Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Blitz: Lights of Aurora by Theresa McClinton

Excerpt 1:

In the dressing room of the sporting goods store, Ashley checked herself in the mirror, horrified at what she saw. Wet, limp hair stuck to her cheeks and neck. A huge bloodstain spread over the front of her once beautiful gown, now smeared with mud and torn in several places. Her cheeks were burned from the biting cold, and her nose was so red she could pass as Rudolph.
She sighed and worked at removing pins and ties out of her hair until it was finally undone, and then used one of the ties to lock it in a bun. Next was to get out of her dress and change into something warm and dry.
Ashley turned to the side and craned her neck as she fumbled with the corset strings. The damn thing was laced so tight there was no way she could do it herself.
Ashley sighed. Perfect.
She grabbed the dressing room curtain and pulled it aside. “Arwan?”
“Hm?” He lifted his head from his hand where it was rested, his eyes glossed over with sleep. Her shoulders slumped forward. The poor guy was exhausted. She couldn’t blame him. He’d been through a lot these last few days. They all had.
“I just…” She pointed to her back. “I need some help with this corset thing.” The man sitting two chairs to the left gawked at her. Ashley made double sure the curtain hid the stain on her dress.
Arwan stood and eased toward her. “Turn around.”
She noticed more people shopping, and several men slumped in the rows of chairs in the waiting area. “Uh, no. Come inside.” There was no way she’d let him undo this thing with everyone around. The fact she had to ask for help to undress was humiliating enough.
He opened the curtain and slipped in, then secured it closed with a Velcro strap. He rested his hands on her waist. “Turn around.” She did, and stood with her back straight, watching his reflection in the mirror while he worked at loosening her corset.
The pressure around her ribcage eased, and she drew in a deep breath. “Oh thank God. That thing was killing me.”
The air caressed her skin as the damp corset slowly opened, exposing the curves of her back. She crossed her arms over her chest to prevent the top half of the gown from falling off, as the tightly laced ribbon was the only thing holding her top in place.
As Arwan worked to unlace the last of the silk ribbon, his fingers brushed against her lower back. Warmth ran up her spine and tickled her skin. She studied him in the mirror, soaked and miserable, yet he hadn’t complained—not even once. He should get into some fresh clothes so he didn’t catch a cold. Thanks to her stone, she could heal him if he did. Her abilities were becoming more powerful, but every bump they avoided made for a smoother journey.
“You should go get changed,” she said. “I can handle it from here.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders. She watched his gaze slide over her bare back.
Besides riding together in the taxi, they hadn’t spent more than a few moments alone since London. The longing she felt for him in the coffin house overwhelmed her.
He placed a kiss on the curve of her neck. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she gripped her dress tighter as she tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck. “Arwan,” she whispered. This wasn’t really the best place, never mind the fact she probably smelled like wet dog.
He hooked her elbow and gently spun her around. She missed being close to him, and knew her heart was no longer hers. It belonged to him completely. And even though they had only a short history together, it seemed as if they’d known each other for a lifetime. Whatever drew them to each other—whatever made her vow her love so completely in so little time—was a bond that would never be broken. It was a bond made without her consent but with all of her heart.
He cradled her face. “If anything happened to you…” His jaw tightened. She wanted to press her fingers against his chest and run her hands along the curves of his shoulders. But if she let go of her dress it would fall to the floor. Her cheeks flushed at the thought.
He brushed his thumb along her lips, and his eyes flickered to them. “Mi mariposa. Si algo te hubiera pasado…me hubiera roto el corazόn.”
Her chest tightened. She really, really needed to learn Spanish. But regardless of what he said, it always made her weak in the knees. It wasn’t the words, but the way he said them, and the heightened intensity of his gaze.
He pulled her close and kissed her, one arm wrapped around her waist as the other caressed her cheek. Her crossed arms acted as a barrier, annoying but necessary. The light in her chest flickered on. The rush of cold from the light sucked the breath out of her lungs with a sharp blast.
Screw it. She pried her arms free and wrapped them around his neck. With the top of her gown pinned between their bodies, the sides of the corset fell open, exposing the curves of her waist. His hands ran along the length of her bare back before they settled on her hips.
The light in her chest brightened, and electricity spread over her skin. His lips curved into a smile, causing her to pause. Whatever he was thinking made him happy, or maybe a better word was pleased.
Impatiently, she ran her fingers through his hair and drew him closer to deepen the kiss. He didn’t object, but from then on, handled her with a new tenderness that wasn’t there before. He calmed her, and her light dimmed as a new type of passion took over.
She didn’t just want him, she wanted his love. She wanted his heart, forever.
“Ahem.” A woman from the other side of the curtain sounded clearly annoyed. Ashley jumped and noticed the foot of a store employee tapping impatiently on the tiled floor. “Is everything all right in there, or do I need to call security?”
Her cheeks blazed with heat.
“Maybe we should finish getting our supplies,” he said in a low voice as he faced the curtain with a crooked grin.
She nodded, and Arwan slipped out of the dressing room to speak to the woman waiting outside. His tone was apologetic while he explained Ashley’s wardrobe situation.
The time is getting closer now, a voice whispered in her ears.
She shut her eyes and tried to block it out. The light in her chest grew hot rather than cold, making her feel sick.
Prepare to rule under me, the voice continued.
Ashley cupped her hands over her ears and squinted her eyes shut.
You are mine. Don’t ever believe differently.

After spending more than she could comprehend at the sporting goods store, they placed all of their new supplies into two hiking backpacks. She’d chosen a smaller one with an external frame to fit her more petite build. He had a much larger pack, the frame inside and with fewer pockets than hers.
With Zanya’s pendant hung around her neck, Ashley zipped up the largest pocket and finally transferred the very last and most important thing.
Her stone.
Large and oval in shape, the only pocket large enough to accommodate the stone was in the front. The stone’s energy was still raw and sharp from Sarian’s partial hold. He may have broken the obedience spell, set upon the stone at its creation, but it still recognized her. Unfortunately, unlike when she first bonded with it, her stone no longer spoke to her. It was quiet. Too quiet. Its colors morphed and pulsed dimly, transforming from its normal hues of white and blue, to deep violet and brown. Its polluted energy burned her skin as if she were handling a hot light bulb.
“Are you ready?” Arwan stood and slung his pack over his shoulder. She rubbed her temples, then blinked to clear her vision. “What’s wrong?”
Ashley glanced up at him. “Nothing. I just have a headache and—” She thought about telling him of the whispers, but she would probably just sound stupid. If she got some rest, her mind would be back to new. She stood and slipped on her backpack. “Never mind. It’s not important. Let’s go.”

Ashley readied herself on the mat in the dojo, dressed in her mom’s old training gear. She crouched while Peter circled around her.
Renato, Hawa, Tara, and her mother stood on the sidelines watching and coaching her through the movements while Jayden and Tara sat on the sidelines. She had never practiced hand-to-hand combat before, but Renato insisted she should learn how to defend herself in case she ran into another situation where her abilities didn’t work.
“Be sure to stay balanced and light on your feet,” Renato instructed. Ashley leaned forward on the balls of her feet as she pivoted to keep Peter in sight.
Peter charged toward her with an aluminum training knife clenched in his hand. Her stomach jumped and she threw up an electric shield. Peter smacked into it and flew across the mat.
Tara stood from her chair and gasped when Peter skidded to a stop. He peered up at Ashley. “No powers, Ashley.” He groaned as he stood. “That’s the whole point of this.”
She lowered her hands, and her shield instantly dropped. “I am so sorry.” She extended her hands toward him. “I got scared, and it just happened.”
Peter tilted his head side to side, stretching his muscles, and then snatched the training weapon off the floor. He gripped it in front of him. “Okay. We’ll go again.”
Ashley nodded and crouched into a fighting stance, distributing the majority of her weight on the balls of her feet to move more quickly. “Okay. Ready.”
Peter charged again.
Ashley leapt to the side and glanced at Renato for instruction. “What now? What if I can’t move out of the way?”
“Then the next course of action should be to subdue your opponent using non-lethal force. We do not kill unless it is our last option.”
Before Ashley could respond, Peter charged at her again, this time wielding the knife in his opposite hand.
Her stomach clenched and she threw a kick that landed right between his legs.
Peter doubled over on the mat.
Josephine laughed. “Well, he’s down.”
Peter rolled on the floor, cupping his groin with his hands. Ashley crouched beside him, hovering her hands over his body. “Oh my God, Peter. I’m so sorry.”
Tara rushed over and knelt beside him. She shot Ashley a glare. “Are you trying to kill him?”
Ashley stood and backed away. She looked at Renato. “I suck at this. Can we stop?”
“Absolutely not.” He stepped forward. “But perhaps it is time for Peter to take a break.”
Tara gripped his arm and helped him get to his feet, guiding him to the closest chair.
Ashley hung her head. “I can’t believe I did that.”
“All right,” Hawa said as she stripped off her jacket and dropped it to the floor, grinning while she approached Ashley on the mat. “My turn.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ashley asked. “I think I hurt Peter pretty bad.” She bit her lip as Tara activated an ice pack.
Hawa glanced over her shoulder and smirked. “Priceless.”
Ashley sighed. “All right.” She turned her attention back to training. “What next?”
“Transporting isn’t just about moving fast,” Hawa said. “It’s about seeing everything around you in as much detail as possible while moving too fast to be attacked. You will pick out details others can’t, and then use your knowledge against your opponent.”
“I didn’t see details when I was running through Moscow.”
“No offense, but that’s because you suck at transporting.” Hawa stretched her legs as she elaborated. “You were moving fast, but not fast enough. Once you hit that sweet spot, you’ll see a whole new side of your ability.” She gestured to Ashley with a wave of her hand. “Come on. Charge me as fast as you can. No holding back.”
Ashley glanced at her mom, who stood beside Renato.
“Okay.” She turned back to Hawa and crouched like a sprinter on her mark. “Ready?”
Hawa stood casually with her arms crossed. “Just go.”
Ashley burst toward Hawa with all of her strength. It seemed like a split second before she had to screech to a stop so she didn’t crash face first into the mirror lining the back wall. Ashley spun to see Hawa behind her on the other end of the mat.
“You didn’t even see me move, did you?” Hawa asked.
Ashley shook her head.
Hawa glanced around the room. “There’s not enough space in here. We need to move outside for this part.”
“But it’s raining,” Renato said. “Are you sure it is a good idea?”
Hawa shrugged. “A little rain never hurt anyone. Besides, it’ll give her some practice in less than ideal conditions. It won’t always be sunny and dry when she needs to transport.”
“I think we’re gonna stay behind,” Tara said, still nursing Peter.
Peter nodded, his cheeks flushed and the ice pack resting between his legs. He gave her a thumbs up. “I’m good,” he grunted.
Ashley sighed, then turned toward Renato. “I feel so bad.”
Her uncle suppressed a smirk. “He’s a healer. He will be back to new by tomorrow morning.”
She was thankful for that, but it didn’t make her feel any better.

 Ashley and Tara sat in Tara’s brightly decorated room, covered in Moroccan curtains, throw rugs, and satin pillows, all shimmering with silken threads. The curtains to the large double windows overlooking the rock garden were pulled aside, allowing moonlight to spill over them where they sat on the floor, lounging on oversized pillows.
They had been there for hours, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. It seemed like it had been forever since Ashley spent any real quality time with her friend, but with everything that had happened, the opportunities to rest and relax were few and far between.
They kept the conversation light and casual—exactly how Ashley hoped it would be. She had enough of dealing with drama. It was exhausting her in ways she couldn’t explain. Combined with training, her head was static and her muscles were sore. And even though she recovered faster than the others, it still took a toll.
“So how are you holding up?” Tara asked.
Ashley shrugged. “Okay, I guess. It’s a lot to take in, but I’ve gotten kinda used to that.”
Tara sat quiet while Ashley leaned against the wall and yawned, then glanced at a clock on her bedside dresser.
“I hope you haven’t been bored being in my room all this time.”
“Definitely not. I needed some Tara-time.” She smiled lightly. “I missed you.”
Tara nodded. Her red curls bobbed with the gesture. “I missed you, too.” She shrugged. “But it’s cool you’re back, and your mom, too. She seems…” Tara pursed her lips for a moment. “Mmm, different.”
Ashley sighed. “Yeah. Way different. I’m trying to get used to it, not that I ever really knew her in the first place.”
“But you wanted to.” Tara dropped her head. That simple gesture—the pain on her face—sympathized with Ashley’s years spent longing to know her mother.
Ashley shifted her weight on the big pillow. “It’s just that I thought about her so much when I was a kid, always wondering what she’d be like. Then when I met her, that image just stuck in my mind. And now…”
“She’s a stranger.” Tara understood her better than anyone did. “It’s okay for you to be disappointed. You did the best you could with what you had. Hell, you went to the freakin’ underworld to get Jayden’s soul back. There’s not many people who can say that. Even the chick from the scribe’s journal didn’t do it herself. You should be proud, and totally not guilty.”
Ashley played absentmindedly with a string from the pillow she sat on. “I don’t know. It’s just weird. Jay’s gonna be okay, which is awesome, and my mom is alive. So I really shouldn’t be complaining.” Ashley paused, watching her friend chew on her bottom lip. “What’s wrong?”
Tara’s head popped up. “I just...” She waited a moment before she continued. “I was just thinking about you and Arwan, but I wasn’t sure if I should ask.”
Ashley blinked, then lowered her gaze. “I just don’t know what to say. He seriously betrayed my trust. I’ll never be able to look at him the same way again.”
“You don’t think he deserves a second chance? I mean, I can kinda understand why he didn’t tell you.”
Ashley jerked her head up. “What?”
Tara shrugged. “Think about it from his point of view. He totally digs you, and he knew you probably wouldn’t like him anymore if you found out who he is.” She twisted a curl in her finger. “I mean, I don’t go airing my past out to every person I meet.” She ran her hand down her arm. “Not exactly proud of it, ya know?”
Ashley’s mouth went dry. “You were a little kid when that happened, and it’s not even close to the same thing. You can’t seriously be sticking up for him.”
Tara glanced at her apologetically.
“And you guys are destined to be together, right?” Tara sat up straighter, speaking with a sense of urgency. “Why not at least let him explain?”
“This is ridiculous. What would you possibly have to gain by—” Ashley’s shoulders slumped forward. “Oh, of course. I should have seen it sooner.”
Tara scratched her arm—a nervous itch she got when she was lying. Only this time it was different.
“Peter put you up to this, didn’t he?” When Tara didn’t respond, Ashley stood and looked down at her friend. “Listen. Tell Peter I appreciate the sentiment, but I’ll deal with my own love life.” She tugged on one of Tara’s curls to let her know she wasn’t completely pissed, then glanced at the time. “I have to go. I promised Jay I’d heal him tonight.”
“K,” Tara said softly, watching Ashley walk toward the door. “But…” Ashley turned around and waited for her to finish. “Pete’s a healer, and he said he can sense it.”
Ashley grabbed the handle. “Sense what?”
Tara’s brows furrowed. “Your broken heart.”

 Ashley shifted her weight on the mat as Arwan walk toward the center of the room, Renato and her mom bickering behind him.
Peter turned and watched them approach. “Oh, thank God,” Peter said, holding his ribs. “Where have you been?”
Hawa stood silent while Tara glanced nervously at Ashley. She had every right to be worried. If Arwan stepped one foot on the mat, she’d zap the shit out of him.
“Well?” Josephine said to Arwan. “What are you waiting for? Show her your moves.”
Arwan’s jaw visibly tightened, and he slid off his shoes.
He was seriously going to try to train her? She exhaled, annoyance stripping away any patience she still had, which wasn’t very much. She had been training all day. With few breaks and little sleep the night before, she wasn’t in the brightest of moods as it was. She watched Arwan as he moved to the center of the mat, avoiding eye contact.
“What are you training on?” he asked. When nobody answered, he looked at Ashley.
She shook her head and turned to Renato. “Is this really necessary? Peter and I were doing fine.”
“What?” Peter glanced between Ashley and Renato. “But I don’t—” He cleared his throat and composed himself. “It’s good to train with more than one person. That way you can test yourself with different levels of skill.” He locked his eyes on Renato. “Right? Tell her I’m right,” he whispered harshly.
“Of course he’s right,” her mother said. “Give the poor healer a break. He’s done enough work for one day.”
Peter nodded and limped off the mat.
“Fine.” Ashley threw her hair in a messy bun. “Non-lethal defense. Upper, middle, lower, and X-blocks. Got it?”
Arwan nodded. “Ready?”
Her mother laughed, and then pressed her fingers over her lips, her eyes bright with amusement.
“Whenever you are,” she said, focused on him as he readied his stance.
He came at her and threw a forward punch. She countered with a side block, and Arwan flew back, her arm sparking with electricity.
He shook out his hand. “I thought you weren’t using your powers.”
She grinned. “Oops.”
He nodded. “Again.” He charged at her, striking down with a hammer-fist.
She used an X-block to counter, and the force of her energy tossed him across the room. He tumbled to a stop and slowly picked himself up. Ashley stood, waiting. He shook his head as if his vision were impaired, and rubbed his eyes.
She threw her hands in the air. “You know what? This is a waste of time.”
“But it’s funny as hell,” Hawa mumbled, standing beside Josephine, both of them suppressing laughs.
Ashley scoffed. Training wasn’t worth being a sideshow attraction. She walked off the mat. “I’m done for today,” she said as she walked past Renato.
She pushed open the door and started down the hall. The sound of footsteps behind her flared her anger. She fisted her hands. “Leave me alone.”
“We need to talk,” Arwan said with a steady tone.
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
The footsteps quickened until he caught up to her. “Ashley, please. I should have told you, and you have every right to be angry.”
“Good, because I was going to be even if I didn’t have the right.” He took her hand and tried to slow her down. She channeled a shock through her arm, and he yanked back. She spun to face him. “Listen to me. I don’t know where along the road it was when you decided I didn’t need to know that side of you, but I gave you every opportunity to explain, and now it’s too late. You told me you were half-underworlder. That was it. Why didn’t you tell me the rest?”
He tightened his jaw. “Honestly, I didn’t…” He swallowed. “I didn’t want to face it myself. I’ve spent my entire life denying who I am—pushing it away because my darkness only hurts people. It was the reason my mother died, and it’s the reason…” He paused, searching her face.
She crossed her arms, tapping her fingers over her bicep. “The reason what? Because it better be good.”
“The reason we will never be able to bond.”
Her lips parted. “What?” She hadn’t expected it, but suddenly she was overwhelmed with grief.
“I won’t keep anything else from you.”
She swallowed. “And you knew? All this time?”
He nodded.
Tears built in her eyes. “It figures. You knew you’d never be able to be with me, but you led me along anyway.”
“I never led you anywhere I wasn’t willing to go, Ashley. I know we can’t bond, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be together.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “Yes, it does.” She stepped back. “And according to the book, it means we aren’t destined for each other, which means I’m destined for someone else.”

Drina’s house lay just over the hill, and the cramps in Arwan’s stomach had been increasing with every step. His mind reeled with possibilities of what the page would say, most of them filling him with disappointment.
He rounded a twist in the path and stopped when he spotted Drina’s hut in the distance. He slid his hand into his pocket and brushed his fingers against the textured paper. Maybe it would be better not to know, and just live the rest of his life believing his mother was an innocent victim who died still loving him. Destroying the page would give him that option, though he knew it would mean spending forever in regret.
As if he needed another reason to hate himself.
He pressed forward until he reached the hut. “Tia Drina?”
Si.” The old woman’s voice sounded tired. Entra, Arwan.”
Of course she knew he was coming. Drina’s link to the magic of the Maya kept her well aware. He pushed through the flap into her modest home.
Drina sat on a woven mat on the floor beside a basin of clear liquid. Flower petals, sand, seashells, and herbs formed a circle around her.
“What are you doing?” Arwan asked.
She threw some herbs in the water. “Preparing,” she mumbled.
He hadn’t seen a traditional Maya practice done in many years. His curiosity must have annoyed her.
 The old woman scowled. “You need answers?”
Arwan paused, then nodded.
“T’en we need blood offering.” She sprinkled wild jasmine flowers into the basin, and then dropped in pebbles that instantly sank to the bottom. Drina was always there to help him—even if she seemed bitter and agitated in doing so. Her willingness was confirmation that she wouldn’t let him down. Especially when he needed her most.
He removed the page from his pocket and extended it to her. She snatched it from his grip and unfolded it in her lap. Her wrinkled fingers pinched the page as she examined the markings. A deep sigh, and the drop of her head made worry grow in Arwan’s chest.
“T’is writing is true, but will bring you heartache.” Grief weighted her words.
The space was silent and the air was still. He nodded. “I want to know.”
She examined the etchings as her shoulders rose and fell with each breath. It seemed as if she was stalling, or perhaps she didn’t want to be the person to say it aloud. If that were the case, he would confront it head on.
He sat beside her. “Is it true? Did my mother kill herself because of me?”
The old woman’s head silently nodded, and she swallowed. For the first time since Arwan had known her, Drina’s eyes shimmered with tears. “T’at is what t’e book says.”
He clenched his fists, heat and bile rising from his gut. “What does it say, exactly?”
She drew the paper closer to her face and inspected the symbols one at a time. “Wait, t’is is not right.” She peered at it closer. “It does not say she killed herself, it says she gave her life.” Drina extended the page to him as if offering it as proof, even though he couldn’t read the language. “T’ere is a difference in t’e words. She gave her life—her immortality.”
She flipped over the page. More text was etched on the back. “It is strange for bot’ sides to be written on.”
Arwan did his best to wait patiently while she deciphered the second half of the message.
“T’is cannot be right.”
“What?” He leaned in closer to her. “What does it say?”
“Your mot’er gave her longevity before she was sacrificed.”
“What do you mean, sacrificed?” The word made his body temperature spike.
“Just what I said, boy. Sacrificed, by t’e gods of Tamoanchan.”
“Sacrificed by the heaven gods?”
She stared up at him, her lips parted. “Yes, Arwan. T’e heaven deities, t’e gods of Tamoanchan, chose your mot’er to be given. T’ey chose her, and she agreed.”
At least his previous understanding of what happened to his mother made sense. If she were a victim, he could go on believing it had all been a great injustice, out of their control.
Now he was forced to believe she actually chose to leave him. That she hated what had been created through her union with his father, and couldn’t bear to stay by his side. Couldn’t bear to see what he would soon become.

Ashley descended the spiral staircase in the main wing. It was early, and they needed to find out more about the salvaged pages of the book. Thankfully, Renato was an early riser and had already begun his day in his study.
She paused in the entrance, expecting to see her mother as well. But Renato sat alone at his desk with nobody else in the room.
She sort of hoped her mom would be there so they could talk about the night before. It was unfortunate what she had been through, but Ashley’s life hadn’t been peaches and cream either. Everything she knew about herself and the world changed the night Renato brought her to their home, and she wouldn’t throw that away for anything.
Renato lifted his head as she approached his desk. He studied her, one brow arched, and leaned back in his chair. “May I ask the occasion?”
Ashley glanced down at the leather pants that hugged her curves all the way to her ankles. The boots she found fit her decently enough, but they were heavy, and the shirt was more revealing than she was used to. The clingy material stretched over her arms and hooked around her thumbs, and the scoop neck showed off her cleavage. “No occasion.”
He laced his fingers and rested his hands on his desk. “You look exactly like your mother in her old training gear.”
“It was in my closet.”
“It is good to see the gear in use. It will serve you well.”
“First I have to find Drina, and ask her to look at the pages of the book. We need to know exactly what they say. Exactly.”
Renato tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Is there something on your mind?”
She crossed her arms. “I just can’t help but wonder why nobody told me the truth about what’s really going on here.”
“We have been truthful with you, Ashley. As truthful as we could be.”
“Oh, don’t give me that crap. You knew about Arwan all along. You knew, and you didn’t tell me.” She pointed at him. “That is not being truthful.” She turned and walked toward the exit of the study.
“You shouldn’t try to find Drina’s home, Ashley.”
“Why not?” She continued moving toward the door.
“Because you don’t know where she lives, and you may get lost in the jungle.”
“My stone will guide me.” She paused, and glanced over her shoulder. “Or did you forget I’m still the guardian?”
Renato stood and straightened his jacket. “I understand you are angry, but I am trying to reason with Joy. She has been through more than you can imagine, and you can’t blame her for having some trouble adjusting.”
She spun around to face him, anger surging through her. “That’s fine. She can take all the time she needs to adjust. But I have to do what I am meant to do—what you dragged me here for.”
His shoulders dropped, as did his gaze.
She bit her lip. Being pissed at Renato sucked. He didn’t deserve her shitty attitude, but she was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and anger was the only other emotion she could grasp onto. But they would have to work together if they wanted to make any progress. She drew in a deep breath and adjusted her tone. “Contessa is up to something with the book, and I need to figure out what it is.”
He nodded. “Agreed. But please take someone with you, just so I know you are safe.”
“Safe?” How could he continue to treat her like a child? After almost being killed by some cave demon, battling incubi, traveling through time, winning back the stone, and then venturing to the depths of the underworld, apparently she still hadn’t proven herself. Maybe it was time to remind him exactly what she was capable of.
Ashley stepped forward and cued the light in her chest. Her muscles tensed as the tips of her fingertips burned while an energy ball formed in her hand. She pushed harder, sending electrical currents over her skin, and causing the energy ball to roll and spark in her palm. Her breathing steadied and she widened her stance, focused on building winds to create a storm in the office. “I’m pretty sure I can take care of myself,” she shouted over the roar of the cyclone. Her hair flew around her face while Renato’s tie danced across his chest. Still, he kept his gaze steady.
She dimmed her light and let the storm die out. Loose papers glided to the floor.
“Was that entirely necessary?” He glanced around his office.
“Yeah, well at least you know now that I can take care of myself.” She lowered her hands and took a normal stance. “And with this solstice thing around the corner, my powers have gotten stronger.”
“Ah.” He smoothed down his hair and tie. “Your mother and I were just speaking about our travel plans.”
“Where are you going?”
“We. Where are we going?” He rounded his desk, stepping over loose papers on the way. A tinge of guilt streaked through her for making such a mess. “The solstice is an important event to our kind, and your mother hasn’t been able to attend a ceremony since before she left. She’s rather looking forward to it.”
“Where is she, anyway?”
“She is staying in a room in my wing. There were no more available rooms in the main wing, and she wasn’t fond of the idea of asking you to move out of her old quarters. Besides.” He averted his gaze. “I believe staying in the room she and your father once shared would be too painful for her.”
“Oh.” Ashley hadn’t thought of that. She relaxed her shoulders and leaned on the wall. “How is she? I mean, is she okay?”
“She is coping.” His deep-brown eyes carried unwavering wisdom and confidence. He rested his hand on her shoulder. “But I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this has been for you.”
She was too torn to confirm his statement.
“I know you are hurting, and not just over your mother.” Renato pulled her toward him and wrapped his arms around her. He hugged her against his chest and whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry I’ve failed you, Ashley. I never intended to keep secrets from you, but some secrets were not mine to disclose.” His tone carried more pain than she was prepared for, and more hurt than he deserved.
“I’m sorry for being mad at you.”
His smile was sad. “No need for apology.” He hugged her tight once more before letting her go.
She cleared her throat and drew in a deep breath. “So, when exactly is the solstice ceremony?”
“It will be on the twenty-first of December—the shortest day of the year.”
“December twenty-first? Isn’t that the day everyone was freaking out over the world ending?”
“In two thousand twelve, yes. But it was an unfounded concern. Our ancestors did not predict the end of the world. It was merely the end of the thirteenth Baktun.”
She rubbed her face, regretting the fact she hadn’t kept up with her reading like she was supposed to. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s a Baktun?”
He shook his head, and cringed under his stern look. “A Baktun is a cycle of time equaling nearly four hundred years. And unlike the belief of many, the end of the thirteenth Baktun was a time for hope and change.” He gazed at her. “Hence, why I believe we received you directly after its arrival.”
She couldn’t help but smile.
“But it is also a time for bonding and reuniting with long lost friends. It is a family gathering of sorts, with the purpose of creating new spirit bonds.”
“You keep saying bonding.”
Renato turned and walked to a bookshelf. He scanned the titles until one caught his attention, and he pulled it off the shelf. “Bonding is the unity of two souls, much more powerful than traditional marriage.” He opened the book and searched through the pages as he walked toward her. “It is a commitment that cannot be revoked. One made with the utmost surety that their love will never waver, and will never be withdrawn.” He extended the book. “It is a sacred event for all Riyata, and a reminder that true, honest commitment is still valued.”
Ashley took the book and examined the text. “So…” She glanced up at Renato. “Why are we going? I mean, nobody here is bonding.” Her thoughts flashed to Arwan, who hadn’t been back to the house since her mother returned. She missed him, and worse, she was worried about him.
“Because it is a tradition for our people, began by the gods who blessed the stone. It is not strictly for bonding. It is a holiday. A celebration of life.”
“Oh.” She closed the book and held it up. “Can I take this back to my room?”
Renato nodded. “As long as you return it with the others you took last night.”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.”
“And before you leave, kindly clean up this mess.” He gestured to the paper littering the floor.
Ashley looked around the study, and dropped her shoulders. “Right.”
“Perhaps this is your first training lesson. Do not use your abilities unless you can clean up after them.”

Lights of Aurora by Theresa McClinton
(The Stone Legacy #2)
Publication date: November 1st 2013
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult

After the discovery of her ancient Maya bloodlines, eighteen-year-old Ashley Coreandero is faced with a daunting responsibility. She must protect the stone of Muuk’Ich while Sarian, the underworld general, relentlessly drives her to the brink of insanity.

As the winter solstice approaches, it brings an onslaught of unexpected side effects. Ashley must seize control over her supercharged powers, while dealing with the overwhelming suspicion that her boyfriend, Arwan, is hiding a secret so dark it could destroy them both.

With the arrival of a surprise houseguest, Ashley’s deepest fears about Arwan are confirmed. And when middleworld deities intercede, the group of gifted Maya descendants are confronted with hardships they never saw coming—including an enemy more deadly than they have ever faced.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—but when that woman has no soul and a taste for revenge, they will need the powers of every surviving ancestor simply to stay alive.




A long time enthusiast of things that go bump in the night, Theresa began her writing career as a journalism intern—possibly the least creative writing field out there. After her first semester at a local newspaper, she washed her hands of press releases and features articles to delve into the whimsical world of young adult paranormal romance.

Since then, Theresa has gotten married, had three terrific kids, moved to central Ohio, and was repeatedly guilt tripped into adopting a menagerie of animals that are now members of the family. But don’t be fooled by her domesticated appearance. Her greatest love is travel. Having stepped foot on the soil of over a dozen countries, traveled to sixteen U.S. states—including an extended seven-year stay in Kodiak, Alaska—she is anything but settled down. But wherever life brings her, she will continue to weave tales of adventure and love with the hope her stories will bring joy and inspiration to her readers


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