Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kenna's Cowboy by Nicole Austin

Ellora's Cave

Hearts of Fire, Book Four

If you're looking for a hot and steamy read, check this one out.

Cursed with unusual abilities, orphan McKenna Fulton has always been different—an outcast. But she’s been Chosen. More accurately, she is one of the Chosen. Eight individuals—four women and four men—selected at birth to guard slices of crystal. The Heart of Fire.

The whole thing is more than a little farfetched. Kenna can handle the part of getting down and dirty with the bad dude. She’s even okay with guarding a crystal. But losing her free will and being stuck with some guy, her destined mate, uh-uh. Not happening.

Local mechanic Ryker Thomas is more than he appears and has his own set of abilities. Kenna wants nothing to do with the southern charmer. So what if he has a matching crystal and the damn thing hums and vibrates whenever they’re close together. That doesn’t mean she’ll toe the line.

He can’t be the one she’s supposed to be with. Fate wouldn’t be so cruel as to send her a cowboy when what she wants is a bad boy.

Slipping through the night, merging as one with shadows, she sought solace in the cloak of darkness. Quiet sounds of life provided a balm for her wary soul. Musical chirping of crickets, an owl’s hooted inquiry, the deep-throated croak from a frog. This is where she was meant to be, where she thrived, far from the harsh realities of daylight.

Heavy wooden doors slid shut without the slightest whisper. Motionless, Kenna extended her senses to detect any potential threat. She breathed slow and easy. The distinctive sweet and slightly musty scent of ancient books combined with the familiar lemony tang of wood cleaner to create a comforting aroma.

Moonlight filtered through colorful stained glass windows to play over various surfaces before being absorbed by dark paneled walls. Her attention shot across the room, latching onto a small table before the altar. Three fat ivory candles on a silver tray cast a small halo of flickering light over the area, but failed to relieve the antsy feeling crawling up her spine.

The objects were out of place, not belonging there. She didn’t belong here anymore either. Her bags were packed, and even though she hated the idea, Kenna was ready to go.

She’d felt out of sorts since the headmistress, Angela Raguel, had requested this midnight meeting in the chapel. But nothing had been right since her “sisters” had begun leaving the safety of the Gideon House—the orphanage where they’d grown up. Kenna missed the closeness of sharing her life with the others.

De’alla, Charlotte and Memory may not be blood relatives but where it truly mattered—in their hearts—they were her sisters. And one by one, on their eighteenth birthday, each had left home and headed out into world alone.

Okay, so all of her sisters were…different. Anglea said they were blessed. Kenna figured their abilities were more of a curse. But their unique differences had formed a deeply ingrained bond between the foursome. An unbreakable, lifelong bond.

The oldest, Memory, had been the first to leave. Bold and outgoing, she had the amazing ability to take an image from her mind and reveal it upon paper or film. She used the talent working as a photographer and was headed for great success.

Next to go had been wickedly-smart De’alla. Dee had the incredible ability to control water and communicate with the forces of nature. Multilingual and business savvy, she was out there shaking things up in Japan. She’d gone the farthest from home and was sorely missed.

Then there was Charlotte, who had been gone for eight long moths. She was closest to Kenna, not only in age, so her departure had hurt the most. Charlotte had the ability to sense the auras and emotions of others. Bombarded and overwhelmed, she preferred the solitude of writing and gardening. She was a loner, like Kenna.

Kenna was the youngest—the last. The baby. Not that she needed to be babied. Far from it. Her touch of intuition had always made her edgy, but her true ability was psychokinesis. She manipulated and directed energies with her mind and released them through her body, which made her one hell of an excellent fighter. Martial arts, street fighting, weapons, she’d trained in them all and become a lethal opponent. Too bad she had no useful career-type outlet for her unique skill set. Kicking ass didn’t show up in many job descriptions.

Bells chimed twelve, the stroke of midnight. Her eighteenth birthday. She was now a woman and would have to leave home. Go out and make her place in the world as her sisters had. A terrifying prospect because Kenna didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do with herself. Her chest ached as she imagined herself to be a tiny rowboat set adrift on a vast, turbulent sea without an anchor.

“Come, child. Avoiding the future will not make it go away. It is time.”

She glanced at Angela, taking in her ethereal beauty as the headmistress moved into the golden arc of candlelight. Pale blonde curls framed her sweet face and accented crystalline blue eyes. The flowing ceremonial gown and robes added to her angelic appearance.

“Happy birthday, McKenna. Your last night at home. The last one of my girls to leave.” Angela sniffed and batted away tears. “Before you go, I have something for you.”

Kenna shuffled her feet. She’d always been awkward when receiving gifts, never knowing what to do with her hands or what to say.

Angela drew something from her pocket and extended her hand. “Come closer, child. It’s not going to bite.”

Reaching out, Kenna held her breath as she touched the warm links of a silver chain like the ones her sisters wore. She knew about the gifts each girl received on her birthday but nothing more. Had seen them around her sisters’ necks. They’d never kept secrets from each other before. In this one thing they’d kept quiet, which made her feel as if the necklaces drove a wedge between them.

She lifted the necklace, careful to hold a hand beneath it in case she fumbled. The irregular-shaped crystal dangling from the end captivated her. Candlelight refracted off sharp angles to reveal something within the heart of the pink shard. She detected indistinct shapes or spots within the cloudy depths of the rose quartz, an elusive blending of energy.

Kenna gasped as what she’d noticed clarified, taking on form. Within the crystal were four imperfections. Dark red drops that looked suspiciously like blood.

“Oh great. The other girls got pretty, shiny crystals and I get a cloudy pink one that’s bleeding.” Apropos as it may be, it still sucked.

“Rose quartz is strong. The red drops make it a powerful warrior’s crystal to help you master control and to calm your fear of enemies.”

“I’m not afraid of anyone.”

Angela continued to speak, only Kenna didn’t hear the sound with her ears. The voice whispered softly through her mind as her focus remained locked on the crystal.

“In the world outside our sanctuary you will be seen as an outcast. A lost, forgotten soul of little consequence or worth. Keep the truth sheltered in your heart, child. You are special. Blessed. You have unique gifts and have been selected to protect the future of all mankind. You, McKenna, are one of the Chosen.”

What the hell?

Kenna could only stare and wonder what the woman was babbling on about. Nobody would choose a misfit orphan to defend the future. The world was in a heap of trouble if it was relying on her. But she’d never seen the headmistress this solemn. Angela believed what she was saying, that Kenna would somehow save the world. She put the necklace back in Angela’s hand.

There was no holding back. Laughter started in her belly, built in her chest and erupted from her throat. “Save the world. Me? Yeah, right. Good one, Ang. You been hitting the ceremonial wine?”

Angela sighed. With a tired smile, she placed the necklace around Kenna’s neck.

Gathering her long hair, Kenna moved it from beneath the links, feeling as if her shoulders bore a hefty weight. The damn thing was a burden, an albatross to drag her down. Yet as the crystal settled between her breasts something strange happened. An electrical energy vibrated from the core of the gem, gathered strength and slammed into her with the force of a Mack truck hitting a brick wall.


Her knees shook and she had the sudden urge to run. From what she didn’t know. Restlessness surged and she itched for a good fight. Her hands dropped to the daggers strapped to her thighs.

Angela gripped Kenna’s wrists and stared into her eyes, doing that funky thing again, talking in Kenna’s mind. “Hear me well, child.”

A series of images streamed through her brain, her own private movie screening. Shame she didn’t have any popcorn or Raisinets. Kenna shifted, hating the inaction, longing to have something to focus her energy on. An opponent to fight.

She saw a great city built on a foundation of sparkling crystals in a rainbow of colors. The residents were in danger. A dark magic rocked their world with a massive force, creating a great tidal wave that swamped the city and killed its people. The story resonated in her heart— part memory, part Angela’s voice narrating the tale.

“Everything in the universe must have balance. For light to exist there must also be darkness. There must be good to counteract the bad, male to compliment female, and so on.

“Back when the world was new, the ancients foresaw the death and rebirth of their race. To maintain balance, they created the Heart of Fire. Born of the earth, created from the elements, the Heart represents all that made Atlantis. Each of the eight pieces balances the others. Apart, the individual pieces are innocuous. When combined into four pairs there is great strength. Unite all eight pieces and the power is infinite.”

Oh no way. Kenna had an inkling of where this all led and she didn’t want to go down that path. As if sensing her thoughts, Angela confirmed her suspicions.

“De’alla, Memory, Charlotte and now you, each have a piece of the crystal octagon for safe keeping. Your counterparts have the other pieces.”

Kenna held up a hand. “Wait, let me guess. The real reason you’re kicking me out on my birthday is to make me go out and find my counterpart—a man. Once we all find our guys then we’ll bring the eight crystals together, unleash the awesome and incredible power. We’ll start our own Atlantis, procreate and live happily ever after, right? That’s the way these sappy kinds of stories always go, isn’t it? You want me to go find my yin so we can make some little yangs. I get it…but I don’t want it.”

Kenna intended to remove the necklace and give it back but her fingers refused to follow her commands. She struggled to breathe and her entire body shook. Sweat coated her skin and her stomach did wild flip-flops.

“You cannot remove the crystal. It is both your weakness and a source of strength. It will amplify your abilities when you battle the enemy and calm them at other times.” Angela’s expression became shuttered, all hint of emotion hidden, and her lips thinned into a grim line. “It will help reveal your enemy.”

Jesus, Angela had really lost her mind. How did she expect anyone to buy this tall tale? “I have an enemy?”

“Asmodeus. He’s often referred to as a prince of hell or demon of lust. His strongest power is the ability to twist sexual desires.”

“Great, he’s a freaky pervert.” She might as well go with it and humor Angela. “Ooo-kaaay. Unite the crystals, battle the demon. Got it. Anything else?”

“Asmodeus will attempt to seduce and trick you into believing he is your counterpart. Your mate. He will profess love and even possesses a crystal. Be careful. He will feed off your life energy, draining you to sustain his corporeal form. The crystal can tell the difference between Asmodeus and your counterpart. It will resonate when close to your true mate.”

“Uh-huh.” She had no idea how to respond. “And what if I don’t want to fight the sexy demon or hook up with a hero and make the new Atlantean race?”

“You have no choice, child. You are Chosen by birth. By the spirit that inhabits you. You are one of the eight. There is no escaping your destiny. Look into the crystal.”

This was all insane but she trusted Angela with her life, with her sisters’ lives. The woman had always been honest and caring, never before having shown any signs of having gone round the bend.

Kenna cupped the crystal in her hand and stared past the pink quartz to the spots. White light flashed and her mind cleared of everything else. A frightening truth took shape. One Kenna knew she could never turn her back on.

Her sisters were depending on her. Angela’s story was real.

Aw crap!

As she left the chapel, Kenna wrapped her hand around the crystal and was hit with a jolt of pure energy. A connection opened up between her crystal and her sisters. Then an image flashed briefly in her mind. An image of Dee, buck-ass naked and soaking wet in the shower.

Kenna threw her arm up to shield her eyes but it was too late. The damage was done. “Jesus, Dee. My poor eyes. What the hell? You trying to blind me?”

It was time for a heart-to-heart with her sisters. She was sick and tired of being kept out of the loop. Since she had her crystal now, she expected them to finally give her the four-one-one.

They hadn’t discussed the Hearts with her before. Now they damn well better get to talking. Fast!


Helen Hardt said...

Wow -- I love this premise!

Nicole Austin said...

Thanks, Helen! The series idea was Ciana Stone's brain child and it has turned out amazing.