“As I will it, so mote it be.” Rowan Spencer’s words hung in white puffs of breath in the chilly, late spring air as she released energy into the ground beneath her. A ripple of power spread through last autumn’s leaves and fallen twigs, churning the dirt below as though it were water. The lines of the circle she’d cast glowed faintly blue-white underneath the shifting leaves, disrupting the near darkness surrounding her.
Nervously, she knelt outside the circle and watched as the light brightened, searing the damp leaves and grass with its heat. Usually when the energy left her body, it slowly dissipated until it was gone, but this seemed to be increasing with every passing second. She only hoped that meant the spell would be successful. It needed to be successful.
The earth suddenly roiled below her, and she stumbled to her feet, unable to tear her eyes from the ever-brightening circle. She glanced around hoping no one was nearby to notice the otherworldly glow shining through the trees. The ground rumbled as if something huge fought its way to the surface.
Her heart leapt into her throat. This wasn’t right. Simple protection spells didn’t involve burning leaves or miniature earthquakes. What had she done? And more importantly, how the hell was she supposed to stop it?
She dropped to her knees, laid her hands on the trembling earth and tried to call back the energy she’d sent forth. It didn’t work. A startling shock traveled up her arms and into her chest before she could pull her hands away. It reminded her of touching her grandparents’ electrified fence as a child. She’d wandered around for the rest of the day convinced that she’d drop dead at any moment because she’d disobeyed and snuck into the cow pasture. Now, like then, she wasn’t sure if she’d survive the consequences of what she’d done.
Roots and vines crawled toward the center of the circle, pulsing and rising from the earth—coalescing into a mound at least half a foot taller than her. As she watched in growing horror, the vines continued moving of their own volition, and a definite shape began to form. Discernable arms and legs appeared along with a head and wide shoulders.
Terror dried her mouth as she tried to convince her body to move, to run away and never to return to this place, but apparently, her body had zero interest in listening to her. It remained as firmly rooted to the ground as this humanoid figure seemed to be.
She wished Meaghan or Emma were here. Hell, both of them. They’d always had far better control of their powers than she’d ever had. She was an idiot to have attempted this on her own. No. That wasn’t true; she’d done tons of protection spells over the years. Granted, none of them on as large a scale as this one, but the area of effect shouldn’t matter. But somehow it did. Or, she’d really screwed up something. Something major.
A sudden breeze blew past her, whipping her hair into her eyes and causing them to tear. The breeze picked up the dead leaves that carpeted the orchard floor, drawing them like a cloak around the figure. They clung to the shape, forming a sort of skin over the vines.
Again, she tried to force herself to run, but she remained frozen in place—no more able to leave than the trees surrounding her. Her breath caught in her throat as a faint glow pulsed in the chest cavity of the figure. With every passing second, it grew stronger and more vibrant until it expanded and radiated through the entire body, bright as the noonday sun. She closed her eyes against the intense glare.
When she opened them again, the light was gone, but the figure wasn’t. Blinking around the floating black spots marring her sight, she stared in jaw-dropping awe at the man in front of her. Golden skin covered perfectly shaped muscles and wide, well-formed shoulders. Light brown hair dusted an equally broad chest and narrowed over tightly delineated stomach muscles, before thickening as it extended lower. Catching sight of a huge cock, she lifted her gaze sharply upward, meeting the brightest green eyes she’d ever seen.
He held her gaze for several long, terrifying moments before glancing around the grove of trees. “You have summoned me, but I see no sacrifice.”
Rowan couldn’t force her voice to work any more than she’d been able to force her limbs to move. His words were heavily accented, sounding vaguely British.
“I require an answer.” His voice was rough as though he rarely spoke, and it sent shivers sliding down her spine, but at the moment, she couldn’t decide if that was a positive experience or not.
She swallowed several times, trying to form words. “I think there’s been a mistake.”
He shifted and stared at her. With his hands on his hips and an eyebrow raised, he should have looked silly. Instead, he looked intimidating and downright scary. What had she done?
“There is no mistake. You summoned me. I answered.”
She shook her head from side to side and opened her mouth, but no words came out.
He took a step forward. Then another and another until he stood at the edge of the still glowing circle she’d cast. She glanced at the ground, at his bare feet. Would he be able to cross? Circles were meant to keep in the power that had been raised. And entities, too. She’d been with Meaghan often enough when they’d secured spirits in a circle to help them cross to the other side. But whatever this guy was, he was no spirit.
He followed her gaze to the illuminated line and swept his hand through it, eradicating it.
Finally freed from her stasis, she took several steps backward. “Who are you? What are you?”
The hint of a smile curled his firmly sculpted lips. “I think you know who I am. Why would you summon me if you did not?”
“I didn’t mean—” She couldn’t force herself to finish the sentence. Instead, fear got the best of her, and she turned and ran.
She made the mistake of looking back at him. His gaze had narrowed, and a frown marred his face. Her chest constricted in terror, and she tried to run faster.
She heard a rustling along the ground, but she ignored it and dodged a fallen log. Something brushed against her ankle, tickling her bare flesh.
“You will not run from me.”
“The hell I won’t, b—” The rest of the sentence was swallowed by her squeal as something wrapped tightly around her ankle, yanking her to the ground. Rolling over, she sat up and tugged at the vine in which she’d managed to entangle herself. As she pulled futilely at the growth, more vines crept across the ground. Toward her. Her heart slammed wildly against her ribs as she attempted to rip the foliage from her body.
More tendrils wrapped her other ankle, holding her snugly, while additional plants encircled her wrists. She tried to free herself to no avail. The man stood over her, and with a wave of his hand, all of the vines pulled tight, pinning her spread eagle to the loamy earth. So quickly, she didn’t even see him move, he suddenly loomed over her, his arms extended and caging her beneath him.
His chestnut-colored hair hung down, forming a silky curtain around their faces, and his breath drifted across her lips. It was surprisingly warm and sweet for someone who was formed entirely of vegetation.
“Why did you call me forth?” he asked, holding her gaze in the near darkness. His eyes searched hers before drifting lower to her mouth.
He hungrily followed the swipe of her tongue as she tried to moisten her suddenly parched lips. “I didn’t. I didn’t mean to, anyway.”
Gwydion frowned as he watched the comely lass sink her teeth into her soft, lower lip. “Explain yourself.”
She glanced from side to side. “This land we’re on is going to be destroyed soon.”
“What do you mean?”
“A developer is scheduled to come in and raze all of the trees and the old school house across the way to build cookie-cutter McMansions all over the place. The habitat will be destroyed, and the last thing this state needs is more subdivisions full of ridiculously overpriced homes.”
He frowned. He’d only understood every fourth word she uttered, but it was clear she was passionate in her defense of the land and the creatures that inhabited it.
“Anyway, I was just trying to cast a protection spell to keep the land from being destroyed, and instead, I got…you.”
He studied her wide, fear-filled blue eyes.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to summon you. Honestly, I don’t even know who you are.” She tugged at the vines that held her. “If you let me go, we can both just get out of here and go our separate ways.”
At the moment, he wasn’t particularly interested in being separated from her. It had been centuries since he’d spent any time in his human form, and he didn’t intend to let it end so soon. Certainly not before he’d sampled her lush curves.
“I don’t think so,” he murmured, enjoying the sensation of her full breasts brushing his chest with every rapid breath she took. “There’s still the question of my sacrifice.”
Her face paled, and she struggled harder.
“Look, I’m sorry that spell went wrong, but I’m not about to let you cut me up because of it.”
“Why would you think I want to harm you?”
“Uh…sacrifice? Sound familiar?”
He traced the line of her trembling lips. “Not all sacrifices need to be blood.”
Her breath caught in her throat, and she swallowed audibly.
“Oh.” Her gaze searched his, dropping to his lips and moving back up again. She shook her head. “I’m not about to whore myself out. I’ll figure out how to protect this place without you. Without magic. You need to just go back to wherever you came from.” She glanced at her wrist. “And take your vines with you.”
“I don’t think so.”