Unbreak Me by Lex Valentine
Spellbound Treasure series
futuristic erotic romance
novella (28000 words)
Cover Art by Winterheart Design
Two magic wielding warriors (M/F) are torn apart by betrayal, imprisonment, and torture. When a magical heart that formerly belonged to them comes up on the auction block, both fight to win it. Major Marcus (Ren) Renniger was betrayed on a mission and became a POW. All fingers point to the woman he loved. Captain Tait Boland was told Ren had died. Unable to believe it, she set out to find the truth and exact revenge on the man who stole Ren from her. Her revenge comes at the cost of her freedom and her spirit.
Six years later, Ren and Tait have both escaped imprisonment. When they meet at Spellbound Treasure because of the heart, their passions explode. For Tait, knowing that her lover is alive fills her with bittersweet elation. Broken in body and spirit, she knows she has nothing left to give him. Seeing Tait so changed strikes fear in Ren’s heart. He sets out to unravel the mystery surrounding his capture and Tait’s imprisonment. To give her back her future and regain their life together, Ren must figure out how to unbreak Tait’s heart, soul, and spirit.
Tait stepped through the portal into Crossroads. Her power, the magic that she’d been born with, that permeated every iota of her flesh and spirit, went null. She’d known it would happen, but it still made her feel strange and a little nauseous. She’d voluntarily powered down in the past, turning off her magical energy, and she’d also had her power taken from her by force, but this didn’t even come close to either of those sensations. When she voluntarily turned off her magical power, she still knew she could call upon it if needed. When her power had been forcibly locked within her, denied release, she’d still known it was there. Here in this no-man’s land where human magic did not work, her power was simply gone. She had nothing left but non-magical skills which made her feel every inch the vulnerable human. She knew full well that non-human, immortal creatures such as angels, demons, and the fae, did not become null in Crossroads. However, their powers were shielded for the protection of the inhabitants of the realm; therefore, they couldn’t use them.
Luckily, she’d once been the best of the best at fighting without magic. It had been one of her most prized skills, and Tait hoped like hell she hadn’t lost much of her edge over the past six years. Walking the hard packed dirt of Crossroads wrapped in a cloak filled with weapons wasn’t the smartest thing she had ever done, but she had no choice. It wasn’t as if the portal had a coat check. Not that she would have taken off the Alizar cloak anyway. Alizar women wore it so that they could keep men from fighting over their beauty. Tait wore it to keep people from cringing.
She strode toward the group of buildings that seemed to be the only thing Crossroads had to offer. The biggest building had a sign with gilded letters on the front. Spellbound Treasure. Of all the realms in the universe, no other place dealt with the buying and selling of objects infused with magic. It took great skill to deal with cursed objects, and even enchanted items could be troublesome to handle, yet the enigmatic staff of Spellbound Treasure did it regularly and without issue.
Staring up at the building, Tait began to tremble. Six years ago, the tremors had begun, manifesting while she’d been under extreme duress. Although her situation had improved greatly in the past three years, she’d been unable to stop the shaking that wracked her body at the slightest sign of stress. She figured one day the trembling would get her killed. After all, an assassin whose hands shook while holding a gun or sword had to compensate for that flaw and the extra seconds it took to steady the weapon gave her opponent the advantage.
Inside the building, the object she’d come for called to her. Her body hummed like a tuning fork despite the fact that her magic – and all magic – had no power in Crossroads. Still, the heartstone drew her like metal shavings to a magnet. Her heart thundered, her breath quickened, and painful memories wrapped around her, clouding her perceptions and numbing her to everything but the heartstone—and her memories of a happy past.
Tait pulled the cloak tighter around her. She adjusted the mesh veil portion of the hood so it obscured the lower half of her face. Burrowing deeper into the hood cast her face in shadow. She knew the hood and veil made it difficult for anyone to see her features clearly, but that was the whole point of the cloak. Anonymity.
Silence enveloped her when she stepped into Spellbound Treasure. The eerie quiet set off alarms inside her head. Her back burned; someone watched her from a hidden spot. A door opened and a tall man entered, a rueful smile on his handsome face. Tait’s nose twitched as she caught his scent. Her well-trained sense of smell sent up the alarm. Demon!
The man’s brows rose as if he could hear her thoughts. “Can I help you?” he asked politely.
Tait would wager a commission that he knew exactly why she was there. “Etienne told me to come. She said the man who won the heartstone auction would be picking it up today. She said I could speak to him about offering more money for it,” Tait replied, her voice gruff.
It went against her instincts to come to Crossroads, begging for the chance to buy the heartstone from the anonymous man who'd outbid her for it online. But she needed the stone almost more than she needed her next breath. Now that she stood inside the building where it resided, she could hear it humming, singing to her soul. Her eyes closed for a moment as pain lashed her sharply.
“Are you alright?”
The tall man’s cool voice pulled her from the raw ache that threatened to consume her. She shuddered, the movement hidden within the voluminous folds of the cloak.
“You know, weapons aren’t allowed in Crossroads,” he told her in a matter-of-fact voice.
“Then you should have a gun check at the portal,” Tait hissed. The fact that she’d expressed her momentary annoyance proved that her control had already unraveled to the dangerous point. She needed to complete this transaction soon, before she fell apart in front the proprietor.
The man eyed her thoughtfully, refusing to rise to her bait. He gestured toward a chair in the corner. “You’re welcome to sit and wait. Can I get you anything? A glass of water? A cup of coffee?”
She shook her head. “No. Nothing.”
The chair he’d pointed to had mismatched legs but looked comfortable nonetheless. She sat down, her eyes shifting to survey the room automatically, checking for other entrances and exits. After three years of searching for her heartstone, she’d found it at one of Spellbound Treasure’s online auctions. The moment she’d seen its photo, the stasis she’d lived in for six years had cracked open. She needed the stone. Her body ached to hold it in her hand, and let its magic, and the emotions trapped within it, heal her. Her old life might be gone, who she once was might be gone, but that stone lived on, and her heart needed it badly.
She’d bid relentlessly on the stone. She hadn’t cared how much it cost. She could afford it. Living frugally while making huge commissions for kills meant that she could pay almost anything for the heartstone. Yet, every time she’d upped her bid, someone had topped her. She outbid him, and he came back with another higher bid. For a week, they had dominated the auction, pushing the price into a zone most buyers couldn’t touch. In the end, the rat hole she lived in with its spotty electricity had lost her the heartstone. The power had gone out and her wireless connection flickered just at the ending point of the auction. Her bid had not gone through in time and the buyer named Vengeance had won.
Instantly, Tait had been on the phone to Spellbound Treasure and Etienne, the owner, had told her that Vengeance had emailed stating that he would pick up the stone in person. Etienne told Tait to arrive at the same time and bargain with the man in person. For the first time in three years, Tait had ventured beyond the confines of her own realm for something other than work.
Her trembling increased as the clock reached the appointed hour and still the buyer had not arrived. Hiding her shaking fingers within the folds of the cloak, Tait wondered what would happen if Vengeance wouldn’t budge. She had had the vague notion of following him back to his realm and taking the heart from him. She certainly had the skills to do so. In fact, once out of Crossroads, if she was close enough physically to the heart, she could just call it to her. The magic from her soul permeated the heartstone. It was as if it were a part of her, so taking it from Vengeance would be like taking candy from a baby. She could call the stone to her and magick herself away before he’d even know the stone was gone.
The sound of heavy boots on the steps outside jerked her to her feet, her hands automatically finding the weapons inside her cloak. The demon glared at her, his eyebrows pulled together in a fierce frown of warning. The door opened and for a moment, all Tait could see was the dark outline of a man filling the doorway. Behind him, stood another man.
The first man advanced into the shop without hesitation, and the door swung closed behind him as his companion waited outside. He strode across the room toward the demon, and Tait’s heart stopped for a full two seconds before it went into overdrive. Shock reverberated from her brain down into her body. Pain she’d held close to her soul for six years exploded into joy at the knowledge the man she’d thought dead still lived, and apparently thrived.
Dark hair, longer than regulation, waved to his shoulders. The cut of his uniform showed off his long legs and striking physique. Golden bars on his sleeves proclaimed his rank as Major. But Tait already knew that. She’d once known everything about Major Marcus ‘Ren’ Renniger. What she hadn’t known was that he’d survived the ambush on his unit six years ago. However, now that she knew he was alive and that he’d been the person named Vengeance who bid against her, she knew why he'd used that name.
Her hands clenched inside the folds of the cloak. The urge to melt into the shadows nearly crippled her. If not for the heartstone, she would have. She didn’t want Marcus to ever see her as she was now, but the stone called to her. She had to try to buy it from him despite the hatred he must now bear her.
Halfway to the desk where the demon stood with a velvet bag in his hands, Marcus stopped. Tait didn’t know what had clued him in as to her presence but Pythian warriors, especially those of the Elite, had skills and senses far above ordinary soldiers, and the man before her was the best of the best.
As he slowly turned to face her, she knew his awareness of her presence was personal. He didn’t just realize that someone stood there. He knew exactly who she was. Of course, the fact that they’d been lovers for five years, and comrades in arms for eight, probably gave him a heightened awareness of her despite the Alizar cloak that hid her from his hawk-like gaze.
“Are you here to finish the job?” he asked harshly.