The Sorceress Queen and the Pirate Rogue – Jeffe Kennedy

“NİLLY! DEAR NİLLY! Heya, wait up.” At Jak’s call, Stella obligingly halted, stepping out of the busy foot traffic of the marketplace that crowded the road. Jak jogged up the incline, dodging a cartload of fruit, then ducked a vee of colorful staymach birds when they zoomed at his head. Reaching her, he dramatically clutched his side, panting as if out of breath. “I swear this cliff path gets steeper every year,” Jak complained, a boyish grin lighting his face, cheeks dimpling. Stella shook her head at his antics, not at all taken in by his jesting. Of all of them, Jak devoted himself the most to physical conditioning. His wine-red shirt hung loose over his narrow hips—the full pleated sleeves that buttoned at his wrists giving him a piratical air—and the collar hung open, the laces untied. Beneath, he wore tight black trousers, and his lean and agile gymnast’s body showed the results of his diligent efforts. Not that Stella looked. At least, not when anyone, particularly Jak, would notice. “Seeing as how the road is centuries old and carved into the cliff face, I suspect it has remained exactly the same as the last time you were here,” she replied gravely. “Perhaps you’ve gotten soft from lolling on the beach in Nahanau.” He definitely looked as if he’d been much in the sun, his skin darker than usual with a healthy tanned glow, glints of gold highlights in his tousled dark hair. His grin broadening, he swept her a gallant bow.


“Ah, my lady sees through me. I’m afraid the surfing and beach-frolicking have indeed taken their toll.” Straightening, and clearly not out of breath at all, he patted his stomach, then lifted his shirt while hooking a thumb in the waist of his trousers to tug them a hand’s width down his flat belly. “Tell me true, dear Nilly—have I got a pot belly now?” She looked—of course she looked, she wasn’t that oblivious, no matter what people said about her—and immediately noted that his tan went all the way down. And that, far from being flabby, his abdominal muscles looked like they could cut glass. Her fingers itched with the temptation to touch, a rarity for her, when touching others brought such unpleasant consequences. Jak is not for you, she reminded herself. And he’s barely more than a boy, regardless. Except Jak didn’t look like a boy anymore. In the last year away, he’d filled out, gotten more masculine. She tried to summon her usual image of him as a bratty younger brother. That had always been her best defense against his flirtatious charm. He’d suddenly become a man, she realized uneasily, and she needed to stop looking at him. “You appear to be safe from the effects of indulgence so far,” she told him, turning to resume her errand. “Though it’s probably a good thing you’ve returned to Annfwn to walk the cliff path and get back into shape.

” “Did you just make a joke?” he asked, his expression delighted as he paced alongside her. She slid him a bemused glance. “You know I have no sense of humor.” “I know you always say that”—he tipped his head jauntily—“but I don’t think it’s true.” Sadly, it was true. Maybe being an empath had affected her emotions, as it seemed that strong feelings, in all their variety, tended toward grief and anger, even among the outwardly joyful Tala. Maybe even particularly among the Tala, a people still emerging from centuries of generational struggle and isolation. Still, she sensed the effervescence of humor in others, so she knew she didn’t share that native gaiety. At Jak’s call, Stella obligingly halted, stepping out of the busy foot traffic of the marketplace that crowded the road. Jak jogged up the incline, dodging a cartload of fruit, then ducked a vee of colorful staymach birds when they zoomed at his head. Reaching her, he dramatically clutched his side, panting as if out of breath. “I swear this cliff path gets steeper every year,” Jak complained, a boyish Stella shook her head at his antics, not at all taken in by his jesting. Of all of them, Jak devoted himself the most to physical conditioning. His wine-red shirt hung loose over his narrow hips—the full pleated sleeves that buttoned at his wrists giving him a piratical air—and the collar hung open, the laces untied. Beneath, he wore tight black trousers, and his lean and agile gymnast’s body showed “Seeing as how the road is centuries old and carved into the cliff face, I suspect it has remained exactly the same as the last time you were here,” she replied gravely.

“Perhaps you’ve gotten soft from lolling on the beach in Nahanau.” He definitely looked as if he’d been much in the sun, his skin His grin broadening, he swept her a gallant bow. “Ah, my lady sees through me. I’m afraid the surfing and beach-frolicking have indeed taken their toll.” Straightening, and clearly not out of breath at all, he patted his stomach, then lifted his shirt while hooking a thumb in the waist of his trousers to She looked—of course she looked, she wasn’t that oblivious, no matter what people said about her—and immediately noted that his tan went all the way down. And that, far from being flabby, his abdominal muscles looked like they could cut glass. Her fingers itched with the temptation to touch, a she Except Jak didn’t look like a boy anymore. In the last year away, he’d filled out, gotten more masculine. She tried to summon her usual image of him as a bratty younger brother. That had always been her best defense against his flirtatious charm. He’d suddenly become a man, she realized “You appear to be safe from the effects of indulgence so far,” she told him, turning to resume her errand. “Though it’s probably a good thing you’ve returned to Annfwn to walk the cliff path and get true. Maybe being an empath had affected her emotions, as it seemed that strong feelings, in all their variety, tended toward grief and anger, even among the outwardly joyful Tala. Maybe even particularly among the Tala, a people still emerging from centuries of generational struggle and isolation. Still, she sensed the effervescence of humor in others, so she knew she didn’t Her lighthearted mother positively despaired of her, forever saying that such a solemn girl would never attract a lover.

That wasn’t news to Stella. She had seen her own future, and it was a lonely one. Even without her visions of isolation, the practicality was that the intensity of physical touch was simply too much to bear for long. She’d reconciled herself to the fact that she could never take a lover. The prospect saddened her, but she couldn’t change who she was. “I didn’t mean to make you sad,” Jak said earnestly, his own eyes shadowed now, his mood losing its sparkle. “You didn’t.” She added a serene smile, sorry that she’d dampened his enthusiasm. “Did you just arrive? I didn’t see the Hákyrling.” “I came adragonback,” he informed her, his natural ebullience restored. “Kiraka and Dafne gave me a ride.” “Lucky you,” she replied in all sincerity. “You must be in good favor, then.” He grimaced cheerfully. “It wasn’t all surfing and beach-frolicking in Nahanau.

Dafne had me in the library most of the time. But she did say I’m not entirely hopeless. You should have come to join us.” She shook her head automatically. “Everyone agrees that the best thing I can be doing is studying with Auntie Andi.” “You can’t work on your sorcery all the time,” Jak protested. “I know! Let me teach you to surf. It’s the best fun.” No. That would not happen. Jak would no doubt strip down to nearly nothing for swimming, and Stella didn’t care to test herself that far. If someone caught her looking—particularly Jak—then she’d perish of mortification. She slanted him a repressive, older-sister look. “I’ve surfed many times, young Jak.” “As a porpoise isn’t the same,” he countered, a hint of irritation wafting off him that she’d called him young.

Good. That should quell his flirtatiousness. “Of course it’s the same,” she replied loftily. “Surf is surf.” “Don’t do that,” he gritted out, definitely annoyed. Pasting on a surprised look—one advantage of being an empath was one learned to recreate the appearance of emotions—she lifted her brows in surprise. “Do what?” Hopping in front of her with nimble speed, he planted himself in her path, forcing her to stop. “Don’t pull that older-sister, more-mature-than-thou routine,” he said. “I am older than you,” she pointed out. “Not that much older, and you are definitely not my sister, or even my cousin,” he shot back, stepping closer. Even aggrieved with her, he took care not to touch her. But his proximity still infiltrated her senses, along with the clean smell of salt and sweat. He was taller than her now, she realized with a jolt of surprise. When had that happened? “We’re not related at all, in fact,” he murmured suggestively. “I babysat for you,” she reminded him tartly.

He rolled his eyes. “This again? The pack of us ran around together.” “I was still responsible.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “And you were a naughty kid.” Instead of being daunted, he smiled, a sensual curve to his generous mouth that had warmth fluttering deep inside. “Guess what, dearest Nilly?” he murmured, leaning even closer. “I’m no longer a kid, but I’m even naughtier.” Her lighthearted mother positively despaired of her, forever saying that such a solemn girl would never attract a lover. That wasn’t news to Stella. She had seen her own future, and it was a lonely one. Even without her visions of isolation, the practicality was that the intensity of physical touch was simply too much to bear for long. She’d reconciled herself to the fact that she could never take a “I didn’t mean to make you sad,” Jak said earnestly, his own eyes shadowed now, his mood “You didn’t.” She added a serene smile, sorry that she’d dampened his enthusiasm. “Did you just “I came adragonback,” he informed her, his natural ebullience restored.

“Kiraka and Dafne gave He grimaced cheerfully. “It wasn’t all surfing and beach-frolicking in Nahanau. Dafne had me in the library most of the time. But she did say I’m not entirely hopeless. You should have come to join She shook her head automatically. “Everyone agrees that the best thing I can be doing is studying the time,” Jak protested. “I know! Let me teach you to surf. Jak would no doubt strip down to nearly nothing for swimming, and Stella didn’t care to test herself that far. If someone caught her looking—particularly Jak—then she’d perish of mortification. She slanted him a repressive, older-sister look. “I’ve surfed many times, “As a porpoise isn’t the same,” he countered, a hint of irritation wafting off him that she’d called Pasting on a surprised look—one advantage of being an empath was one learned to recreate the Hopping in front of her with nimble speed, he planted himself in her path, forcing her to stop. much older, and you are definitely not my sister, or even my cousin,” he shot back, stepping closer. Even aggrieved with her, he took care not to touch her. But his proximity still infiltrated her senses, along with the clean smell of salt and sweat. He was taller than her now, she realized with a jolt of surprise.

When had that happened? “We’re not related at all, in fact,” he Instead of being daunted, he smiled, a sensual curve to his generous mouth that had warmth fluttering deep inside. “Guess what, dearest Nilly?” he murmured, leaning even closer. “I’m no longer She caught her breath, blushing at the frankly sexual heat coming off of him. “Jak!” “Don’t sound so shocked.” Very carefully, he picked up a long lock of her hair without brushing her skin, winding it through his fingers. “You know how much I like you. Stella. My guiding star.” Her mouth gone dry, her heart hammering, her body—Moranu help her—filled with longing, she didn’t know what to say. “Come swimming with me,” he coaxed her in a throaty voice, his dark eyes dancing with wicked mischief. Searching for anywhere to look but those alluring eyes, she focused on the small gold hoop in his left ear. “You got your ear pierced.” His smile widened, dimples deepening. “Do you like it? I think it makes me look like a pirate.” She did like it, but she gave him a reproving shake of her head.

“Not an appropriate image to aspire to, young Jak.” “Oh, I know you’re not that stuffy,” he replied, undaunted. “Come swimming with me. Give me a chance to show you I’m not the kid you try to pretend I am.” “I know you’re not a kid.” Her voice came out breathy. Jak smiled, tugging her even closer, his heated gaze on her mouth. “I missed you. I’ve been thinking about you. I think about you all the time. And I have ideas, things we could do that won’t hurt you.” Though they weren’t touching, her mental barriers had gone wobbly, images insinuating themselves into her mind, of her and Jak, naked together, and coils of rope… With a gasp of shock and dismay—surely not desire—she jerked backward, the lock of hair he still held yanking painfully on her scalp. “No!” she burst out, loudly enough that several people turned to look. When had she forgotten they were surrounded by a crowd? And not just anyone, but her own people, who she’d serve someday as their sorceress, possibly their queen. Jak, who’d immediately released his grip on her hair, held up his hands.

“I’m sorry. I apologize. What can I do to help?” His sharp, dark gaze fastened on her left hand, and she realized she’d stuck her two littlest fingers in her mouth, the nails snapping as she bit down. Stella yanked her fingers from her mouth, tucking her hand guiltily behind her back. Moranu take her, she’d broken that habit, one she’d had since she was a little girl. Another failing her mother had despaired of. Just look at your poor, wrinkled fingers! How will you ever have pretty nails if you’re forever chewing them down to nothing? “Stella, my star, please.” Jak’s forehead creased in worry. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I—” “You didn’t,” she lied, drawing herself up and letting the magic settle around her like a protective cloak. There. That was better. She should know better than to let her mental shields weaken like that. “It takes more than the offensive flirtations of a silly boy too young to know better to upset me.” Jak’s mouth fell open, and he closed it hastily, dark eyes glittering.

“You can keep saying that, but I won’t always be too young for you.” At times like these, Stella felt positively ancient. “Oh, Jak,” she said. She wanted to sound pitying, but she didn’t have it in her to be cruel. “You are now and you always will be.” He curled his hands into fists, frustration radiating off of him. “You’re wrong. I’ll prove myself to you. Just wait and see.” Jak stormed off, leaving a cloud of roiling emotions in his wake, and Stella watched him go. Once again alone, she continued up the road, telling herself she hadn’t been shaken by the encounter. Jak “Don’t sound so shocked.” Very carefully, he picked up a long lock of her hair without brushing Her mouth gone dry, her heart hammering, her body—Moranu help her—filled with longing, she “Come swimming with me,” he coaxed her in a throaty voice, his dark eyes dancing with wicked Searching for anywhere to look but those alluring eyes, she focused on the small gold hoop in his She did like it, but she gave him a reproving shake of her head. “Not an appropriate image to “Oh, I know you’re not that stuffy,” he replied, undaunted. “Come swimming with me.

Give me a Jak smiled, tugging her even closer, his heated gaze on her mouth. “I missed you. I’ve been thinking about you. I think about you all the time. And I have ideas, things we could do that won’t hurt Though they weren’t touching, her mental barriers had gone wobbly, images insinuating With a gasp of shock and dismay—surely not desire—she jerked backward, the lock of hair he still held yanking painfully on her scalp. “No!” she burst out, loudly enough that several people turned to look. When had she forgotten they were surrounded by a crowd? And not just anyone, but her own Jak, who’d immediately released his grip on her hair, held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I apologize. What can I do to help?” His sharp, dark gaze fastened on her left hand, and she realized she’d stuck Stella yanked her fingers from her mouth, tucking her hand guiltily behind her back. Moranu take her, she’d broken that habit, one she’d had since she was a little girl. Another failing her mother had Just look at your poor, wrinkled fingers! How will you ever have pretty nails if “You didn’t,” she lied, drawing herself up and letting the magic settle around her like a protective cloak. There. That was better. She should know better than to let her mental shields weaken like that.

Jak’s mouth fell open, and he closed it hastily, dark eyes glittering. “You can keep saying that, but At times like these, Stella felt positively ancient. “Oh, Jak,” she said. She wanted to sound He curled his hands into fists, frustration radiating off of him. “You’re wrong. I’ll prove myself to Jak stormed off, leaving a cloud of roiling emotions in his wake, and Stella watched him go. Once again alone, she continued up the road, telling herself she hadn’t been shaken by the encounter. Jak would grow out of this phase, this youthful infatuation, and he’d find lovers to absorb his considerable energies. Her future didn’t hold him in it. It didn’t hold anyone at all. Just an isolated tower in an endless field of lilies. And herself, forever alone

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Updated: 16 June 2021 — 23:27

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