So here's your exclusive peek at Chapter 1 of Fighting Fate - Book 2 in the Joining of Souls Series!
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Hope you enjoy! Don't forget it comes out in April 2018, so be on the look out for more sneak peeks, a cover reveal, and the ALL important preorder link! ;) Thanks for reading!
CHAPTER 1 – LIAM
Pain ripped through my heart, but I deserved it.
I stumbled into the house and collapsed onto my knees. The bookshelves in the front room seemed to be swaying. Dropping my palms to the rug, I hung on, trying to ride out the dizziness. The burning continued to surge through me from the charge that had blasted Lucky and me on the lawn. Her cries echoed in my ears, and I coughed and sputtered to catch my breath.
Jaysus Christ. I'd left her. I'd stopped our souls from joining. She was my empath soul mate, but how could I risk her life by letting the process continue? The lightning had been getting closer, and all I could do was to lie to her—tell her I was wrong about her being The One, break her heart to keep her alive. Damn me Da and his visions—they'd been making my life a misery for years by forcing me to go along with the search for her, and now that I'd found her, I couldn't claim her, couldn't join us together for eternity.
"Liam, darling! What happened? Where's Laxshmi? Is she safe?" Mum rushed to me and reached down to help me up by the shoulders.
I batted her hands away. "Don't!" The tingling from being in contact with Lucky was fading. I shut my eyes, trying to soak up its remnants. The electric shocks, I could do without, but the mild effect from where we'd touch would be my last link to her. Had I known it meant lightning would be what joined us together, I may never have gambled with her life.
Will I ever be able to touch her without hurting her? Or risking her life to be with her?
Da crouched down beside me. "Is Laxshmi safe, son? What's happened with the joining?"
"Lucky's safe enough. I lied to her—broke up with her before it…started."
Da exhaled loudly, ran a hand through his mop of disheveled, salt-and-pepper hair, and began pacing. "Sweet mother of Jaysus," he muttered.
Lucky and I had just parked in the driveway, and the growing need to be close to each other was overwhelming the both of us. Lightning had flashed, triggering charges to be blasting through us—the joining had begun. I'd wanted to allow the soulmating to keep on its way, but the electrical surges that would've bound our souls together could've killed us. I'd jarred myself out of the trance-like compulsion to cling to her and broke up with her instead.
Her pleading and anguish had hit me as strong as a tsunami, pounding me back to shore, back to her, no matter how hard I'd fought to escape. I couldn't breathe from the intensity. The hurt in her expressive eyes had stung like hundreds of jellyfish laying their tentacles all over me.
"You're not The One, Lucky. I tried, but…"
"No! I don't believe you. I trusted you. I can't lose you, Liam. I–I need you. After everything you said…"
Even from two doors down, I sensed Lucky's emotions as if they were roiling currents under an impossibly serene ocean surface—she must have been trying to hold it together in front of her mum. It was good we'd been keeping our relationship a secret. If not, Mrs. Kapadia would have barreled over her to flay me alive for hurting her daughter as I'd done.
I looked up at Mum. "How did you know?" She'd sent me an empathic warning as the joining had started, but I hadn't wanted her interruption—not until I realized Lucky could die. After all the bleeding research we'd done, how could we not have known?
She sighed and pushed back loose blond curls that had escaped their restraints. "Your father told me after returning from Georgetown an hour ago. He said lightning may be involved to join your souls—but that's all he knew—and when I saw the flashes in the sky and sensed the intensity of Laxshmi's emotions, I panicked. I had to warn you, darling."
"Against me better judgment," Da muttered, his bushy, gray eyebrows bunching together.
I shot to my feet to face off with him. "Is it feckin' gone in the head, you are? We were being electrocuted out there, and I'll not let her die for…for some daft vision." My voice cracked. I brushed past the both of them to escape to my room.
Da grabbed my arm and swung me around. "How could you be throwing this gift away? Think about everything you could––"
"She's mine to protect!"
"––be doing as joined soul mates. Never thought I'd see me own son giving up like a bloody dosser."
I ripped my arm from his grasp and pointed a finger in his face. "Lazy, am I? All you're after is making sure your bleedin' vision about us is proven right."
"That's bollocks, as well you know." Da threw his arms up in the air. "Why would Fate be putting you through the likes of this if it was only to let one of you die? What's the sense in that? No pain, no gain. Aren't the Americans always saying that?" He had the nerve to chuckle.
"Patrick Whelan!" Mum shot a hard stare in his direction. "What nonsense. That kind of charge could have killed them. You cannot assume they'll be fine. I'll not let him risk his life for this."
I gave a snort. "It's my bloody life to risk! Oh Christ!" A chest spasm doubled me over. I caught the edge of the coffee table before keeling over. Lucky's pain was coming at me like a change in air pressure, and my eardrums felt up to ninety and popping like firecrackers.
My empath interpretations always came at me through water metaphors—but Lucky's seemed to be based on air. When either of us experienced extreme emotions, like now, our interpretations crossed into a right mess.
The ringing in my ears was blocking out all other sound, and the dizziness all but shoved me head first into the rug. Lucky's pain was choking off my lungs and churned my stomach.
Mum's lips moved, but I heard not a word. I was thankful I could still hold my mental block against Lucky's emotions, or it was an unconscious mess on the floor, I'd be. When the ringing lessened, Mum's voice came out garbled, as if she were speaking from deep underwater. Mum and Da half-dragged me to the sofa.
With a groan, I curled up, closing my eyes to the spinning. "It's Lucky. She's in her room." My voice sounded muffled to me, even as the ringing was clearing away.
"How is it he'd be knowing such a thing, Moira?" Da asked. Mum explained how Lucky must have been hiding her emotions from her own mum, only to release them when she had some privacy.
A wave of nausea hit like a fist to my guts. Lucky's emotions were blowing past my mental barriers with the force of a tornado. With my defenses weakening, would she sense my pain and regret? She knew nothing of our empath world and would think my emotions were just more of the hallucinations she'd been having—and I hadn't been able to correct her. Until she broke through and officially became an empath, I couldn't expose our world to her without risking the Elders finding out. Being she was an outsider, they'd scramble her neural pathways as a precaution, rendering her insane. As the governing body of our empath world, they had the authority, and even as a prince of the Empath House of O'Connor, I had no power to stop it.
Mum took my hand in hers. "Darling, can you not block her?"
I shook my head. "Ah hell." Covering my mouth, I shot off the sofa and stumbled toward the toilet. Mum followed, but I locked the door after me. Leaning over the toilet, I heaved out an empty stomach for what felt like hours. Lucky's words haunted me, keeping me company. "Liam, why are you pushing me away? I don't understand. Why are you leaving me after everything you said?"
Then Elder Claire Brennan's voice reverberated in my mind. "It will get worse before it gets better." She was the leader of the Group of Elders and had an unexpected interest in when Lucky and I finally joined. Maybe Da and Brennan were in the right of it. Maybe she knew we'd be all right. Lucky and I might have gotten hurt, but would we have died? What would've been the point of finding my empath soul mate, only to be killed? And why would an Elder have come all the way from Ireland to North Carolina to ask whether Lucky and I had joined?
I could climb to Lucky's bedroom window and beg for her forgiveness. Better yet, I'd go to her front door and make a grand gesture—save Lucky from her misery. She was mine, and I was hers. We were destined for each other.
I pounded my fists on the floor. Damn. But how could I risk her life?
I'd regained enough strength to close off from Lucky's emotions and stand on wobbly legs. I cleaned up as best I could and headed for the front room. Mum and Da stood by the fireplace, surrounded by our wall-to-wall bookshelves, arguing in hushed voices. Da, wearing some green and yellow golfing getup, held Mum by her upper arms. She had her hands together, as if in prayer, resting them against her lips. She looked ready to go on safari, what with her khaki dress. They'd adapted well to the States and sacrificed so much in our search for Lucky. We hadn't come this far for me to be quitting now. But I wouldn't quit. I'd made a vow to myself. I'd find a way back to Lucky.
The question was how.
I plunked down into one of the wing chairs and unblocked my mind, reaching out to sense Lucky, to touch her somehow. I felt a whirlpool of emotions, but no single one seemed intense enough to project on me like her despair had done earlier. Eddies of rejection and anguish swirled around me, making me feel like I was being scraped against a coral reef. It triggered a stabbing pain in my heart. I grunted through it. As it intensified, I sensed her pushing away the other emotions to deal with the pain.
Christ. Our connection must be doing this. But how? Could this be some warning for trying to connect without joining—like hacking into a live feed, only to have some feedback loop kill it. Whatever the reason, I had to break it off. I couldn't let my selfish need to feel her make her suffer.
Why the fecking hell can't I be a normal person? Why? I twisted my fingers in my hair, pulling as hard as I could. Why did her life have to be at stake just to be with me? With a growl, I swept the shite off the side table, enjoying the distracting chaos of glass and metal and books hitting the floor. I stood to reach for something else.
Da pinned my elbows, but I struggled and freed an arm, pulling back to punch him.
"Liam! No!" Mum screamed and grabbed my hand.
"Calm down, son. This'll not be helping your girl Laxshmi."
I jerked myself free from him and escaped to my room. Once locked in, I hurled anything within reach—clothes, books, my stereo—and when I'd worn myself out, I punched the wall and crumpled to the floor, leaning against my door, cradling my throbbing hand.
When I awoke, my ears rang from the silence. The red glare from the clock at my feet showed it to be two in the morning. I was still sitting against the door, an ache clawing at my chest. Reaching out, I sensed Lucky's mind drifting between consciousness and sleep. My shoulders relaxed. Even with a halted joining, my abilities had grown enough to be able to sense Lucky beyond the usual ten to twenty foot reading range of normal empaths. I couldn't be more thankful.
Standing, I swung open my door with my good hand, pulling it hard against the papers and clothes strewn on the floor. I crept down the carpeted hallway, through my parents' room, and onto their veranda. It was a hard climb to the roof, struggling to position the ladder with one hand burning like fire. Thankfully, the ladder hadn't been returned to the garage after Da and I had made repairs to the attic-fan. I sat against the chimney and focused my enhanced vision past Mrs. Robertson's house to Lucky's attic-bedroom window. Most empaths weren't as lucky as I'd been to inherit an enhanced sense. I'd won the genetic lottery in my family, having been the only one to have such a gift. I wondered now if it had something to do with being destined for a soulmated union.
Lucky was there, sleeping in her window seat—the very same place where I'd first set eyes on her while repairing the fan with Da. A faint glow haloed her from behind, probably from a night lamp. My angel. She was wrapped in a blanket with her head propped on a pillow against the window. Her palm rested against the glass. It was as if she were reaching out to me, trying to get closer, so I stayed, ignoring the throbbing in my hand.
Several hours later, the first rays of light rose behind her house, signaling my time to leave. I scanned my view of the treetops. My first impression of Cary hadn't been good. It had felt as oppressive as the humidity and the overgrown trees—nothing like back home in Ireland. That changed within days of meeting Lucky—the girl meant to be with me, the girl in the window.
With one last glance her way, I headed for the ladder. She'd slept longer than I'd been expecting. For that, I was grateful. Her sleep had been restless, but any time I'd projected my love to her, she seemed to calm—as if her nightmares had settled. Projecting was like telling someone how you felt instead of having them read you or your body language. Not all empaths were skilled at it, or if they were, they'd only managed broadcasting a few emotions. Lucky had already mastered the skill—proving she'd be a strong empath one day just as Da's visions predicted.
My hand needed ice, so I went downstairs to the kitchen before dragging myself to my room to wait for her to wake up. I wanted to experience whatever Lucky felt. I deserved it. She was my soul mate, and I needed to share in her pain. I lay back on my bare mattress, stripped of its sheets in my frustration last night.
It wouldn't be long now before she stirred. Smaller ripples of her awareness were already growing larger. Minutes later, a wave of frothy surf showered over my mind, tickling like soda water on my tongue—it was the happiness she felt whenever she thought of me. I sent out the one thing I shouldn't have—my love—a reminder of the anguish she didn't deserve.
A dark whirlpool of sadness swallowed me up. The pressure started building in my ears and head, but I'd not try to block her until I had to. I curled up on the bed, dizzy with pain, and waited with her for it to pass on.
By mid-morning, I'd had to break the connection several times to keep us both from the stabbing sensation. Each time, I pleaded with God, the Fates—her father's spirit even—to help her through this. Her mum would be on her way to work by now, even though it was a Saturday, and Lucky would be alone with her pain. Please God, let her ring her friend, Shiney, or her cousin, Sujata.
I could barely grip the door knob to get to the sandwich Mum had left for me outside my room, but my fingers weren't half as swollen as earlier. I didn't think I'd broken anything. Eventually, I made my way downstairs for more ice and heard my parents in the dining room, arguing again. When I turned to leave the kitchen with my ice, Da was standing in the doorway.
He pointed to my hand. "That must've hurt."
I sat at our maple breakfast table and tried wrapping a kitchen towel around the ice on my knuckles. My eyes were raw from the lack of sleep, so the blinding white of the kitchen counters and appliances had me keeping my eyes lowered.
"Your mum tells me you've been connecting with Laxshmi from all the way over here. Impressive reading range." He walked over and helped me knot the towel. "And would she be as bad off as yourself?"
"What would it matter to you?"
All he seemed to care about was proving his psychic vision had been right. His predictions always came true, but I didn't see how it would this time around. For the first time in his life, he had a conflicting vision—that I'd be killed if didn't find her. Well, I'd found her, but he felt joining with her would be best, regardless of the risk. He didn't want us tempting Fate and all that.
But I'd no doubt the prospect of having his son be the first soulmated empath in God-knew how many generations ranked right up there with my life. It would mean power, prestige, and instant access into empath politics. Bollocks to all of it. I'd be dragged into that shite regardless. As prince, I was already head of our royal clan. The Elders had made it official at the ceremony this past summer.
He patted the tied ice bag. "Well, you know how it is I feel. Nothing worth having is without risk."
"Mum always says that—except she says some risk." I stared out of the kitchen window at our neighbor's chain-linked fence and the garden hose hanging over it. I missed the rolling meadows of our estate back home, the short stone walls sectioning off the land, and the sheep and alpacas dotting the greenery. Would Lucky ever get to see any of it?
Da sighed. I got up to head back upstairs, but Lucky's presence flooded my senses, knocking the breath out me. "She's here," I choked out.
"Then get yourself to the door. Get this show on the road, as they say."
I collapsed back into the wooden chair, scraping it against the tile. "I can't."
He frowned. Hearing her knock, we both turned toward the front room.
"Please, Da. Tell her I'm not here."
He huffed and shook his head, acting like it was some big imposition, but headed to the front door anyhow. Wasn't he the one who put us in this bleedin' mess? I moved to a chair hidden from view and held my breath.
The door creaked open. "Hello, Laxshmi," Da said. "What might I be doing for you on this fine day?"
"I'm here to see Liam." Her voice sounded soft and shaky.
"He's uh…not here. Would you like me to tell him you stopped by?"
After a pause, she cleared her throat. "Mr. Whelan, I–I know he's here. I, um…just know."
Lucky was trusting her emerging empath senses, and it made me proud. Her abilities had been growing over the past few days, but she had yet to break through. For that to happen, she had to sense a mental block. I'd tested her several times, but she hadn't reacted like she'd recognized anything.
Da sighed loudly from the front room.
"Please, Mr. Whelan. Please understand." She was crying, and every cell in my body wanted to be easing her pain. All I could do was clench my good hand into a fist.
"Uh…um…H-Hold on a second, love."
Damn. He caved.
He came back to the kitchen, his hand ruffling his hair. "How you'll ever survive those big brown eyes of hers, I'll never know."
I wiped my left palm on my jeans and made my way to the door. Without even knowing it, she'd closed off her feelings from me. Now if she could only recognize a block, she'd be a brilliant empath if she ever broke through—when—when she broke through. I could tell her about our world, then. A small smile tugged at my lips, praying for that day to come soon. The closer I got to the door, the more oppressive the heat and humidity weighed on me. Her back was turned to me, and she was wearing different clothes from yesterday. I looked down to see the same shirt and jeans as I'd worn for the party last night.
"I didn't think you'd come," she said, still facing the street. She tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear, her fingers shaking. The angle of the mid-morning sun shone off Mum's glass porch table and reflected off her long black hair. I'd never thought much of a girl's hair before, but with Lucky, all I'd ever wanted to do was run my fingers through her tresses. I'd become that sort of guy with her. My brother, Ciarán, would never have let me live that down. Not that I'd minded.
I took a deep breath. "I'm here."
She took in several shuddering gasps of air and wiped her face before she turned around. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her long lashes damp and clumping together. Every blink had always felt like an eternity passed before I could see her gorgeous eyes again. With her mental blocks in place, I felt blind to her, but I knew how to read her expressive eyes. They told me everything about her hurt. I rubbed a hand across my stubble and took a few deep breaths.
I'm doing this for you, Lucky. Please understand.
She glanced at the ice on my right hand, and her eyes widened. I moved it behind the door jamb, and she closed her eyes instead of asking what was surely on her mind. When she finally opened them, she kept them lowered. "So it wasn't a nightmare." Her lip quivered before she bit down on it.
"Have you been lying to me all this time? Were you toying with me—?"
"Jaysus, no. I'm not." But you are lying, Liam. I swallowed. "I was wrong about you, was all."
She nodded slowly and looked away—but not before I saw her face crumple. After a moment, she regained her composure and turned back. "I came to give you this back." She took out my Breitling from her pocket.
"I gave you my watch as a gift—"
"I don't want it!"
"No!" Fury filled her eyes. "I'm not lucky, am I? I never was. I'm just a stupid delusional idiot." A cynical laugh erupted from her lips. "Wait. I am lucky actually. Didn't you date some Indian girl for a week—before you realized she wasn't The One? Yeah, so technically, I guess I am lucky, huh? I got you for two whole weeks. Lucky number seven, right?"
Didn't she know somewhere deep inside how wrong she was? She might as well be dousing me with kerosene and lighting a match. Her tears were flowing freely now, and her mental block was wavering. I tested her with a block of my own, but she didn't react.
She dangled my watch between her first two fingers, most likely to drop it in my hand without touching me, without feeling the tingle of our skin meeting. She let it go into my outstretched palm.
A raw vulnerability stained her eyes, almost bringing me to my knees. I clenched my jaw to keep from telling her the truth, from letting my weakness be the reason I'd fail to protect her. If only I could tell her about our world, I could save her—save us—from this misery. But if the Elders found out…
Rules were rules, and royal or not, I had no authority to break, bend, or change them. And with at least two spies floating around, Lucky would have to stay in the dark until I could find a way to join safely.
"Take care, Lucky," I said softly. I'll find a way back to you, mo shíorghrá.
Because that was who she was—my soul mate, my eternal love.
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