko, Adam's second, were with me in Vancouver when all hells broke loose, with Gigi sitting calmly in the center of the mad web she'd woven. "I think I'm just growing up, Tucker," I finally said. "Choosing my battles, I guess. I could lose my temper at Gigi for interfering, for having the balls to think she could do this without my approval or my knowledge, but you know what? She bloody well can. She's our Clan leader, our ruler. I'm just the heir."

"And Gideon?" Rhys asked quietly. "What of him?"

"Still Below," I answered. "Gigi and Drystan had some sort of come-to-Jesus meeting, to which my former lover and fellow Heir was not invited. She told me his father decided to train him."

"As his successor? I thought Adam--"

"Adam's still his father's heir, Rhys," I said. "Drystan was very clear on that point when I last saw him. Despite Gideon being Adam's half-brother and a Kelly heir, too, Drystan isn't budging on that fact."

"He needs a firm hand, Rhys," Tucker said. "Gideon's not one to sit still for Gigi's sort of training. After all, he managed to bamboozle the lot of the Kellys and get himself to Faery and his father."

"That's pretty much the gist of it, Tucker," I said. "Gigi all but said that Drystan can have his sorry ass. She said he'd be 'the whip hand to the boy,'" I quoted.

"Literally?" Tucker snorted a laugh. "That'll be fairly interesting."

"Won't it just?" I laughed. My ex-lover, who I recently discovered was half-brother to my partner, Adam Walker, had never done discipline well...at least, not on the submissive side. He'd managed to escape confinement here at the enclave and find a way into Faery, to the Unseelie Court when everyone thought he was in a magickal coma and near death.

"I wish him all the best," I said in my finest sarcastic tone. "Maybe Drystan will knock some sense into him."

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