THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

Christopher stood on Victoria’s balcony, staring at the large glass sliding doors and the darkness beyond them. She hadn’t answered her door, but he knew she was home. There was no hiding the intensity of her power within the feeble confines of the human structure. It was also impossible to disguise the anger, pain, and uncertainty roiling through her. The connection that had formed between them during their last encounter was alive with her troubled emotions and his. He, too, was furious, unsure and filled with hurt at the loss of Jason. The death of each Hunter diminished all of them. He had not liked telling Jason’s young wife that her husband was gone or presenting her with the handfuls of ash that had once been her spouse. Nor had he liked Ryan’s insinuations that Victoria was somehow responsible. Nothing that he knew about Victoria said that she was capable of an unprovoked attack on a lesser Hunter, even if he was a Shadow. But then he reminded himself that he knew little about her. He wondered what had happened earlier that night and why if she had called him to confirm their meeting, everything was dark at her home. Breaking down the door would have attracted too much attention, so he walked to the glass and laid his hand on its surface. With glass capable of a liquid state, it presented no hindrance to his entry as he centralized his energy beneath his hand. He pushed away the glass molecules to create an opening large enough for him to step through. Then with another outpouring of power, he sealed the glass shut to conceal his entry. Christopher didn’t need to turn to know she was there. The force of her emotions and her power beat at his back in warning. Because of the instability he was sensing in her, he pivoted slowly, arms outstretched and hands open to reveal the emptiness of his palms. To his dismay, he realized she was fully charged and ready to

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

fire, with bright softball-sized orbs of red-silver in the palms of her hands as she stood in her living room. “I lost a friend tonight,” he said, his tone low, but calming, in the hope of not escalating the situation. She took a step toward him and the glow from the orbs illuminated her face. Tears had swollen her eyes and left trails down skin paled by grief and a loss of hope. When she spoke, her voice was raw with pain and the remnants of sobs. “Mike was a friend as well. He died saving me.” Saving her? he thought. None of his people would dare attack her, well aware of the edicts he had issued against any interactions with the Light Ones. “No one in my clan would attack you.” She launched herself at him, and he barely blocked the swing of her arm with his. As the fields of their life forces crashed against each other, steamy mist exploded into the night air. The contact echoed down their arms and deep into their being, awakening a rash of conflicting emotions. “Liar,” Victoria said, and lashed out at him with her other arm, but he captured both of them in his hands, gentling his grasp since she had retracted her orbs. “You trapped him with your power, Victoria. He suffocated in that quicksand,” he accused, losing some of his restraint as he imagined what Jason must have experienced in the last moments of his life. How it must have felt to have the sand fill his lungs and block out the sight of the world above him. A world he was too young to have left so quickly. “It wasn’t like that,” she spat at him, trying to pull free of his hold. “Then tell me how it was. Tell me what happened,” he said, and released one arm so he could run the pads of his fingers across her cheeks, wiping away the wetness of her tears. Once again the buzz of harmonious energy came against his fingertips. Victoria yanked away from his tenderness and marched to the center of the room, where she paced a few steps before facing him once more. Her arms were wrapped around herself defensively, as

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

if they were the only thing holding her together. “I was out on the lawn alone after a meeting with the Quinchus of our clans. I was just relaxing, thinking about all that’s happened. I was even considering what to do about you—” “Me? Why would you—” “Because I think you awakened my Equinox and I’m afraid of what that could mean,” she confessed, agony in her tone. He understood her fear. His Equinox was well underway and he needed to bond with someone powerful soon to maintain the peak of his life forces for his coming triad. He had never expected that his energy would respond so strongly to Victoria’s. But there was something else he feared. “I do not wish to join with someone I cannot trust,” he replied, keeping his distance because being too close to her was creating havoc with his life forces. “I understand. I had hoped we could come to a peace between us, between our clans, but then you murdered Mike.” “And you murdered Jason,” he shot back, losing what was left of his patience with her attack. She appeared ready to strike back out at him, but then a visible tremor racked her body as she collected herself. When she spoke, her tone was restrained, barely in control. “We were just chatting when we sensed the Shadows down on the beachfront. Two men and a woman at first, we realized. A third man joined them just moments later. They seemed to be arguing for a moment.” Had the third man been Jason? Had he been following the other group? A group that included Maya? he wondered. “They threatened you?” he asked, wanting to understand. Maybe even wanting to have faith in her. “They were armed. They started to approach.” “And you created a barrier to stop them?” It was what he would have done in order to protect and not escalate the situation.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

Victoria tossed her hands up in the air and shook her head, almost as if trying to eliminate the memories of what had happened. But then she continued with her tale. “The quicksand unsettled them. Kept them from advancing, but then they got out of the slurry I created. The Shadows retreated a few steps and armed themselves. Mike, my cadre member, and I prepared for their attack.” She raked her hands through her shoulder-length hair. He took a hesitant step closer, wanting to comfort her, but she snapped her hand up and froze him in place by setting up an energy barrier. He kept still and urged her to finish her story with a soft entreaty. “Please tell me what happened next.” She wagged her head again and a furrow marred the smooth skin at the center of her forehead, as if she was trying to understand herself. “The Shadows abandoned the third man to the quicksand. Mike and I stood there in disbelief as he struggled to escape.” Jason, he thought. But he had no idea who the other three Hunters were, except . . . Ryan had mentioned that he had sensed a familiar energy signature at the site, although his friend could not say with certainty to whom it had belonged. Christopher now had no doubt about who it had been. Maya. Somehow she had escaped the compound and met up with his father’s people. It was the only thing that made sense. “The man in the quicksand was my friend, Jason. He was not there to hurt you,” Christopher urged. “The other three were the ones who fired. Mike jumped in front of me to absorb the blast. He died protecting me,” she said, and tapped her chest with her hand, guilt clearly weighing her down. Christopher took a more determined step toward her and again encountered the barrier. “Let me in, Victoria. We cannot allow others to keep us from what may be the right path for our people. Or for us.” “You think this is right?” she asked, motioning between the two of them with a fitful action.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

“The Shadows who attacked you were likely sent by my father. He believes that the Light Hunters are nothing more than prey. That Adam’s energy can be depleted to save our Shadow clan, only my father is wrong.” “How can you be so sure?” she asked. In her voice Christopher could hear how she strained to contain her anger. Christopher jammed his hands in his jeans and looked away for a second. He knew he needed to give Victoria a reason to believe in him—to believe in those possibilities she wanted so badly. With a heartfelt sigh, he said, “How can I be so sure?” A long moment passed before he shrugged those broad shoulders in seeming resignation. Reaching for the hem of his polo shirt, he jerked it over his head and tossed it aside, exposing the muscled planes of his chest and lean ridges of his midsection. Victoria’s eyes glowed as desire jolted through her. He could feel the heat radiating from her core. “There is no pox, is there, Victoria? The ageless ways of hunting are pure. My people, those who have left my father’s clan, believe in this. Believe in me,” he said, and pointed to that perfect chest. The lack of pox was only one sign of his purity, and as their gazes met, he seemed to understand that she needed more proof. That she needed to see the real him. To see the true nature of his energy. Legs slightly apart, Christopher raised his hands to shoulder level and spread his legs wide. He closed his eyes and tossed his head back as he reached deep into his core and called forth his life forces. As the buzz of his vitality surged across his body, Victoria sensed his Equinox rising with the summoning of his power. Neither could deny the awakening of their needs, which pulled them to each other like magnets, any longer.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

He dropped his head and faced her, his eyes blazing with the neon brightness of his real spirit. The aura surrounding his body was a clean sapphire blue limned with silver, like the surface of the ocean on a sun-drenched summer day. Tendrils of white and navy calmly swam in the field of his life force. “Light Hunter pure,” Victoria faintly whispered and dropped her energy shield. Walking toward him, she released her own Hunter vitality until the edges of their auras touched. There was no stopping the melding of their energies. They rushed over the couple with the speed of a Hunter in flight along the winds of the cosmos. Christopher shook from the force of Victoria’s aura. From deep within him his own life force answered, yanking alive painful need. His body hardened and his erection swelled to near bursting beneath his jeans, but deep inside, he hoped for it to be about more than satisfying the physical. Laying his hand at her waist, he eased her near, and their fields of energy were as one, surrounding their bodies in a blaze of brilliant waves of shimmering aqua and sapphire as a testament to their common affinity. Her eyes gleamed with teal light, and as her gaze traveled over him, observing every inch of his body, it was as potent as any caress. But he needed more. He needed to touch her. And he suspected that after this joining was done, he would still want more from her. He would want her to declare her love, sensing she was unprepared to do it this night, much as he was not yet ready. He raised his hand to the neck of her light cotton tank top. Ran a finger along the line of it, watching with satisfaction as her nipples puckered into tight peaks. She drew in a shaky breath and whispered, “Touch me.” But Christopher couldn’t just touch. And he couldn’t wait, so great was his need to have her. Taking the fabric of her shirt and the lightweight bra in his hands, he tore them apart with one powerful tug, ripping them open to her waist. Spilling free her full breasts with their pebbled coral tips.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

With a tug of the hand at her waist, he pulled her forward until those breasts flattened against the hardness of his chest. Her sharp gasp attested to her shock at his actions. As their gazes locked, he saw the mirror of his passion in her eyes. At that realization, they released the hunger they had been containing. They tore at each other, removing clothing in their haste to have skin against skin. To allow every inch of their life forces to contact, creating a whirl of energy passing through their bodies. Christopher cupped her breasts as he brought his mouth down to hers, kissing her. Parting his lips to accept the dance of her tongue along his as she encircled him with one hand while cupping his balls with the other. He groaned at the smoothness of her skin and the heat of her hands. Her soft cries into his mouth drove him on and he ripped away from her to bend and taste those rock-hard nipples. He rolled his tongue around them and teethed the tips, eliciting a rough shudder from her that reverberated through his body. He nearly came and she knew. She rubbed that first drop of moisture along the head of his penis and then brought that finger between her legs, spreading the dampness along her cleft. “Sweet goddess,” he called out, and dropped to his knees, grasped her buttocks with his hands to keep her near as he dipped his tongue in to lick the center of her, wishing they were near a bed so he could lay her down and take his time exploring. But there would be no finesse this time. No waiting. She was salty sweet, drenched with the juices of their desire. He licked all along her sex before driving his tongue into her, preparing her. Urging her thighs apart with a nudge of his head, he slowly rose, kissing his way up her body as he trailed his erection along the smooth skin of her thighs to the center of her. He delayed then, the tip of him poised at her entrance, the heat and wet of her bathing him. He locked his gaze with hers and waited. He needed her to recognize her own want, which she did with a slow dip of her head before she lowered her hand and guided him into her.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

The tip of his erection sheathed in her created the first quiver of connection as their energies and bodies became one. They both shook and cried out, aware there was no turning back now. He drove into her and she lifted herself, burying him deep as she wrapped her legs around his waist. She encircled his shoulders with her arms and met his mouth with hers. As their energies combined, it sang along the synapses and sinews of their bodies. The power surged from one to the other as their forces formed a perfect circuit. Christopher staggered with her wrapped around him until her back rebounded against the living room wall as he sought stability. He brought his hands around to cradle her back from the hardness of the wall and eased out of her before driving back in. Each stroke created pleasurable friction and a sympathetic vibration at her core. Victoria pressed her hips down into him, striving for release. Needing to feel the explosion of the forces gathering in her center. She marveled at the shimmering field of aqua and sapphire surrounding them, streaming with bits of life. As her pleasure built with the shift of his hips, the threads of life quivered and danced in their auras. Slipped in and out of their bodies until the moment came, hanging brightly in her vision. Tightening her body like the string on a bow. He arched his back, lost in his own release as he shot his seed deep within her and she climaxed, drawing it in. Their auras surged outward like a supernova before being sucked back into their cores, and yet she still sensed their individual nature. Realized that although they had joined physically, they had not been bound by their Equinoxes. Bodies shaking and breath rough from the force of the union, they held each other and kissed. Gentled each other as the reality of what had just occurred settled in.

THE CLAIMED

©2012 Caridad Piñeiro

Christopher didn’t want to leave the comfort of her body, but he could feel the weakness in both of them. He didn’t know how much longer he could stay on his feet. Tenderly, he eased from her and picked her up in his arms. At the question in his gaze, she said, “Outside. The hot tub is fed from the river.” With a nod, he took an unsteady step and then another, moving out the door to the balcony and then down the two flights of steps to the hot tub tucked privately close to the house. He eased her down carefully into the Jacuzzi. She hit a few buttons along the edge and the water began to swirl. He joined her, the side of his hip against hers. His arm draped around her as the two of them sank up to their necks in the heated water as it shifted around them. The liquid was alive with the energy of the minute life forces of the river within it, recharging them. Reawakening desire as Victoria rolled onto him, straddling his hips, and framing his face between her hands. She ran the smooth pads of her fingers against the rasp of his evening beard. “Why didn’t it happen?” she wondered aloud, and was surprised at the hint of disappointment in her voice. She had wanted him physically, but had been uncertain about bonding with him for that reason alone. Now that it hadn’t happened, she should have been glad, but instead . . . Christopher ran his hand along her hair, shook his head, and shrugged. “Maybe there is too much difference between us. Between our energies.” “You don’t believe that for a moment, do you?” How could he when from the very first moment they had come near each other their life forces had been pulling them together? He slipped his hand beneath the weight of her dampened hair and cupped her jaw, caressing the line of it with his thumb. His eyes were almost sad as he looked up at her and said, “Maybe it takes more than what exists between us.”

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