Bound by Fate, separated by prejudice, they must mate or risk insanity.
Three years past, Lady Victoria Cummings was the talk of the Season. Adored by her friends, the beloved only child of her doting father, and rumored to be wed to the most eligible bachelor in all England, Victoria’s future looked bright indeed despite the secret she was an empath with telepathic tendencies. Her world crashed to bits the morning of her eighteenth birthday when her gifts went out of control. She became a recluse, trying to learn to control her powers, and forever regretting her missed opportunities almost as much as what used to be her normal life.
Greyson Storm has waited three long years for Victoria’s father to return her to London. Aye, he granted Miles Cummings time to educate his daughter on the whys and ways of being an elf-maid before fulfilling her destiny as his mate. ‘Twas obvious that Miles was trying to craft an argument which would nullify the Fates’ will. After all, Greyson’s elf-kind was the immortal enemy of Miles’s kind.
Still, Greyson will move heaven and earth to have Victoria become his mate. The mate of the last surviving Dragon Lord.
Lady Victoria Cummings sucked in a sharp breath as she made her way toward the open French doors leading to the Storm’s formal gardens.
‘Twas as if every inch of her flesh crawled with bugs. A frown scurried across her brow. Hushed whispers encroached on her person, but that was only because she was in a hurry to escape the cramped ballroom. Her brain was on surviving this. She was in pure, unadulterated flight mode.
Oh, why had she even attempted to attend this gala?
Why, oh, why?
Because, she’d wanted to—needed to—return to normalcy. She wanted to be the young debutant who had been the talk of the season rather than the recluse her abilities had forced upon her.
A tremendous shiver racked her diminutive form.
Her empathic talent was going absolutely insane. Her fingers shook. Her head clanged. Her heart was about to beat straight out of her chest. Tears stung at the corners of her eyes.
There were too many perceptions—too many emotions—to block them all out. Space. That’s what I need. Space and a few minutes of silence.
This gift was a boon and a bane, but she hadn’t realized just how difficult ‘twould be to control until she finally reached her eighteenth birthday a little over three years past.
Had it really been three years since she’d been removed from polite society? It felt more as if it had been three-hundred years. ‘Twasn’t just that she’d had to retire to the country for fear she’d lose her mind either, ‘twas that if her father hadn’t ordered her packed up and shipped off she would have gone stark raving mad. Perhaps not in the first few months of her confinement, but with the passage of time and the emotional tumult riding through her like a coachman-less carriage careening toward a cliff, she would have become a blathering imbecile.
She needed training, and her father promised her that he would see to it. For forever and a day, she’d doubted there was any person who could teach her how to control her gifts.
Her father called it the day of her enlightenment. Personally, she’d have rather remained in the dark until her dying breath.
Prior to her birthday, the shadowy whispers of other people’s thoughts and the soft twanging of their emotions suddenly became shouted hits. ‘Twas as if someone was holding a horn, such as the kind her great-aunt Millie used to aid her hearing, to her forehead rather than her ear while another person buffeted her chest with a battering ram. ‘Twas what had happened on the day she turned ten and eight.
She sighed, hating the memories of waking that morn. Of course, she’d been excited. Who wouldn’t be? She was ten and eight. Adored by her friends, beloved of her father and, if all went well, soon to be wed to the most handsome man in all Christendom—Greyson Storm. From all angles, it truly appeared that the man was preparing to offer for her hand, but out of respect for her father and due to her tender age he was waiting until after she celebrated her birthday to make his appeal.
‘Twas true and potent what her father had told her would happen. The moment she’d thrown back the covers and sat up in bed, her powers manifested. Gone were the gentle whispers and soft pat of emotions.
“Nay,” she ordered herself firmly. “Does you no good to mull over what is in the past.”
She couldn’t stop herself. The memories, simply put, wouldn’t be denied. The leaving of London—the death of her dream to wed the man she was hopelessly in love with—the years of isolation because she couldn’t control her powers had to have their will.
Her father had counseled her that ‘twas too soon to return to society, that she should test her limits with short jaunts to the market or quick outings with friends, as if she had any left. That she hadn’t given herself enough time to learn absolute control over her gifts. He’d tried to assure her that with the passage of time she would eventually learn to block the noise and temper the pounding. Still, the return to London was a necessary one. He’d been gone from his many diversified holdings for far too long as it was.
His counsel rang in her ears.
“You will always feel one or the other,” Miles Cummings had explained. “Whichever one you can tolerate the most will be your primary gift and you will always feel an aspect of that gift. The other, you will learn to block completely unless you have need of it.”
At least she had the guidance of a strong telepath in her life, for if she had not, she’d have thought she was truly losing her mind. Aye, but her father was a telepath with empathic tendencies whereas she was an empath with telepathic tendencies. They were opposite sides of the coin, and her father didn’t understand what it was truly like to break down in horrified sobs because a servant two townhouses down and three streets over had just been raped. He could hear the woman’s mental shrieks, but he didn’t feel as strongly her pain.
In Victoria’s soul, she knew her gift was one of self-torture. She really wanted to plaster her hands to her chest and cease her heart from its painful throbbing. Find a nice, quiet spot and clear your mind of everything.
Her gaze darted left then right as she exited the ballroom to stand on the wide veranda. A few couples were walking through the gardens, but she was certain that once she, herself, moved into the maze located at the center of the immaculate yard, she’d find at least a semblance of peace.
“At least I hope to obtain such,” she whispered to herself as she made her way down the stone steps and then walked along the stone path. Her slippers clipped lightly as she strolled hurriedly toward the maze. She could make out a few emotions here, mostly the soft emotion of love or the fiery heat of lust. Those feelings were easily handled.
Well, to a certain extent they were reasonably handled. She did have a physical reaction to the emotional froth rising from the red-hued haze of desire.
A tendril of passion curled in the pit of her stomach as she passed a secluded area. Since she’d been to Greyson Storm’s townhouse in the past, she recalled the area was a lovely place where a marble bench had been situated in a cut out in the rose garden. The gardener had taken great care to provide the perfect romantic ambience to the hidey-hole.
Concern for her reputation became a small, niggling worry at the back of her mind when she passed yet another couple kissing passionately. The need for silence became her primary objective.
Her nipples turned to hard buds and a pulse began to inch down her channel when the couple she’d sensed earlier began a thorough course of love making.
Love making? Bah! She shook her head. There is nothing of love involved with those two. Nay. ‘Tis fucking they are about.
It still affected her. She trembled, but this time ‘twasn’t because of being pummeled by perceptions but from unrequited lust.
Finally ducking into the maze, she breathed a sigh of relief. Keep moving. Keep going. Get away. At least the clanging in her head was starting to recede. The pain in her chest was still very much a problem, but she knew that sooner rather than later the pulsing organ would calm.
Peeking back at the manor, the house ablaze with light, she finally gained control of her telepathy. Take a moment. Breathe through the pain. Aye. That’s what I need to do.
She drank deeply of the night air. The scent of wildflowers and roses teased her nose. ‘Twas always amazing to her how the simple act of drawing air into her lungs then releasing it slowly oft helped when her gift was causing her havoc.
Rubbing her hands up and down her arms, she sighed. Much, much better.
Thankful Greyson Storm had shown her the secret of the maze, she took only the left options until she was very nearly at the center. She exhaled with a steady measure. Her heart was finally returning to a normal rhythm. “Thank you, God,” she whispered.
Continuing until she stood in the center of the maze, she smiled at the gurgling fountain. She went to one of the benches flanking the water feature and sat. Again, she took a steeling breath. Folding her hands in her lap, she waited for the final vestiges of the traumatic experience to ease away.
This was the place that she’d always imagined Greyson declaring his love for her before begging her to be his wife.
Begging? Bah! Greyson Storm was no man to beg for aught. He was a powerhouse of a persona who could be kind and gentle when the need arose, but otherwise he was suave, sophisticated, and if gossip was to be believed, ruthless in his business ventures.
“Victoria?” a deep, thoroughly masculine voice asked from the path leading to the exit. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”
She snapped her gaze to see Greyson standing in the break. She also noted the way he said, ‘by yourself’. ‘Twasn’t in a tone which condemned her. Nay. ‘Twas stated with concern lacing the words.
“I needed some air, milord,” she muttered. “’Tis rather warm inside.” ‘Twas true too. The crush of people had elevated the temperature within the ballroom to barely survivable.
Her gaze took him in. He was stunning in his formal evening attire which enhanced his darkly handsome good looks. ‘Struth, three years ago the haute ton had been awash with rumors that Greyson would offer for her. The snooty members of the upper-crust also added that her father would agree to the match for no other reason than to finally rid himself of the hellion she’d become.
The attachment of hellion to her name was purely the fault of the handsome man standing a short distance away from her. Aye. Greyson challenged her in ways no man had ever dared.
She blushed at the memories just being in his presence brought forth. Her first ride through Hyde Park, which was more a race than aught else. His first attempt to teach her how to shoot a bow and arrow. The recollection of the arrow slicing into Lady Elerby’s topiary of cupid and impaling itself in the most private part of the sculpted bush’s body. Her first real kiss.
A dreamy sigh slipped past her lips. Mentally shaking herself out of her musings, Victoria took him in again. Her mouth went dry when his blue eyes leveled on her face. “Might I ask, what brings you to the maze, milord?”
“Solitude,” he said.