The Source of Magic (Alaia Chronicles)

By: Cate Rowan

 A Fantasy Romance


(Alaia Chronicles)


CHAPTER ONE



Present day

Bhruic’s castle, world of Alaia



A frigid draft slunk through the dungeon cell, chilling the muck-fouled cobblestones until even the rats looked miserable.

Jilian Stewart drew her thin cloak around her and tried to ignore her thudding heart. Each heartbeat seemed to reverberate off the clammy walls as if seeking a crack in her prison.

The linen chemise beneath her borrowed gown clung to her, damp with cold sweat. She licked her lips and caught the iron tang of blood leaking from the gash on her forehead. As her gaze flicked to the door, her breath hitched, then her lungs sped up of their own accord.

Stop, Jil. Panicking won’t help. You’ve got some brain cells left and you’re going to need them all.

Icy fingers of air flowed down the walls and skimmed across her collarbone. She shivered and pulled the cloak tighter, craving the warmth of Alvarr’s arms around her instead.

Alvarr. His teasing smile played through her mind. He’d saved her life with his sword and wits, and shown her that love still lingered in the world. This world, anyway.

Now he probably cursed her name.

“Enough! Get a grip.” She shoved away from the rough wall, trying to leave the path of her thoughts behind.

A grip. Her gaze snapped to the claw-shaped hinges of the iron door. Could she pry them open?

She seized the nearest one, cold and hard under her fingers. The hinge crackled. A piercing shock surged up her arm and flung her to the opposite wall.

Air scorched her lungs; her numbed hand shook. Fantastic. First I’m yanked light years—or is it dimensions?—from home and Earth and useful things like 911, and now I’ve nearly had a limb fried off. Hysterical laughter surged up, only to clog and die in her throat.

Her head sagged against the jagged stones.

Mom, how could you? How could you keep all this a secret?

Another shiver slid over her. The dungeon’s putrid stench roiled in her nose; the chill of the wall at her back seeped into her bones. In the growing hush, her heart echoed. Thump. Thump.

Metal clanged beyond the boundaries of her cell, followed by the groan of a massive door. A squadron of footsteps thudded toward her in counterpoint to her accelerating pulse.

She clutched her cloak to her body and tried, in vain, to blend into the shadows.





CHAPTER TWO



Three weeks earlier

Fort Nevis, Scotland, Earth



Jilian reached for the door to Room 309, then stopped.

She slid her palm down her face. It’s going to be fine. It has to be.

Taking a deep breath, she turned the knob and stepped toward the steel-framed bed. “Hi Mom,” she said softly.

“Hello, Jilly Love.” Sara Stewart reached up and gave Jilian’s hand a feeble squeeze. Her wrinkled face and smiling eyes seemed at odds with the white and anonymous hospital bed linens. The frail legs that could no longer move were tucked neatly under the blanket.

Without relinquishing her mother’s fingers, Jilian reached for a nearby chair and drew it close. When she settled upon it, silence grew between them and became entwined like their hands.

Finally, Sara spoke. “Ach, Jilly, no matter what happens, everything’ll be all right.”

Caressing the soft skin of her mother’s wrist, Jilian replied in cheerful tones. “Of course it will.”

Sara grinned and raised a brow.

“Fine, you caught me.” Jilian gave a wry smile. “I never could hide things from you.”

“No, m’girl. And that’s just as it should be.” Sara reached over and tucked an errant strand of dark hair behind Jilian’s ear. “Have ye been to yer father’s house yet?”

“I stayed in it last night. It seems…smaller than I’d remembered. His things—his clothes, the teapot, his books—they’re all there.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep in his room. The bed was neat, perfectly made, like most of the house. Waiting, almost. As if he were coming home.” She brushed her thumb over her mother’s knuckles. “The only place not spic-and-span was your old study. The door was stuck shut at first, and the room’s coated in dust. I doubt he’d been there in years.”

Sara’s gaze slid away and she picked at a loose thread on the sheet.